So Long, Farewell!

This summer, as I did the What-To-Chuck Walk around my classroom, my eyes kept returning to an entire bookshelf filled with giant Merriam-Webster Dictionaries.

We’re not talking five or six of them.  We’re talking an entire class set.  The collection was one of those inherited things that another teacher offered to me, and I was too much of a naive, young, greedy teacher to turn them down.  They were still in near-perfect condition, each with a $22.99 sticker stuck to the front cover.

Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/60437

Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/60437

So I began the analysis: Do my students use them? Was in because of accessibility issues?  Could I put them anywhere else?  What else could I put there?  Would something else on that shelf serve the students better?

Then I remembered one of my students from the last school year: Ellie.  I think it was during our work on books for the Young Authors’ Conference.  I remember her words and actions specifically.  She was working at her table, located near the wall of computers in my room.  She must have still been drafting or editing.  Nearby, students were typing their drafts on GoogleDocs, preparing to copy and paste into StoryJumper for publication.

Ellie came across a difficult word to spell.  She asked her neighbors, to no avail.  Then she flipped on her lightbulb and exclaimed aloud, “Let’s look it up on GoogleDocs!”  Within seconds she was leaning over a friend’s keyboard, typing her best guess and waiting for for “The Red Squiggly Line.”  With a flash of the line and a quick right click, she had her correct spelling and was back to writing.

Meanwhile, four pieces of dust fell atop the dictionaries on the bookshelf.

So during that reflection, I had my answer.  I loaded up the dictionaries on a chair with wheels and scooted my way to the storage book room.  It was tough to stack perfectly good dictionaries (and their price tags!) on a dark shelf in the corner of the book room, knowing well that they would remain their until the end of time.  But alas, it is a different time.  Ellie, and all of my students, have coping mechanisms to assist them.  [Rest assure, I’m about to right-click on my spelling of “mechanisims” instead of heading to my bookshelf for a dictionary.]

Thanks for leading the way, Ellie!

Drill and Kill at its Finest

So at some point in that secretive, allusive  “teacher school” we all attended, they dress the males in ABC ties and the females in jumpers and make us chant: Drill and Kill is Bad, Drill and Kill is Bad, Outdoor Recess Duty is Fun, Drill and Kill is bad…

Okay, so maybe your experience wasn’t exactly like that, but you get the idea.  Our professors uncovered the unyielding power of the meaningful, experiential education world, filled with self-discovery and connections to relevant material.  This leaves little educational value for the repetition of massive amounts of similar problems in an effort to work toward mastery.  Essentially, those math worksheets of 200 addition or multipcation problems make Piaget and Vygotsky turn in their graves.

Or does it?  Are there some things that can be mastered through rote experiences?

My district’s adoption of a “Balanced Literacy Framework” outlines a “Word Study” component that is based on a classroom “Word Wall” made up of high-frequency (often ruleless) words.  During a recent unit, I came across the challenge of teaching the word “beautiful.”  As the lesson-planning wheels started cranking in my head, out came Jim Carey’s “B-e-a-utiful” line from Bruce Almighty.  The more I ran “beautiful” through my mind, the more I thought about Taylor Mali’s popular video On What Teachers Make. Assuming you’ve seen it (or just clicked on it), you’ll remember his repetitive approach to spelling the phrase, “definitely beautiful.”

And so launched my Fifth Grade Definitely Beautiful Challenge.

Over the next few weeks, my students spent every “free” moment writing “definitely beautiful” on any small slip of paper they could find, adding their initials and homeroom on the back.

100_1593Basically, there were two parts to the challenge.  First, the individual challenge:  At the end of the competition, four slips would be drawn from the container (for which I had to eat 7.2 million cheeseballs) and the winners would all be invited to a Definitely Beautiful Pizza Party with a friend.  Putting it in fifth grader language: the more slips you fill out, the better your chances are to get pizza! For the group challenge, if my 69 kids were able to produce a total of 5,000 “definitely beautifuls,” their oh-so-masculine teacher (that’d be me) would dawn a pink tutu for a full day of school.  Over the next two weeks, the following transpired:

– notes from parents asking if they could participate!

– students choosing to sit in the autidorium part of our gym during indoor recess to definitely beautiful (yes, it became a verb)!

– contacts from parents saying that this contest should be extended because their student ceased fighting with a sibling while she definitely beautifuled (apparently a past-tense verb as well!) each evening!

– students writing “definitely beautiful” all over every paper they submitted, in an effort to show off their mad spelling skills!

– 5,815 definitely beautifuls (look, a noun!) appeared in the contest tub.100_1604

So alas, two colleagues drew the pizza party-winning names (much to the disappointment of some sore-handed non-winners).  And as promised, there I taught with my pink tutu, magical fly swatter wand, and my homemade Definitely Beautiful t-shirt.  I even busted out the tiara from my costume drawer in my curricularium at home.100_1598

Funny what things make it to YouTube, as well.

Well?  Have my students mastered the spellings of definitely and beautiful?  Ask them to find out.  Are there appropriate uses of drill and kill?  Ask them to find out.