Thursday, February 11, 2016

My January Reads

Here's a little look at what I read in January. I've included my Goodreads star ratings.

4 stars

4 stars (I'm a big Baldacci fan.)

5 stars

4 stars

5 stars

My favorite of the month was Everything Everything. It's a YA read and so clever. I highly recommend it. My second favorite was The War That Saved My Life which, I believe, is considered juvenile historical fiction. It's an engaging read with characters I grew to love. Happy reading!

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Do You have Big Dreams for Your Teeth?

I think I've done a fairly decent job over the years of covering all my bases when teaching dental health. The missing piece has been how to thoroughly convince little people that they really must take dental health seriously, which is kind of an important missing piece. I suppose I could have created some type of kid-friendly spreadsheet that parents checked off each night and returned to school for a sticker or prize, but that felt artificial. After some deliberation, this year I devised a plan that I think drives home my point in a real life kind of way that will hopefully stick for a long time. 

I started off my unit with a short slide presentation and a big question. Do you have big dreams for your teeth? 

My second slide showed pictures of teeth that were not in the best of shape and asked, "How did this happen?" 

I was planning on putting small groups to the task of writing down their thoughts, but my crew was struggling this day with things like cooperation and character, so individuals wrote down their ideas on whiteboards. Then I collected their ideas on the board. 

The third slide showed a perfect set of teeth and the question again of "How did this happen?" Individuals once more wrote down their thoughts which we then added to the board.

Everything we've talked about since has come back to these slides, pictures, and big question... 

Do you have big dreams for your teeth?

A mom recently told me that her daughter asked her older brother if he had big dreams for his teeth when he ate two scoops of ice cream instead of one. I think my plan might be working. :)

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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Regie Routman: My Hero

You know you work for an observant, caring superintendent when she posts a video to your Facebook page because she knows it's from your hero, Regie Routman. (How many superintendents can pull off something like that for one of their many teachers?) Anyway, I do love all things Regie. She's long been my favorite, and her thumbprint is on my pedagogy.

In this 24-minute interview, which I've listened to several times, she makes some challenging points, as she often does. I've made a list of my favorites (in black font) with a bit of personal commentary (because I have a hard time refraining). I'm certain you'll find your own nuggets from this video, so please watch here.

  • Principals have to know literacy and teachers have to be leaders.

Ahh, yes! I can hardly contain myself. This is what our students deserve - a school of teacher leaders and a principal who knows and understands literacy.

  • I look at literacy at, how do we teach children to read and write for real world audiences and purposes? How do we make this authentic so it connects with their life and their culture, and so that they are engaged in the work that we're doing?

This is the crux of the matter right here, and I'll admit there are still a few students in my care who I haven't reached yet. I haven't found a way to make literacy as authentic for them as it must be. I can say for sure that the answer will not be found in a teacher's manual though. Amen.

  • People don't get back to the basics of reading and writing until all else has failed. Why do we keep looking for a perfect program or curriculum?

Yes, why? The basics are tried and true. Regie's always been a proponent of this.

  • Schools have PLCs (professional literacy communities) going on but they were about data: here's where we need to improve data - but no one was showing teachers how. You can't raise expectations just by looking at data. You can't raise achievement just by looking at data.

The data, and the study of such data, is useless unless teacher excellence and professionalism is positively affected, and that won't happen by accident. 

  • If you're not knowledgeable you're going to be implementing with fidelity and we need to be implementing with flexibility. You can only do that from a strong foundational base of knowledge.

I've long held a grudge against the word "fidelity." I love how Regie replaces it with "flexibility." That's perfection right there, and she's completely right. If teachers have a strong foundational base of knowledge, then the word "fidelity" doesn't need to be tossed around.

  • When teachers see their principal coming into the classroom and celebrating them rather than "You need to improve on this" everything changes in that culture. Celebration is at the heart of my best teaching. It changes the culture of the school.

