Friday, August 11, 2017

Welcome Letter


As the saying goes, “Allow me to introduce myself.”  My name is Mark Richner and I will be your child’s teacher for the upcoming school year.  I wanted to take a few minutes to say “hello” and to give you a brief overview of some of the projects that await us. 

I love teaching at Lewis Elementary School!  This is my fourth year at Lewis.  I taught previously in the Madison public schools after receiving my elementary teaching degree at the University of Wisconsin.  I also taught at the University of Florida in the elementary teacher preparation program while my wife, Evie, and I were in graduate school.  So I have taught students from age five through 23!

Evie and I have two daughters who are now two years-old named Norah Lee and Twyla.  They are the loves of our lives and keep us busy these days by running around our backyard (where they have an imaginary ice cream stand that mostly serves chocolate chip), going on neighborhood bike rides, swinging at the park, and making us laugh.  This summer we took time to visit with friends and family, including my parents and Evie’s parents, Evie’s sister and brother-in-law here in Portland, and my brother who lives in Seattle.  We made it out into the woods, to the beach, and took care of a few projects around the home.  I worked on some projects connecting to the classroom curriculum and read a number of fantastic books.  I’m excited for this new school year!

While projects and activities will vary over the year, the main emphasis of the room will be on helping the kids become strategic learners.  You will hear the word “strategy” and “system” often over the year.  It is my goal as a teacher to not only help kids understand and master the prescribed curriculum, but I want them to be independent, curious learners as well.  One way to achieve this is to help them initiate, plan, and carry out projects, paying attention to the strategies they use along the way. 

We will have many classroom projects this year.  We will participate in Lewis’s Outdoor Classroom.  The garden will be a springboard into several studies of our local, natural world.  We will also attend a number of field trips, have weekly art activities, coordinate the school’s food drive, meet up with our first grade buddies, and create and perform an original classroom play.  So, as you can see, we already have several major projects and events planned.

I am thrilled to be teaching a 4th/5th multiage class this year.  Ten years ago, I completed my student teaching internship in a multiage classroom at a school where every classroom was multiage (K/1, 2/3, 4/5).  In fact, in the Madison public schools where I began my career, multiage schools were quite common.  As teacher, I am using the word “multiage,” rather than “combination” or “split,” very intentionally because pedagogically these arrangements can be quite different.  For example, as a fifth grader, I was in a 4th/5th “split” classroom.  This meant that the fourth graders sat on one side of the classroom and went about their daily assignments while the fifth graders sat on the opposite side going about theirs.  We were a class divided.  This is not how our room will be.  On the first day, as we sit together in our opening circle, I will acknowledge the range of ages present in our room.  I will acknowledge that there will be rare moments where the fourth graders do this or the fifth graders do that.  However, day in and day out, we will be together as a single team, and to someone looking in they will just see kids going about their activities together.  Age will be a benefit of our classroom’s diversity and will create more opportunities for learning, leadership, and community.

It’s going to be an exciting school year.  I look forward to seeing “old friends,” as well as meeting all the new members of our community.  Be sure to follow us on Twitter @LewisRoom20 for daily photos and look for regular updates at, including our weekly newsletter called Classroom Notes.  Please consider signing up for Remind, which allows me to share messages with classroom families.  I look forward to seeing everyone soon.  See you on the 30th!


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Classroom Notes


Well…we have arrived.  It is the last day of school.  We, of course, had a very busy and productive week.  We dismantled and cleaned our room.  We Skyped with our pen pals in Madison, Wisconsin, and shared favorite book recommendations for summer.  We shared our illustrated poetry collection.  We met with our first grade buddies and enjoyed a Popsicle snack.  We put on two fantastic performances of our play, Page 72.  A very busy week indeed!

