Friday, December 6, 2013

This Week's Ramblings

Welcome to my week!! :) 

Literactive as an alternative to Starfall: 

I have been looking for quite awhile for a website that is as user friendly and valuable for reinforcing reading instruction as  Lucky for the Starfall folks, I've not found anything that compares to them that is free.  There is a nice site though, called Literactive which is free and has nice games---IF you aren't using Internet Explorer and you teach ahead of time how to navigate the site, which is full of small print and not as intuitive as Starfall.  Still, literactive has a functional page called "road to reading" that is sequential in its phonics instruction activities.  They also have many other skills and many other levels to choose from.  I recommend this to anyone looking for something different.  Also, is worth a try, with some teaching about navigation up front.  I am consistently frustrated working in rooms at all ages levels with the lack of "computer procedures" taught up front.  Please, teach your kiddies to scroll and navigate.... And look at the screen.  Teach them the power of the computer or tablet as a learning tool! 

Below is a pic of Oort if the user interface at 

Purposeful centers: 
I have been so very fortunate this year.  I've seen some of the best center management techniques and some of the (ahem...) not best ;) 

In the rooms that I've visited or taught that had the best behaviors and completed assignments were those rooms in which students could tell me why they were doing something.  No matter the age, they need to be able to do that if you expect your centers to function well enough to pull guided reading groups while they're happening.  If your Kindergarten students can't tell you why they're sifting through the big bin of magnet letters for all the "b's" then the center will be a mess and the learning piece of it disappears making it a waste of time.  Conversely, if your Kindergarteners can tell you that they're looking for all the letter "b's" today because they're practicing the B sound and they're going to make a big B out of all the small B's-- that's purpose! There's your learning.  And while you're pulling someone over to go over sight words or make predictions about a text, that learning is happening at another table without you. How powerful! The power lies in the purpose at all levels of learning! 

Differentiating on the spot is ok:
In the urban schools that I have often found myself, there are challenges that seem impossible.  It has been my experience that in public schools, many of these behaviors are not tolerated more than once or twice without a new placement for the child or some type of personal aide to keep them on task.  In charter schools, it's a different story.  The schools in which I've worked have fought hard to keep kids in class despite behaviors.  Even though I refuse to agree or disagree in this issue (case by case basis is the name of the game for me) I will say that some of this behavior I struggle with coping with on a day to day basis.  The young boy below is known for shouting, talking out, not keeping his hands tonhimself, never paying attention, and never completing any academic activities--- like, ever.  His teacher is a first year teacher faced with other students with similar beavhior challenges, so how can she cope? Well, in modeling some best practices for her I suggested and showed her how to differentiate not he spot for kids and document it later.  If she can't even get through math because he literally has no understanding of what math is other than sorting objects, then let him do that so you can have some peace while you explain addition to 20 to the rest of the class. I. The pic below, he needed to sort out all the pink letters-- ONLY PINK!  And the. Tell me what they were at my convenience.  Later, he had unified cubes that he just had to make into groups of ten.  Simple, tangible, and he knew why he needed to do it. "You're going to do math now, if you can't do my math, you'll have this math to do", etc.  he needs to know its math!  Later, on his worksheet that he clearly did not do, make a note of what he did instead.  Voila :) 

Another thing about purpose: 

Let's be honest, sometimes we write our plans knowing we need a read-aloud text to go with them, then we just grab a fiction or non fiction book off the shelf without really bothering to plan that text ahead of time.  We just grab one that suits the genre and standard we want to teach.  I don't think that really works.  If I need my kids to pic out descriptive words and sequence events but then I grab "Skippy Jon Jones because it's one if my favorites, I've lost my purpose.  Skippy Jon can be confusing and long, depending on which title you read.  The. I'm giving kids answers to what happened first and next, because they're lost in the comprehension barrier.  Choose read alouds ahead of time and with your purpose in mind. Also, keep 'em short and sweet :) carpet time is good for a change of scenery, but it's difficult to stay comfortable during it when you insist on "cross cross applesauce" for a prolonged amount of time.  

Anyone else feel like they're failing at Elf in the Shelf? I sure do! Whenever my 203 year old wakes up and finds the elf in a different spot, she insists I've moved it and wants to know why ;) also, the other day the elf epwas perched in the bathroom while she took a bath crayon to the tile floor-- epic fail, Elf, epic fail! 