I've read Regie's last two sentences in various other contexts, so I know how strongly she believes this. I've seen their impact in my own classroom. When I have a classroom moment that's particularly powerful, it's usually one of celebration, and I think to myself, "Man, that was good!" It does indeed change the culture. Our classrooms and schools need more of those moments. 

  • If you have more than one major initiative going on at the same time, you're not going to make any progress. We have to slow down to hurry up and to really value that deep professional learning. And you're not just moving from one subject to another. If you're focusing on writing then you're focusing on writing for at least a year. 

Doesn't it feel like we're spinning our wheels at times? There's nothing deep about that motion. True professional development, which takes time and energy and focus, can't be spread thin like a barrage of bullets in a drive-by shooting. 

  • Teachers don't need a script. They need deep professional learning so they can take the curriculum and the standard and say "Here's what I know, not just in my gut and in my heart, but here's what I know through research and experience and collaboration."

We need to teach with eyes wide open, especially when there are so many mandates, curriculums, programs, etc, coming at us. Without the right expertise, we can't use those resources appropriately. The script is not the answer.

  • It's this commitment to professional learning of the highest order that's missing.

I'm in charge of my own professional learning. I believe the district and the school play a part, or should play a part in increasing my professionalism, but in the end, the buck stops with me. I must commit to an ever increasing knowledge base for the sake of every student who enters my fold.

Thank you Regie Routman for sharing your expertise and wisdom. We are better teachers because of you.

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Monday, February 1, 2016

A Flow Chart for Life

This is a little flow chart I kind of threw together one morning last week when I was feeling the need for another tool to help this crew of mine understand the importance of their words and actions and how to monitor them better. I quickly jotted it down before school and then created the poster above in front of the kids. Of course, I spent the rest of the day referring to it as much as I could. 

The next day, I created it again while the kids copied it for themselves, so they could have their own version at home. That gave me two copies in my room located in prime places, which I repeatedly returned to as much as possible as a group and privately with certain individuals. A week later and it continues to come up often throughout the day and hopefully will make a difference in life, not just in first grade. 

(Side note: One of my sweet parents told me that two of my girls were teaching their young church group how to draw the flow chart onto several valentine hearts that their group would be delivering for Valentine's Day. Now that's what I'm talkin' about.)

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Parent Math Night

My school had our first Parent Math Night this week, and I was in charge. That's what happens when you share your vision at a leadership team meeting and people like what they hear. I've had this vision for three or four years now, so even though it's taken some work to pull off, it's rewarding to finally see it become a reality.

My vision originated from the very first night of MTI (Mathematical Thinking for Instruction) provided by my state. (Pre-Common Core, Idaho required all math teachers to take this course.) The very first thing my instructor did was give us a math problem to solve in any way, shape, or form. I believe it was a 3-digit problem, but I can't remember if it was addition or subtraction. While we were computing, he was moving around the room, interacting with teachers, and asking certain ones to write their strategies on the board. Once there were about five strategies up, he asked those teachers to describe their thinking. There was much interaction between the instructor and the group as he facilitated making connections between each strategy. This whole experience kind of blew my mind. I got great grades in math but was a huge rule follower, so I had no idea there were so many ways to solve a problem. I was immediately won over and could envision giving the same experience to my own mathematicians. And I did just that. I still do.

This is what I also wanted for parents. While parents want and need strategies for helping their kiddos, more importantly, they must be won over. They must understand why math looks different now than when they sat in a math class. They must be able to see the rewards of their own children learning a different and better way. With all the negative voices on social media adding to their already growing confusion, teachers must give them a reason to not believe everything they read and hear. What better way to be won over than to experience a piece of it themselves.

We only had the parents for 60 minutes, and we crammed a lot in. Here's a simple outline.

* We asked them to quickly jot down a math memory (good or bad) and place it on a happy/sad continuum, followed by a great discussion.

