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The following scenario is one that could only happen in an early grade classroom, so I know all of you reading this will relate! It’s perhaps the most perfect example of “out-of-the-box” learning and authentic writing I’ve ever come across in all my years teaching first grade, so I just had to share it! (It’s so entertaining that even your students would it!)

Greetings and Happy Holidays from Mrs. Mac and her First Grade Munchkins! 

 
Our adventure began with our sweet, beautiful, and loving class Elf, Sparkle. Sparkle is a foreign exchange elf from the North Pole, sent to us by Santa, himself!
 

As you can see, Sparkle really gets into all of our lessons, especially story time!
The kids love her and she became part of our class family.
 
As it happened, we were right in the heart of our Gingerbread unit when Sparkle started having flash backs from last year’s Gingerbread Fiasco!

It’s difficult to talk about, but Sparkle had gotten tied-up by some pesky gingerbread men. She was so traumatized by these cookies that she no longer enjoys listening to their stories, so she made a sign boycotting Gingerbread Week, and even went to the extreme of hiding all of our Gingerbread books!
 

The kids were worried about her, and they assured her that they would do everything they could to protect her this year, but just as Sparkle began to feel safe and sound…tragedy struck!

Despite our class efforts, the Gingerbread Kids ran away again, and Sparkle, being the kind friend that she is, tried to stop them, only to find herself tied-up AGAIN!

 
Once the kids calmed down, they were able to read the note that Sparkle left for us… 
 
……all by themselves!
 
It was a very exciting moment when we realized that our ability to read could actually save elves’ lives… and you’ll be happy to know that our Gingerbread friends were found, and Sparkle was safely cut free.  
Extricating Sparkle 

Now, I had to tell you this story to set the stage for the REAL story.

 So sit back, relax, and prepare to laugh as you step foot into our crazy little classroom again for a first-hand account of this magical and adorable holiday adventure….

So the real story begins one brisk morning when I discovered a referral on the floor of my classroom. It was accompanied by Sparkle’s “No Gingerbread” sign, some cookie crumbs, and an empty bag of gingerbread cookies.

As I leaned in to read the referral, I discovered that it was from our principal, Mr. Mauger.  He had apparently walked in on a horrific sight…. Sparkle EATING her gingerbread friends!!!!

Now, we are a very close school family at Cottonwood Elementary and we don’t require a ton of rules to remind us to do what’s right. In fact, we live by the magnificent 7 Guidelines and the Rachel’s Challenge program, and neither, in any way, shape, or form, allow for eating our friends! 

The unfortunate situation left Mr. Mauger little choice but to take Sparkle down to his office for an ‘in-house suspension’ until further notice.

 

 
 

PERSUASIVE WRITING IN FIRST GRADE

“Sparkle needs to solve problems without hurting or devouring others…”
Now Sparkle’s referral may seem unfair in the real world, (as after all, gingerbread cookies are for eating!) but if you are open to the world of: magical elves living in your classroom for the month of December, cookies running away from your students, and Polar Express trains pulling up to your classroom door to drop off bells, cookies and hot chocolate…. then we must uphold the unwritten rule that we even if cookie friends get us mad and tie us up, we should not retaliate by eating them…right?…right!

 

Mr. Mauger, our principal, breaking the news about Sparkle
 
“I’m going to have to call Santa about Sparkle’s behavior”
The looks on their faces were priceless!
Because our principal is a very reasonable man, he told the kids that he would consider allowing Sparkle to come back if they could put “in writing” why Sparkle did what she did. 
 
Once he received something in writing and had a chance to speak with Santa about the situation, he would make a final decision.
 
For the kids, this was, without question, their most important assignment ever!
 
They would need to use all of the writing skills they’d acquired to persuade our principal to free Sparkle! If they failed, Sparkle would spend the only holiday they would have with him in Mr. Mauger’s office!  
 
The kiddos were confident, however, as they knew that their writing skills had developed greatly in the past few months, and so, without wasting a moment, they began the task of putting into writing all of the reasons why Sparkle should be freed.
 
The letters they wrote are absolutely ADORABLE! They were written from the heart…. and with the Secret Stories, they did so with ease! No “sticking-to-sight-words” for these guys! 
 
They were on a mission to save Sparkle and did not shy away from big scary words! Instead, they tackled them head-on using the Secrets to sound them out and say exactly what was in their heads that they wanted Mr. Mauger to know!  
 
