Saturday, June 24, 2017

Saturday Sayings: #imonyourside


It’s more than just a hashtag. It’s a mantra. It’s the capital letter and the exclamation point, the alpha and omega, the intro and conclusion to all that my cousin Laurie says and does with her students. Inserted at the end of most every classroom tweet, framed on the wall in her class, and repeatedly spoken face-to-face, her mantra says to students that that no matter the situation, both in school and in life, she’s approachable, available, and in their corner.  

I believe Laurie would agree with me that classroom mantras are not frivolous add-ons. On the contrary, they're valuable and foundational to the health and culture of the class. Dare I even say, they're life changing. I regret to admit that it was several years into my career before I discovered mine: 

You're full of greatness.
Listen to your heart.
Kindness is more important than getting your own way.
It's not always easy, but it's important.

These mantras are applicable to six-year-olds but also have lasting power. Their 45-year-old selves will benefit from these words too, which is why I wish I had found my mantras long ago. I'd like to apologize to those many students who missed out on these messages. If only I could return to those early years, sit the children down, who are actually no longer children, and make a few more worthwhile deposits into their lives.

What are your mantras? Don't wait too long before you know what they are. If need be, borrow from a teacher you trust until they become your own. I believe you'll find them to be powerful and worth repeating and will most likely return to you on the lips of those students in your care, which I believe is one of the highest compliments possible. "I'm on your side, Miss Roberts." I know Laurie's heard that a time or two. 

Be intentional and then consistent. Find your mantras.

P.S. But the way, here's a link to my newly published book for teachers. I'd love to share it with you. Click on the graphic to find out more.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017


click on the graphic to go directly to Amazon

Check out the name of the author on this book. Yeah, that's me! I wrote a book, and I wrote it for you. I wrote it for teachers who want to talk about teaching - who want to be gatekeepers. (If you're curious about being a gatekeeper, you'll have to get yourself a copy.)

Lucky for you, it's finally published and ready for the world. You can either buy it on Amazon or wait a few weeks until I have copies to sell and buy it directly from me. (It's actually a better deal for me if you buy it from me, but seriously I'm just excited to share and won't be offended if you buy it now.)

It feels weird, but I'm thrilled to finally say, "I'm an author." Enjoy!

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Embracing a Culture of Joy

click on the graphic to go to Amazon

I felt the joy when the staff at my school created a human tunnel for students to walk through as they were leaving on the last day of school. (Read more about that experience here.) I believe this moment reflects the essence of Shareski's book, and I'm asking myself how can my school replicate more joyful moments like that in the future? How about in my own classroom? How can we embrace a culture of joy?

William Ferriter, in the foreword, says, "Can I ask you a tough question? How many students in your classrooms are fully satisfied with the learning spaces you have created for them? If your students reflect the national average, the answer is bound to be discouraging." The numbers he goes on to share are quite discouraging. We can do better. 

I'd love to share my favorite quotes from this book, and there are many, but I'd rather let you discover them yourself. So go buy the book. It won't consume your summer. In fact, you could read it in a day if you wanted to. Even though it's short, it's powerful and will most likely challenge you to consider how you are embracing a culture of joy in your classroom and in your school. According to Shareski, "Real learning always includes joy." 

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Joy Write

Click on the graphic and go directly to Amazon.

I just finished this book a few minutes ago. The fact that I'm ignoring my hungry belly to write this post and tell you all about it speaks to how much you need to read it too. 

Ralph Fletcher asks his readers to consider whether today's writing instruction is downloading into our writers a writing identity. 

  • Do they see themselves as writers? 
  • Do they write for their own purposes? 
  • Is it a joy and a privilege to pick up a pen and write to communicate, to think, to problem solve, to simply play?

When Fletcher describes the typical reluctant writer, I have to admit that I know this child, and he's in my classroom every year. He's likely in yours too.

