Sunday, November 5, 2017

Using Google Keep for Student Research

Hi Teacher Friends,

We have been doing a TON of research lately in my fifth grade classroom. Our latest Guided Inquiry Design (see more here) research project is all about Energy Transfer in the Life Sciences. Most of the lessons in the Immerse stage (leading up to student research) were related to food webs, ecosystems and biomes, and animals (dissecting owl pellets- ick!).

One of the first mini-lessons that my team wanted to teach during our explore phase was all about how students can use a Google App called Keep to curate their resources throughout the process. We had seen a need for students to have a digital tool in previous units. Additionally, I LOVE {puffy sparkly heart love} using Keep in my personal and professional life. I can share my lists (mostly with my teammie and husband), label them, and change the colors. Keep has lots of great features and since we are already a Google Apps for Education district, the kids are familiar with all of the functions within Google Mail, Drive, Classroom, and a few other handy extensions.

Here is a preview of how Keep looks within the browser window. 

First we reviewed our school library's available databases, search engines, and encyclopedias. After that, we jumped right into the assignment. Students would use Google Keep to curate a variety of quality resources about biomes. We shared a list of biomes to get them started, helped them add the extension, and gave a quick demo of how to use it. They were off!

Watch this video to see how we set up our extensions and some other features of Keep that I use. I apologize in advance for the coughing fit at the end of the video!

Thanks for checking it out!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

My Three Favorite Things about Student Led Conferences

Student Led Conferences is one of my favorite times of the school year. My school holds student-led conferences in the Spring after traditional Parent/Teacher Conferences in the fall. By March, we have done so much learning and growing; my students are always so ready to share it all with parents.

We use a self-selected work display all year. Students accumulate a portfolio of work to share at conferences. You can read about it here. In addition to our portfolio work, we use a combination of digital and printed forms. I previous years, I have only used printed resources. You can check out the links below if you are a "no need to recreate the wheel" type.

Preparing for the conferences is fun and informative, but nothing compares to the night of the actual conferences. Here are my three favorite things about student led conferences.

Maybe a shy kid needs a little encouragement to start. Another one of my friends was absent due to illness leading up to conferences and scrambled to complete the pieces she needed to facilitate the conversation. Whatever the situation, it is amazing to look across the room and be able to give a nonverbal boost to that student you have worked so hard with all year.

When students arrive at student led conferences, they always have mixed emotions. I know this, because it always comes up in our share the next school day. Excitement, worry, pride, and silliness abound. When we have our debrief at morning meeting (yes, I love morning meeting. Even for big kids.) the students are always eager to share their experience with our community. Each student is different and will internalize the events of the conference differently. It is neat to hear each kid's take on the process. This year was kind of a bummer because our first meeting after Student Led was following Spring Break. Not having school the very next day, or even following a weekend makes it harder to get good feedback.

Listening to students earnestly share their learning with parents is rewarding. It never ceases to amaze me when some of my quietest kids shine at conferences. Things that they would never dare to say in a whole group setting or with peers come up with their family sitting beside them.

"We do take-a-break to help us learn to self-regulate and own our behavior." DIRECT QUOTE, Y'ALL! Talk about tearing up and needing to excuse myself for a tissue.

You can see some of my feedback from this year below. Most of the feedback is all sunshine and flowers. I feel AMAZING after reading it. Parents love the atmosphere, the room tour, digital components, the sit down with their kids, and the work portfolios.

But, the warm fuzzies aren't what keeps me asking for parent feedback. The less common comments are the ones that get me thinking. "Include more of the daily work" has inspired me to push harder to integrate daily communication of our authentic and real-time learning. This parent saw plenty of papers that show a product. She got newsletters all school year. I talked with her and what she really wanted to see was more process. I won't be adding that component to ONLY conferences though. I will be moving toward more daily updates. #winning

I hope that reading this has inspired you to start Student Led Conferences in your classroom.

Ready to get started? Digital Student Led Conferences , Rockin' Student Led Conferences, Super Student Led Conferences

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Add a Little Happy to Your Testing Season

Hello Teacher Friend,

We have started the dreaded State Testing in my building. If your teaching assignment includes testing, you know that the little things can be the deciding factor on your outlook on the day. I choose to add as much happiness as I can to my classroom. Heaven knows that the paper-covered walls and ear-piercing silence can drive you over the edge.