Our play performance is perhaps emblematic of our year together.  We started by brainstorming plot ideas.  Kids worked with their table buddies to justify and narrow the choices.  We voted.  We planned together by creating a story map to sequence scenes, incorporate details, and develop characters.  We wrote the script by using the metaphor that ideas are like chains—we can link our ideas together.  We practiced.  We prepared.  We shared with eight other Lewis classes!  This is the way the kids have worked for much of the second semester.  They brainstorm together, feeding off of each other’s ideas.  They communicate and listen.  They accept their roles.  They follow directions.  This was true when we organized the food drive.  This was true when meeting with our first grade buddies.  It was true during our poetry project.  It was true during drumming class.  The kids have much of which to be proud!

And, once again, thank you for all the support you have provided over the year.  We couldn’t have done all that we have done without that support.

I wish everyone a very enjoyable summer!  As for me, spending time with Evie and our girls is at the top of my list.  I am sure we’ll take plenty of walks to the park to play.  I’ll visit with my folks and Evie’s folks, siblings, and friends.  I have projects I want to get done.  There’s that stack of books I still need to read.  Then there’s…

See you later! 


Page 72 - Performance

Friday, June 9, 2017

Book Recommendations From Our Pen Pals in Madison, WI

Imaginary Veterinary
Lucy B.
Sticks and Stones
Princess X
Big Nate
The Hunger Games
El Deafo
The Wanderer
Dog Diaries
Starring Sally J. Freedman
Lucy G.
The 13 Story Treehouse
The House of Hades
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles
Diary of  Wimpy Kid
The Last of the Very Great Wangdoodles
It’s More than a Game
The Lost Years of Merlin

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Book Recommendations For Our Pen Pals in Madison, WI

Sara Pennypacker
The One and Only Ivan
Katherine Applegate
The War that Saved My Life
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Katherine Applegate
Spencer Quinn
Anna Kathleen
The Red Pencil
Andrea Davis Pinkney
Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle
George Hagen
Roald Dahl
Small Steps
Louis Sachar
Spencer Quinn
Jake and Lily
Jerry Spinelli
Where the Red Fern Grows
Wilson Rawls
The Wereworld Series
Curtis Jobling
Out of My Mind
Sharon M. Draper
Upside Down Magic
Sarah Mlynowski
90 Miles to Havana
Enrique Flores Galbis
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
J.K. Rowling
Bud, Not Buddy
Christopher Paul Curtis
The Witches
Roald Dahl
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Roald Dahl
Saving Shiloh
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Lemony Snicket  
Mr. Mark
The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963
Christopher Paul Curtis

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Pen Pal Book Recommendations

Classroom Notes


We have arrived. We are officially heading into the last week of the school year. And what a year it
has been! Yesterday, we made a list of all the projects, activities, and trips that have taken place this year. It was an impressive list! We listed first grade buddies, poetry in the garden, creating eco-critters, creative dramatics, field trips around the city, Reed science, art night, and more! We had another busy and productive week that included illustrating our book of poetry, the Spring Music Concert, and the play we wrote as a class and are practicing together. My final (farewell) letter of the year will be posted next Thursday, but for now, I want to pass along some “last week of school” information.

Team 20 Theater:  Last week we wrote a play together. It is the story of a class who goes on a field trip to a museum and encounters a series of unusual exhibits including one that leads to some unexpected consequences. I won’t give away the ending. There will be two performances of “Page 72” for other Lewis classes, including our first grade buddies. Performance one will be on Wednesday, June 14th, at 9:30 and performance two will be that same day at 11:00. If you find yourself with some free time and want to take in a good show, please stop by! A splendid time is guaranteed for all! If you can’t make it in, please know that our play will be live-streamed through our Twitter feed, and video can be later found on our classroom blog.

In the afternoon on Wednesday, June 14th, we will dismantle most of the decorations in the room. A grocery sack would be very useful on Tuesday since room 20 is filled with a variety of kid-generated items. (Extra sacks are welcomed!) 

A reminder about the Family Breakfast on Friday, June 9th, from 8:15 to 9:00 in room 22. Please come by when you can. You can stay for the whole event or just come by for a bit. A list of breakfast items to bring and share for this buffet style breakfast was included with last week’s Classroom Notes. I am looking forward to this celebration and hope to see you there!

And as we head into the last week, I want to thank all of you for the support you have given to the kids of Team 20 and to me. Education is a cooperative venture between home and school. I am fortunate to work with such an outstanding group of families! 


