It started off badly - with my old principal if the observation was scheduled for 10:10 she would show up at about 10:25. My new principal showed up at 10:08 - as I was trying to get our lunch count straight. For some reason we had to take the lunch count 3 TIMES today because students kept changing their choices, voting twice and/or not mentioning that they had home lunch. Our cafeteria manager was standing in the doorway laughing as I finally had my class physically get up and stand in groups according to their lunch choice.
So my principal walks in to the chaos of lunch choices and asks if I want her to come back since I'm not ready. I assure her that we will be starting in just a moment and to come sit down. She immediately comments about the heat in my room - and friends, it was warm. But, in my defense, some genius decided to place an outside air vent in the cabinet my heater is in. So, if my heater is not actively blowing hot air, the cold wind comes in from outside, aimed right at our carpet area in front of the Smartboard. Seriously, it can be roasting in the room and the kids still have jackets on at carpet because of the draft. In deference to my principal I started adjusting my heat controls, which of course froze up on me so it takes forever to get the heat turned off.
But it's all good because once I get the lesson going it's going to rock, right? Nope! I'm not sure if it was just that they were uncomfortable being observed by our principal, or maybe they're still feeling the effects of our recent Oklahoma earthquakes, but for whatever reason, they suddenly acted like it was day 1 of school and I had never taught them anything before! Actually, even the earthquake doesn't explain it. It has to be something even more extraordinary. In fact, this is what I imagine happened in my students' bedrooms last night:
De underjordiske by Theodore Kittelsen (trolls stealing human children)
Yes, I think I must have had changelings in my class today - my regular students were kidnapped by trolls! For example, I asked one of my (usually!) very bright boys to come up to the Smartboard to write an addition sentence. He proceeded to try to write WITH HIS FINGER on the Smartboard.. I gently remind him that he needs to use the marker. At which point he tries to get a DRY ERASE MARKER out! Yep - like he had never used our Smartboard before, even though we use it DAILY!
I should have stopped the observation at that point because it just went even more downhill from there (I'm talking subterranean!). During our Doubles Rap song about 6 of my boys went mute - even though they're gung-ho singers every other day. When I divvied up my students for our small groups I realized that due to absences, a student being unexpectedly pulled for Speech,and a student being pulled for Reading Recovery, one of my groups is down to only 2 kiddos. And, of course, they're the two kiddos that really can't function in a group by themselves. But, at this point it's too late to change our groups (I can just imagine the chaos that would have ensued had I tried!) so I plunge into small group time.
I expected the principal to come and observe my small group so I could show off my super cool small group lesson. Instead she zeroes in on my weakest links - the two students in a group by themselves. She starts quizzing them about the worksheet that they were doing. My one sweetheart, who needs about a 30 second wait time for questions (she's on an IEP and she struggles, but if you give her time to think she can do it) gets so flustered that she completely shuts down and won't answer any more questions. At this point I abandon my small group to run damage control!
I gently guide my principal to where the students are working on their math journals. One of my boys has just glued his prompt to the page and she asks him what his problem is. He looks at her blankly. She asks him why he's not writing his problem. He again stares blankly and gives me a deer in the headlights look. I finally deduce that he is so used to me saying "addition sentence" that he thinks she is scolding him for having a "problem" when she's actually talking about math! I try to clear up the confusion and quickly take her to another table.
At this table everything is going great as they play a dice game - they double the number and place a chip on the answer on their sheet. Except that one of the boys encounters a wonky chip - it apparently came out of the machine wrong because it resembles an 8 rather than a circle. He gets completely thrown by the wonky chip and can't answer the question the principal asks because he's so busy trying to comprehend this bizarre chip. My principal turns her attention to another student who can't tell her what 8 plus 1 is. I think my draw dropped. I looked around the room for the hidden cameras because, really, this little darling is one of my strongest in math and now she's drawing a blank when it comes to 8+1?!
At this point, out of the corner of my eye I see that my student has come back from Speech and rather than jumping into his group he is hiding in our reading corner, trying to pick out a book! As I steer him to his table my prinicpal goes to observe another group. At this table, one of my darlings is using her fingers to count on. My prinicpal is aghast and wants to know why I haven't provided manipulatives. I explain that we are trying to memorize our facts and that we have used manipualtives in the past lessons, but at this point we are trying to develop automaticity so I don't want the whole class using blocks to add 6+6. This student is one of my lower ones, who was supposed to be retained in kindergarten, but because of an office mix up, ended up being enrolled in 1st grade at which point her mother decided to keep her in my class and potentially retain her in 1st, rather than send her to a kindergarten class. She is also ELL with a father who is out of town for work, a younger brother with a physical disability and a mama who speaks no English - she's not getting as much support in memorizing her facts as some of the other kids.
This turned into a philosophical debate about whether to allow students to use their fingers to add and subtract. My position is that they will always have their fingers - so if they can figure out a problem on their fingers at least that is a strategy they will always be able to use. Of course I expect them to memorize their facts by the end of the year, but at this point, especially for my low students, I see no harm in using fingers. My principal believes that students should have manipualtives even into high school, and finger counting is apparently a big no-no in her opinion. I am going to open this can of worms here - what do you think about finger counting versus using unifix cubes?
My principal had been in the room for 50 minutes by this time and I thankfully looked at the clock and announced that we had to clean up and come back to carpet to wrap up so we could switch to writing. She slipped out the door as I was starting our wrap up and it was like a light switch had been turned on. During wrap up everyone suddenly seemed to understand doubles plus one was all about! The students who couldn't answer the simplest questions where suddenly spouting off doubles plus one facts like it was nothing. I actually skipped writing to continue with our wrap up because they were all clicking along so well!
I ended up seeking out my principal at the end of the day and asking for another observation because I did not want today to go on my record lol! She's coming back next week - now I have a week to obsess and plan and try to figure out a lesson that will let my students shine - even if the trolls try to take them again!
If you have any ideas for a foolproof lesson, or an opinion on the finger counting debate, please leave a comment! Oh, and the giveaway for a Donorschoose gift card ends tomorrow, so go enter asap!