I’m Sorry Made Easy

Kids will be kids. We all know that. But what about that faceless kid who does something very naughty, something that takes away the fun for the group? What can we do when we know someone is guilty, but we have no way of proving who without a confession? Do we punish the whole group, well that just never works and honestly, although I shrink away from saying “it’s not fair” well, it’s not fair. It isn’t right to punish a whole group when one child is guilty. Well, today I found a way for “I’m Sorry”to be “Made Easy”.

It all started when I picked my class up at computers. I could tell something was wrong because they were already lined up at the door with the computer teacher when I arrived. Usually I have to drag them all away from their favorite, Minecraft EDU. Today I walked up and inquired,

“Is something wrong?”

“Yes,” the computer teacher replied. “Someone went invisible today (in Minecraft, hahaha, I don’t teach in a wizard school) and destroyed the work that several teams were building.” She had her arms folded and her face told me this was bad.

I looked at my class, all lined up with those eager faces, wanting to tell me all that they knew but sensing this wasn’t the time.

“I told them they have until Friday for someone to come to me and confess,” she continued, “if no one confesses by Friday then no Minecraft next week, we will all be doing ‘Type to Learn’.”

Oh man, if you could have seen those dejected faces. Talk about punishing the whole group. And I know from past experience, the culprit rarely comes forth by the deadline. They are hidden as it stands, punished right along with everyone else, and the sacrifice of ‘fessing up is just not worth it.

As I led the class away I pondered on what to do. Unbeknownst to them, I was about to take them all out for an extra recess with the rest of the third graders. It was the first day of their state assessments and we thought they could use a little extra play time. I could remove the recess time but again, to punish the whole because of the one…

It was then that the most brilliant idea came to me!

I have a lot of behavior issues in my class this year. A few months ago I began having the children involved in any altercations write out for me an explanation of what happened. It saved me from wasting class time getting to the bottom of things and gave the guilty parties time to think through what they did and why. It has actually worked quite well.

So we came in the room and I had them all sit down.

“Children, I was planning on taking you all outside for an extra recess today,” I began,

That brought smiles to their faces!

“however I need to know who behaved so poorly in computer lab.”

Sad faces.

“So I have decided to give whoever needs to confess one chance. He or she will restore our extra recess and be able to restore Minecraft for you next week. I’m going to give everyone a piece of paper. One of you will be apologizing and explaining and everyone else will just write me a nice letter! Got it?”

Tentative smiles and nodding heads.

I handed out paper, instructed them to go somewhere so they could write in private, and told them to hand their letters in to me when they were finished.

“Hurry so we have time for extra recess!” I encouraged them.

And it worked! It really did! I got 21 lovely letters and 1 note of apology; signed, sealed, and delivered. I did nothing except praise all of them for acting so quickly and I let them know I was very proud of their classmate who decided to do the right thing and be honest.

We went out, they played, and I smiled because I figured out a way for “I’m Sorry” to be “Made Easy”!

Tomorrow I’ll deal with my culprit!


The Mean Girl Show

It starts with a whisper or two.

“She knows the boss, that’s how she got the interview.”

“Look at her, she’s young and pretty, of course she got the job.”

“She hangs out with him and they have this weird relationship. It’s just wrong the things they say and do.”

“I just don’t trust her.”

“She goes right home every day and never stays here after work, she never hangs around to find out what is going on.”

“She never comes to lunch.”

“The boss likes her.”

“She just doesn’t do things the way we do them.”

No one ever knows who whispered it first. Perhaps the all knowing walls were listening one day and shared. Who else would know all of these ‘truths’ that condemn a person from the day they set foot at their new job.

What’s striking, and alarming, is the lack of any first hand knowledge. Most of what drifts along is coupled with, “Well, I heard” rather than “I know”. It’s gossip, it’s hearsay, it’s potentially a lie (if there is no basis in truth) but no one seems to care. They adopt the stance as their own and join the club. They lean in and reply ‘Really!’ with an exclamation mark rather than ‘Really?’with a question mark.

The Mean Girls Show.

Because it is mean. It is sad. Sad for the culture of the workplace because once innuendo is allowed to sway the masses then a power shift begins. Because if you are willing to join the club, willing to pass along words you do not know to be true, then you will become fearful of getting caught outside of

The Mean Girls Show.