I made this adorable testing sign to replace the one I had scribbled on a random piece of paper with a near dried up Sharpie. It is surprising how happy it makes me to have something pretty on the outside of my door while we test! Click here to download it!

My teammie and I also arranged breakfast treats for students for every day we test. You can see our sweet assortment of goodies.

Since we aren't allowed to keep encouragements on our desks during testing, my students tape them UNDER their desks. I know, sneaky:)

Here is a little freebie for you to use in your classroom. Click THIS LINK to download it. Use the arrow keys to see a preview.

I got my goodies prepped in less time than it took me to understand what to read aloud for each testing session. 

If you are ready for happiness overload, download the full set of State Testing Goodie Labels. Lots of options are included for healthy snacks, breakfast items, or candy and treats. What I use always depends on our testing schedule.

Test happy!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Writing Center that Even Big Kids Love

Howdy Teacher Friends,

I don't know about you, but as a teacher of intermediate students, centers has be one of the most time consuming and stressful parts of being a teacher that I have ever tackled. When I was in college, centers was basically viewed as a thing that only primary grades need worry about.

Fast forward to today. Centers is my favorite part of the day. My students work on math and literacy centers daily. One of the most difficult centers to plan for me has been writing. I have tried prompts, which failed because my most reluctant writers weren't interested in the prompts provided.

My favorite writing centers are for big kids are open-ended and easy to differentiate. My fourth grade class has a huge variation in reading skills. I am talking from 1st grade to 8th grade reading levels.  A center that meets all their needs, provides practice, and allows me to hold my reading groups is a tall order.

Enter sticker picture. It's as easy as this. Buy a bunch of stickers. Tell them to add a sticker to their paper and then draw a scene around it. (My rule is a maximum of two stickers) Have students flip their paper and write about the picture on the back.
Here is the inside of our center folder. 

Here are some precious and hilarious examples of sticker pictures in different levels of completion
I have been invited to the donut shop. 

shark and fancy shark

fancy shark wiritn
My "familie" went over the two sticker rule.

apple and broccoli
apple and broccoli writing

I can't wait to see the writing for this one. 
baby in a stroller using an emoji face 

nothing left on the breakfast buffet

when you see it
All of the work on writing that students do gives me valuable information about what they need help with and what they are already mastering.

Adding new stickers is a highlight of centers for me and the kids. I mean, who doesn't love a good sticker? But, where to find stickers without breaking the bank?
  • Michael's! That fun unicorn sticker book with 997 stickers was from Michael's. Original $9.99, plus my 40% off a regular price item coupon, plus my %15 teacher discount = cheap (I didn't keep my actual receipt). That sticker book is still available, as of April 2017. Beware. It has actual poop emoji stickers. A student of mine may or may not have showed said poop emoji on one of his assignments to the principal. Can you find it in the examples above? SMH. 
  • Old children's magazines like Girl's Life always have sticker inserts. Check with your school librarian (or even your students) for discards. 
  • Ask parents or add them to your supply list. One pack of silly stickers. Also, apologize to your office staff. They will get phone calls asking for clarification. 
  • The Dollar Tree. A while ago they had those emoji stickers that teachers were scouring the shelves for. Keep an eye out while you are there buying pool noodles for yet another teacher hack. 
  • Your cousin who is hoarding old Lisa Frank stickers. Just kidding. My cousin would NEVER EVER allow her "cleopatra kitty" to actually be peeled away from the backing. It is vintage. VINTAGE. Here is an Amazon link to some adorable Lisa Frank stickers. My 11 year-old self is swooning. 
Image result for vintage lisa frank stickers
I hope you are inspired to add this fun, easy, engaging, and hilarious center to your repertoire.

Happy writing! 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Real Talk for New Teachers (and anyone who teaches with one)

Recently I found a long-forgotten college assignment. During the most grueling and demanding literacy course of my undergraduate degree, we were ask to do an ACCNE assignment. ACCNE stood for Absolutelies (things we will most definitely do), Could-be-Cools(we might try), and Never-Evers (practices that we disagree with using). We were instructed to compile a simple list of teaching practices that would fit into each category. Upon re-reading my lists 14 years later, I was pleasantly surprised at how well I had adhered to my college idealism. Most of my never-evers were practices that I had avoided.

