Feb Fun

February happenings
I am so happy that assessments are finished. Back to school!

After attending the recent new principal candidate meeting, I was reminded of how Richmond is a “Language Program” at its heart. It is easy to get wrapped up in the common core state standards (CCSS) and my own ideas of what we could do in school that I forget that language, including first language, is the heart of what teachers are doing at Richmond. I’m reminded of how students with a strong understanding of English will do that must better in Japanese. My goal is to support that mission.

On one hand, we do lots language – READING. On the other hand, we are constantly cutting our writing time. With this in mind, I feel good about how much time I spend and have spent focused on grammar (this year and in the past.) I want to spend more time working on writing. In January and now February we are using most of our writing time on Grammar Direct Instruction. We’re focused on the rules rather than the art. Students actually like this – it is less abstract. Like most publicly-educated Americans, I am not a master of my own language and its rules. (Whoops, did I say that out loud!) I do not expect second grade students to master all of these concepts, but we will address them and learn together.

In February we will also create and solve story problems. This will take the first two weeks of the month. I’m hoping that after Presidents Day will be begin our huge geometry unit. Geometry will take us up to Spring Break.

On February 1st, with some students helping, I re-engineered the structure of desks. I really want to use the white board for instruction and use the overhead much less. We also have students now sitting in front of the cork board wall (south wall). I can post spelling words and anything else at sight level. All students need a cork board at sight level! The room is now way more spacious with fewer places for clutter. Desks are arranged to help students focus, while the openness of the room encourages movement and interaction. We can have it both ways.

The walls are still Spartan – I’ve never seen a student use or read a poster in ANY classroom. I have hung so many things over the years out of fear of non-conformity, but I think this practice is more teacher related than student related. I’m only interested in what is useful to students or aesthetically pleasing to create a better environment. I’ve asked students about this–what to do with the walls?–and they’ve always said, “I like it empty.” In a world covered in advertisements, an empty space feels nice. The only thing I’ve ever seen students look at on a wall in class is peer-generated work. I place peer-generated work in binders and these are read daily. I’d like to get some HUGE plants in here and maybe hang a giant painting. Another carpet might be nice. VIBE is a real thing. When we moved into this space I requested blue walls (the same color I managed to get our former classroom painted upstairs.) I wanted blue walls but they gave me prison gray! Anyway, the room is really COOL right now, but still needs work.

Warm regards,


Understanding Report Cards

You’ll see some of playwright David Mamet’s ideas in here about Acting School. His ideas are really applicable to our industrial public school model.  Apologies in advance for any pedantry or hyperbolic statements in the following.  I dislike the former and am prone to the latter, especially after a cup of coffee. But hey, it’s a blog, so take it with a grain of salt. (Mamet would never apologize.)

I always have lots of questions about report cards, so hopefully I can clarify some things in advance. RCs are nebulous, inky, opaque. About report cards: for my students I quote Mamet quoting the stoics, “work hard for your own good opinion of yourself.”

I find RCs confusing and I’m guessing they are made by non-teachers. I also believe in meeting student where they are at and working with what they bring to class. RCs ask me to force a student along faster than perhaps they are ready. From learning the drums I understand the 10,000 hours rule. Everyone needs time to learn and the right conditions. I can’t help but feel that grades are another tool of gate-keeping, and when a student becomes older, a tool used to deny the underprivileged a proper education (a human right). In second grade they are not a gate-keeping instrument. Grades are blunt tool for a complex situation: the individual learner.

As a teacher, I am most concerned about a student’s effort, curiosity, ability to work with others, and evidence of personal growth. I struggle defining my students within state and district metrics, both of which can reveal some good information about a student but hardly recognize or illuminate the potential of the whole child. Grades help guide families through an industrial education system, but have little to do with motivating students authentically and – in my opinion – do not give good insight into a student’s future. How many of us know successful people that struggled in school or the opposite: school was easy but real life is hard? Keep in mind there is no grade for creativity (in all things), kindness, or recess skills.  Nonetheless, we know that reading on grade level by third grade shows a direct connection with student success through high school. However, a “low” grade or a pep talk or lecture will not change the ability level of the student (nor will it change an undesirable behavior.) A student that is struggling simply needs more and perhaps different instruction. That is all. It begins there. What they don’t need is to internalize negative feelings about themselves, learning, or school. Even with our best efforts to conceal these things from students, they become aware and often compare themselves with their peers. As they get older it becomes more pronounced. It is an unintended side effect of grades and the pressure teachers put on students to perform at mandated levels that are not always appropriate or even purposeful.