Forgive my typos, friends.  I did this whole post on my iPad this week :) 

Stefanie :) 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Data Tracking Using "Dot Charts" and Consensograms

I find myself learning a lot this year about how data analysis and informed instruction looks at different grade levels. Especially formative assessment.  As someone who worked almost exclusively with small groups and test preparation groups for 5 years, I was seeing excel spreadsheets in my sleep.  All the number crunching and analyzing growth from one week to the next had my head spinning most of the time, as when you focus so much on numbers and not on students, the task of engaging students in activities that will actually grow them seems impossibly overwhelming.  What I have started to realize over the past 2-3 years is that your formative assessments (those quick checks you do all along the way) help students not only to communicate with you about how they are understanding a concept, but also to feel actively involved and empowered to change their achievement level. Take a look at the scientifically named  :)  "dot-chart" above.  

As the data dots show us, in the Fall of 2011, I had one student score "accelerated" on the Reading Ohio Achievement Test, and all the rest of my class scored "Limited".  Needless to say, I wanted to see a lot of growth before the next round of testing in May.  So, I devised a schedule for my class to take bi-weekly practice assessments beginning in January and track their progress after each test on this graph.  The dot color is meaningless, the number on each dot represented a student.  Each week in small groups the students would practice all the different aspects of test preparation and practice questions with a teacher.  We would mark up the practice questions with highlighters, rewrite our answers--you name it.  We would also look at our chart, and discuss which box the student was in that week, and how their goal should be to move up one box the next week.  

Here is why this was effective:  
1.  The students knew that although the data was "anonymous" it would still be posted for all to see.  
2.  It gave them a visual of where they were scoring with regard to where the other kids in the room were scoring.
3.  Moving up one box every two weeks was a goal that seemed tangible and realistic when it was presented in this way.
4.  Students felt and appreciated that they had active participation and control over where their dot would be placed the next time.  They knew it was directly related to their performance and hard work in between tests.  

As you can see, the dots started moving up week by week until we had about 8 students who were consistently passing the test.  Not a lot, but a vast improvement from just one!  The data on the chart from April was pretty consistent with the data I got back from the state after the state tests were scored, so I knew what I was doing was a reliable measure.  

Imagine if I had started this method in say, October, rather than waiting until January!  How powerful would the dots have been then in motivating even more students to set and surpass their goals?  

The other thing I wanted to mention was Consensograms.  These are a relatively new concept to me this year as I explore within the profession and get to know some of the lower grade levels.  I adore them!  Not only are they cute additions to your classroom that also serve a purpose, they are a way to engage those young kiddos and turn them into active participants in their learning as well!  And (as someone who loves technology I can't believe I am blogging this statement) what a great alternative to using those darn clickers that might take forever to set up and/or malfunction once the kids are signed in anyway?!  Phew, what a relief to just have a permanent display of your best practice on the board for the "I Can" statement or learning standard of the week!  Below are a couple of examples from my friends' rooms (since I am more transient as a sub this year ):  

1st and 2nd grade Consensogram 


3rd and 4th grade Consensogram

Thoughts?  :) 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Five for Friday Linky Party :)

Grab button for One Extra DegreeOk, I have no idea if I am about to do this right, so I hope this works out.  My friend Amanda over at One Extra Degree (her button is at right) told me this past week about this linky party thing being a great way to get your ideas out there and get more blog traffic.  So..... here goes!



Reciprocal Teaching 
In Professional Development this week, I learned about the practice of "Reciprocal Teaching" and absolutely love how it will fit into Reading groups!  I don't believe that groups should be defined as "guided" or "close reading" or "reciprocal" or even in some cases "literature circles".  I see them as a hybrid mix of all those if they are to be most effective.  Reciprocal teaching strategies provides a structure for me to teach guided or close reading within a framework that is consistent.  Also, providing students with sentence frames and insisting that their answer be a complete sentence with a "because clapper" (see Whole Brain Teaching) takes their instructional level of reading to the next level.  The teacher modeling each strategy first is key to the success of this practice, and using this as the structure of our lessons forces us to think aloud, which we often take for granted and do not do enough of.  This was one of those PD's that I really felt was valuable right away :) 


