Starla Pointer/News-Register##Second-grader Adrian Angel Reyes and teacher Mary Morton delight in his growing reading skills.
Starla Pointer/News-Register##Second-grader Adrian Angel Reyes and teacher Mary Morton delight in his growing reading skills.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Thinking about others, thinking about thinking

“I believe kids need to know how to be in the world,” said Morton, who has been teaching with the McMinnville School District since 2001. “They’ll get the academics. They need to know how to be.”

She said she always tries to set an example for her students. She looks for the good in everything and sprinkles every lesson and activity with praise and affirmations.

“I see some star detectives here!” she said one morning as she strolled between the rows of desks, watching students solve math problems. “Look at you hard workers! Good job being responsible! I’m so proud of you, second-graders looking like third-graders.”

She wants her students to learn to step back and reflect if they become frustrated.And she wants them to feel safe to express themselves in her classroom. If they make mistakes, she wants them to learn from them and move on.

In the hall beside the classroom door, Morton decorated a bulletin board to welcome her students. “Twinkle, twinkle, little star,” the spangled board reads. “How I wished for you, and here you are!”

As she watched her students go out to recess one day, she waved as they passed her windows.

“I just love them!” she said. “Look at this group! How could I not feel energetic around them?”

Six weeks into the school year, second-graders walked into their classroom and took care of business without prompting. They hung up coats and backpacks, chose their lunch entrees, greeted Morton and student teacher MacKenzie Smith, a Linfield College student.

Then they sat down and set to work on a handwriting assignment, which involved practicing upper and lower case U’s.

“Why do we practice handwriting?” she asked.

Several students raised their hands. “So you have super good handwriting so you can be respectful of people who read it,” Silas Patrick volunteered.

Students also found a math review worksheet when they arrived at their desks.

Morton had just created the worksheet, based on the previous day’s lesson. Some students struggled with matching words and digits yesterday, she said, so they’re getting more practice today.

“Be math detectives!” she told them as she monitored their progress. “Write the number, then show me how you can write it in words. Tell me how you know.”

Students also faced a story problem: “Trina baked 36 cupcakes. She gave away 24. How many did she have left?” Not only did they need to find the difference between 36 and 24, they also needed to complete another sentence: “My answer is correct because ....” 

At every turn, in fact, Morgan encouraged students to explain their thought processes, a key part of the federal Common Core standards — not just finding the answers, but knowing how to find them. 

Starla Pointer/News-Register##Chloe McLeod practices her handwriting. “U, U, U, u, u, u. Umbrella. Utah,” she wrote. Teacher Mary Morton reminded second-graders that writing legibly shows respect for readers.

The day continued with more math and literacy lessons, punctuated by music class.

The second-graders had learned a song during a previous session: “All around the brickyard, remember me. I’m going to clap and clap and clap and then you’ll remember me.”

This time, instead of clapping, they would play instruments as they sang, said music teacher Lindsey Barske.

Eagerly, the children lined up behind xylophones, which have wooden bars that make the tones of the scale; metallophones, with metal bars instead of wood; and smaller, higher pitched glockenspiels.

“I’m going to play the xylophone and then you’ll remember me,” the xylophone players sang, tapping the bars. Then they moved to the next instrument and fitted in the words “metallophone” or “glockenspiel” as they sang the song again and again.

Back in the classroom, students divided into small groups to read with Morton or her student teacher, or to work on literacy activities below a poster that listed the qualities of a fluent reader — pay attention to accuracy, read with expression, read at a natural pace, pay attention to punctuation, continuously check for understanding.

Some students read individually.

Amos Rodriguez rifled through a box of books, finally settling on one about soccer.

“I like reading,” he said. “You find out cool stuff in books.”

Natalie Morgan agreed.

“I LOVE reading,” she said. “It’s really fun, and it helps me learn new words. I really like learning.”

She said she enjoys Dr. Seuss stories, but doesn’t like it when the author makes up words.

Natalie writes, too, but she prefers sticking to real words. “I love writing amazing stories,” she said.

After a few minutes, students switched, putting a different group at the teacher’s table and a different group with Smith. 

When they changed places again, Morton had time to work one-on-one with Adrian Angel Reyes.

He’s not only perfecting his reading, she said, but he’s also still learning English words. “He works harder than anyone I know,” she said.

She showed Adrian a book called “Go, Dog, Go” and encouraged him to look at the pictures to help him understand the text.

“One little dog going in. Three big dogs going out,” he read, impressing Morton with his growing word recognition and fluency.

Giggling, he turned to the teacher and pointed at a drawing of the entering and exiting dogs getting in each others’ way.

“They crashed!” Adrian said. “That dog looks mad.”

A page or two later, he showed her another picture. “Look. They’re scared,” he said.

Pleased with Adrian’s progress, Morton told him, “I’ll make you a deal. If you can read this whole book to me at the end of the week, I’m going to say, ‘Would you like to keep this book?’”

Adrian nodded happily, his grin stretching from ear to ear. 

Books put away, Adrian and his classmates worked on spelling. They talked about persuasive writing, then settled down to write about the topic of the day, “Should kids get an allowance?”

To give students an example of how their papers should look, Morton posted a sentence frame on the white board at the front of the classroom. “In my opinion, kids (should/shouldn’t) get an allowance. I believe this because...”

“How could I start the next sentence?” she ask the second-graders. “What could I write next?”

Later,  it was back to math.

This time, they vied to quickly solve math problems written on the board — 799 minus 10; 122 plus 10; 355 minus 10; 597 plus 10, etc. It’s a favorite game in their classroom. 

“Are we doing this again tomorrow?” Oliver Defoe asked hopefully as the game ended. 

“Why do you like this game?” the teacher asked.

“I like guessing the answer,” Grace Goularte said. Then she amended, “I like knowing it.”

Natalie said she likes it when her classmates get the right answer. That makes them happy, she said, and “I like seeing everybody happy.”

Many days in Morton’s class end with an exercise the teacher calls “My Experience of You,” which she considers extremely important.

Second-graders sit in a circle on the carpet, with one student in the center. One by one, the others step into the center say something positive to him or her.

The speaker must start with the words, “My experience of you is...” and add something nice. The recipient must say “thank you” and nothing more. He or she isn’t allowed to deflect or minimize the compliment.

Crystal Rodriguez Gonzalez sat in the circle on a recent afternoon.

“Crystal, my experience of you is that you’re fun because you play with me sometimes,” Oliver said. 

“Thank you, Oliver,” she said.

Silas was next. “My experience of you is that you’re smart, because you’re really good at math,” he said.

“Thank you, Silas,” she said.

“My experience of you is that you work hard and you never give up,” Grace said.

“Thank you, Grace,” Crystal said.

And so it went, until every student got the chance to speak.

Before students returned to their desks, Morton asked a grinning Crystal how she felt.

“I feel good now,” she said. “People telling me nice things made me feel good.”

Other students said they also felt good at the end of the “My Experience” session. “Because I made someone else feel good,” Silas said. 

Morton looked around the circle. “Our words are ...” she prompted.

“Powerful!” second-graders chorused.

That’s right, the teacher said. “We can choose to be kind or not kind,” she said. “How do you want to be?”

“Kind! Happy! Nice! Grateful! Cheerful! Caring!” children called.