“Sparkle can fix it, just like the Grinch”
“Sparkle was just mad because the gingerbread men ‘raped’ her up with some string…”
“What if you were Sparkle and got tied-up? Wouldn’t you eat them too?”
After the kids finished up their letters, I sent them directly to the office for Mr. Mauger to read. The kids eagerly awaited their appointment with Mr. Mauger at 11:00 that afternoon.
 
When our appointment time finally came and we entered the outer office, we could hear Mr. Mauger talking to Sparkle, which we captured on the following clip….
 
Oh the look on their faces!


So we all settled (i.e. squished) into Mr. Mauger’s office and prepared for our meeting. Now as probably know, Santa is crazy-busy and nearly impossible to get hold of this time of year. However, as you may not know, school principals have a “special line” that they can use for emergencies… and this definitely qualified!

So Mr. Mauger was able to reach Mrs. Claus, who apparently was handling all of the “behavior business” that particular day. Mr Mauger had apparently been so impressed with our letters that he’d decided to read them to Mrs. Claus!

You can see bits of our principal’s conversation with Mrs. Claus regarding Sparkle’s inappropriate behavior, below.


Tensions run high as the conversation continues….

 
You could have heard a pin drop during the phone conversation with Mrs. Claus. 
 
The kids await Mr. Mauger’s decision, as Sparkle’s fate hangs in the balance
Finally, after a long conversation with Mrs. Claus, and careful review of the kids’ heart-felt documentation regarding the reasons for Sparkle’s poor choices,  Sparkle was given another chance and was able to come back to our classroom for the remainder of December!

The kids were so proud of themselves and so happy they could help a friend. Through their writing, they were able to give Sparkle the Elf a voice and save her holiday!

 

I hope you enjoyed hearing about our unusual holiday writing adventure, as it’s part of my attempt to incorporate Common Core-rich lessons, while still including a little holiday magic!

With a supportive principal, amazing kiddos, and the Secret Stories under our belts, anything is possible! No challenge is too great for these kids! They are so confident in their ever-increasing abilities as readers and writers! 


Wishing Everyone a Happy Holiday!

Thank you to Mrs. Mac and her brilliant munchkins for this wonderful holiday post!

Now if this doesn’t take the cake for the sneakiest persuasive writing lesson EVER, I don’t know what would! What a fun and engaging way to motivate young writers… using ‘real-world’ (well, kind of ;) experiences that are personally meaningful to learners!

This is the perfect recipe for both developing and reinforcing these beginning skills sound skills for reading and writing! Thank you to Mrs. Mac & her Munchkins for sharing your fantastic adventure with us!

Until Next Time,
Katie :-)

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First Graders Offended By School News Article!

"First Graders Offended By School News Article!"

Last month, I shared a post (here) written by first grade teacher, Renee McAnulty from Hesperia, California. Her candid description of the challenges she faced with her class at the beginning of the school year generated TONS of questions, comments, and emails from teachers with similar classroom situations and experiences.

I’m excited to share this second post by Mrs. McAnulty about the “unexpected consequences” of having taught the Secrets to her first grade class!

“First Graders Offended By School News Article!” 
An Exercise in Persuasive Writing
 
By Renee McAnulty & Her 1st Grade Munchkins

The day started just as any day would. My happy, joyful, busy, and near-the-end-of-the-school-year kids were getting ready for Daily 5. They grabbed their Daily 5 folders, bookmarks, and went to pull out their book bags… but wait…they had no books!!! Being the end of the year, we had to return them back to the library. Great.

Well, if there is one thing I have learned in my years of teaching, it’s that great teachers improvise. So I calmed my panicked babies and told them I had something incredibly special for them to read during “Read to Self” and “Read to Someone” and that they were going to flip out.

So they began high-fiving each other and shouting cheers of joy and celebration while I frantically searched around the classroom for something, anything, that they could read… they didn’t know that I was winging it… there had to be something they could read that was still in the classroom.

Then I spotted it, shining down from the heavens above… a stack of hot-off-the-press school newspapers. “The Howler! It’s perfect,” I thought. “They can read this. They will love it!” So I gasped loudly so my students sensed my excitement. I told them I had the most wonderful thing in the entire world that they would be able to read… their very own, big kid SCHOOL NEWSPAPER!

“Boys and girls, because of Secret Stories, you now know how to read big kid things. This is a perfect opportunity for you to use your newly found superpowers and read this paper.” One would have thought that I passed out ice cream at that moment. The kids started screaming and yelling with excitement, anxious to read this mysterious, and previously ‘intimidating’, big-kid newspaper.