When you see a need, fill a need.  I have been trying out a consulting opportunity for a local school.  One of my former principals is the School Leader there, and sought me out to help out his small staff comprised of mostly first year teachers.  So, for a couple of days a week, I can be found observing for best practices and making notes on strengths and weaknesses I see, meeting with individuals about their needs, etc.  What I haven't figured out yet, after about a month, is exactly how to present the ideas and actually make positive changes in these educators' rooms.  I am all about being practical, and that is what I want to provide them with--practical ideas to be implemented right away--but how best to do that without encroaching on territory is the hard part.  So, once again I have found myself in uncharted territory, making new relationships and showing what I can offer one little bit at a time.  I may jump in to redirect a behavior (this is an urban setting) or take over a small group that is off task when I walk by.  I am still thinking about how best to present ideas, but in the meantime, when I see that someone needs help, I help.  And that has been a pretty cool way to spend my time :) 


Primacy- Recency is a very real issue in our rooms that we don't often consider when we plan.  This short pdf with graphics shows that our students' "prime learning time" begins about 5 minutes into a lesson, peaks at about 12 (that when you've really got them!) and then declines for awhile when we need to give them two-ish minutes of independent or partner chatting. Next, at about 17 minutes in, they have more prime time-- but then it only lasts for like, 5 minutes.  So, theoretically as masters of lesson pacing, we should be hitting the new concepts the hardest, with the material that is most literal at those "prime times". Food for thought....


Centers can be thought of in so many different ways sometimes it can be overwhelming if you don't commit your classroom to one process.  I am referring more to the planning process for the teacher than the experience for the students.  Basically I was preparing a presentation to show the teachers I'm working with, and I found myself outlining a writing center, word work center, independent reading center, etc.  Then I got to thinking even MORE, and realized that depending on the learning standards you're addressing and the way you want to plan out how often you change your centers to keep them engaging, you may want to make them all , say, about sight words or all about synonyms/antonyms.  So instead of kids rotating through writing with the teacher about their favorite color and then moving on to read to themselves about sharks, followed by highlighting sight words in a poem, they instead rotate to each center and each center is about sight words.  With the teacher, it's writing them, while at independent reading it is key rings with words on them. At the listening center, its reading the words to each other..... Sigh, so much to consider! Thoughts?


Consensograms are Cool-- and should be used in every room, I think :) I love that they can be visited before, during, and after a week of learning about a standard.  I love that there is a non-linguistic representation for the kids to see where they are in understanding with relationship to the whole group. They look awesome, too.  I will let the pics say the rest:  

Thanks for reading :) How was your week?  


Updated: Reading to Someone in Centers is Important! Make it Productive for the Students with a Structured Activity they can Facilitate for Themselves!

In Elementary teaching, whether in public schools or charter schools at some point during their instructional day have a Language Arts Block that includes small group instruction.  For us teachers, generally that means pulling leveled groups for guided reading or some form of it (reciprocal teaching, close reading, etc.), and for students it means rotating through learning "centers" or "stations" that should reinforce previously learned concepts based on Common Core Standards.  When deciding how to manage these small group and center times, teachers often seek out instructional practices such as "The Daily 5", which includes the following 5 types of learning centers:                                      
1. Working with Words
2.  Reading to Yourself
3.  Writing 
4. Reading to Someone
5. Listening to Reading

Now, whether you use The Daily 5 practice, or some other center titles to reinforce learning strands, it is fine by me.  However, do you indeed have a Read to Someone center?  And if so, do students know how to share that time together productively, or are they simply sitting with a book between them and talking about what they watched on TV last night?  As you have probably gathered, I have had experience with the latter :), and I figured out some things to help structure the students' time together in "Read to Someone".

Consider using "The Crazy Professor Reading Game" from Whole Brain Teaching.  It not only requires that a student read aloud, but also that they comprehend what they're reading to use their voice and hand hand gestures to convey the meaning of the text to the listener.  When they finish a page or chapter or topic, they then use their own comprehension skills to form a question they know the answer to, pose that question to their partner, and give feedback to their partner.  Then, the partner takes over and it all begins again.  The beauty of this is that neither one of the students has to compromise reading something at their own interest level, because they can each use a different book!  The purpose is quality of time spent on a passage of text that they refer gestures and questions back to--not getting through a whole text that they didn't choose themselves.  Below, you'll see the video made by Whole Brain Teaching that I use to introduce my students to their Read to Someone "Crazy Professor" game:

And, here is a video of what it looked like in my 4th grade classroom!  I want to emphasize something here: THIS CAN BE USED AT ANY GRADE LEVEL AS LONG AS THE STUDENTS HAVE CHOSEN BOOKS AT THEIR INDEPENDENT, RATHER THAN INSTRUCTIONAL READING LEVEL.  Even in 2nd grade, The students loved this time and were asking when they could do it next.  It motivates them because it allows them to exaggerate, be dramatic, and act silly with a friend.  Sorry it is sideways, no matter how I try to publish it, it rotates : /.

