Teacher Blogs

By Kendall Strickler, 3rd Grade

November 2016

Teachers get inspiration in the most unlikely places. Once, I taught a whole multiplication lesson around a turkey I see in a grocery store. But I didn't know that a Brownie uniform would lead to something really special.

I had to go to Joann's Fabric store this summer to get some no-iron patch adhesive for my daughter's Brownie uniform. I am about as crafty as I am handy, so I am equally lost in Michael's or AC Moore as I am in Home Depot. As a result, I was wandering the aisles looking for this particular adhesive without any clue as to what section it might be in. Then I walked past a bin with a big sign declaring "Remnants! 50% Off!" and a light bulb went off over my head.

I saw fabric in all sizes, in every color of the rainbow, and many with great kid prints like Harry Potter, Minions, Shopkins, and emojis. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with those fabrics but I knew at that moment that I needed them for my incoming class of 3rd graders. So I grabbed a shopping cart and tossed in a very generous pile. As I drove home with my big bag of cheap fabrics, I decided to set a goal for myself: I would come up with a way to incorporate some kind of fabric project into my curriculum once a month.

My September idea was to make pillows as part of our "First Six Weeks of School" curriculum where the focus is on getting to know one another and building community. I spread all of the fabrics out on the worktable in my classroom and invited the children to pick out one or two that represented them in some way. One boy picked out the Harry Potter fabric because he read the whole series over the summer (he achieved a million words before school even started!) and was extremely proud of this accomplishment. One girl picked a fabric with smiley face emojis because she always smiled. Another boy picked an orange fabric simply because that has always been his favorite color.

The students measured and cut out their fabrics, and carefully pinned the pieces together. I helped them sew three sides on the sewing machine and then they stuffed the pillows with filling and sewed the final side by hand. They loved it.

Next the kids wrote a free-verse poem about their pillows that they presented to the class. Here's Jack with his pillow (with two different fabric sides):

And here's the poem he wrote:

My pillow is ocean blue,
Yellow like a banana,
Soft as a cloud,
Bedtime friend, beautiful fabric,
It makes me feel great,
Monsters here and there,
Yellow, green, and blue.

Some of the kids took their pillows home to sleep with at night, some keep them in the classroom as a reading buddy. We love our pillows!

In October we read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane aloud as part of our fantasy unit. Edward is a china bunny who is three feet tall. He is the beloved toy of a girl from a proper family who dresses him in a wardrobe of outfits--all fancy, silk, gold pocket watches, that sort of thing. He ends up getting lost and as a result goes on one heck of a journey of personal awakening with many stops. Over the course of his journey, he changes into many different outfits. And there, the next fabric idea was born: as a culminating project at the end of the book, the students would design their own outfit for Edward.

I emptied my fabric bin on the workable again and spread out all the different textures and colors. The kids talked about what they learned about Edward as a character as he journeyed through the book and thoughtfully selected different fabrics. They drew an outline on a piece of poster board and used glue dots to adhere the fabric pieces they cut out. They added embellishments like a tiny yellow button and gold ribbon to represent Edward's pocket watch. Next the kids wrote a paragraph describing the outfit they made for Edward and what it says about him as a character. Here's Brooke's:

These kids blow me away with their creativity. Their exit cards made my heart swell. Here's one example:

Making this outfit taught me my love for fashion. I learned that some materials don't go together as well as others. As I made this I realized that it's not about Edward wearing his outfit but it is about making it and knowing him to figure out what he would and would not wear.

Stay tuned for the November fabric idea. I think we're going to dig through our remnants again to make dioramas of animal habitats for our nonfiction reading unit. Fun!

By Kendall Strickler, 3rd Grade

October 2016

I love to teach reading. The look on a child's face when they connect with a book, really connect with a book, is the kind of stuff that makes my heart swell. So it kind of breaks my heart a little bit when I hear one of my third graders say, "I don't have anything to read." I will then do a sweeping motion with my arm toward our extensive classroom library, beautifully organized in color-coded bins by genre, and invite them to peruse at their leisure. When they come back and announce, "I don't like anything in there," then I know it's time for a visit from Chef Genre.

Chef Genre is a silly character I created who helps kids enhance their reading lives. She runs a special kind of cafe that allows students to sample different genres of books by having a "book tasting." Some kids have a fixed mindset about books ("I don't like fantasy"), and a good book tasting is an effective way to turn that into a growth mindset ("This book looks cool! I'm going to give it a try!"). Chef Genre hosted my first book tasting of the year this week, which focused on three genres: fantasy, mystery, and nonfiction.

Chef Genre is from Dijon, France (genre being a French word and all), has crazy rainbow-colored hair, an oversized puffy chef's hat, and light blue polka-dotted kitten glasses. She's a real dog lover (she has ten dogs at home) so she wears an apron with a picture of all ten of her dogs on it. She has a thick French accent, and is an avid reader and a comedic joker. (I really love to ham it up in front of my kids.)

I generated excitement for the first book tasting by posting signs on the classroom door, "Book Tasting Tomorrow!" and then "Book Tasting Today!" The kids were very curious but I wouldn't let on at all. I sent them out to recess on the day of the tasting, and worked quickly to turn my classroom into a cafe and myself into Chef Genre. I spread checkered tablecloths at each of our three genre tables and then put a book at each place setting, with a stack of additional books of the same genre in the center of the table. I dimmed the lights, turned on cafe music, and donned my accessories.

When the kids came back from recess, I told them that their teacher had to run out and I, Chef Genre, was in charge. I checked their "reservations" and sent them to their tables. Their instructions were to peruse the book at their place setting for five minutes. If they didn't want to read it, they could swap it out with a book from the pile. When they found one they liked, they wrote the title down on their special book tasting bookmark. Their goal was to have two titles on their bookmarks before the time was up at their genre table. When I rang my chime, the kids rotated to the next genre table and followed the same procedure again, and then one more time.

After they had visited all three tables, the kids filled out a reflection "napkin:" What did they think of the tasting? Was there anything that surprised them? I got exactly the response I was looking for. One boy wrote: "I never expected to like a nonfiction book but I learned some really cool things. This was GREAT!" And one girl wrote: "I found lots of books that I did not think I would enjoy but now want to read!"

With that kind of feedback, I knew the book tasting was a valuable experience for my students. Chef Genre's work is done here! She'll be back in a few months to do another tasting with three more genres. Until then, au revoir!

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