Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Sayings: It's Smart

Do I make it smart to ask questions?  Honestly?  Sometimes yes and sometimes no.  

Sometimes yes:
Last week I was reading a picture book about George Washington.  I asked the kids to show me one finger if they understood the text and two if they didn't.  If I spotted two fingers, I stopped and let that person ask their question.  "It's so smart of you to know when you don't understand something."  

Sometimes no:
A parent recently relayed to me that her daughter was expressing frustrations about not understanding some of the math concepts we had been working on.  I met with the little one, supported her through some math practice, and said, "It was so smart of you to let Mom know you didn't understand.  If you ever don't understand something, let me know too.  You can even write me a note."  The next day, one arrived in my box.  "Miss McMorrow, I don't understand math in the morning."  We've met a few more times since that note, and every time, I've reminded her how smart it is that she tells me when she doesn't understand.

This is a "sometimes no" situation because if I had done my job right, she would have already known how smart it was to speak up about her confusions.  She would have told me about them herself.  This latter experience begs the question. "When have I ever been explicit about the need for my mathematicians to speak up about their confusions?"  This has to be an intentional, purposeful, and ongoing move.  Some issues will present themselves in daily work, conversations, and formative or summative assessments, but I also believe others can remain dangerously hidden.  My kids need repeated reminders and invitations to open up about their uncertainties.  It is my job to make it smart to ask questions.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Guest Teacher Incentives

I avoid bribes and incentives as much as possible, but when it comes to a sub, I'm all about giving that person an extra dose of leverage so they can get the best out of my kids.  I know the quality of instruction is not nearly what it could be without me there, but if my kids can step up to the plate, they'll get more out of the day than otherwise.  The guest teacher can then do more teaching than managing.

The guest teacher passes out tickets galore to students who are doing what they're asked to do.  The child writes their name on the ticket and places it inside the can.  The same kiddo can even get several tickets throughout the day.  In fact, I hope they do.  At the end of the day, the guest teacher takes out a pre-determined number of tickets, and those kids win a prize of some sort but never nothing fancy.  It really does give the guest teacher the advantage.

(Disclaimer:  Many kids end up being recognized throughout the day, but I don't like that only a few ultimately walk away with something.  This is why I only do this when I'm gone, and when I'm gone, I'm desperate.  Good thing that's not very often.)

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Quality

My school's staff had an inservice this last week.  We spent the morning talking about formative assessment and specifically how important quality teacher feedback is to moving students forward.  What are we saying to our students, and are we saying it in a way that acknowledges and builds upon what they've done well while at the same time nudges them forward?  

Here's where the butterflies fluttered in my stomach.  Due to where the conversation was going, I so wanted to raise my hand and pose a burning question.  Alas I refrained.  I was afraid of upsetting the apple cart, although I hope I could have pulled off my question diplomatically.  I even scribbled down my thoughts so I could possibly even sound smart just in case I got up the nerve.  Here's what I would have said.

"How are we asking kids to spend the majority of their time?  The feedback I can give in a one-on-one situation or during an authentic reading or writing activity is much different than the kind of feedback I can give on a worksheet.  If I have lots of questions about the quality of my feedback, the answer might partially be found in how my kids are spending their time."

I stress the word "majority."  Even I will every so often give my kids 8 math problems to practice independently.  I'll break out the stickers and write comments like "Wow!" but we do not camp there.  That's about as much of a worksheet as my kids will ever see.  The rest of the feedback they receive has a much different flavor to it.  

It's difficult to magically turn worksheet comments, scores, or stickers into quality feedback.  There's only so much that the teacher with a boatload of papers to correct can say or has time to say on work like that.  Kids who spend the majority of time practicing skills via worksheets are missing out not only on quality practice but quality feedback.  And if they're missing out on feedback, they're missing out on accelerated forward movement in their learning.  Sometimes the trick to turning the numerous "Wows" into something more meaningful is as simple as providing our students with a different way of practicing proficiency.  Quality time forges the way for more quality feedback.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Compound Word Practice Minus a Worksheet

I'm sure there's a worksheet out there for what I'm about to share, but I sure do love the fact that my kids didn't have to use it.  

I recently introduced them to compound words.  Actually, our weekly big book introduced them to compound words.  After a few days of working with the book and the concept as a group, it was time to individually practice.  Previous to the lesson, I wrote words on small post-its.  Half of the words were compound words and the other half were not.  As you'll see in the following pictures, the post-its found themselves stuck to foreheads.  The kids made Yes/No T charts and traveled around to each other, writing down words.  Compound words went under "Yes."  The others, "No."  

Of course, this activity could be modified to fit most any skill.  It's so easy to prepare, requires no paper waste, and is loads better than a worksheet! 

