Friday, November 13, 2015

Creating Magic: Music in the Classroom Part 2!

Happy Birthday to ME! 

Ah, music. My favorite thing <3.

A few days ago, I shared some ways you could engage your students in the content through music.  Today, I want to share how you can use them for brain breaks!

We all need them.  Students.  Teachers.  Our brains can only take so much learning.  A quick 3 minute break can do the body good.  Get the blood flowing, freshen up the brain, get ready for the next thing.

In my room, we have the totally awesome..... BLUE BUTTON!

An idea I stole from Ron Clark - except his was red.

For every content area or worktime, the kids and I are working towards a celebration.  A Blue button dance party - they call it.  We are working hard the whole.entire.time.  Challenging our brains, working together, solving problems, listening, modeling school expectations, and sharing ideas.  When we do an outstanding, awesome job- we solve a tough problem, we've been working hard the whole time, someone shared a really cool, efficient strategy - "Oh yeah - y'all are so awesome you totally earn a .. BLUE BUTTON CELEBRATIOOOOOOON"

**Boing** (That's the sound of our button - they love to hit it!)

The lights go off

Someone turns on the disco ball

The music comes on

And for about 3 minutes, we just let loose.

We may dance to The Whip & Nae Nae, the Quan, I like to move it, Sugar, Uptown Funk, Shake it Off, Brave - whatever I'm in the mood to play.  Sometimes we even do this one...

Who doesn't love the continental drift? No matter how many times they've seen it, they always shout - THERE'S THE PRINCE!! (yeah yeah, you said that last time)

I have a playlist on my desktop that allows me to pick quickly so there is no time wasted with loading.

After 3 minutes, its a quick call and response to regain attention and back to work.  Kids know to turn the lights on, turn off the disco ball, and hurry back.

Now, this did not happen over  night.  It takes modeling.  It takes practices.  It takes goal setting.  But once you've done it enough, they'll have it down.  And my kids know that if they waste time and don't get back to their seats or to work  - then the next Blue Button Celebration they earn is taken away.  The don't want that to happen so they just do what's expected.

These little breaks are so fun and are just what we need to get our blood flowing and get ready for the next thing.

What are you waiting for... go grab your own blue button!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Transforming your Classroom & Teaching to the Top

Can we just be honest with ourselves right now?  How many of us have ever, in our teaching careers, whether now or in the past, "taught to the middle?"  We looked at our spread of kids, saw the low - saw the middle- saw the high - and taught exactly what those mid kids needed because it just seemed to make the most sense.  If we go too low, we're most likely helping the fewest number of our kids, if we teach high , the low kids probably won't get it, but the middle- well we need to teach the standards that they need anyway - so that's what I'm gonna do.

The problem with teaching to the middle is (as I know you all know) - you are doing those high kids a disservice.  They're going to be bored.  They're going to start creating problems.  And there's even a possibility that they'll start falling due to inappropriate instruction or not paying attention (aka boredom).

I know we've all figured out the solution to this: differentiation!  For many teachers, that might look like a 90 minute math block with 4, 20 minutes rotations, with kids grouped based on ability and teaching 4 different lessons (or 1 lesson taken to different levels taught 4 times).  It works.  We can reach all of our kids.  But here's the problem - that takes SO.MUCH.PLANNING!  If you really want to differentiate well, you need an appropriate lesson for each group, appropriate independent work that has them practice what they did in the lesson, and appropriate math stations (if that's what you do).  It's so much work, y'all.  #AintNobodyGotTimeForThat.  Furthermore- those low kids are still held to the same standards as everyone else.  Obviously there are exceptions to this but for the most part, everyone needs to know and understand the same curriculum.

So I have another solution..

Teach to the TOP!

I recently went to the Ron Clark Academy - and one thing Mr. Clark said that I've always believed but it just continuously resonates with me since I've returned is: "Life is not going to accommodate for these kids- we are doing them a disservice by accommodating for them constantly!"

And it's so true.

Now- obviously we need to accommodate and differentiate to a point and there are some exceptions. But why are we continuously giving them these accommodations that life is not going to provide them?  We need to teach them how to live in this world. And accommodating things for them is doing nothing.

Let me give you an example from my class this year.

