Monday, February 24, 2014

Advantages of Specializing

This last year and this year I have been "Platooning" with my students, sort of! I taught a blend last year and a straight third grade class this year, but have looped with my 2nd grade students. While I teach all subject areas, I am responsible for planning and preparing for math. My partner teacher does the same thing for reading.

Some days, we bring all of the students together into one large classroom, and I teach the main math lesson to groups of students while she teaches smaller groups of students in guided practice. I teach all of the students and because there are two adults we can have students switch groups immediately if that is needed.

In reading, she takes some of my students who need additional assistance, since that is her area of expertise for over 20 years. She also helps me plan out my lessons and novels. Working together we are much better teachers than we would be on our own.

Last year I sent students to different teachers for both math and reading, depending on the grade level and skill of each student. Some times it felt like I didn't have much time with my second grade students (the ones who did the most moving.) If I only worked with them that one year, the connections and relatinoships wouldn't be as deep as they normally are in elementary school.

But, I have looped with my younger students. While they might not be with me for the whole day, I have gotten to know these children well over the course of 2 years. By specializing and looping I am developing a strong relationship with each child and their families, as well as giving them a strong academic situation. I think this is a win/win situation! 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Renewing Ourselves

  • What do you listen to on your way to school?
  • Do you listen to the radio, the news or a book on CD? 
  • How do you get ready for the day?

I now have a "driving" playlist. I have about a 20 minute commute to school on a good day. (Let's not mention the other days, when it can get up to 40 minutes. . .)

Before the playlist, I was listening to NPR or some other news station. While slightly educational, it wasn't exactly uplifting. On top of that, the information was pretty similar to the newspaper headlines. I didn't find myself feeling excited to face the day after listening to the news.

So now I have a driving playlist. The music in that playlist is inspirational to me. The songs that work for me probably wouldn't work for you . . . but the idea might.

As I listen and sing along, I feel calm. I am ready to face the challenge of the day head on. I remember that my job is planting seeds that I may or may not see bloom this year. I remind myself that each day is about connecting to each child in my classroom.

I feel renewed and ready to coach, lead and change lives.

Curious about what I have on my playlist? Here are some of the songs. They range from gospel to Indie.
  • Power of Two - Indigo Girls
  • Gardener - Rebecca Riots
  • Sing to the Angles - Rebecca Riots
  • He Watches Out For You and Me - Dixie Hummingbirds
  • So Glad I'm Here - Sweet Honey in the Rock
  • Tu Guardian - Juanes
  • How Can I Keep From Singing - Ike Ndolo
  • Make Me an Instrument of your Peace - Lori True

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Time to reassess and organize

Happy New Year! Welcome back to the classroom. Now is a great time to rethink your classroom organization. I read an inspiring article at Edutopia about how to involve students in organizing your classroom. Here is a link to the article.

This year I've started labeling more things in the classroom so students are able to put things away with ease.

One fun game we play is the missing object game. After lunch, I will have a tub filled with random objects from the the classroom, like a stapler, some books from different parts of the library etc. Then, I pull name sticks and students try to find the correct location. If they need help, they can ask for help. They can get a hint or a "hotter/colder" hint.

How well is your organization working right now? Here are some questions to help you reassess.

Copy and paste these sentences and take some time to write your answers. It would be wonderful if you wanted to share some of your answers in the comments section. This would help out other teachers!

  1. I (or my students) can never find my (their) __________. 
  2. I (or my students) have no place to put________. 
  3. There's no room for __________. 
  4. I (or my students) are tired of ___________.
  5. I (or my students) can't _________ because of the clutter.
  6. I (or my students) am losing time or money because of ____________. 
  7. The disorganization makes me (or my students) feel ____________.
  8. What is and is not working for you in your classroom organization? 
  9. Which items are most essential for you for teaching, grading and planning?
  10. Why do you want to get organized?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Renewing Myself - Meditation Time

I pick up my students outside under the covered walkway at 8:25am. The principal makes announcements,  I take attendance and bring them to my classroom at 8:30am. Now the day officially starts.

Every day, though, at 8:20, my alarm rings. I have a nice soothing song for this ring! Because . . . it is meditation time!

