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A Theme That Will Grow On You

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Creating a classroom theme can be both fun and motivating, but is it possible to find one that has a true meaning for your students as well as yourself? I wanted something that kept me motivated and focused, yet didn't require a make-over to a space we already find inviting. One quiet student helped me find what I was looking for, and the idea has quite literally "grown" from there. Maybe it will grow on you too.

The Seed That Started It All
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It was a dreary winter morning when a student walks up to me with a pile of dry soil and decrepit plant remains in her hands. "Mrs. Bunyi, did you throw this plant away?" Her eyes are suspicious as she says, "You know it's still alive."  I feel embarrassed knowing that the plant had become one more thing to keep up with, and I stumble through a sad story on how the plant had made its way to the trash.  Its living rights were handed over without question, as I watched this student trim the dead leaves with great care. The plant quietly went home with the student and was forgotten in its entirety.
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So, what do you think I received on the last day of school? In this child's hands was a new chance for me.  A striving, strong plant that looked better than ever. "Now keep this alive," the student tells me. I tell her that not only will I keep it alive, but I will keep it looking strong for the next school year.
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After returning home with the plant in my hand, I began to think about the significance behind it all.  I thought about how I was feeling the moment I threw that plant away. It had been a tough week for me, and I couldn't help but worry- had I given up on my students, at times, just like the plant? I thought about the work that goes into growing a plant and knew I had found my theme right then.
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Why A Garden Theme Has Meaning
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Significance #1: Plants, like our students, need time to grow
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Many teachers feel like they are expected to produce more, more, more, faster, faster, faster. Are we "overwatering" our kids in the hopes they will learn more? I call this the spray and pray method, and I know it doesn't work. It's so hard to step back from it all and justify why this doesn't make sense, but using the plant analogy helps. Would you ever plant a seed and continue to pull it out to check for growth? Would you overwater it in the hopes that it will grow more? Certainly not! We know that with the right balance of sunlight, water, proper soil, and observation, a plant will grow strong with time. This applies for our students as well. What balance will you feed your students this year? Will you allow the time needed for growth? 
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Significance #2: One Size Doesn't Fit All. Plants come in all shapes and sizes, with varying needs
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Every year we are challenged to meet the needs of each student in our classroom. This is such a huge task but just imagine that students are like the many flower varieties available.  Each one has its own set of directions. It is our job to figure out what plan will help our students grow best. This is best completed with simple observation.  What do you see? What are you noticing?
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Significance #3: Look closely. A plants' growth is more than what is seen
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My son has one of those observation vegetable gardens (pictured below). It comes with three viewing tubes and a growing journal for observations. One morning my son wanted to know why the radish was doing better than the onion.  He was referring to the quick vertical growth cracking through the top soil. I looked at the onion plant and noticed a vast spread of roots flowing through the tube like a spider web.  Which one had grown more and could they actually be compared? At the surface, one may think one plant is doing better than another, but closer observation may lead you to discover a different type of growth. With this theme in mind, I hope to have a new perspective on growth this year.
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How A Garden Theme Can Be Incorporated in Your Classroom
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Here are some quick, inexpensive methods to get a garden theme working in your classroom:
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1) Student Reflection in a Growing Journal- Each week, ask your students to reflect on themselves as a student in and out of the classroom.  What are they most proud of? What are they concerned about?  Use this information to aid your teaching practices.
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2) Open House Seed Packets- I was able to have some seed packets donated to me, and I will be using them to give out to parents during Open House. I will share the story of my student who taught me to never give up, and I will use the analogy to lead a discussion on assessment and individualized attention. I have included a themed cover for the folders passed out to family members.
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3) Create a Garden Inspired Portfolio- With an individual file for each student, ask your students to submit their favorite pieces of work each month.  You may want to take a class picture once a month as well, to document your physical and academic growth.  At the end of the year, combine it all with a garden themed cover and send it home with each student.
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4) Plant a Garden and Help Each Other Grow!- I read somewhere that Native Americans planted certain types of plants together because they knew the plants roots helped each other grow.  What a wonderful conversation piece to bring up with your students about teamwork. An actual garden could be a wonderful learning experience as well.
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5) Keep it Simple- I don't have any plans to create garden themed bulletin boards or a garden themed reading area. Instead, I will look for ways to incorporate this theme when it finds its way.  Maybe it will be when a student shares their feelings of being different.  Maybe it will be a read-aloud connection (e.g. Scarecrow, Leo the Late Bloomer, The Gardener). I don't know. Until then, I will be taking my time observing and working with my garden of flowers...
I wish the best to you this year and hope you enjoy a fruitful year of learning, loving, and growth!