I started passing them out and the kids got even more excited because pictured on the front of the newspaper was a picture of our beloved school mascot, Rocky the Coyote. “I can’t wait to read about Rocky,” some of my students shrieked. And I’m thinking to myself, “I’m amazing! I can’t believe I thought of this on such a whim. And I can’t believe my first graders can read an actual newspaper! What could possibly go wrong?” At this point. I am so high on my cloud and nothing could bring me down… or at least I thought.

I turned my kids loose for Daily 5 and they knew exactly what to do. I watched in awe as my sweet babies were traveling to “Word Working” centers, “Work on Writing” centers and “Listening Centers”. I watched with tears of happiness as my “Read to Selves” are grabbing their Nooks and pulling up their texts INDEPENDENTLY and reading right away.

When I glanced over to the “Read to Someone” group, the had their newspapers clenched tightly in their sweet, little fingers. The excitement is radiating through their faces as they read their newspaper. I can hear the others say, ”Oh, I can’t wait until “Read to Someone” so I can read my newspaper”.

This is a teacher’s dream. We had come so far this year, and it’s always good to enjoy the fruits of our labor. As the kids worked feverishly, it was time for me to get down to business. I was a ‘free’ teacher right then, and I was all set to finish up my end of the year DRA’s in peace as the kids were happy. Life was perfect.

So I sat down at my reading table and called over the first child. Now, my kids know my Golden Rule during Guided Reading and/or DRA’s, and that is, “Unless you are bleeding, or your head has suddenly popped off your body, you do not interrupt me… at all!!”

So there I sat, testing away happily thinking how amazing these kids were when I started to hear a small ruckus developing from the “Read to Someone” kids. I thought nothing of it at first, but noticed that group had started to recruit other kids over to their group. I noticed that “Word Workers” and “Read to Selfers” were sneaking back to their desks to retrieve their newspapers, too.

I quickly called for order, “Boys and girls! My goodness, this is so sad. Get back to your stations until you hear the chimes. Then you can switch to your next station.” Disappointed, the kids get back to work. They know to not argue when Mrs. Mac is testing.

Well, the chimes rang and it was time to rotate. I got a bit suspicious when I noticed how fast the kids were switching to the next rotation. Especially, the “Read to Someone” group. They zoomed to their desks and grabbed their articles and immediately found their partners, which was becoming more of a mini-mob instead of partners, but you pick and choose your battles. They were reading and on task, and I had DRA’s to do.

About 7 minutes into this rotation, I started to hear a commotion coming from the “Read to Someone” s again. This time I looked up and saw kids in complete chaos. Kids from all rotations were literally crying and pointing to an article in the newspaper. Kids were consoling and embracing each other. “Don’t worry,” said one of my munchkins, “Mrs. Mac is almost done with this DRA, we’ll get to the bottom of this.” Needless to say, they officially had my attention now.

I jumped from my seat and raced over to the hysterical kiddos. “Oh, babies, what’s wrong?!” With tears streaming from down their cheek, and anger in their voices, they proceeded to tell me that they were “offended” by this “horrible article”. (Exact words) “How can they say such lies about our Rocky?!” another child yelled. “They are nothing but fibbers!” said another. What on earth were they talking about?

At that moment, my students grabbed me by the hand and led me to a spot on the carpet. “You better sit down, Mrs Mac, this is awful news.” They started reading, in unison, this article to me. They were crying and emphasizing the parts that were upsetting them. It was the cutest, yet saddest, yet most exciting moment of my career. THEY WERE READING… and reading well, with inflection in their voices.

The article was about our school mascot Rocky. He is a lovable coyote who shows up at all of our school’s events. The kids love him and he is a huge part of our school. The school news team had written an article, “Who is the REAL Rocky?” insinuating that our mascot was not really a coyote, but a person in a costume!

Now, one might think, “Hey, what’s the big deal about that?” But when you are 6 and 7 years-old, and have magical elves, gingerbread men, and leprechauns visit your classroom on a regular basis, you see Rocky as Rocky… He’s a coyote— our coyote. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Sure, Rocky can be anywhere from 5’4” to 6’2″, but my babies never noticed those details. They just cared that he showed up when they needed him.

The article made accusations that maybe Rocky was our former Assistant Principal, or even Batman, or a ghost. “We need to bring this to Mr. Mauger (our principal) immediately!” yelled several students. So, we sent over a few representatives to bring this to his attention.