So what do we do about this huge dilemma (because that's truly what it is). Fletcher challenges teachers to consider the benefits of low-stakes, informal writing. He refers to it as "greenbelt writing." (Buy his book and you'll find out why.) He's not asking us to abandon writing workshop, although in his ideal world, he'd challenge us to rethink what writing workshop looks like, but he is asking teachers to offer our students time throughout the day to simply play with writing, to make all the choices, with no strings attached.

Engagement, stamina, joy...these are just a few of the benefits Fletcher says our writers will receive from this kind of writing. Isn't this what we've been wanting for our writers all along? 

Buy this book and read it before the new year begins. Your writers will be glad you did!

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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Saturday Sayings: The Human Tunnel

I can't stop thinking about their eyes, wide, bright, and full of "I'm so special," as they walked under our uplifted arms, surrounded by our farewell cheers. The smiles, spread across their faces, were unforgettable, followed by generous hugs from random children. I chuckle at the thought of the boy who hugged his way through our human tunnel, one staff member after the other, zigzagging his way back and forth across the sidewalk. But really, the highlight of the whole experience came from a third grader who was in my class two years ago. Though withdrawn and quiet then, he's hardly made eye contact with me since. Yet as he walked through our staff-made human tunnel on the last day of school on his way to the bus, he stopped when he got to me and gave me a hug.

This moment left me thinking about the power of an emotional experience. All it took was a human tunnel on the last day of school to unlock an atypical response from this young boy, not to mention a slew of other rewarding reactions from every child who walked through our tunnel. It also unlocked new life within me, with my arms in the air and my heart overflowing. "This is the kind of school I want to be at."

How can our schools and classrooms create more moments like this? Our students will remember them. Our staff members will want to be part of them. We all need more of them. These memorable moments connect teachers and students in unique and powerful ways that will keep kids coming back for more, and some of our learners need all the reasons they can climb on to that bus every morning and show up for another day.

I feel challenged to create more emotional experiences for students that leave them believing they're part of something special and more importantly, thinking, "I'm so special."

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

My Big News

Today was my last day of year 23. Like many teachers, I'm appreciative of a chance to breathe, while at the same time, I'm looking ahead to where I want and need to be in my profession. 

My very near future is an exciting one, and I've been quietly anticipating it for nearly four years. In fact, it's kind of a big deal. I'm publishing a book for teachers, and I hope to have it in my hands by mid-July at the latest. I've never given birth, but I feel like an expectant mother. I have high hopes for this book and yet wonder if it will live up to my expectations. Even though I haven't seen it yet, I know it inside and out but hope that the final product feels as exciting and fresh as it did when I first started this journey.

If you're interested in reading an excerpt, check out this link where my superintendent shares a portion of my book in the local paper. 

Keep an eye out for my book release blog post. I'm looking forward to sharing it with you all.

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Kindness Mantra

This has been on my board for the last few months. Obviously it needs no explanation. It's one of the smarter sentences I've created, and it's certainly one of the most repeated in my classroom, as any first grade teacher can imagine. 

I understand this phrase requires a lot from little people. Let's be honest. It requires a lot from adults, me included. That's all the more reason to provide our youngest citizens the opportunities to regard kindness as a crucial, even more important than their own way.

It doesn't matter if you only have a few days left with your students. I invite you to write this on your board now and repeat it often. 

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Saturday Sayings: With Urgency

My kids take an end-of-year state reading test in April. I was recently reminded how easy it would be for a teacher to think her job is finished once students take that test -- to finally breathe deeply and fill up the remaining weeks of school with fluff. This kind of thinking is erroneous. Teaching with a sense of urgency means I will give them my best teaching up until the very last day.

All the countless hours of effort, time, and energy I've dedicated to this year do not culminate in the ten minutes a student spends attempting to prove himself proficient for the state. What a waste of time if that were true. The past seven months of my life do not hinge on a test, and the same can be said for my students. So why would I use a test as an indicator that my job is done? 

Secondly, the end of an official testing period is not the end of my influence. Minus the last few days of school when I wrap things up, I plan to use every last minute to joyfully teach every student. I'm not finished messing with their hearts and minds until they walk out my door on the last day of school,  Then, and only then, will I breathe deeply. 

