Close Reading: An Introduction to Character Description

4.1.3.3 Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story
or drama, drawing on specific details in the text(e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions).

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My fourth grade students were partnered and assigned the text “The Stranger” by Chris Van Allburg from our Houghton Mifflin anthology.  I projected a character trait and its opposite on the Promethean Board (this is a Google file but you can download as a flipchart if you use Active Inspire) and asked the students which trait the main character (the Stranger) demonstrated in the story on particular page. Students then had to search the text on the page to find where the author provided explicit or implicit details and examples.

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Students then place themselves on the side with the trait they found evidence for in the text. I then asked students to share the evidence the author had provided with the class. They repeated the task three additional times for other character traits.  All students were successful at identifying the evidence although the students sometimes identified different sentences or phrases on the page.

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The following day the students completed a similar task with the story “Tomas and the Library Lady” by Pat Mora (again in our HM anthology). I chose three character traits for the library lady “kind or mean”, “friendly or unfriendly”, and “helpful or unhelpful” and asked the students to find evidence in the text for each pair.  This time I asked the students to record the words, phrases, or sentences from the text on a piece of paper I provided.  Again, all of the students were successful at identifying the evidence from the text to support idea.

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All in all, I thought this was an effective way to introduce the concept of close reading to describe a character in depth. I will continue to ask students to practice this skill but will begin to pull away some of the scaffolding I provided in these two lessons. Students will determine their own character traits and provide evidence from the text.

Collaborative Skype Blogging Partners

I am looking for a 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade classroom somewhere in the world to partner with my two classes of 40 fourth graders in Edina, Minnesota, USA. My idea is to match students with similar interests to collaboratively write a blog. The interests could be anything that motivates students to curate and write about…sports, favorite author, pets, fishing, etc (you get the picture right?).

Students would take turns meeting once a week throughout the year via Skype to discuss and plan their blog postings. I would like to begin sometime in mid or late October once the students have learned the routines. Perhaps this could be optional and limited to only those students motivated and committed to collaboratively sustaining the blog for the entire year. Please contact me via email if you are interested and we can get the ball rolling. Thanks!

tererickson@edina.k12.mn.us

Perhaps My Best Idea…Ever!

I scheduled our first bloggers meeting for early January just after winter break. The idea for a fourth grade bloggers group had been floating around in my brain since the beginning of the year. I’m always looking for authentic writing experiences for my students and I thought a blog was perfect. What could be better than self-publishing to the world! I needed to decide if I wanted to make it an assignment for all the students in my class or an option? I have read and commented on many student blogs from all over the world thanks to links on Twitter chats #comments4kids and #classblogs. Many teachers use blogs for student assignments, reflections, or assessment. These purposes are useful and interesting for the teachers and students but not so much for anyone else. I believe the best student blogs are those developed around the author’s passions, interests, and/or expertise. So I developed a simple plan:

*the blogger group would be open to all fourth graders.

*we would meet once a week during recess to talk about blogging, share ideas, and support each other as writers.

*students would need to set aside their own time to write at home.

*blogs could be of any topic or subject.

*the students’ writing would not be evaluated, judged, critiqued, or graded.

First bloggers meeting.

Would fourth grade students be willing to give up recess once a week and commit to writing at home that wasn’t an assignment? I had my doubts but decided to give it a try. I told myself I would be happy if even one student attended but I was hoping for a few more than that. Unbelievably, 45 fourth graders showed up for the first meeting! There are 100 fourth graders at my school so that is nearly half! The temperature outside that day was around 0 degrees F so I didn’t know if all of these students were really interested in blogging or they were looking for a warm place to hide out. (I told you in my first post I am sometimes a kind of half-empty type of guy, right?)

The second blogger meeting was scheduled and 39 students attended. (Ah ha…so there WERE six students looking for a warm place after all!) We have met several times since then and now have 31 blogs up and running. We truly have a committed group of fourth grade bloggers!

Please take a few minutes to read and comment on our blogs. Thank you!

Fourth Grade Blogs

Next post…finding an audience.

Can Wrong Answers Be Right?

I am amazed everyday how children and adults interpret conversation, body language, actions, and directions so differently. Key phrases of this happening are “I thought you meant…” and “No, I meant…”. How many times in your teaching career have you heard and said these phrases? I take pride in skillfully writing and giving directions to students. When they misinterpret or don’t understand the directions I am usually taken aback. Key phrases of this happening are “What do you mean you don’t understand?” or “What don’t you understand about…”.

Do students sometimes “misinterpret” questions on a test? Or do teachers sometimes “misinterpret” their answers? You betcha! Earlier this year I was marking a multiple choice/written response test for reading class. Trying to work through the pile as quick as possible I used the teacher’s answer key instead of first reading the story myself. After marking several tests I noticed disparate answers for the written response questions and non of them matching the sample answers in the teacher’s guide. This should be a red flag for any teacher so I decided I had better read the story and answer the questions myself. I discovered that their responses were not “wrong” but indeed “right” depending on how they interpreted the questions!  How does this play out on standardized tests??? Could our students be answering the questions right but getting them marked wrong???