How do you structure your small group time?  Are you a rotation within your centers, or do the students rotate with their own set of centers to be pulled when you're ready?  What products of learning do you have your students turn in for centers and how often?  Does it make up a percentage of their grade?  Let me know your thoughts below!  I would love to hear if you try this game out, and how it works to motivate your kiddos!  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Kid President and 1,000 views, OH MY!

Wow!  I can't believe what my stats are telling me: this blog is a little over 100 visitors away from 1,000 views!  As a person who simply wants to share what I feel passionately about, and those things that I believe will enhance the teaching of others, this is truly encouraging!  If you have stopped by once or twice, please share with others and leave me some glows or grows below!  I am working on my next post this weekend, and looking forward in the near future to providing some video examples and freebies.  I don't intend on anything to end up costing my readers anything :) My purpose is to serve all teachers from Pre-K-5th (and even some beyond) with information that is meaningful and practical.

Until my next post, where I will say things to hopefully inspire small changes in your teaching, watching this amazingly awesome Kid President video that asks the question of teachers and students "What are you teaching the world?".

Let me know your thoughts below, because I think few other people could drive the point home like he does. Are you as inspired as I am?

God Bless and Keep Reading and Sharing,


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ideas About Small Group Management: Why Every Teacher Should Visit A Cheerleading Gym

Recently, I visited my cousin at her cheerleading gym (she co-founded it!). It struck me as I watched the team members interacting and the coaches giving direct and specific feedback and praise, that this structure is quite parallel to the way I like to run small groups. 

In my opinion, (and of course, depending on the class ) small groups don't have to be constantly rotating with teacher-led guided reading or teacher-led skill group.  Sitting in one place, especially if you happen to have challenging behaviors or ability levels to meet in your room, just isn't always do-able for the stretches of time between transitions.  I would rather move.  I want the kids basically stationary ( 3 transitions tops ) and I want to travel. And traveling is more than just "floating" or monitoring. Some of my most valuable instruction and re-teaching happens in 2 minute increments as I travel between groups to give specific skill instruction and feedback.  This method can be used with the Daily 5, guided reading, or common core aligned curricula for Reading and/or Math BUILD stations.  Some literacy coaches may not agree. In fact in my personal experiences recently I was consistently reminded that I was to be at one spot, leading guided reading.  My students didn't respond to that well at all. They needed to be active and independent during this valuable learning block, not reading a book about frogs because it would be a quick supplement to meet a science standard.  Below is what I saw at the gym: 

Students teaching and encouraging their peers.

Observing technical details and redirecting teammates in order to better their performance. 
Safety and respect and trust have to be a focus at all times. 

Coaches introduce and teach sequences, then allow groups to run them and run them again in order to work out the kinks. 

Coaches float to reteach and clarify but are otherwise observing and encouraging. 

Students know how to wait for the next instruction. You can constantly observe students reminding other teammates how to perform a movement in order to better the whole. 

When praise is given and other team mates don't hear they stop everyone to reiterate the praise specifically. They call out mistakes and lateness so the team can encourage and remind each other. 

"Catch one, dip three, leg seven!" Etc.  coaches are constantly using technical language. 
Vocabulary must be built and understood for the moves to look good and the safety to be there. 

Repetition repetition repetition. 

Move and run routine in between lots of coaching. Specific and explicit corrections are made.
No unnecessary ignoring of wrong work to give them time to get it. Reinstruct immediately. Insist on the best.
"Everyone stop and watch how they do this!" Coaches reinforce positive actions with immediate praise and giving a chance for team members to shine in front of their peers.  "What did you notice about that hold?" Conversation is held, then peers tell one another about the good things they saw.  

Coaches (one seen here on left) constantly observe, redirect, participate, and praise specific points in the stunt. Traveling to each set of team members adds to the sense of team and importance of each perso. To that team-- everyone is seen by a coach and is given specific feedback. 

Coaches look on after assigning team members to practice one stunt sequence in detail.

Safety is top priority every second. The team members know technical aspects of stunts and seek to perfect it with their coaches demonstration and corrections immediately at the beginning of a misstep.