* We asked them to solve the problem 61-19, sent certain parents to draw their solutions on the board, and asked those parents to explain their thinking. Most importantly, we then had a discussion about the benefits of experiencing math this way.

* We asked them to read some research about math instruction, and we facilitated a conversation about what they thought.

* We showed them a video of children in a 6th grade math class learning about area and perimeter in a real-world, engaging, hands-on way, and we facilitated a conversation about what they noticed.

* We shared specific grade-level tips and typical models and asked for questions regarding both. (Each grade level presented on their own. This was the only part of the presentation that was grade-level specific so that no matter what grade level a parent went to, they basically experienced the same presentation. This definitely helped solve the problem for parents who have children in multiple grades.)

* We asked parents to fill out a reflection form so we could know what they found most helpful and where they still need assistance. That way we can prepare for next steps.

Here is the slide presentation. Click on the graphic to view. Notes are also included.

This is the first parent handout.

This is the research page that parents read, copied onto the back of the first page.

This is the first grade tips and models page. Each grade level had their own version of this sheet. 
The models were handwritten. You'll see first grade's below.

This is the reflection page that parents filled out.

Click here to see these parent handouts.

Our numbers were smaller than I would have hoped, but we didn't invite children, who are typically good at dragging parents to events. (We did provide childcare though.) This night was all about meeting the needs of parents, so we wanted them, as well as teachers, to be free of distractions. Regardless of the small crowd, I've heard positive feedback from those who were there. 

Our parents really do deserve to be educated, so my hope is that we do something similar in the future. At the present, parents are stuck in a place of ignorance, which is not their fault, and ignorance leads to frustration for both them and the little people who they are trying to help at home. Schools have a responsibility to step in and change that.

P.S. I had a helpful team of people helping me along the way too. Our instructional coach was a great collaborator on the event.

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Writing With a DING!

I'm more of a chimes girl myself, but this little dinger, when used sparingly, has been a helpful little tool. When I say sparingly, I mean I resurrect it, at the most, twice a year. Much more than that and it could get a little annoying or simply lose its affect. But I can vouch for the fact that first graders don't mind it's DING one bit, especially if they're the ones who create it. Here's how this little tool works in my room.

I actually used the dinger to inspire my writers. For example, we're currently working on persuasive letters. Even though I'd modeled and taught a handful of lessons on backing up their opinions with details, which typically isn't an issue with my writers, the majority of this year's class wasn't embracing the idea in their daily writing. Somewhat out of desperation, I brought out the dinger one day and made quite the hullabaloo about it during my mini-lesson on using details. Of course, when they heard what the dinger could do and that they could be the ones to create that sound, their little eyes lit up. 

Off they went to write, and off I went to circulate the room, looking for writers who were using details to back up their opinions. Each time I found one (and I found many that day), the child got to ding the dinger while I made a quick announcement about what that writer had just done. My goal was to catch as many of them trying the strategy as possible, and I did just that.  

Yes, it's a little noisy. Yes, it interrupts the writers, Neither is ideal for the everyday writing workshop experience. But, it motivates writers who won't budge and need a push in the right direction. A little noise and interruption a few times a year is worth it when my writers take on the challenge and get over that hump in their way.  DING!

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Monday, January 18, 2016

December Reads

December was a good reading month for me. It helped that I read 12 books over my Christmas break. What a sweet way to spend a vacation. :)

I'm going to include my Goodread star ratings. 

5 stars - so so so wonderful

4 stars

4 stars

3 stars

2 stars - the story is inspiring but I wish it had been written well

4 stars - I really love JoJo

4 stars

3 stars

4 stars - great messages in this one

4 stars

3 stars

4 stars

4 stars - funny and inspiring

4 stars

In conclusion, I adored Fish in a Tree. Teachers must read this one. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was my next favorite. It's an endearing and thought-provoking story. I read quite a few Sandra Brown books. Minus the steamy scenes, I enjoy the suspenseful plots. 

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