Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Good vs. Great

Yesterday Lauren shared her Me in a Bag with us.  After her presentation, I asked her what her audience did well.  She told the class she loved their smiles and the way they were able to appropriately comment at the end.  She also enjoyed the way they consistently nodded.  As a presenter, which is exactly what I called her, she had it easy.  I taught her audience to do all those things she noticed and appreciated.  If only all audiences were as responsive.  

But it's not always the audience's fault.  I've agonized for the presenter who didn't seem to notice they'd lost the crowd.  They obliviously plowed right ahead, dragging everyone else along.  Dave Burgess is right.  Some speakers or teachers, in this instance, have what seems like an innate ability to know when they need to take their audience to a different place.  

I have to be careful when I say this, because I don't want it to be taken the wrong way.  I only say it to make a point.  I've heard classroom observers remark that I make teaching look easy.  What they don't know is that I'm doing about a million things at once.  There's nothing easy about that.  One of the million is simply keeping a crew of little people engaged.  I'm a pretty Even Stephen personality type in real life, but in the classroom I can become someone else.  I can ramp up the enthusiasm for sure.  I'd like to think I've got some of the innate ability that Dave Burgess mentions, yet I guarantee there are moments when I'm simply good at what I do instead of great.  When my audience sends me signals I don't have the energy to attend to, and I plow ahead instead of taking them to a different place, I'm just good.  Dave Burgess claims to be "on" 100% of the time and I believe him.  Some might say that's all pie in the sky and impossible to achieve, but in my book it's a worthwhile goal to shoot for.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Mustached Self-Portraits

Today my artists drew Salvador Dali-inspired self-portraits.  I found the idea from There's a Dragon in my Art Room.  

(The artwork above is from There's a Dragon in my Art Room.)

I switched it up by having my kids draw themselves instead of Dali.  I really love how they turned out.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Doable and Durable

Anyone who has read my blog for any amount of time has noticed that we make a plethora of classroom books in my class.  We create so many that I try to vary how I make them.  I'm not sure that variety is the spice of my own life, but it comes in handy in first grade sometimes.  I thought I'd share one of my methods and the tips that make it both doable and durable.  

When making books with photos, sometimes I print two to a page and then fold in half.  It saves on cutting and gluing.  

Since these books are very popular with the kids, they need to be durable, but I don't have time to laminate them.  Plus, I think it's kind of a waste of money.  Laminating film is not cheap.  Clear packing tape makes books like this last so much longer.  Once the page is folded over, I place half of a strip of clear packing tape on the open side of one page and then fold the tape over to attach it to the other side.  It attaches the two open sides together and creates a durable edge that is then ready to be bound with all the others.  Again, no glue needed.

If you're interested in seeing more about classroom books, look on the right side of my blog under "labels" and look for "classroom books." 

May your classroom books be ever doable and durable!

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Legos, Barbies, and Video Games

There are benefits to teaching little people.  These are the students who repeatedly pester their parents during the late summer days about when the first day of school is.  For the most part, first graders want to come to school, although I've certainly met some who felt differently.  I'm not sure what would happen if we all decided they didn't have to be there but were more than welcome to come if they wanted.  Would I be teaching to an empty room?  It would make for an interesting experiment.  

Dave Burgess' question spurred my own question.  What exactly are the qualities of a classroom that would trump all the other facets of life that beg for our students' attention?  It seems only natural to answer from the standpoint of my own experience as a student.  What would keep me coming back even if I weren't required to?

I feel loved.
I'm important.
I'm noticed.
I feel successful.
I'm interested in the content.
I have a personal connection to the content. 
The content is relevant to my life. 
I have choice.
I have a chance to shine in a way that fits my personality.
There's time to apply and practice what I'm learning.
My attempts and approximations are accepted.
I'm celebrated.
I get to do, move, and take breaks.
My instructor believes in me.
(I could continue.)

The student in me is probably not much different than the 23 students in my class.  This list, although nowhere near exhaustive, sure does make me stop and think about whether my classroom offers my kids the chance to experience something they could not live without.  Would they show up if they didn't have to or would they be overwhelmingly drawn to their Legos, Barbies, and video games?

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Classroom Inventory

I spent the first three days of our number sense and place value unit getting the kids counting up a storm.  It's called Classroom Inventory.  "Hey kiddos.  I need your help.  We have so many tools in our classroom, and I've no idea how many we have.  If another teacher asked to borrow our unifix cubes, wouldn't it be nice to know that all of them were returned?  So you get to help me inventory or count some of the tools in our room."  It goes something like that.  

Classroom inventory allows them to practice counting strategies.  It also gives me information about many facets of their counting skills and number sense.  After I pair them up and get them started with objects, blank paper, and clipboards, I meander.  I observe, question, prompt, and cross my fingers that someone will invent a useful strategy that must be shared.  A simple strategy might simply be moving the objects as they're counted.  As soon as I observe something worthwhile like this, I call everyone over to see the strategy in action and be challenged to try it too.

The strategy I'm really looking for is grouping by tens though.  Here's a picture of what I found on day two.  

Yea!  Alex and Hyrum grouped their cubes by tens.  I called everyone over to see what they'd done and hear about it too. We dubbed it "The Alex and Hyrum Strategy." It spread like wildfire and by day three, I was seeing this:

I've shared just a taste of what classroom inventory has to offer.  If this intrigues you in the least, you should check out this short article about it.  It will fill in lots of holes that I just don't have time to talk about.  Click on the graphic to get your own copy.

Lastly, I just have to share what Alex wrote on his clipboard when he and Hyrum grouped and counted 194 cubes.  He's one smart cookie!

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday Sayings: My Own Version of Status Quo

My cousin Laurie and I recently had an email conversation along the lines of what Dave Burgess is talking about.  I explained to her that I feel like my feet are dangling these days.  Maybe my feet are always in a dangling state, but I'm just now realizing it.  Or maybe they're just dangling more than usual.  My head is consumed, but not in a bad way, with the whirling of questions about my practice.  

How can I make _____ better?  
What does better even look like?  
Should I even be doing _____?  
What would _____ look like in the real world?
How is my passion for literacy obvious in all I do?   
How can I balance immersion with structure and routine?
How is everything I do somehow connected to their interests?

At times the questions that pursue me can, in the moment, seem so difficult to wrestle with.  It can be tempting to let them go and move on, especially if my plate is already full.  It's in the wrestling though that I often find myself with the most creative solutions to my questions and the best changes to my practice.  Living in a state of ambiguity is never a waste of time.  I've really no idea where my feet will land.  Neither do I know how I'll eventually get there.  My only worry is that I'll miss the boat and continue on with my own version of status quo.   

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Onions and Books

How is a book like an onion?  My kids recently found out.  My goal was to introduce them to the idea that books have many layers.  It might seem like Hooway for Wodney Wat is about a rodent who can't pronounce his Rs, but when you peel off the layers, you discover it's really about the kind of person you should strive to be.  The more layers you peel off, the closer you get to the real message or heart of the book.  

It's kind of an abstract concept for youngsters, so I was hoping the onion would create a concrete connection for them.  As I peeled off the layers, I talked about the layers in Hooway for Wodney Wat, one of my favorite books to read over and over at the beginning of the year.  They were very intrigued by the whole thing and aware of the smell as well.  (My world smelled like an onion for days.)  Even though the peeled onion is long gone, and thankfully so, I can now refer to the layers of the books we're reading.  The kids are beginning to remove the outer portions and give input about the most important message.  It's still a new concept, but I'm pretty sure after repeated practice, the smelly onion will have served a great purpose.

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