Students not only observe, but also communicate by speaking and listening effectively as active participants in the small stunt. In turn, the larger routine is made better. This is a great example of seeing the bigger picture and beginning with the end in mind. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Involving Family Members in Learning: The Past is Connected to the Future

I didn't drive until I was 20 years old.  To most people, it seems like I waited a long time. My reason?  I was too scared to drive. I guess I never do anything until I've studied up on it and I just didn't feel ready.  When I finally decided to transfer to a college located 160 miles away from home, however, I needed to make it official.  

cross-curricular connections, interviewing family, learning connections, comprehension, social studies content, project-based learning, journal activities, family involvement,
Before that though, I got rides everywhere.  Back and forth to work, back and forth to school--if I needed
to go there, someone else was taking me.  One of the people carting me around was my grandpa.  I lived with my grandparents until I was 15 years old. It just worked out that way. Anyway, most of the time after I moved in with my mom and siblings and I needed a ride, he would be there for me.  Even when I needed to commute to and from the small local branch of Kent State at odd hours, he was the taxi.  I miss those rides.  

I saw a tweet recently that got me thinking about how much history I actually learned on those rides.  History about him, and history of the Korean War time was brought to life for me by a person who served in the Navy during that time.  I was taking a class--History of Civilization Part I, I think--which had a great professor and grabbed my attention.  The way Dr. Sosnowski lectured was like taking notes on a soap opera.  He had a real storyteller's way about presenting material from just about every war in history in an engaging way for a 19 year old.  Pretty impressive.  

The thing that intrigues me now is the learning enrichment that I was getting on those car rides to and from school during the Korean War part of the semester.  Grandpa would tell me about being stationed in Korea, working on Naval ships.  He made sure I understood the significance that the 38th parallel holds and the small tasks he was assigned while there.  Nothing combative, but admirable and exciting for me to hear about nonetheless.  To hear these stories from my grandpa and seeing him as a young strong fighter (not just an old, strong father-figure) was so beneficial to my comprehension and to my relationship with him.  Not only did I feel safe enough to ask "silly" questions I wasn't comfortable asking in class, but also I got to know that part of my family that held respect and interest in the well being of our country.  

I wanted to write about this and share it because I find myself considering the powerful instructional possibilities we have as teachers of any grade/ability level to use more project-based learning.  Especially with the common core as the new normal and Student Learning Objectives to track, cross curricular projects hold the potential to unlock engagement and motivation that have been so lacking when students try to communicate their learning to us.  I guess specifically what my experiences with grandpa make me think about allowing students to to is to get their family members' input into their assignments in the form of personal interviews.  I know projects like that already exist in different grade levels and different content areas, but even our youngest of students could be asking questions and reporting them back to their fellow students and teachers at school.  Even something as simple as a second grader reading about Frog and Toad can interview their older sibling about when they read the story and then reread it together. Perhaps the story has a strong problem and solution plot element, and they can ask their grandma when she has ever had to solve a problem with a friend.  

As teachers and administrators we are constantly seeking out ways to involve our student's families in their learning at school.  Instead of just sending a weekly newsletter or having them visit to watch a music program, we can get them to help teach by just sharing about themselves to their children and relating it to content.  For those with a challenging home environment, a trusted adult at school can be their interviewee.  
cross-curricular connections, interviewing family, learning connections, comprehension, social studies content, project-based learning, journal activities, family involvement,Consider adding this cross curricular project type learning just twice a month, or make it a weekly occurrence through family journal activities where students work with parents at home then bring the journal to school to share the next day. Maybe a mom shares how she learned to work out multiplication problems, or an aunt talks about a time when they learned something new about the moon.  The students will value the time and insight into the special family members life and learning, and the family member will feel encouraged to participate in a personal way in school activities on a regular basis.  

When we make things meaningful and personal, we leave this world just a little better than we found it.  When we make connections with other people, it gives us a boost and an amount of understanding that we didn't have before.  Let us foster those relationships with families and connect it to learning.  Let our students be engaged in learning not just content, but compassion and communication as well.  

My grandpa passed after an illness in February of 2012.  I am very grateful that before the had to go, he got to see me become an educator, and he got to know my daughter.  Most of all, I am grateful for all those rides back and forth to work and school, and for the opportunities he gave me to learn and to grow into someone who not only loves learning, but also loves and respects where we have been and where we are headed.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Why? Because I have the Capacity and no Alternative

The incredible Maya Angelou sat down with Oprah on Mother's Day to promote her recent book and to share the wisdom that naturally emanates from her.  Among the topics were her mother-- whom she describes as a terrible mother to young children but a wonderful mother to a young adult, her grandmother-- the woman she and her brother famously went to live with as young children in Stamps, Arkansas after Maya went mute at age 7, and also a bit about her uncle, residing with them in Stamps.  