The one practice on my never-ever list that I had used was round robin, or popcorn, reading. I am sure you have read excellent articles like this one from Jennifer Gonzalez at Cult of Pedagogy encouraging teacher to kick this strategy, among others, to the curb. I agree with her now and did as a college student. Then, why did I use it? 

I can remember as a brand new teacher feeling overwhelmed and under an enormous amount of pressure to perform and be a "real teacher." Teachers that I knew and respected used round robin reading. Honestly, I was just doing good to even hold small reading groups and keep my students who were not at the table engaged in any task at all. My management was mediocre and my experience was nearly none. Round robin reading made me feel like I could check small reading groups off of my list. It was easy. No planning required. I held my group, I heard students read. Done. 

As I became a better teacher, the little 22 year-old voice in the back of my head never stopped piping up. I was able to implement better, more student-friendly, research-based strategies at my table. Thank goodness. 

Fast forward to today. A wonderful and talented new teacher walks into my room and asks for advice. She has been attempting to implement Take-a-Break as the behavior system in her classroom. I successfully use TAB in my fourth grade classroom. She knows it hasn't been yielding the results she desires. And she has been asking the advice of other primary teachers who she respects. Sound familiar? 

She confides that she has been encouraged to scrap the Take-a-Break strategy for one or all of her students, instead opting for a "stoplight system" to track behaviors. I can sense her uneasiness about it, so I ask her "How do you feel about that?" She explains that she feels hesitant. She has bad memories of being on a similar system as a student. She goes on to share about how she knows which of her students will be "on red" more often than not and that she hates the idea of doing that to them. 

I feel that this scenario, like so many for new teachers, is complicated. Here is some wisdom for new teachers or anyone influencing new teachers:

1. Take the next best step
Make the best choice for your students you can at the time. I don't look back on my experience of using round robin reading as a failure. I was able to learn about my students as readers through the process. I was able to feel the discomfort of using a not-so-great technique. That makes me more empathetic to students. Round robin wasn't best practice, but I sorted out issues with the way I handled discipline and assigning center work during that time. Once those things were under control, I was more equipped to move on to meaningful work at the table. I also learned a lot about monitoring oral reading that I was later able to integrate into MIRP (Monitoring Independent Reading Practice). 

Making the next best step means doing your best at the moment. Make the choice that you can look back on and be proud, knowing you did the best you could. 

2. Give yourself grace
You are not going to have all the right answers at the beginning of your career. I won't tell you to not try to make every day the best possible. I know you will push yourself too hard and work too late. Instead, I will tell you to create systems that you can sustain. You do not need to make every single component of your classroom perfect within your first couple of years of teaching. Pinterest and Facebook are full of perfect photos of perfect classrooms. Believe me, so much of it is a snapshot of one moment. You do not need to laminate all the things. Sure, lamination is shiny and smells like heaven, but ain't nobody got time for that. For every photo of a perfectly executed lesson or bulletin board I post, about a hundred shortie pencils and empty water bottles and coffee cups lurk on my desk. Not to mention the pile of grading and unread emails.     

3. Listen to your heart
I am not saying that spotlight behavior systems are the devil. I am saying that if you are feeling uneasy about implementing a certain practice, there is probably a good reason. Be reflective. Find a teacher friend who listens to you and helps you figure out all the mysteries of the classroom for yourself. It would have been easy for me to tell my teacher friend exactly what I think about stoplight charts. That wouldn't have been as helpful as asking her what she thinks. If you are mentoring new teachers, this post could be help you hone your listening skills

4. Celebrate your successes, big and small
I was more than shocked to see how much my teaching in reality aligned with my teaching career in the abstract. If you are not lucky enough to have hoarded college assignments, take some time to make your own ACCNE list now. Which techniques, practices, and strategies would you place in each category? Look back at the end of the year (or 14) and see how you did. You guys, I even keep my old to-do lists. They help me realize just how much I have accomplished throughout the year. 

As for my new teacher friend, I think we found the perfect plan for her to move forward in the new year. I won't go into details about what she decided, but I will say that the solution is all hers. We will be talking about it again, not because her plan will fail, but because she is a relentless professional who is always looking to be better. I am sure you know someone just like her. I am proud to call her, and you, My Teacher Friend. 

