Saturday, May 28, 2016

Saturday Sayings: Teacher Location

Is it possible that the location of the teacher in the classroom could be an indicator as to whether the activity really matters? 

Read on to find out what I think.

Proximity. It's very possibly the first thing every teacher learned in their classroom management course in college, and there's a good reason why. It works. Whether with first graders or adult drivers and police cars, proximity is an easy and effective management strategy.

This is one of the reasons why I never sit at my desk when the children are in the room. I acknowledge that the secondary world is a bit different. My cousin Laurie can sit at her desk while her AP seniors spend the class period independently writing timed essays, but I can't think of a time when using the teacher desk as a stopping place is appropriate in the elementary classroom. In fact, I would venture to say that if an elementary teacher is sitting at his/her desk, the children are not doing something worthwhile. If the activity matters, then the teacher will:

want to observe students
ask questions
take notes
check on understanding
prevent possible behavior issues
show students they're invested in every part of the day

None of this can happen without proximity and constant movement. And if the teacher doesn't need to do any of the above things and can sit at a desk instead, then the children obviously shouldn't be doing what they're doing either.

Is it possible that the location of the teacher in the classroom could be an indicator as to whether the activity really matters?

I say yes.

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Saturday, May 14, 2016


Anyone who drops by my classroom doesn't have to stay long to catch on to the fact that singing is what we do in my room. I use it as a management tool, and it works extremely well. Every so often an observer comments that they're not a singer, and I get that, although really, the kids don't know the difference. I want to ask though, "Then what will your strategy be? What will you use to help your kids efficiently transition throughout the day?" Anyway, I had to throw in something teachery, because this post is more personal than anything else. 

I don't just sing in my classroom. I sing in my car. I sing in my home. I sing at my church. I sing on CDs. My cousin and I have been working on two CD projects for two years now, and one of the two is now complete. It's called Good

My cousin and I wrote all the songs. We've been singing most of them at church, and putting them on a CD has been an exciting way of taking the worship we so love at our church and making it available to others. I think these songs are the kind that beg to be played in their car (loudly and repeatedly).

You can download the CD using the site below, but if you want a real live CD, cover and all, let me know. We'd rather personally send out real CDs than let the company do that. You who enjoy downloads are good to go though.

P.S. And if you enjoy Christmas music, be watching for CD number two this coming Fall.

Click on the graphic to listen to excerpts as well as download songs. 
And if you like what you hear, feel free to share. :)

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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Summer Reading Share

The school year isn't even over and I'm already pondering how I can prepare next year's students to be readers who couldn't possibly stop reading during the summer between first and second grade. I'm already thinking about this because I know that preventing the infamous summer slide starts on day one of the school year. I'd better be ready.

In the meantime, I'm also thinking about this year's crew, and I've got a few things to help them along the way through their summer of books. A few years ago, I borrowed an idea from Miss Trayers. (She has many ideas worth borrowing. Click on her name and you'll see some of the ways she helps her readers during the summer.) 

I've modified her original idea a bit by specifically including trips to the library. Click on the graphic below and you can get your own copy. If I've done it right, you can edit.

I've also recently come to the conclusion that many parents don't quite understand how important the library is to their child's summer reading life and they might not even know how to best use it, so I'm also sending home information about library tips. Check it out here.

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Summer Library Trip Tips

Summer is knocking on my door, and I'm working on making sure my readers are as ready as they can be. (P.S. Summer reading preparation actually starts on day one of school. Think about that one.) 

Today though I had a new thought. Do all my parents know how to use the library during the summer? Do some of them feel overwhelmed when walking into a library with a young reader? Might they profit from some tips? I decided that they might, and here's what I came up with. If you want a copy, feel free to click on the graphic.

If this helps even one parent and their one reader, then it was worth my time. I'm hoping for more than one though. :)

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

In Context

If I'm going to teach nouns, I'm going to teach them in context of real literature instead of in isolation. That's where shared reading comes into play. We can share authentic text, remove a skill from the text, practice and play with it, and then put the skill back into the text as we read the story again (and again and again).

