Only Three Things are Certain

Dear Families,

I really appreciate the students’ flexibility and patience while I was out sick for nearly the whole week after Thanksgiving. Obviously, I blame my toddler for becoming sick even though I have no evidence it came from him. However, it is completely valid blaming somebody who licks everything and puts every object within reach in his mouth. Thanks to Mrs. Bell-Watkins and Mrs. DeMott for holding the fort during my absence.

First off, progress reports were mailed at the end of this week. Depending on where you live, you may have already received your child’s progress report, or you will today, or maybe Monday, or the USPS will keep you on the edge of your seat as they are wont to do, and you’ll receive it on 12/17. If you have any questions about your child’s progress report, need anything clarified, if you received another child’s progress report, or if you find that important tax document that was lying around here somewhere, please send me an email.

Our new read-aloud book is from the Who Was? What Was? book series. We are reading Who Were the Beatles?. It’s a 100-page biography on one of the most popular bands in musical history, respectively trailed by Hall and Oates and Wham! We’ve read about how other than George, the members of the band had very challenging childhoods, how the band evolved during their early years, and why it’s called the “Mop Top.” However, it was our discussion on how racism affected the music industry that was the most powerful diversion from the text.

Back in the mid-20th century, major radio stations were not too keen on playing music from African American musicians, who lay claim to the genre rhythm and blues. They didn’t play the music because, well, racism. So, to make music more “appealing” to mainstream audiences, and by “mainstream” I mean mostly Caucasians, producers got the brilliant idea, and by “brilliant” I mean shady and below the belt, to have Caucasian musicians cover songs from African American musicians. For example, Bill Haley took Big Joe Turner’s Shake, Rattle & Roll and performed it himself. Elvis Presley’s famous hit Hound Dog was originally recorded and performed by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton. Naturally, we watched videos of these artists performing Shake, Rattle, & Roll and had a rich conversation about the difference between an artist simply covering another artist’s song versus gentrifying a whole genre of music to make it appealing to a dominant national race. For better or worse, rhythm and blues gave birth to rock and roll. It’s both intriguing and disappointing it happened the way it did.

Having rich conversations, looking at a map, listening to a song, watching a video, and reading something that supports the read-aloud book are all strategies that we’re learning as non-fiction readers. When we read non-fiction text, we are presented with several challenges that make it hard to comprehend the text and identify the main ideas. This week, we focused on strategies to utilize when we’re stuck on one aspect of the text. Examples include defining a word if we can’t figure out its meaning, making sure we read the captions of all the photos and diagrams, adding in our own subtitles, and constantly writing down what we think the main idea is to stay focused on what it’s all about.

The next step in our non-fiction reading unit is for each student to pick one topic that they are more interested in learning about. Students will be asked to read books on that specific topic. As we read about this topic, we’re going to learn strategies to record information in productive ways, which will lead us toward crafting a report on the topic. For example, Patrick is really interested in space so he’s going to read about Mars. Justin loved reading about sports, so he chose to read about basketball specifically. As he reads, he may find himself intrigued by one specific athlete or game, which he could report on. Natasha is reading about how famous people have died from weird diseases. She can choose to focus on one famous person and why/how they died.

Allow me to pause here and fill you in on something that you may not be aware of. I’m fully aware of this because my professional career involves directly working with children. In my 13 years of teaching, there’s been one major constant; every time we are learning about famous people, one of the first questions that is always enthusiastically asked by a student or students, is “ARE THEY DEAD?!?!!?” followed immediately by, “HOW DID THEY DIE?” Never fails. This has led me to believe that only three things are certain in life: taxes, death, and passionate discussion of how and when people die amongst inquiring elementary students.

To make my point clear, be prepared to discuss with your child what topic they are interested in reading more about and, if possible, help them get books either at a library or online.

And now, for some brief notes:

  • Thank you to all of you that made purchases at the Book Fair last week. It was wildly successful and because of its success, each teacher earned around $160 that they could spend at the Book Fair on books for their classroom. I promptly spent mine on 16 copies of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Volume 72. Thankfully, I’m kidding.
  • Our canned food and supplies drive continues until Tuesday, December 18th. If you’re able to, please send in nonperishable food items and/or helpful household supplies. These will be used to assist local families in need during this holiday season.
  • HUGE congrats go out to the following students for attending every day of school during the first trimester: Wyatt, Gabriel, Jessie, Kevin, Kamryn, Diya, and Viking.
  • The 4th/5th grade classrooms are participating in an Ugly Sweater Contest the last week of school. Students will be encouraged to fully embrace a sweater from their wardrobe that is both tacky and celebratory of the good times we have in December. Think Festivus! More details to come, but for those of you that take these matters seriously, start thinking about what’s available for your child. It’s bound to be entertaining.

~Mr. B

Vocab of the Week: keen, rustle, tremor, crest

Idiom of the Week: Shipshape