This month my post features an exceptional teacher whose classroom I visited recently. Third grade teacher Jennifer Upright always knew she wanted to teach. She says, “Even as a child I knew there was a better way. I want my students to know I love teaching!”
Jen’s joy and positive outlook are infectious and pervade her classroom. Not only do her 3rd graders love Jen, they’re making excellent academic and social gains. Jen, who’s in her ninth year of teaching, works at Hawlemont Regional School in Charlemont, MA, near where she grew up.
Jen’s classroom is fresh and colorful without being cluttered. She turns off half the fluorescent lights and uses small table lamps for ambient lighting. The room features cozy nooks and also plenty of room to get up and exercise. And there’s comfortable seating with a couch, beach chairs, and throw pillows.
Jen uses posters sparingly. Wall charts are handy references that help students find independent reading books, set up their "Book Lover’s Book" (a reading, writing, and grammar journal), and internalize learning objectives. Bulletin boards about comprehension and accuracy are meant to instruct.
It’s evident that Jen expects a lot from 8 year olds. In the course of one reading lesson, students discussed inferences, sensory language, similes, and personification. They practiced note-taking and participated fully in a class discussion.
Jen hopes her students will
Academically, she hopes they’ll
Although Jen has small group interventions based on a careful analysis of student data, she often teaches her class as a group and modifies her lessons so everyone’s included. Jen’s use of whole group instruction, with plenty of visuals and an emphasis on interactivity, engages her students. Each lesson has a context connected to objectives, concepts, and previous lessons. There’s a bit of review and then she quickly moves on to new concepts.
Third graders know that if they pay attention for seven minutes, they can earn a smiley face. When they earn four smiley faces, they get a body break. Jen has a list of behaviors she’s looking for that are posted on her whiteboard, along with a magnetic stopwatch that is preset for seven minutes. Body breaks are rhymes, cheers, or songs with accompanying movement or dance that allow students to get up, move around, and have fun. Among their favorite body breaks are "Boom, Chicka, Boom" and "Peel the Banana."
Jen sings, “Class, class, class!” to which students sing back, “Yes, yes, yes!” When it’s time to begin work, Jen snaps her fingers and says, “GO!” and students respond by snapping their fingers and repeating, “GO!” Jen has discovered that call and response works well as way to get the group’s attention and build enthusiasm for work.
Jen found she was spending too much time teaching students to use a variety of confusing graphic organizers. So now she teaches her students to use two-column notes, an all-purpose note-taking strategy and a universal graphic organizer. Since students master just one technique, they get daily practice. By the time MCAS, the Massachusetts state test, is given this spring, students will have internalized two-column notes and will use them as they organize their thoughts for MCAS open response questions.
Each student has a loose-leaf binder with dividers that is used as a Book Lover’s Book, an all-purpose storehouse of notes related to reading, writing, and grammar. Here’s a chart that lists the subheadings in each student’s Book Lover’s Book:
Jen’s 3rd graders are working diligently to become more accurate readers who understand what they read. In the photo below, Jen is reading with Brian. Brian is working on scooping his sentences so he’ll take more natural breaks as he reads.
Jen has so many ideas about teaching reading that she’s thinking about writing a book!
Some of the professional development titles that have helped Jen become the teacher she is today include
I had so much fun visiting Jen and writing about her class that I plan to feature another teacher next month!