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Listening

We had just finished reading our weekly big book for the second day in a row.  I was ready with a mini-lesson about compound words since there were several in the book, but first I had to ask a question that I find myself asking more and more even to the point of putting it in my lesson plans.  "What do you notice?"  Cooper raised his hand.  I can always count on him to notice something.  "I noticed that if you put two words together it makes one big word."  Thrilled, I said, "Cooper, I was hoping someone would notice that!"  I pulled out a piece of paper where I had already written a handful of compound words from the big book.  I wrote his words at the bottom of the paper, and Cooper became our teacher that day.  I'm so glad I asked the right question and stopped to listen. 

I share that moment because it reminds me that though I teach with a sense of urgency, as Regie Routman advises, and believe in teaching as efficiently as I can, I must strive for an important balance that allows for listening as well, like Donald Graves admonishes.  

I was reminded of this balance last week when I posted about the importance of being a highly effective and efficient teacher.  I love what a few of my fellow colleagues said regarding that post.  Miss Trayers commented how she encourages questions from her students that sometimes create tangents, and Barb mentioned the importance of a relaxed atmosphere while still maintaining pace.  They both make great points.  Being efficient does not mean racing through the day.  I know I can be guilty of that from time to time.

My goal is to be both efficient and willing to give the kids a voice at the same time.  Here's a thought.  Doesn't it make sense that the more efficient I am, the more time I will have for the all-important skill of listening?  Like Cooper demonstrated, kids have important things to say.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Parents and Subs

I do my absolute best to never be gone from school.  Every teacher knows what a pain it is be prepare for a sub.  For me, that means hours of work.  It's not just the extra prep time that bothers me though.  No matter how qualified the guest teacher might be, the quality of learning is considerably lower when I'm not there, and for these young learners, every day counts.  (Please don't feel guilty if you've had to be gone a lot.  These things happen.)

The more I can prepare my kids for my absence, the better, so in addition to the low-down they get from me, they'll also hear from their parents on the matter.  Here's a copy of the letter that I send home when I know I'll be out of the classroom.   

My hope is that my kids get one more reminder on their way out the door on the morning of my absence.  "Remember, character means doing what's right even when Miss McMorrow isn't watching!"

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Efficiency

For years, the librarian at my school has offered a second library time to each classroom (minus kindergarten), and I always politely decline.  This likely doesn't make sense for the teacher who could read alI day and wants the same for her kids.  But simply there's never enough time to teach all I have to teach.  What teacher hasn't found themselves thinking or saying this at some point?  It's a common theme, especially with growing class sizes and growing curriculums.  I have my kids from 8:10 to 2:35.  With the limited time I have, their success depends greatly on my efficiency.

I looked up the word efficient.  It means "achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense."  When a visitor comments on how the kids are always on-task and the teacher makes it look so easy, they're talking about efficiency.

Reading Routman's quote prodded me to consider my day and the things I have in place that make my practice efficient.  My list isn't exhaustive, but everything here plays an essential part in the efficiency of the classroom and success of students.
  • There are systems in place that were established on day one.  Daily modeling and practicing of routines and procedures and then holding a high expectation for follow-through, streamlines the classroom and minimizes wasteful bi-products.
  • Good classroom management is a priority and obviously goes hand in hand with the first bullet.  Efficiency is hard to achieve in the midst of chaos, consistent interruptions, or distracting off-task behavior.
  • Pacing is key, not only within a lesson but from one lesson to the next.  Downtime is dangerous.  
  • Instruction is authentic and purposeful.  Students are much more productive when they care about and see a purpose for what they're doing.  Busywork doesn't cut it.
  • Organization is a priority especially with the myriad of balls a teacher has in the air at any one moment.   Too much time can be wasted if materials aren't where they're supposed to be, if there's no system for collecting, organizing, and working with student information, or if the day-to-day long to-do list can't be corralled (to name a few).  
Certainly there are moments, days, or weeks that are less efficient than others, but I believe Routman is still right.  The more efficient I am, the more effective I'll be, and my students will reap the benefits.

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Friday, February 6, 2015

January = Reading

It's time to share the books I hung out with in January.  I really loved a few of these.  I think you would too.  Read on teachers!

I read this in a day. I seriously couldn't put it down.  LOVE!

This one was okay.

I enjoyed this one a lot.  It was a perfect mix of historical and present-day fiction.  

Being an introvert, it was interesting to read about myself.

I love anything Regie writes.  She is at the top of my teachery list any day.

Here's to another month of great reading.  I'm currently twenty pages from the end of a book I haven't enjoyed.  Boy am I ready for a good read.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

100 Year Old Selves

A few teacher friends let me know about the Aging Booth app for the 100th day of school.  The app will age the picture of someone by quite a few years.  Of course, I can't turn my students into their future 100 year old selves without creating a class book.  

We'll be pulling this one out on the 100th day of school.  They are sure to love it!  (I'll also be posting their aged pictures on our class website.  I'm guessing some parents might be a bit creeped out.)

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