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Recognizing Teacher Appreciation Week – Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ellen CabanaPhoto of students and staff



What do you do to engage your students? What makes your classroom unique?

I think my classroom is calm and productive. It's a place where everyone can be themselves, but still feel like they belong and are an important part of "Club Cabana." Our classroom is always busy, but there's room for fun,'s hard not to have a sense of humor when teaching 9 year olds. The focus is not only on being good students, but being good people; so building character is a high priority. I'm really big on "The Golden Rule," and emphasize caring and respect for others every day.

How are you responding to the Common Core shifts?

The Common Core Standards have definitely raised the bar at every grade level. In 4th grade, it means making a conscious effort to integrate the curriculum, such as ELA with Social Studies, and Science with Math. There's a much greater amount of nonfiction reading and writing. In past years, students read more fiction, and wrote more creatively, mainly stories or personal narratives. Written responses to text were very literal. Now students are required to write almost everything based on what they've read; they need to write at a higher level by making more inferences, analyzing the text, and using specific details from their reading to support their responses. In Math, the main change has been to teach fewer concepts, but in greater depth. Helping students understand the reasoning behind the skills is just as important as teaching the specific problem-solving steps. There's also a greater focus on making the connection to real life situations..

photo of staff and studentsWhy do you think it's important to teach the way you do?

I teach the way I do—in Math especially—because I remember how much I struggled with it in 5th and 6th grade; I was frustrated, and felt like I would never "get it" because it was too confusing. So, I try very hard NOT to let my students feel that way. I break everything down, and make my explanations as clear as possible. We practice together, and I let the students "teach" me and each other so I know they understand. I stress that there are many ways to solve the same problem, and give them lots of strategies to choose from. I'm definitely a visual learner, so I always need to see the problem, and that's true for many of my students, as well. I also make up songs or raps about different concepts; for example, we sing the "Rounding Rap," the "Square Song," "Home on the Range," and the "Mean Rap." All of this is much easier, though, when the students have truly mastered their basic facts! 

What do you feel is the most exciting thing about teaching?

Well, it's very rewarding to watch the academic growth of the students from September to June, and know they're prepared to move on to the Middle School...but what's more exciting to me is feeling like I've made a difference in my students' lives by making a genuine connection with each one of them individually. I want them to believe that they really are "one-of-a-kind." My main goal is for them to want to come to school everyday and look forward to learning. By the end of they year, I hope they are proud of how hard they worked, realize the value in it, and have positive memories of 4th grade.

What singular lesson plan, activity, assignment or experiment do you return to year after year because of its "spark" factor with you and/or your students?

Fourth grade includes a major unit on Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands. The students love it! They are so interested and engaged throughout the unit. Their favorite activity is choosing a Native American project to make: anything from a spear, canoe, mask, lacrosse stick, to a longhouse. They write a short report about it, and the projects are displayed in the showcase in the main hall. We also vote on our clan symbol (this year we're Wolf Clan), hold a string of "wampum" when we read or speak, and pass it to the next person who accepts it if they believe we've spoken the truth, and create posters about The Iroquois Confederacy and the Great Law of Peace. We invite the Scotia-Glenville Museum to come and present a program called "Iroquois Ingenuity." It's definitely a favorite topic, with the American Revolution a close second!

Tell us a little more about yourself.

I graduated from Ward Melville High School in Setauket, NY in 1981. I went to SUNY Cortland and graduated in 1985. I then completed my Masters from SUNY Plattsburgh through ACC. I have been teaching for 26 years. I came to Glens Falls in 1993, so this is my 21st year at Kensington. My favorite subject to teach is ELA because reading ties everything together.