The uncle part was new to me. One of the things that draws me to watching something on Oprah's OWN network is that I agree with her philosophy of learning from all that we do: "Treat your life like a class...", she can often be heard reciting.  Because I so emphatically agree, I often watch Masterclass on OWN (new episodes air Sundays at 9) which sits down some type of celebrity that has made an impression on the viewer, the industry, or the world and allows the to speak freely about the road they've traveled to become accomplished and wise (the series began with an hour discussion with rapper Jay-Z and has included the likes of Tom Brokaw, Jane Fonda, and Morgan Freeman). 

When I first saw Maya Angelou's Masterclass, I remember how awestruck I was, just sitting in my living room after putting my daughter to bed hoping for an hour to relax. I absolutely adored her from the moment she began speaking. She is a person that exudes joy with her looks and her thoughts. She sings, writes, teaches, and speaks-- all admirable doings.  I heard her tell the story of her youth on Masterclass that quiet night, and knew I must read her books right away.  This was a woman that could add to my life's class.  This was a woman that even though I would never get to know her, she could teach me a lot about myself.  

I decided to read the infamous "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings", Maya's first book.  Sure enough, I found some inspiration within the first three chapters when Maya is telling an anecdote about her Uncle. She and her brother learned all their times tables "without understanding their grand principle, simply because we had the capacity and no alternative." She described how her Uncle Willie would sit and threaten them punishment if they answered incorrectly or hesitated too long. But that phrase: "capacity and no alternative" struck me.  
It is because phrases like that one exist in our students' minds each day at school that I feel so strongly that we must teach purpose.  Someone as inspirational and intelligent and kind as Maya Angelou grew up thinking she was only learning times table because she could.... Not because knowing them would serve her in any way in her extraordinary life.  Of course, we know the truth: she was learning her times tables so that she could efficiently solve the math that she would learn after and become proficient in using fractions and measurements and data analysis and probability.  However, the fact that she herself didn't not see any meaning in what she was learning beyond that she didn't want to be punished for getting a wrong answer, is a costly error made by her dear Uncle Willie as the teacher.  

With the Common Core State Standards emerging and being implemented, teachers will have to use Student Learning Objectives to present and track information about student learning.  It will, in a sense, force teachers to spend the time looking closely at content they may have been teaching for years and ask themselves the question: how can I teach this so kids will learn?

It's not like in college when you had a four page lesson plan document to turn in before you were observed in your student teaching and they just INSISTED you have a clear objective. As a college student with huge dreams, it was nearly impossible for me to get that specific.  But with CCSS AND SLOs the purpose will have to be well defined.  Students are no longer expected to be able to answer what a synonym for 'big' is-- they need to know that a synonym is a word that means the same as the given word and that they are useful in your own writing to make it interesting and in reading to help edit another persons work.  The way I think about it is, why am I teaching the kids this? And whatever reason I come up with, (I have to teach it so that they are able to ________) I give that reason/objective purpose to them. 

By the way, next time I am making notes for a post, it just might be from a new smart phone, since my upgrade approaches this month :) 
A shout out to Randy's Gadgets Blog for helping me in my decision for what to get next! 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Screen Time in the Meantime: Using Technology Purposefully

Screen Reading impacts to Consider on Assessments 

screen time, screen reading, teaching and learning, test prep, purposeful instruction In Ohio beginning in 2014, state high stakes standardized testing will be administered online.  Online assessments although valuable will require a whole new approach to test taking strategies and instruction.  This is also coming at a time of great change in all districts in the state to implement curricula fully aligned with the common core state standards, and the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System which are still relatively new to teachers and administrators. Both are increasing the amount of pressure to perform that hinges on many factors ranging from teaching ability and instructional practice, to progress monitoring, to student achievement data accounting for half of a teacher's professional evaluation from a district.  Below are several points to consider implementing this fall with respect to screen reading and technology which impacts the upcoming year of testing.  