I have 20 students.  Of my 20 students, about 7 of them consistently need support in order to feel comfortable with our lessons - with maybe 3 who are really struggling, about 5 of them usually pick it up after a lesson but need a little extra practice or guidance, and 8 of them consistently show knowledge above grade level expectations and are ready for a push (OK- I got lucky this year).

So here's the thing.  Whether I teach to my 5 in the middle or the 8 at the top, my 7 strugglers are going to need extra support anyway, right?  And if I teach to my 8 at the top, the 5 in the middle, as long as I provide the right instruction, are going to get it.  So - that's what I do - I teach to the top.

Now- you can't just walk in on Tuesday morning, know you're supposed to teach multiplying by multiples of 10, and say OK, I'll teach this because that's what my high kids need.  Just like any other lesson, you need to plan purposefully.  What do your students need to know in order to get this concept? How can you provide instruction so that they have an understanding of the concept?  How can they show me that they do, in fact, get it?  How will you provide support to the kids who don't get it?  This requires me to plan 1 and only 1 lesson - that I will think deeply about.  I will hold my students to these standards and I'll work with them to help them get it.

For me, I'm pretty lucky with an AIG specialist that provides nurturing 2x a week.  During those 2 days a week, she pulls a reading group for 30 minutes, and a math group for 30 minutes (The math is in addition to my regular math block that is sadly only 50 minutes long).  Those 2 days a week when she is pulling my 8 kids who scored high on the pre-test, I'm providing lessons to my other 12 that either reinforce what we've been learning or that the other 8 don't necessarily need.  The lessons may be  prerequisites that will help my other students feel confident with the next days lesson.  Then they are getting what they need plus a push, while my high students are also receiving that challenge they need.  I may also do something like- teach them the same concept but change the numbers they are working on for independent practice - or put kids into pairs so they can bounce ideas, strategies off of each other - or just have someone for help if needed.  I have NEVER been so happy with my math workshop before. NEVER. And I'm seeing kids grasp concepts that you wouldn't think 3rd graders in their 5th months of school would know - with a true, concrete understanding of what they are doing. And I apply this same concept across the rest of the day - but for me, Literacy is so much easier to differentiate for.  You teach a mini-lesson with texts that are at the level of your high students while making sure the content is appropriate for all kids and teaching them concepts, vocabulary, and have discussions.  It works, I'm telling you.

If you hold high expectations for kids, they'll work to reach them.  I promise.  And what if they don't? Well guess what - you were providing an enrichment based on standards so your intervention should be focusing on the standards and....VOILA- they're good with grade-level standards WITH exposure to higher-level thinking.  The more exposure to those higher-level thinking skills- the more likely they are to eventually be able to solve them on their own.  And I'm telling you - kids WILL rise to the occassion.  They are capable.  They can do it.  They will.  They will amaze themselves and they will amaze  you.

So why don't you try it if you don't already do it? Just start with 1 unit.  Do a pre-test, see where your kids are at, and plan instruction based on the highest score - you'll be amazed at the growth you'll see in your students.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Stop saying they can't do it

"It's just too difficult... they can't do it... the vocabulary is too advanced... they're too young... they've never used that before..."

I hear this sooo many times and I'm begging you, pleading with you...


Image result for Stop

Kids are so incredibly capable of so many things that people say they "can't" do.  If you provide kids with the right instruction, the right guidance, the right amount of time, the WILL get it, they WILL do it, and they WILL impress you!  Maybe they can't do it right at this moment... but there will be that day when all that instruction and guidance pays off and they've got it! They may not get it all at the same time- but I promise you, they will.

Using a computer...

Remembering their address...

Adding 3-digit numbers...

Talking in front of a group...

Writing a sentence...

Typing in a password...

Every single child can be successful, if we just help them get there, but if we just keep creating excuses for them, they'll continue to not do those things you say they can't.

So please, if you are creating excuses for your children, your students - stop saying they can't and replace it with "They WILL..." because you'll be surprised what kids can really do!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Creating Magic: Music in the Classroom

Raise your hand if you hate music....anybody? nobody? Yeah, that's what I figured.  Music speaks to the soul.  Music is therapy.  It's a way for humans to relieve stress, to let go, to be silly,  Besides all that,  music is also a way to get your students engaged in the classroom! Incorporating music throughout the day can be a great way to teach content or even take a quick brain break! Today I'm going to share how you can engage your students in the content with music.  Another day I'll share how you can use them as brain breaks!