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

10 More 10 Less

We're working on ten more and ten less. Today I took the kids through an activity with three levels. It went rather well.

Level one: 
Each partnership was given a large poster of sorts with twelve boxes and one numeral written in the top box. Their task was to repeatedly add 10 until all boxes were finished. In the end, each poster looked like a column from a 120 chart.

Level two:
Their second task was to cut their column apart into boxes. Then each partner got to travel around the room to other "puzzles" and put the pieces together in the correct order. 

Level three:
I borrowed the premise from another game for this phase. With the use of a +10 and -10 spinner (which can be seen in the picture below) and counters, the pairs raced to the bottom of their column of numbers. 

I love how this activity was easy to prepare. I also love that it progressed in levels. It allowed for lots of practice but in a way that kept things fresh. 

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Picture Rubric = A Game Changer

I'm new to picture rubrics, but now that I've used my first one I can't believe I haven't been using them forever. I've found mine to be an invaluable tool, and I see possibilities for many others in my future. 

The picture rubric below is one I created for my dental health unit. Since students would be creating a poster about their learning, I wanted them to have a standard and one that was easy to understand.

This rubric was our guide at the end of three separate lessons on brushing, flossing, and healthy eating. It touched on content, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, handwriting, details, and coloring. I loved that it made expectations explicit. Students could identify what made their work a 3, and they took more ownership. It took me out of the equation, because they pushed themselves. (That's what we call a game changer.)

I haven't created another picture rubric yet, but I've used the language in many other situations. I do look forward to the possibilities! 

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Saturday Sayings: Learn, Not Pay

Due to my involvement in The Idaho Coaching Network this year, I've had to miss several days of school. I can count on one hand the number of sick days I've had in 23 years of teaching, so being gone once a month is atypical and extremely hard on me. 

I shake my head when I think about what my students will or won't do in my absence. If I were a fly on the wall, I know I'd be disappointed. Maybe that's my ever-present control freak nature. Maybe it's because I teach my students that character is doing what's right even when no one is watching. Likely it's both. Either way, I returned from my most recent absence to hear that the guest teacher and my class had a rough day.

Honestly, the news was immensely frustrating and even hurtful. I'll admit I took is personally. I wanted to apologize on behalf of my people. Yeah, they're only six or seven and far from perfect, but they know better. Doing the right thing when Miss McMorrow isn't watching is not always easy but it's important. (They hear this from me often.) In the early stages of my frustration, growth mindset wasn't on my mind. I came around. 

While scrapping my original plans for the following day and wondering how I was going to fix a moment gone bad, I found inspiration and direction in some words that magically and unexpectedly overtook my thoughts. 

I don't want them to pay. I want them to learn.

I don't believe I've ever specifically thought about this before, and I mourned for the times when I've subconsciously led with a you-will-pay-for-this mindset. I don't recall ever intentionally doing this, but at some point in my career, I've no doubt had a moment, or several, when paying took priority over learning or paying was disguised as learning. I think it's so easy to unintentionally slip into this mode.

So I went into the day with a plan -- a plan to learn, not pay. Every conversation and activity would send a clear message about who we want to be, intertwined with these and other similar words: "Remember on the first day of school when I said I loved you before you even showed up? That's still true and nothing can change that."  

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Tattling Scenario Sort

My guest teacher didn't enjoy the deluge of tattling while I was gone one day recently. I don't blame her. I wouldn't either. The day after my absence, we sorted scenarios to help the kids think about when it's appropriate to tell an adult and when there are better options. There obviously are appropriate moments for reporting, so we don't want to silence kids. We need to keep the channels open, but they need strategies too. Simply telling them to stop tattling or "Take care of yourself" (which is one I've said a thousand times or two) is really not enough.  