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Page 72

You and your class are cordially invited to an original theater production by Team 20.  Two productions of the play Page 72 will be presented on Wednesday, June 14th.  There will be shows at 9:30 and 11:00 in room 20.  This show is a seasonal favorite and sells out early.  So don’t delay!  Reserve your seats today!  Please RSVP to Mark Richner in person, by email, or via mailbox.

Classroom Notes


Team 20 has had yet another busy and productive week. We began writing a play as a team about a class that is on a field trip to a museum and encounters a series of unusual exhibits including one that leads to some unexpected consequences. We will perform our play during the last week of school. Be sure to look for more details in next week’s letter.

We met as a team this morning and talked about some goals for the time we have left. I shared a sports analogy about how even the strongest teams can let their guard down as the season comes to a close. The final moments can transition from being productive to lackadaisical and from being focused to unfocused. So the goal for our team during our remaining weeks is to “stay strong.” Stay strong means something slightly different in each context, whether it is coming into the room and choosing a priority during the morning routine, transitioning through the hallways to specials, being focused during writing, choosing a good spot to read during independent reading, and so on.

During our team meeting, we also talked about how summer reading is incredibly important for kids and their academic achievement. Kids who don’t read over the summer experience learning loss and actually forget some of what they’ve learned. We talked about how this effect is cumulative, that this loss can build over multiple summers. I am happy to share that all kids at Lewis are already enrolled in Multnomah County Library’s Summer Reading. Kids will bring their game board home during the last week of school. MCL’s Summer Reading encourages kids to read whatever they want, which helps grow a love of reading. This sort of summer reading program helps to make-up for this “break” in learning and results in positive reading outcomes when kids return to school in the fall. If your kid doesn’t have a library card, here’s how to get one. More great news is that there are no longer any late fines for kids 0-17 for any items. All existing late fines on kids’ accounts and materials were lifted last June.

Speaking of libraries and reading, all Lewis library books were due back by May 31st. Other upcoming dates include the Spring Music Concert on the evening of June 1st, the Annual Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast on June 2nd at 8:00 a.m., and the 4th Grade Family Breakfast on June 9th (a flyer for this is included with today’s Classroom Notes).


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Classroom Notes


On Friday, Team 20 visited the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center to learn more about Japanese American history in Oregon. Our guides, June and Colin, led groups through the museum and art exhibit. In the museum, kids chose an artifact, wrote why they chose it, and what story they thought it told about the Japanese American experience, learning more about life in Japantown (Nihonmachi) and Japanese American incarceration during World War II. 
After sharing their findings the groups traded places. The art exhibit, Yellow Terror, featured the work of Roger Shimomura and his collection of objects showing racial stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans. Kids chose an item in the exhibit, wrote why they thought the item was made, who would buy the item, how people pictured in the item might react, how the item could show a stereotype, and what effect these messages could have. We walked to the Japanese American Historical Plaza along the waterfront for lunch before catching the bus for our return to Lewis. Here are some photos by Bella.

Our poetry project continues.  Kids are growing the seeds (poetic images that they collected in their sketchbooks through observation in the Lewis garden and at Reed Canyon) into poems. We are working on poetry revision by focusing on line breaks, alliteration, similes, and repetition. We practiced Ghanaian drumming with Alex from the Obo Addy Legacy Project and performed for the school.  We also began writing a play as a class, which we will perform during the last week of school.

Looking ahead, all Lewis Library books are due by May 31st. A correction on the Spring Music Concert date – the concert will be the evening of Thursday, June 1st, and the afternoon of Friday, June 2nd. Everyone who has volunteered this year is welcome to attend the Annual Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast on Friday, June 2nd, at 8:00 a.m. in the Lewis Cafeteria. On Friday, June 9th, we will be having our 4th Grade Family Breakfast. It will be a great opportunity for students, families, and teachers to come together to celebrate our year. The breakfast is for all 4th graders and will take place from 8:15 to 9:00 a.m. in room 22. A flyer with more details will come home soon.