I work hard to give the best information about performance on report cards to help families navigate their child’s industrial school experience, but I see my students as a whole lot more than a — /, V, +

Working within this industrial model, teachers struggle with finding the right assessment tool. The district provides some but they don’t always align with the report card and the common core state standards. In a sense, the model wants to standardize everyone across the country (despite a various cultures in America), yet in reality I am not provided with all the tools to do this. Teachers are then making the decision about the assessment tool. This is fine with me because it reflects what we are doing in my class, but we wonder what other schools are doing. Like parents, we wonder: are we keeping up?  All this to keep up with the industrial model which demands to be served and we teachers end up serving it out school culture and professional requirements and pressure.  Always pressure.

Here is what I’m certain about. I know my students are curious and extreme in their engagement. I give them all an A+ for that. When we have a behavior problem (for me) in class, it is usually because engagement turns into running and skipping in the room. These kids like to learn, want to learn, and are learning how to learn in class – despite any grade given. I am proud of the environment in our room and I always follow “teachable moments,” which are never reflected on the report card and completely unpredictable, like real life.

Here’s how I think about the grades:

V means you are totally on track with district metrics and possibly ahead. While we do spend a lot of time class time testing (that is what I call it), the tests are not comprehensive and we know that students perform different at different times for all sorts of reasons. Therefore, I give V when I have some evidence and enough observational evidence to feel confident that a student is headed towards what we call mastery. (Personally, I think testing is a skill. I am horrible at it. You can pay people to teach you how to take a test. What does that say about testing in general? What does it say about those with the means to pay for the class to teach you how to take the test? It is a skill for the industrial model. Isn’t life the real test? Our tests should reflect the challenges of real life. Typically they do not. I’m not sure what a “real” life test looks like actually. I know that “writing tests” do not reflect the challenges of writing authentically. I suppose we can make a test for technical writing. Yikes!)

M or Meeting is also a more than sufficient score. I don’t like giving “exceeds” until farther in the year when I have enough observational or work sample evidence. The new state assessments are difficult, third grade at Richmond is exceptionally difficult, so I’m hesitant to give exceeds except where I’m not absolutely positive. I’d rather you get to third grade and find out you are ahead than show up and find out you are behind (in the metric). And we still have TWO more report cards. As a building we do want better vertical alignment. Until that happens, I am cautious about grades.

CM or Close to Meeting is also a good score. That typically means that there are a fill holes to fill in the student’s skill set, things I will want to target in instruction in third term.

N – Not Meeting means the student is not meeting the district metrics about performance.  Parents typically know this about their child and are working with their child and the school.

NM – no mark means I simply do not have enough evidence and I don’t want to guess about what is going in the student’s mind.

Despite RCs, maybe go out for pizza to celebrate yours and your child’s continuous education.

Lots of love,


Next week

— CoGat Fun Puzzles

–Author visit

–Late start

— continue DIBELS testing

— Finish the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

–Read and study “The Missing Piece” by Shel Silverstein (lots of work around this book)

–Introduce “opinion,” and “would you rather” writing prompts (this will get the pencils moving)

–makeup math tests

–continue small Weather study, record temperatures outside

–conference independently with students for writing

–maybe begin adjectives…


January in School

January News
• In January we will be DIBELing (reading fluency test) students who below the district benchmark.
• We have a new door. Students created collages and we combined them to cover the entire surface area of our door.
• We’ll finish the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
• We’ll do a week-long in depth study of Shel Silverstein’s “The Missing Piece.”
• We have only three weeks left to prioritize writing stories. In the next term we will be writing opinion pieces. Students will be assessed on authentic work generated throughout the term rather than a single writing prompt.
• We have use some of our math time to focus on science. Students will be learning about clouds, the water cycle, and thermometers.
• It is assessment season, so there will be a lot of class time spent on testing.
• CoGat testing. This is a district mandated test. It takes two hours and will be given on Monday, January 11 and Tuesday, January 12. There are NO MAKE UP days for this test. Historically students have enjoyed this test. It requires no reading or writing.
• I will be working in the building one day this month to develop assessments and scope and sequence work around reading interventions. This will probably be next Wednesday.
• There is NO SCHOOL on the following Mondays: January 18 (MLK DAY) and January 25 (Teachers working on report cards)
• ENGLISH homework will go out on Friday, January 8th. Next week we will be back to our Thursday schedule.
• We’ll continue reading from Scott Foresman. Typically students read a selection independently, and then with a partner, then we listen to an audio recording. After all this we we’ll work through some comprehension questions.
• Scott Foresman Grammar Book – next week we’ll be working on VERBS all week.
• January 20th – late opening
• January 26th – Switch Day