By the way, I changed up the scenarios on another day for added practice. This could happen repeatedly and could parallel popular tattling situations that arise in the classroom. I do believe the sorting activity made sense to my kids. I just hope it still makes sense on the next day I'm gone.

If you're interested in knowing more, I found this idea at the Responsive Classroom. It's a great post.

P.S. Be leary of breaking into the chorus of "Let it go." If your boys are like mine, they'll be covering their ears in agony.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Chain Gangs

The day after a guest teacher left a report that wasn't so great seemed like the day to try the chain challenge, because kids who drive the sub crazy by tattling probably aren't using their best teamwork skills.

I didn't make up this task, but I've seen it all over the internet. Each team got a piece of 9x6 construction paper. As you can see in the picture, the colors were all different. Besides prepping them about the importance of teamwork, the only directions were to make the longest chain out of that one piece of paper, because they weren't getting more.

While they were working, it was the perfect chance to highlight teamwork skills as timely issues and opportunities presented themselves. I found myself reacting with saying things these:

  • Teams never give up, even when they can tell they won't win.
  • Teams stay focused on the task. Otherwise they'll never reach their goals.
  • Teams would never dream of making another team feel bad.
  • The winning team isn't necessarily the one with the longest chain. It's the one that works well together.
  • Teams clean up after themselves.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

March Madness (Again)

March Madness has officially begun in my room. We read two of our sixteen books today, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest in the next few weeks. I picked the books very carefully, hoping they would be irresistible and thus reread over and over.

This year I created a results form. Here's a look at a completed example.

Click on the picture for your own copy.

There's still time to get your March Madness started! Grab 16 books and you're practically ready.

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

DBI: Phase One

DBI stands for Document Based Inquiry. Although I'd heard my cousin Laurie refer to how she used it with her seniors, I didn't entirely know what it was until my experience this year in the Idaho Coaching Network. The following gives a bit of background on the DBI.

(Click on the graphic to read more and see some DBI examples.)

Although I've only experienced DBI at higher levels, I recently tackled it with my students. With the right modifications a document-based inquiry can be done at any grade in any classroom for any subject. There's not really a recipe for how a DBI must look and I'm not an expert by any means, so I'm simply going to describe how the process looked for my first try. There are four phases to the DBI, and this post is dedicated to phase one. 

It all started with this guiding question: Why do we have teeth?

Phase one: video
A video is a nice place to start, partly because it's the kind of "text" that's accessible to everyone. It eases the students into the DBI process, gives students early success, and hooks them.

I told my students they would be "reading" the video while thinking of our guiding question. We watched it once through simply to get acquainted with the content. After I described their note catcher, a place to write what they noticed and wondered, we watched it again. I paused the video at one point to give them time to write. (I should have paused it a few more times.) 

After the video, I gave them a few quiet moments to write more things they noticed and wondered. Then each student shared something from their note catcher to his or her group. I told the students to cross their fingers that they'd hear something new from someone at their group so they could add those thoughts to their note catcher. After sharing I gave them an additional quiet minute to add more notes if they wanted to.

Lastly we gathered together as a group with their note catchers, and I wrote down some of the things they noticed and wondered on a chart.

Check out all the "reading," writing, listening, and speaking that took place. If you liked what you saw, come back soon for phase two!

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Classroom Book = Formative Assessment

I've shared a lot on my blog about classroom books. That's because they're a best kept secret, and I think more early elementary classrooms would benefit from them. By the end of the year, my class will have made over 70, and my students will voluntarily read them every day. That's telling.

This week, Jackie, my friend and coach from the Idaho Coaching Network, gave me a great new idea for how to use classroom books. She suggested creating one as a formative assessment. How brilliant! This is how it played out.

We investigated this question: Why do we have teeth? Byway of a document-based inquiry, we learned that teeth help us smile, talk, laugh, and eat. Then each student made a page for a class book by writing these words: I have teeth so that I can... They had to finish the sentence by deciding on their favorite use of teeth.

I'm guessing that if I can turn a formative assessment into a classroom book for dental health, I can surely do the same in other content areas.

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