Download seed_packet_letter.pdf
To learn more about our classroom, visit us here.

Comments

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Angela

Melanie,

Sorry for the later response. Sometimes the old posts seem to take their time to notify me of a comment.

But to answer your question, I use Dreamweaver for the website. It is what is required in my county. I learned everything from total scratch and believe the program to be pretty simple and straightforward. However, purchasing Dreamweaver on your own is quite expensive, and I would not suggest it. If you let me know what your county uses, I might be able to help you more. :)

Hope that helps!

Angela

Melanie

Hey! I really like the way that you set up your web page and would like to know what you used to design it. I am in the middle of "trying" to create my own, but I have no clue. Any suggestions?

You're G-R-E-A-T-!!!!

Desperately in need of help,
Melanie

Angela Bunyi

Carolyn,

Thank you for taking time to write me. It's been a real eye-opener discovering how many teachers have been following me now. I am just humbled to know that I am doing my part to help others. For me, it was a missing part in my teaching career going from working with teachers back to the classroom, but I knew my heart belonged with the kids. That's why I love being Teacher Advisor. It's the best of both worlds as I get to help teachers and kids! How awesome is that?

And I will remember your words, and others, on those days I feel like I am "messing" it all up, because we can't do it all. One day at a time, like you said...and think small, win often. That is my mantra!

Best regards,

Angela

Carolyn

Angela! Your website and information on Scholastic are incredible! I have been a fan of yours for about a year now, and you have inspired me in so many ways. The one thing I have to remember is that I cannot do it all at once and cannot beat myself up for that. I am learning to incorporate one thing at a time, and do it well. Thank you again for your advice and inspiration. Best wishes for an awesome year! Carolyn

Angela Bunyi

Magaly,

Calm and soothing makes all the difference in the world, but you should have seen my class the first two days. Eeek! I forgot how much modeling it takes to create that environment.

And your student statement reminds me of one of my student's from last year. She always said (or left post-it notes around the room), "Mrs. Bunyi rocks too hard." She went a little overboard with the statement, but she was a little over the top herself. I think SHE rocked too hard, actually.

Good luck this school year,

-Angela

Angela Bunyi

Tiffany,

Yes to Spitzer's Garden! I need to create a list of garden themed books and put it on BookWizard here on Scholastic...note to self! So many good books to choose from.

Sick with a cold...

Angela

Magaly

This theme is very inspiring. I like the "tools" you have selected to help your students grow. I especially love the calm, soothing environment your classroom evokes.

As my students would say, "You Rock Mrs. Bunyi"!

-Magaly

Tiffany

Have you read Mrs. Spitzer's Garden? If not, you should. It is one of my favorite books and fits right in with your theme.

Angela Bunyi

Another Mary...how odd :) Thanks for taking time to check out my room and blog site.

Look for my newest post this weekend...

Angela

Mary S.

Beautiful story, beautiful classroom. I love your classroom web site as well.

Comments are closed. Please see Classroom Solutions, our new blog for the 2009-2010 school year. And stay tuned for Teaching Matters with Angela Bunyi and Beth Newingham.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Inside Angela's 4th Grade Classroom are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.