If you are interested in seeing the Take-A-Break area, in my fourth grade classroom, click here

Ready to implement Take-A-Break? Here is my Ready to Print and Editable Product on Teachers Pay Teachers. 

Why I Don't Need a Behavior Chart

Behavior Management is a tricky thing to learn to do. As a new teacher, I went through all of the wrong methods. While I never used a clip chart, I did the marble jar (failure), the group points (another failure), and tallied on a clip board (also a failure).

I took away recess and sent kids to the office. Those things worked sometimes, but never for my repeat offenders. Calling parents worked sometimes, but it was damaging to my relationship with parents after calling home became my only tactic. All of these failed behavior management attempts had two things in common. 1. They didn't work consistently. 2. I was exhausted because I was doing all of the work.

And then my behavior salvation was revealed to me through a Responsive Classroom workshop. Now, Take-a-Break is now the ONLY BEHAVIOR SYSTEM I use.

Here are my observations about why all of those other strategies failed me:

  • I was tracking behavior, not helping students internalize the social skills
  • I wasn't teaching replacement behaviors
  • I was the keeper of the behavior decisions, not the students
  • I wasn't building relationships or community as a part of my system
  • My consequences included no buy-in from students
  • My reminders and behavior tallying was meant to help, but it was still demoralizing 
  • The same kids were in the same trouble for the same behaviors, every day. 

I teach big kids, fourth and fifth graders. Take-a-break is a wonderful, respectful, student-centered strategy to help all students manage their own behavior. I have seen it work in Kindergarten all the way to 5th grade. Here is how it works.
  1. The teacher sets-up a comfortable and friendly area for students to use when they need to self-regulate emotions or behaviors
  2. The teacher provides a structure for how to use the area through modeling and practice
  3. The teacher provides students with feedback to help them use the area to internalize behaviors and feelings

You can see the below that the fanciest part of the area I use is the fern, which has since died. Horticulture is not my strength. Good thing my husband took that class with me in high school! Since he isn't at school regularly enough to keep my plants alive, I have since replaced the fern with resilient succulents. Drought resistant succulents. 

the red cushion sits atop an overturned crate. The crate is just short enough to slide into the bottom shelf. We tuck the cushion beside it. 

yellow shelf courtesy of the hallway dumpster pile at the beginning of the year

Mirror pilfered from empty classroom. You could also add a hand mirror to your area. For emotional awareness. 

You can see that we sign-in on the clipboard in this one. 

A five minute timer helps. In the basket we keep fidgets, thera-putty, and writing utensils. The clipped forms are filled out for the second break a student takes. I got wise and had them printed on carbon paper to help me avoid making a copy to send home. 
Sound easy? Like all behavior management systems, it requires consistency and discipline on the part of the teacher. Once I got some momentum, I was able to find a few things that help me be the best disciplinarian I could for my students.

Here are a couple of quick guides for implementing Take-A-Break.

Some additional tips: 

  • Avoid appointing a "king or queen of Take-a-Break"
    • Even your most well-behaved student has some things to work on. Talk to the class about your expectations that all students work on a behavior goal. 
  • Front Load for Behavior Success
    • When you notice a behavior that is a problem in the classroom (recently some of my students have gotten into the habit of talking back when I ask them to do something, for example) bring it to the class in your morning meeting. Let students know that you will be paying especially close attention to this kind of behavior and that they should be aware of it. If they need one, they will be asked to take a break. 
  • Normalize Emotion Management
    • Make sure students know that managing strong emotions is hard for you sometimes too. I recently had a student gently suggest to me that I might need to take some deep breaths. He was right. I did, and then I thanked him for the reminder. My students bring this incident up all the time when someone is struggling to use their thinking brain instead of their emotional brain. 
Ready to implement Take-A-Break? Here is my Ready to Print and Editable Product on Teachers Pay Teachers. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Win a $25 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card

Hey Teacher Friends! You have the chance to win a $25 TPT gift card. Check out the Rafflecopter to be entered. You have until 1/9/17 to enter. I can't wait to see who wins. What better way to ring in the New Year than loading your cart with goodies!

Prize: $25 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card
Co-hosts:   An Apple for the Teacher
Rules: Use the Rafflecopter to enter. Giveaway ends 1/9/17 and is open worldwide.

CLICK below to enter! 
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