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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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saturday Sayings: The Right Thing the Wrong Way

This week I received some peer feedback on a unit I wrote that has me thinking about the feedback I give my students, as well as the kind I might give to colleagues. My experience begs the question: 

How often have I said the right thing the wrong way? 

First off, I don't believe the feedback I received was entirely correct. I think the reviewer overlooked some vital information. Secondly, and more importantly, at times the tone felt patronizing and judgmental, as if my teaching abilities were under a microscope instead of the unit I created, which no doubt was not her intent. As a result though, the tone compromised my emotional ability to receive what the reviewer had to offer. I was too caught up in the reviewer's approach to consider her viewpoint. 

As a teacher I give feedback daily, all day long. I nudge my writers. I confer with readers. I meet with mathematicians. I talk with students about behavior. I even give feedback byway of facial expressions, body language, and physical touch. I wish my feedback were always on target, but I know at times I judge too quickly without seeing the whole picture and get it wrong. Negotiating recess drama is a perfect example. 

Then there are the times when I'm right but my approach misses the mark. At that point, growth is compromised, because the student can't hear what I have to say. Just this week, in the midst of literally being sick and tired, one of my students responded to directions in a way I wish he hadn't. I showed no outward anger, but my approach didn't offer him a strategy for growth either. I said the right thing in the wrong way.  

Today I plan to tackle my reviewer's feedback. I owe it to my unit and my students to look passed the tone and mine out the parts that could raise the quality of my work. And in the future, as I give feedback to both students and colleagues, I must remember that even if the feedback is right, the wrong tone can sabotage everything.

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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Wantability: Book Recommendations

I started the year thinking about reading wantability, and I'm still stuck on that word. Wantability increases the odds that my students will want to use all the skills and strategies we spend so much time practicing. Without wantability I'm simply dragging children through hoops. I do believe I've convinced most of my readers that all this work to become readers is worth it, but I refuse to assume my students have reached wantability satiation. I'm pushing myself to continually give them more reasons to love books, and so I again I'm wondering how to open the door to the literacy club a bit wider. 

Sometimes the answers to our classroom questions lie within our own experiences, which is how I decided on my most recent wantability project. 

I love book recommendations. When I get a good one, I typically can't wait to get my hands on that book. This is the exact feeling of wantability I desire for my students. So I began asking myself how I could use book recommendations with my readers. 

I eventually want my students to recommend books to each other, but first they need to experience what it's like to be on the receiving end. They also need some mentor texts before it's eventually their turn to write them anyway. So I gave this letter to the staff in my building.

Within hours of sharing this letter books starting showing up, and readers in my room fell in love with more great books. 

The story is unfinished. More books are on their way. Wantability is growing. This journey is never ending. I'll keep you posted.

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Wantability (Again)

This year I've tried some new strategies for making books irresistible. I think I've decided there's no such thing as too much of this, so I'm determined to continually push myself to expand my repertoire of ideas.

Most recently I took a tip from the public library. I wrapped up some read-aloud books and wrote teasers on the covers. 

I just can't get away from the thought of wantability - a term from Kylene Beers. Wantability can help make up for lack of skill. It won't automatically fix reading deficits, but it sure can make the hard parts worth doing which can then lead to better skills. 

How are we doing at making books something that our kids, from youngest to oldest, want in their lives? I know I can do better.

P.S. Feel free to come see me on Facebook

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