I sit down for 2-3 minutes and remember about what this day is about. It is about connecting. Being calm. Being a loving presence in the life of all of my students. At the end of the day, ALL of my students may or may not remember about how to add fractions, to use a Venn diagram or correctly use a thesaurus.

I do hope, though, that ALL of my students know that I cared for them. As a person. 

So I take some time to pause, breath and remember my job. My real job is planting seeds. The seeds of understanding - both academic and emotional!

These three minutes help me stay focused through the day. They are renewing for me.

How do you renew yourself daily? Is it a walk you take during lunch? Is it reading a book? What do you do to take care of yourself and remember the bigger picture?

Friday, November 1, 2013

What is rigor?

Rigor isn’t throwing students in the deep end of the pool and hoping they don’t drown. Rigor is leading the development of each student so that they become incrementally stronger and stronger.  - Reading Without Limits by Maddie Witter

I freely admit that my ability to teach reading is an area where I have a lot of potential to grow! For the past 9 years I have worked with students who had yet to learn to decode. So, I am very good at teaching decoding. Give me a 12 year old child who can barely read CVC words, and I can teach that child to decode.

This is my first year working at a school where the majority of my students can actually decode and comprehend prior to entering my classroom! What a gift and a challenge.

My test scores show that my students do consistently make over a years worth of gains. So, while they are not bad, I still do not feel they are good enough. I would like to consistently see ALL my students make 1.5 years gain in reading class.

My lowest students do make these gains. But not my average and high performing students. They tend to make 1.0 gains. I have identified that my weakness is in the area of higher level comprehension skills. I need to add more rigor to my instruction in this area.

So, it an effort to become a better reading teacher myself, I am reading a phenomenal book called Reading Without Limits. This quote above really spoke to me. Both for my growth as a teacher and for my expectations for my students.

If I am to move from being an excellent decoding teacher and teacher of basic vocabulary and comprehension strategies to a full-rounded teacher who is also comfortable with a variety of comprehension strategies, I am going to need support. I am going to need to incrementally learn new techniques.

How do you learn new reading comprehension strategies? What do you find works well with your high level readers? Do you have any suggestions for me?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sentence Frames for Partner Reading

I love partner reading! It can be challenging to keep both students engaged at the same time. Too often one child is reading and the other child is tuning out.

Then I had an Ahh! moment. Why not make the child who is listening point to the words and the child who is reading NOT point to the words. Suddenly, I can see across the room who is engaged and who needs a quick check in with me!

Now, partner reading is one of my favorite activities. Here are the sentence frames I have my students use. They use them when filling out a bibliography page and taking notes during partner reading. It also includes the sentence frames and instructions for partner reading time.

Feel free to make copies. I have a file with 30 - 40 copies of this in my room. The students know how to find the file, take out the sheet they need, and return it to the correct place. Not only are they engaged during partner reading, they are learning to be organized. This is a skill that they will use their entire life!

If you do use this in your classroom, please share this site with some other teacher's as a thank you to me. Feel free to copy, change and make these sentence frames work for you!


Sentence Frames For Partner Reading

Online classes I offer for teachers through

FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL: From Stress to Success
SAVE TIME: Time Management for Your Teaching & Your Life   

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Thoughts Vs. Comments: Classroom Management

 I have, over the years, done a lot of talking with my students about thoughts versus words. Students are going to have thoughts that are not appropriate to say out loud in the classroom. I let them know, it is ok to have just about any thought in your head. It is not ok to say whatever is on your mind at any time.

  • Is it ok to think that you don't like the assignment? Yes! I don't like everything I have to do either.
  • Is it ok to shout out in class that you don't like the assignment? No. But, if this is an ongoing problem you can talk privately with me.

I teach my students to say, "May I talk with you please?" in private if they have a concern they want to share. This phrasing lets me know that I really need to listen, and that the student is going to disagree with me. We roll play how to do this in a respectful manner.

This proactive approach to negative comments prevents a lot of classroom management problems. By explicitly teaching what is ok and is not ok in the classroom, students are set up to be successful!

Online classes I offer for teachers through

FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL: From Stress to Success
SAVE TIME: Time Management for Your Teaching & Your Life   
EDITING MADE EASY: Strategies For All Writers