So this week Joy Cowley and Ratty-Tatty helped us learn  about nouns. Here's how that adventure played out.

1. We read Ratty-Tatty

2. We made lists of things the kids saw in the pictures of two different pages. As the kids called out the words, I sorted them into groups but didn't tell the kids why. When the lists were finished, I asked them what they noticed. One reader said that they were people, things, and places. That's when I labeled the columns and listed these words as nouns.

3. The kids then hunted for nouns in the room and wrote them on their whiteboards.

4. After reading Ratty-Tatty on the next day and reviewing what nouns were, I gave everyone a copy of a page from the book. They labeled all the nouns in the picture. They also eventually circled the nouns in the text.

5. On the following day, we read Ratty-Tatty again. I wrote examples of nouns and words that weren't nouns on small post-it notes. Each child had one on their forehead. They created a yes/no t-chart on their whiteboards and meandered around the room, sorting their neighbor's forehead words as nouns or not nouns.

6. On our final day after another reading of our book, we created a classroom book. Each child drew their favorite nouns.

Shared reading is a practice worth using daily. Give me a big book (or other large text) and I can teach most any reading skill while never venturing far from real literature and contextual understanding. 

(No worksheets were harmed in the making of these lessons.)

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Evils of Scissors and Glue

Today my mathematicians worked on the concept of equal and unequal when it comes to 2D shapes. I perused the internet for ways my students could practice this concept, but I was mostly disappointed and reminded of how we need to be careful how we ask students to use their time. 

If I want my mathematicians to look at shapes and identify whether they've been partitioned equally or unequally, then I'd best not instead ask them to spend their time cutting and glueing. A sheet divided in half, labeled equal and unequal with shapes at the bottom that need to be cut out, sorted, and glued on the page, is going to prevent mathematicians from quality time spent practicing the actual skill I need them to learn. 

Here's how I handled their practice time. Each of my mathematicians was giving one shape, like in the examples below. They met up with others, identified their neighbor's shape as equal or unequal, swapped shapes, and visited someone else. This continued until I knew they had ample time to practice. Their final task was to write "equal" or "unequal" on the back of the last shape in their possession and give it to me. Voila.

I just think we need to be wary of allowing cutting, glueing, or some other random task from preventing what's truly most important from happening.

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Saturday Sayings: Borrow Wisely


While my least favorite educational word is fidelity, my favorite is most definitely pedagogy. Although I'm likely pronouncing its third syllable incorrectly, it feels like I'm talking about something special when I speak that word. Considering the definition, I'd say I'm right. 

Pedagogy is indeed a big deal. Methods and practices are a foundation for most everything a teacher does in the classroom regardless of experience. Even our newest members to the profession have a pedagogy. In fact, they have one long before a stamp of approval lands on that teaching certificate. 

So where does this pedagogy come from? 

That's been my question of the week. I devised my own hypothesis based on 22 years of teaching, and then I tried out my question on my nephew Kyle, who is at the opposite end of the teaching spectrum with about a month of student teaching to go. (By the way, he's going to be brilliant in the classroom, and I'm not just saying that because I'm Aunt Tammy.) When answering my question, he talked about past teachers, college courses, and great teachers he's currently surrounded by. Basically, his answer confirmed what I'd been thinking all along. 

We borrow pedagogy.  

It might be an oversimplification, but I know I borrowed pedagogy before I had my own classroom and 22 years later, I'm still borrowing new practices and methods. Gatekeepers though are unafraid to turn things way, so we have a responsibility to the children in our keep to examine pedagogy with a critical eye. I also believe we have a responsibility to help our new teachers develop this skill. Although I believe Kyle is already thinking like a gatekeeper, I hope our newest teachers don't tire of us reminding them to borrow wisely. It might possibly be some of the best advice we can give.

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