Meanwhile, I ended Daily 5 and called the kids back to their seats to have a discussion. They expressed their concerns and how “offended” they were. We then talked about how they could appropriately address this situation, being the highly educated first graders that they were now. One of the student’s raised their hand, “We can write letters to the editor!” ….. “YES!!! Let’s do that right now!” the kids shouted.

I’m sorry, did my six-year-olds just ask to write letters to the editor, or was I dreaming? At this point, they had taken over completely. My paper passers took the liberty to pass out papers to each of the students. Team leaders started giving directions to underline offending sentences in the article. And I’m just standing there in utter amazement, watching this unfold before my eyes.

These same kids could not read the word “the” at the beginning of the year, let alone a sentence. Now they were analyzing a newspaper article and responding to the editor… ON THEIR OWN!! Was this the Twilight Zone? No, I was witnessing the power of Secret StoriesWith the Secrets, they could figure out almost any word, not just the basic sight words—which meant that they actually enjoyed reading. They could sit back and focus on what the words actually meant, rather than on what sounds the letters make. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. 

Then, in walked my principal. He had just finished up his emergency meeting with our upset first graders in his office and wanted to address the class. The students immediately read their responses that they had just finished writing. They proudly showed him the underlined sentences that were “offensive.”

Mr. Mauger and I were fighting to hold back smiles, since this was a very serious matter to them. He calmed them down and explained that the article was an “opinion piece” and that, of course, we all believe that Rocky is Rocky. As their little faces slowly started to smile again and the tears started to dry, faith was once again regained in our society. Then Mr. Mauger looked at me said, “This is amazing.” My response? “I wish I could take credit, but this was all them.”

This amazingly perfect lesson was never planned. It was not in my teacher’s manual, and it will probably never happen again. It was driven solely by the kids’ passion to read. I had done nothing but give them the tools they needed to be successful. They, in turn, used those tools to create something amazing that never in a million years would I have ever thought possible from a class of 6 and 7-year-olds. And that is why Secret Stories will forever be the lifeblood of our classroom.

A Principal’s Perspective

Our first graders were very upset by the implication in our school newspaper that our mascot Rocky is anything other than an actual coyote.

The sixth graders who wrote the article about our mascot theorized that perhaps Rocky was a former school employee in a costume, or maybe a ghost?  Naturally, the first graders were appalled and felt the need to express their displeasure by writing letters to the editor.

The simple fact that six-year-olds would WANT to write in the first place is impressive, let alone view it as an authentic, everyday strategy to make your opinions heard. And did they ever! A Principal's Perspective on Secret Stories® Phonics

Because of the Secret Stories® and our first grade teachers’ emphasis on applying the Secrets to writing (as well as reading) the kids’ letters were not limited to simple statements like “We are mad!” On the contrary, our first graders were tossing around words like “unacceptable, offended, and apologize,” and even if the spelling wasn’t perfect, their message rang out loud and clear.

Knowing the Secrets gave them access to phonics skills that our reading series did not, allowing them to write what they genuinely wanted to say, and prove that they were well on their way to becoming highly proficient writers down the road.

Most impressive to me however, was the charm and compassion that was reflected in their writing, as evidenced by one little girl, who after writing five sentences of complete disgust and disdain for the slanderous journalists, still closed her letter with a simple, “Love, Kaylee.” (Because it’s possible to be really, really mad and someone and still love them!)

Kind of makes you want to say “aw” …. or is it “au?”Secret Stories® Phonics Poster au/aw

My little first graders with the “offending” article…

"First Graders Offended By School News Article!"
Posing with the upsetting article.  Just look at that passion on their faces.

 
"First Graders Offended By School News Article!"
Students underlining and writing their responses to the article.


And just look at these faces…..

"First Graders Offended By School News Article!"

 

"First Graders Offended By School News Article!"

 

"First Graders Offended By School News Article!"
 
Some “letters to the editor” written by some of my babies…. 
"First Graders Offended By School News Article!"

 

"First Graders Offended By School News Article!"

 

"First Graders Offended By School News Article!"

 

"First Graders Offended By School News Article!"

 

"First Graders Offended By School News Article!"

 

"First Graders Offended By School News Article!"

 

"First Graders Offended By School News Article!"

 

"First Graders Offended By School News Article!"

 

"First Graders Offended By School News Article!"
I hope you enjoyed this little peek into our crazy classroom!
Love,