And then beware the cult of personality. Because being inside will mean power and being outside will not be an option. And freedom of thought begins to waver. And it just becomes easier (and safer) to say ‘Really!’ rather than ‘Really?’



Have You Read This?

So I have this little problem, see, and it has to do with books. The thing is


I was pretty much born with a book in my hand. I was that kid reading with a flashlight in bed and turning it off really fast when I heard my father’s car coming down the road. I was that kid who wouldn’t leave the grocery story unless my mother bought me a new Golden Book. I was that kid that who would rather read than sit on the beach (I didn’t like reading in the sun so reading on the beach was not an option). And don’t even get me started on what it felt like when the bookmobile came to my school!

And I still read, all the time.

Which brings me to today. And my Slice.

I am always reading a novel to my class. We go from one book to the next. As I near the end of one all I hear is, “What are we reading next?” I always start the year with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry is my go-to main character. His problems span the spectrum from choosing friends to dealing with stardom to focusing on your studies! Parents come to me every year and tell me how Harry Potter has turned their child into a reader. And they are so grateful.

Right now I am reading Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate to my class. The depth of understanding these third graders are exhibiting for this boy and his troubles is impressive to say the least. They will hopefully not ever experience homelessness in their lifetime but they are living it through Jackson, the main character. He is walking them through the emotions of losing (almost) everything in the real way that only an amazing novel can. It is this first hand “experience” we gain from reading that fortifies my teaching, I can speak about places I’ve never been and struggles I have never had because my world is enriched by books.

So I would like to present a list of books. Books I have shared with third graders over the years. Books we have all learned from and loved. They are not in a particular order except for the top of the list which contains the top of my list, those books I reach for every year. I would love to hear from you about the books you reach for this same way!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The Farthest Away Mountain by Lynn Reid Banks

Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry

A Series of Unfortunate Events; The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snickett

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

The Boy On the Porch by Sharon Creech

Sideways Stories From Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Half Magic by Edward Eager

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Thank You Jackie Robinson by Barbara Cohen

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

and the most recent book I plan on reading this year:

Pax by Sara Pennypacker


Hopefully you will recognize some old friends from this list or perhaps make a new friend that you will try out this year. I look forward to some of your lists because four of my favorite words are

Have you read this?




Hang in Daffodils!

Every time I open my blog and see my picture of last year’s daffodils I think of the struggle this year’s daffodils have had. Spring arrived as expected here in New Jersey and we enjoyed a spell of lovely weather. Trees budded, grasses greened, daffodils bloomed and then…


We are just not used to this here in New Jersey. We get colder weather, rainy weather, but we just do not dive back into winter like this. I would just gaze out at my daffodils thinking, “Hang in there, guys!” And it seems to have worked because they are hanging in, as are the buds on the trees and the green grass. Nature seems to be withstanding nature and I can’t help but think about struggle in general and how, in the end, a balance is usually achieved.

Take any classroom, for example. The struggle to meet everyone’s needs, the struggle to guide each child along their personal road, the struggle to meet all of the expectations of your parents, the changing requirements put on everyone either because of district, state, or federal mandates. All of these struggles match your stride, step for step, throughout the year. But you keep standing! Your kids keep thriving! Your parents are pleased! And you meet all of those requirements!

Who would think that daffodils could be the poster flowers for taking on a struggle and surviving!

The Testing Struggle

With three weeks to go until we administer the PARCC test to our third graders, I struggle with the why, how, and what of preparing them. We teach our kids to read (Reading Workshop), to write (Writing Workshop), and to compute and problem solve (Pearson Realize) and I feel good about their skills. They span the spectrum, for sure, but they love to read, they love to write, and they love math. So…

WHY? I guess they need to get a feel for the test. We are fortunate to have chrome books available to our students so they are comfortable with them but they don’t necessarily know all of the “ins and outs” of the testing format. Ok, what else. Well, we have not completed our curriculum so there are topics they have not been exposed to yet as third graders. I’m especially thinking math! Hmmm, well, we also just finished information writing units and fiction reading units so that means there may be some narrative writing skills and some nonfiction reading skills they need to brush up on. Alright, so I’m feeling better about ‘why’ since it seems like there are some reasons they need to review before the test. Everyone reviews before a test, right?