Screen Reading, Technology Instructional Strategies

1. Find an online Common Core based teaching resource and commit to presenting content from it on your smart board or using a projector at least twice per week.  Websites like McGraw Hill CCSS are common core aligned and easy to navigate so that part of your lesson can be presented whole group and then a practice piece can be assigned and printed or completed on a computer and emailed to you.  It is important that as instructors, we take the time to explain the way we navigate through the page or lesson making note of side margins and site maps, and what we know we should pay attention to on the screen.  
One of the most glaring issues students may have could be the use of a "split screen" interface.  Much of the content may be presented on the left hand side of the screen with its own scroll bar, while the actual questions to be answered are on the right. Students may have trouble with the awareness that the left side of the screen is the information that could help them to answer the questions on the right.  

2. Content vocabulary may be a challenge. The students may be presented with reading selections about very specific terms and vocabulary, especially in nonfiction selections.  As a teacher, know the vocabulary terms in the common core for your grade level before you start the year and if your district-mandated curricula doesn't address the comprehension and pronunciation of the terms, be prepared to supplement.  Teach, reteach, and reinforce context clues.   We may not be able to tell them what a word says, but if we've taught them how to guess what it means, it may be the difference between a 399 and a 400.  

3. Students will most likely have many questions that require them to "click and drag" the answers into graphic organizers and many extended response and short answer questions which require them to type a complete and competent answer. The typing is going to be a real time killer, especially for those kids whom we know want to do well and are very meticulous. Get your hands on a good website or training cd rom for your class computer time that allows them practice with basic keyboarding. Try these free typing games and tests

More Information: 

To view information on the Ohio Common Core State Standards and the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System, visit The Ohio Department of Education Website.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Try To Teach the "Why" with Cross-Curricular Connections

Explaining cross-curricular connections and relationships is a very powerful teaching tool. Not only that, but being willing as the adult in the room to share your purpose for teaching the students certain things and explaining our teacher language and methods to students raises engagement and curiosity--it empowers the students to have intelligent conversations with adults about their learning.

'Cross-Curricular Connections' means "Why"

A very recent example I have from my 5th grade classroom this past week, which also inspired me to write this post, stems from our study of the solar system. Many times throughout a school day I set a purpose for my students and remind them of it for each subject. For example, "Remember class, we are learning this because ______________ and also because ________________".  It is through this type of prompting that I see the greatest curiosity cross my students' faces.  When I spend time telling them that when something is cross-curricular it means that connections are being made in more than one subject, and that a worksheet that has them filling in blanks is really called a "cloze exercise" and forces them to use "context clues" and other comprehension skills as well as communication skills by writing it down--you know, all that jargon we throw around in college and in teacher's planning meetings--THAT'S when they really listen.

Teach the Kids your Instructional Language to make Cross-Curricular Connections

So often we get caught up in covering material rather than teaching it, or presenting the "WHY" behind it.  We teach from the scripted book or from what this leveled reader or that one says about the subject.  Let's teach the kids why.  Let's teach them that these are requirements for us and them and why that is. Let's show them that taking a vote on the class' favorite lunch and making a tally chart which we then create a bar graph from is actually COMMUNICATION of DATA and TRANSLATING it from one form to another.  Let's teach them that answering an extended response question that COMPARES AND CONTRASTS the sinking of the Titanic with the explosion of the Hindenburg is really a way to communicate through writing and translate the information from the texts into a different FORMAT--the Venn Diagram.

Better yet, when we are about to begin a lesson, let's present the topic briefly and then have the students brainstorm a list of possible WHY'S for learning it. 

Cross-Curricular Objective Setting at the Beginning of the Lesson

One of my principals gave us teachers a great push to "begin with the end in mind". It was her belief that whether we were teaching from a district-mandated reading curriculum or not, we should look ahead to the weekly, unit, and quarterly assessments, know what was on them, predict where our kids would struggle and anticipate how to meet their needs instructionally before we even wrote our lesson plans for the week.  Many thought it too much work, simply feeling that if we taught the Reading curriculum that was required with integrity, the students would be well prepared for the test. Well, meeting individual needs doesn't work very well that way and closing or "moving" the gap (as this principal would say) is nearly impossible if you're not willing to be purposeful in your planning.  Within that purpose or objective is where you find your jargon.  Within that purpose or objective is what the kids need to be familiar with.  We should feel confident as teachers that if anyone comes into our room and asks "Hey Johnny, what are you learning right now?" He will answer "Well, we are reading about Jupiter because we need to know about our solar system and after this we will have a cloze exercise that makes us use context clues from what we learned and writing skills to communicate information. This lesson uses Reading, Writing, and Science skills all at once. " 

Sounds like he's a dream student, doesn't he? 
Well, he doesn't have to be. I've been working in very challenging environments explaining cross-curricular connections and it has worked no matter where.