Engaging the Content:

I enjoy writing my own songs because it makes the song mine and I get to share it with you guys- but some people just don't like that. And with the amount of no time we have (Get what I did there?) - when do you even have time to write them? I love borrowing songs!  Are you also not into writing your own songs? That's OK! There's tons out there. I use so many that I've just found. You can search google, Youtube, blogs.. seriously - I bet you'll find one that will fit your needs.  Most recently we've been singing Ron Clark's Bone Song.  The kids love to "Put your hands on your hips and shake 'em!"   Between our 2 classes, a few others include Skip Counting to a Tune, Multiplication Funk, Text Features Rap , and I found myself some Text Features.(All credit to the awesome song writers!)

Justin's class has been singing the one below!

(Their disco ball seems so much better than mine! I'm jealous)

I've got this one on my list - we've been learning all about the difference parts of speech and they will LOVE this one.

Can I just tell you how quickly my kids have picked up on their multiplication facts thanks to this song? I mean seriously!! We sing this almost daily. It's awesomesauce.

And who doesn't like a little funk? Factor and product? Equal Groups? They got it!

I recently found this one that is so cute and would be perfect for providing text evidence!! Can't wait to introduce this one to my kids.

Do my students memorize every single one of these songs? No, not really. I print out the lyrics to the songs and they keep them in a folder.  I wish I had them keep a "Song Folder" but I didn't think about it.  Next year, definitely!  When we sing, they quickly whip out the song and read along as they sing (Fluency practice - score!) After a small handful of times, a lot of the songs they really do begin to commit to memory and they'll be able to use them for a long time!

So, go ahead- try it! Build some music into your lessons. Your intros.  Your closings.  However it may fit best and see how engaged your students will be!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Creating Magic: Campfire Story Share!

There are so many easy ways to get kids excited in your classroom every day.  This one was so fun and simple!  Early on in the year I realized that my class is very into scary stories! So- the week of Halloween I gave them a task:

You have 5 days to draft and publish a creative story that you will share at our Campfire Story Share on Friday! We'll get flashlights, a campfire, and lanterns to share our stories! You must follow the writing process and you must be finished before share time on Friday.

I didn't want to limit to any type of story - although most of them ended up writing something "scary."  The deal was, anyone who wasn't finished would not be able to participate - this may sound harsh but it totally got their little hineys writing and not wasting time!

Every single kid got to share their story that Friday! It was a full moon in our room.  We gathered around the campfire, got our lanterns,, our flashlights... I turned on some "Sounds of the Woods" and we shared! The kids were so engaged and had so much fun! 

Just a side note: The campfire is one of those fake fire lights with the fan. I bought if off of Amazon.  It was definitely a solid purchase because I'll use it often! It actually triples as a cauldron and a torch.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

One Picture

There are many words that teachers use to describe their classrooms.  Student Centered, hands-on, fun, rigorous, diverse.  I could go on and on.  But if you were asked to choose 1 picture that sums up your classroom, could you do it?  

The other day, in my 3rd grade classroom, I stood up after being on the floor helping a student with our math for the day and I just looked around.  There were kids spread out in every corner of the room.  Paper tape sprawled everywhere. Unfix cubes in rows and piles.  Markers, Crayons, Pencils on the floor within an arms reach.  Students working and chatting quietly about making number lines based on different multiples.  I looked around and all I could do was smile and enjoy the view.   Smile because what I saw made me say "Yeah, this is my room!" Messy, hands-on, collaborative, discovery.  Students engaged and a central part of their learning.  I had found the picture that perfectly described our room...and I wouldn't have it any other way!

If you were asked to find a picture that described your classroom, could you find it? 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,

This weekend, you posted a video that raised some very important questions in education.  More specifically, over-assessment of our students each school year.  

First, Mr. President, I want you thank you for talking about the issue.  These days, it seems like teachers, parents, students keep bringing it up.  We've given possible solutions, we've opted-out, we've protested...and this issue keeps getting pushed to the side.  But now that you have spoken, Mr. President, I am hopeful that people will listen.

Your words are important, Mr. President - but the most important thing is what happens as a result of your words.  I urge you, Mr. President, to make sure that your people follow through. A plan must be made.  That plan must be put into place.  States need to feel pressure to implement this plan. Teachers and students need to feel the effects now. There's not much more we can take.