I have included a somewhat humorous look at this issue shared by my good friend and retired teacher Judy B. I don’t know the origin or author.

STUDENT WHO OBTAINED 0% ON AN EXAM
I would have given him 100%
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Q1. In which battle did Napoleon die?
* his last battleQ2. Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?
* at the bottom of the page

Q3. River Ravi flows in which state?
* liquid

Q4. What is the main reason for divorce?
* marriage

Q5. What is the main reason for failure?
* exams

Q6. What can you never eat for breakfast?
* Lunch & dinner

Q7. What looks like half an apple?
* The other half

Q8. If you throw a red stone into the blue sea what it will become?
* It will simply become wet

Q9. How can a man go eight days without sleeping ?
* No problem, he sleeps at night.

Q10. How can you lift an elephant with one hand?
* You will never find an elephant that has only one hand..

Q11. If you had three apples and four oranges in one hand and four apples and three oranges in other hand, what would you have ?
* Very large hands

Q12. If it took eight men ten hours to build a wall, how long would it take four men to build it?
* No time at all, the wall is already built.

Q13. How can u drop a raw egg onto a concrete floor without cracking it?
*Any way you want, concrete floors are very hard to crack.

Technology Is Great When It Doesn’t Work

Lemonade from lemons? Silk purse from a sow’s ear? The glass half-full? Truth be told, these optimistic phrases are usually not the stream of thoughts I have when confronted with a problem. I am more of the fight or flight type of guy. I either take battle with an issue or throw my hands up and move on. Thank goodness I didn’t flee when faced with technology challenges this year. Little did I know what a significant loss that would have been for me and my students.

I decided to dive into the web 2.0 pool this fall with my students after wading in the shallows last year. I signed up for a Twitter account in early September after listening to Will Richardson speak at a district staff development session. Wow, the web 2.0 resources I gathered was staggering. I was so excited to launch some of these new web applications with my fourth grade students.  I did my usual careful planning ahead of time, sampling the features of the web site and completing a project so I could teach my students and show them an end product. Usually everything went fine for me when I tried it at home but no so much at school for various reasons. I encountered issue after issue on some web sites along with hardware problems and issues with the district’s internal system. I calmly expressed my disappointment and told the students that it had worked for me and maybe we’ll try again some other day. However, my real thoughts at the time were …forget this kiddos, we tried and now I’m giving up. In other words I chose to flee, my usual modus operandi. I chose not to work out the problems because I thought I was wasting such valuable teaching time but I was potentially about to waste valuable learning time.

I went home that day feeling very defeated and pessimistic about using the new technology with my students. I had a decision to make—work at solving the problems with the new technology or fall back on the reliable and familiar. Remarkably and fortunately I decided to give it another try. I went in the next day and decided to draw back the curtains to my thinking process and let the students observe how I was going to go about solving problems with the web sites, hardware, and internal systems. I told the students that technology is great when it works but I will need to think of a plan B and perhaps a plan C if it doesn’t. I verbally modeled my problem solving strategies as if I was teaching how to solve a problem in math class or a  applying a comprehension strategy during a read aloud. We plowed through and my students had many successes using web sites such as Blabberize, Voki, Bit Strips, Google Apps, and Story Bird just to name a few.

The best outcome of these events was the transfer of problem solving skills to the students themselves. I have five computers in my classroom with limited access to the main computer lab, mini-lab, and net book carts. In other words, sometimes not enough computers in one place when I need them. I asked some of my colleagues if the students could use their classroom computers during certain times during the week and several graciously agreed. So this means my class is sometimes split up in different rooms throughout the school with me running back and forth monitoring and helping when needed. One day I modeled how to upload a picture from their file to Blogger and then sent the students off to the various rooms to complete the task. As I went from room to room I asked if there were any problems and the students said yes they had encountered problems doing it the way I modeled but someone in their group came up with a plan B! I am convinced that would not have happened if I had decided not to model my thinking to solve these technology problems. I know they would have sat staring at the computer monitor until I arrived to help them.

A second affirmation came when I was modeling how to use a website to a mixture of students from the other fourth grade classrooms. As usual I encountered a problem and had to stop the lesson to think my way through. A student from another classroom raised his hand and asked what he is supposed to do now. A student from my class replied “This happens all the time. Just give him a couple of minutes and he’ll have a plan B.” Perhaps the glass is half full after all.

My First Brain Drain

Hi everyone!  This is the first post of what I hope will be many for my brain drizzles, squalls, and storms about teaching and technology. Stay tuned please.