 I challenge you to try teaching the WHY and notice the results!  

Finally, I would be remiss without mentioning Whole Brain Teaching methods in this post. I had the privilage to attend their annual conference in the summer of 2012 and it has heavily influenced my teaching methods and connection-making strategies with my students. Please check out the video below to see a demonstration by Chris Biffle, the creator of the Whole Brain Teaching Method and visit their website.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Blackout Poetry Connects Texts to Lives!

A New Outlet

Blackout poetry has recently become one of the most therapeutic and creative outlets I've found to serve me personally. I was so excited once I started to get the hang of it, I just had to share it with my class!  Basically, you are creating a poem that is a short concise thought which expresses emotions and can communicate not only feelings but also be a pretty awesome way to give a summary.  Below, the video showcases some of the artful poetry we have created in our anticipation of summer approaching.  Using a "porquoi tale"-- a tale which seeks to explain why or how something significant happened like, "how did the tiger get his stripes?"  was also the perfect opportunity to teach the significance of the porquoi tale and examine examples of various types from different cultures-- the students were challenged to create a poem expressing an emotion about their upcoming summer vacation.


Try our video maker at Animoto.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

WE Were In The Newspaper!

Belden kids complete ballroom program

Click above to see how famous we are! 

Our class was the only 5th grade class in the county to participate in the Dancing Classrooms NEO program.  For ten weeks, our students transformed for 2 hours at a time into "ladies and gentlemen" who could foxtrot and rumba their way through the day!

See a glimpse of our Culminating Recital Event below!

5th Grade OAA Info Day!

As part of our preparation for "the big tests" in April, we invited our families to come in at the End of March for a student-run information session.  The presentation stations around the room included:
  • What is the OAA?
  • Why do I, as a student, have to take the OAA?
  • What is my school data from the last OAA test?
  • Are you smarter than a Fifth Grader OAA question challange.
  • Hey Mom, did you know I practice at home?
If you would like to plan your own OAA Info Day, you can download the planning guide by clicking the link below: 

OAA Info Day Planning Guide

Watch the 30 second clip below to catch a glimpse of our day!

Make your own slideshow with music at Animoto.

Filling In, in 5th Grade!


Shortly before Christmas 2012, I found myself job searching.  It seemed meant to be that although my mentor and teaching inspiration, Mr. Smith, had tragically and unexpectedly passed just a month prior, the district that he had been serving as Superintendent was hiring for the remainder of the year--JUST what I needed! It seemed his "leadership" had placed the open positions there just for me to pick up. 

Hot Stuff!

And so, I find myself in a 5th grade long term subbing position in a very challenging classroom.  We have recently celebrated our "Hot" Test Scores with a "Hot Stuff Buffet" inspired by my friend, Erin, over on her blog Superheros and Sundresses

Students chose from many spicy snacks and were happy to spice up their day with the celebration!

What's in a Name?

improving teaching and learning, leave it better than you found it
Me with Mr. Smith on a band trip to Virginia Beach in April, 2000.

Leaving things better than you find them is not always easy. Sometimes, you have to make a conscious effort to find a way to make a difference in your interactions at work, school, or home. A great teacher and band director of mine instilled in his 160 + marching band of teenagers (all of whom, by the way, were convinced that marching band was cool, simply because we got to know him) that even if you left a hotel room in the morning, you made the bed first, because that is one of the only ways you can leave something like a hotel room, better.  We traveled from our hometown in Massillon, Ohio to myriad places, played great music and understood its significance, all while consistently seeking out ways to make him proud by "leaving things--leaving the world--better than we found it".  The purpose of this blog is to show how--through my years as an educator, I am determined to instill the same ideas in the students I am privileged enough to be assigned to. Improving teaching and learning is a passion of mine which blends into many areas. Technology as a tool for improving teaching and learning has been a daily necessity in my professional development and in improving the skills of my students of all ages. I actively seek out opportunities to use my technology skills to communicate, interact, and teach a variety of content in meaningful ways. This blog will house examples of the ways I show my students connections between the world we live in and the work they need to complete in school. Because, ultimately when we take the time to connect, we make things better.