Image result for Obama testing

As a 2nd grade teacher for 3 years, each year had grown more frustrating with the amount of time spent assessing my students.  Newly this year, I teach 3rd grade. Sweet, innocent, full-of-life 8 year olds.  And the assessing is worse than ever. In just 13 weeks of school, I have given:

  • MClass Reading Assessments - These require 3+ weeks to give (at least 1 hour per day) as it requires me to meet with every single one of my students individually to give them 3 separate sub-tests. These assessments take 30 minutes or more per student.
  • A Beginning of Grade test - the BOG - to assess where my students started their 3rd grade year in order to measure my effectiveness as a teacher in helping my students grow.
  • Two benchmarks, 1 reading, 1 math - They each took at least 1.5 hours.
  • AMC, Assessing Math Concepts -a math assessment that requires me to meet with each child individually to assess them in 2 separate areas
  • A county intervention assessment that is required for my students reading below grade level.
  • And within the next few weeks I will give my sweet, 8 year old, 3rd graders the CogAT to identify which of them is academically and intellectually gifted. 

Sadly, this does not include the weekly progress monitoring and data collection I must do.  That takes around an hour a week.  Include the weekly math and reading check-in's I'm supposed to give based on our learning. Put it all together and you've got assessment insanity.

Some of these tests are wonderfully informative.  Others are not.  Regardless of whether they are informative or not, there is one thing that is for sure.  This is too much.

That's over 30 hours I've already spent assessing my students this year.  Over 15% of my school year thus far has been spent assessing my 8 year old students.

I'm constantly being asking "How are you going to close the gap? How are you going to help these students grow? How are you going to push them to proficiency?" 

Then I'm given papers.... "Here, look, analyze this data. And this. And this. What does it tell you about your students? Your female students? Your male students? Your white students? Your black students? Your Asian students? Your students with disabilities?" I'm constantly recording and "analyzing" data with no chance to plan instruction based on the results.  

If I wasn't already feeling ineffective... I sure do now. (Side note: I was already feeling ineffective)

Oh, and Mr. President - if I don't come to a meeting with that data and graphs to show how much a student is struggling, how they are making little or no growth, despite my instruction and efforts? Well then another test, the test that will determine that they need specialized instruction due to a learning disability, gets pushed back - because I have no "data" besides my observations to show that this student isn't making growth , and my professional opinion isn't enough.

Tell me, Mr. President, how I am supposed to plan effective instruction to close the achievement gap if the only time I am given, is time to look at the numbers.  How am I supposed to gather reliable, useful data if I am giving my students little to no instruction? How does an assessment effectively gather reliable information if I am constantly told "Differentiate your instruction.....standardize the tests?"

And what about those untested skills?  Communication.  Critical Thinking.  The ability to utilize technology.  Problem Solving.  Compassion.  Understanding.  Kindness.  Respect.  Patience. Perseverance. I could go on and on.  What about these skills?  These skills are getting pushed to the side because they are not measured by filling in a bubble.  Rather, they are measured through observations, conversations, and experiences within and outside of the classroom. They are measured by the student themselves, their family, their attitude, and their success in life.

If you came into my classroom on most days, Mr. President, you would see students full of life.  You would see smiles as they laugh, dance, and sing while we're rapping - with me standing on top of the desks to help them learn the content.  You would see them engaged in collaborative problem solving opportunities to uncover the world around them. You would see them excited about learning how to write in cursive, and finding out what happens to the shopping mall gorilla in The One and Only Ivan.  You would see them learning and practicing lines and songs for our tall tales play.  You would see them writing songs, debating the best sports teams, asking questions, getting stumped, feeling proud when they finally figure it out, helping a neighbor clean up an accidental spill, and writing notes about why they love each other.  No test will ever show you that, Mr. President.

But you'll also see tired students.  Students who can't take another assessment.  Students who ask, "ANOTHER test?" after they found out walking in first thing in the morning because I didn't want to tell them the day before.  Students who feel defeated because no matter how great they do during the school day with interventions and differentiated problems/support from school staff, no matter how many times I compliment them on what they are doing - the test says they aren't proficient, they test says they aren't smart.    

For all of these reasons and more, I urge and beg you not to stop with your words, Mr. President.  Millions of children are counting on you. Millions of teachers are counting on you.  Millions of parents are counting on you.

We are hopeful, Mr. President.  And we believe you can help us make a change.

Counting on You