HOW? Since this class thrives on routine I know I do not want to change that routine too much. So I can utilize the mini lesson to provide them with the test taking and review what we know strategies and skills. We can practice those skills during independent reading and writing, that will feel the ‘same’ and keep everyone humming along! Math still needs to be math! We are in our fraction units and they are a very important skill in third grade. BUT…we can steal time from other parts of our day and maybe sneak a little extra practice during math as a way of ramping up all that other ‘stuff’; telling time, counting change, geometry, area and perimeter, volume, and, of course, lots of problem solving! Ok, all do-able!

WHAT? But what should I be using? Well, our chrome books, obviously, since they will be taking their tests on them. And authentic texts, their own books, to practice those reading skills. There are also tons of online resources for articles and fiction pieces for the children to read. Writing is easy, I’ve already incorporated a “Slice of Life” challenge in my classroom. I told my class all about what I did for a month. They loved it and couldn’t wait to start slicing on their own! This will help them put those narrative writing skills back on the front burner. We have a test prep book that comes with our math series and beyond that I have my bag of tricks, I have been teaching these topics for years. So I guess I just need a good schedule to make sure I address everything I just thought through.

Ok, I’m set. It’s a test, like any other test. We won’t struggle, we will simply review. We won’t let it take over our lives, we will simply stick to a schedule and get the job


Looking Forward

Such a positive phrase, looking forward. I sit here at the end of a perfectly lovely spring break from school and I find myself looking forward. And I think, “Yes, I am truly looking forward!”

I am looking forward to:

seeing my class! I really am. They are a funny, quirky, at times naughty, yet endearing group of third graders. We have three more months together as a group identified as “Mrs. Scannell’s class”. We still have books to read together, problems to solve together, learning to explore together, and laughs and good times to be had with each other.

getting outside! This is such an awesome time of year here in New Jersey. Each day flirts a tiny bit more with those adjectives we all yearn for; gorgeous, beautiful, ten best, beach weather, lovely…you get the picture. It doesn’t matter that we just struggled through an intense thunder and lightning storm that left gale force winds behind; we know each week, day by day, we will be fulfilled with the promise of more good days than bad. Or at least we really hope so.

trying new things! I love the stride you hit at about this time of year. Your class knows the routines, they can hum along like a well oiled machine (can, don’t always), you know each of them like the back of your hand so you can really start to target those individual needs. And that is what lends itself to trying new things. Try stuff out that you didn’t think of or didn’t think you could manage earlier in the year when everything was so new! Work on those areas of your day that could be better, try new schedules, new routines, heck! move everything around in your classroom!

summer! All of a sudden those summer plans are looming as a reality. That vacation you have been planning needs some final touches. That professional development you have been pondering requires some decisions. That extra work you know you can pick up here and there, whether it is a job, curriculum writing, tutoring, or teaching summer school needs some planning for. And then there is all that time that stretches out before you; time to read, exercise, catch up on movies, learn new things, play. This past week I practiced for summer. Over the next few months the weather will practice for summer. And in that cycle of life called a school year, things will wind down, reports will be completed, tests administered, end of year stuff will happen, and ultimately so will summer.

Total Immersion

There is something to be said for diving into a book and staying there until you finish it. Few of us have the time to do this on a regular basis but I highly recommend it once in a while. In my experience, it changes the relationship you develop, the almost kinship to the characters and their lives that can emerge from total immersion. I was fortunate enough to read The Brothers Karamazov this way. I was home for the summer and was able to read every day for big chunks of time. I believe the immersion enhanced my enjoyment and understanding of the story.

I just finished reading a truly wonderful new book called Pax by Sara Pennypacker. I was able to sit and read this book in two days. I felt like I was living inside the tale. The characters became special to me in a way that I have to think was a result of that “total immersion”. Now, to be honest, Ms. Pennypacker wrote a story that could not be put down, yes, it is that good. But I do feel fortunate to have been able to walk right along with the characters the way I did, totally immersed!

Oh, and yes, I will be reading it to my class. It really was so incredibly good!