Room Reps need your email

Hello 2nd Grade Families!
Your classroom representative, Christine Gray (Miles’ mom) and I (Jenna Wines, Henry’s mom) are trying again to get a class email list together.  The list will be used to let you know about what’s going on at Richmond, specifically for our class (big tent takes care of all the school-wide news!). News might come from PTA, Oya No Kai, or from another classmate.
We’re trying to make it super-easy and to keep excess emails to a minimum by using the MailChimp service.  Here’s what you do:
Click this link:
Enter your name, your child’s name, and your email address.
You’ll get a confirmation email.  You’ll need to Click the confirm button in that email to be subscribed.
That’s it!  Super-easy!  You’ll get very few, very unspammy email from us! You’ll be totally in the know about 2nd grade goings-on!
Subscribe right now so you don’t forget!
jenna.levy@gmail.com (you can email me if you have any problems!)

Thank you for the gifts and cards

Always unnecessary but very generous, thank you families for the cards, gifts, and goodies. Happy New Year. I’ll have updates soon on what to look for in January.



Yes – at least one student…

A student told me told me today she did not want to go on winter break because she wanted to stay in school to write her story (about a bunny that escapes a fur factory!) and read.

Don’t forget – tomorrow is Star Wars Day in Mr.D’s room, but ONLY Mr. D’s room.

3 Annoucements

NO ENGLISH HW over break (maybe a passport map)

Friday is wear your Star Wars shirt to Mr.D’s room. I don’t actually have one, and I’m WAY more into Star Trek (because of its positivist future vision, rather than warring vision), but there is cultural zeitgeist right now for Star Wars and I figured it would be fun.

It is not too late to turn in last week’s HW. These ACT I writing assignments are so impressive. We are sharing them in class. If your child needs a new copy, I have extras. Students seem proud to be writing these days and ask “are we going to get writing time?”

Thanks for bringing me such fun, smart, and positive students each day. Makes my job really special.




This week – BUSY!


Some random info this week:

You would not believe the conversations in class around character and conflict in stories.  I can and can’t believe the high level and critical thinking that goes on in these conversations. AND, students will change their minds based on the arguments of others. Students are not trying to “win” conversations. It is really civilized. We’ll stay in this mode until the end of second term, when we switch to opinion.

Hope everyone is doing well. This is always a FUN time to be in school. We are working hard and there is a lot of positive energy around the holidays in the building. There’s a top secret Teacher Band in the works for a Friday Assembly, too. Mums the word.

Love to see the kids each day. I really am so impressed by their curiosity and over-all good will towards learning and life in general.

We might see a return of Athletic Santa or Dog Boy (who has been impersonating Athletic Santa) this week to liven up the place. You just never know what is going to happen in second grade.  I might even make a call to the White Witch from Narnia, but no promises.


Things the kiddos should be telling you about:

Second Grade Art Auction project

Introduction to nouns – proper, singular, and plural

Introduction to money – 4 quarters in a dollar, 100 cents in a dollar, and some tricky story problems

Pearl and Wagner Story – we’ll break this story down by setting, character, conflict, and resolution, and read for fluency (not a great story but we’ll break into the essentials for comprehension)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – it will be a big push, but I’d like to finish before break starts

Independent writing – students continue to work in journals on authentic writing

Students are learning about structure and we’ll spend more time doing the complex work of thinking through Act breaks in stories.

Late Start on Wednesday

There will also be a BIG winter assembly on Friday





Work in English

Greetings parents,

Early homework assignments look excellent. I’m talking about the movie essay about characters. I hope students enjoyed this assignment. I love the critical thinking that they have to put forth to understand “story.” I know this is hard stuff, but they are very engaged in class. I am asking students to wrestle with ambiguity and it is new to them. There are not clear right and wrong answers in stories (and life) and stories allow for parallel truths to exist simultaneously (and life too). We’ve entered the cerebral (at a second grade level, of course.) It is really fun to watch them think and push them to think through complex emotional situations within stories. They are capable. We know children have emotions as complex as adults but often lack the language to express it.

We ask children to write, we give them graphic organizers, but we don’t give them the recipe and ingredients to storytelling. Imagine if someone asked you to cook a dish, gave you the pots and pans, but no recipe and no ingredients. You’ve eaten food before and you know when something tastes right, but you can’t just cook something up without:

the recipe

the ingredients

lots of practice in the kitchen


This week we are working on:

telling time on the analog clock

fact families

introduction to story problems

Reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (first time for me and it is excellent. Students are engaged big time.)

Writing focus: beginnings of stories (ACT 1)

Fluency: Reading Pearl and Wagner from Scott Foresman, and running it through the story analysis filter (who are the characters, what do they want, and where does ACT 1 break into ACT 2?)


There will be one more HW assignment before winter break but NO homework (except Passport Club maps) over winter break.

Stay dry!



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