Reflections from the All Write Institute — #4

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To Lunch…and Beyond! Reflections from the All Write Institute — #4

The lunch session took me by surprise. I didn’t want to miss the session called “From Boring to Enjoying”, but I was hungry, so I ate some wonderful food catered by a local BBQ. After filling up and meeting with some blogging buddies in person (!), I headed off to see teachers from Fort Wayne, IN talk about how they used Notice and Note strategies (Beers/Probst) in their classrooms to make reading come alive. The speakers were wonderful, entertaining, and knowledgeable.  I loved hearing how they used journals, Edublogs, and stations to keep students interested in reading. “Tabletop Twitter” sounded engaging — a way to have kids respond to reading or writing — a way to collaborate and also have some fun.

One of my main goals next school year is to get students started with blogging. I have found blogs to be a fulfilling way to spend time with writing, and it’s social, academic, and fun! Students can write stories, poems, reflections, and share their views — all from the comforts of “home” (school classroom). Blogging also allows for differentiated instruction and small group work; I can have students easily save their work without losing papers, etc. as well. If there’s one thing I am learning as a veteran teacher, it’s that technology is available and useful, and I need to work with more technology in my classroom.

After lunch, it was time to talk books! This was my favorite part of the day! Tammy and Mary Helen were also wonderful, animated presenters that shared their favorite books for mini-lessons and read alouds.  Although many of the books were geared towards the primary grades, I know for sure I will be using many of them in my middle school classroom next year. Why? Because research (and my own experience) shows that reading aloud to students works. Many higher-level thinking skills are used in reading these books, yet they are easy to read (so students can focus on craft and not so much vocabulary), and teachers don’t have to use more time than a mini-lesson to make teaching points (time management). Plus, these books are engaging! (What administrator isn’t looking for that?)

For example, Pitter Patter by Martha Sullivan, shows different ways to say Hello (kids love “different ways to say…”), has information about the water cycle (meeting the standards), and provides extra activities with interactive apps (centers or at-home extension). I love books that include extras at the end. “For more reading, go to…” This keeps students engaged after the school day is over.  Another engaging book is I’m a Shark! by Bob Shea. This incredible author is a favorite in schools, and this book includes connections to life, grammar/spelling reminders, and figurative language (also meeting the standards!). One book I have not used before, but I will this fall, is Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin. I learned about the “Power of 3” many years ago in writing workshop, and the students always love the lesson when I teach them this “magic”. This book has voice, which some students find difficult to write. Also, everyday happenings CAN be stories, which students learn quickly in writing workshop. We work on personal narratives first in our curriculum, and Dragons…can help us, I’m sure!

Sharing books and joy is an amazing way to spend time, not only in the classroom with students, but also during a summer PD institute! I was inspired; as I left the room, the only question I had was, “I wonder how much money we are allowed to spend this year on books?”

 

 

Slice of Life Tuesdays: Taking a Break

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Taking a Break

Assessments are over; what should we do?

Should we sing? Should we dance? I haven’t a clue.

Yes! Let’s dance! Yes! Let’s sing!

We need to take a break and bring

the students and teachers back to life.

Take a break — why, yes! That’s what we’ll do.

We’ll eat cookies and pizza and ice cream, too.

It won’t be long before the school year is through.

Then summer will be here; what should we do?

Our school year is much longer this year — 8 snow days to make up! I can’t help but feel a little stressed tonight as we wind down and prepare for summer and beyond. I’m thinking, “What should I do…first?”  Enjoy your last days of school!

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Thank you to the team at Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life writing. You ladies rock!

Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 3

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Slice of Life Small LogoThe March Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by http://www.twowritingteachers.wordpress.com.

My Team

I love my team. Those of you who have heard me before know that I love my team. I love my team in the morning, when we greet each other upon entering the building (rushed and out of breath from shoveling out of our driveways). We plan at 10:30 each day and talk about life at school, curriculum, the next steps for ISTEP preparation, etc. We moan and groan at each other, but we also play songs and dance, like we did today!

I love my team in the afternoon. When we finally get to lunchtime, we call homes, plan again, help students switch books at their lockers, all the things a teacher does besides each lunch! We support each other, and even share food sometimes, when one of us forgot to pack!

I love my team after school. We shoo everyone out the door to their buses, and let out a mass SIGH that class is over for the day. Oh, but we are not done! To the copy machine! To the office to get mail! To the gym to help with the concession stand during basketball season, or to the track to get the kids started on their warm ups (that’s coming soon!)! Busy days never end.

I love my team on the weekends. We read each other’s Facebook posts, we plan, we text each other: “Is your Power School down, too?” or “Another snow day.” We always keep track of each other.

I love my team!

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: Running Out of Time

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Running, running, running…

To the school supply stores, to the doctor, to the dentist, to the SCUBA shop, to Ohio for SCUBA day…wait! Today is National Book Lovers Day! I have to read! I cannot believe these are the last days of summer. I agree with a fellow Slicer; I’m not ready!

Running, running, running...

I have draft-planned my first few weeks of school. There are so many great ideas, stories, and lessons. Mostly, I want my students to read and write well, and have fun doing it! Yet, I feel a sense of urgency, and the meetings for staff development start next week — wait! Oh, no, it’s THIS week!

Running, running, running…

With all of this running around, I should be in great shape to start the school year. We shall see!

Curriculum Tip Tuesday! Calling All Parents, Students, Teachers …

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If you are a parent, a student, or a teacher, I would like to introduce you to a new site for reading and writing that I find worthwhile. Now, mind you, this site is owned by a friend of mine, Dr. T.P. Jagger, a former colleague and current children’s book author and professor, so I have a biased opinion. But…

Check this out! www.tpjagger.com.

I especially enjoy the original readers’ theater scripts and the “writing tips” video (more to come!) that Dr. Jagger created to help students read and write more fluently and creatively. Plus, his dynamic style is engaging and fun!

Parents: This site is easy to use at home! Just type the address, navigate, and enjoy helping your child to learn more; have a great time reading and writing.

Students: Check in with “Dr. J” personally, and he can help you to become a better reader and writer. He’s interesting to watch, too! Funny guy!

Teachers: I have used this site already in my classroom, as a center! While you are conferring, a few students can watch a video, practice a readers’ theater script together, or navigate the site for interesting (cool!) information. This may be a helpful “extra” lesson plan for you.

Thank you for your interest in education, and your continued support of all of our educational websites! Happy Teacher Appreciation Day! Have a great week.

SOL Tuesday: Feeling of Trepidation

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I have a feeling of trepidation today. I don’t know why. Yesterday I came home feeling nauseated, and today is different — better, but worse.  I really need to climb over whatever hill is in front of me and get back to work after vacation, but I’m not sure how.  I did my lesson planning before spring break (accomplishment!), and the plans were in order and easy to carry out the last couple of days. Even my new groups worked well together today in reading rotations! That’s great, but…

I don’t know! Have you ever felt like something was coming to smack you in the face, but you don’t know what it is or when it will hit? Hmm…

Tuesday — Tense — Trepidation — Tell me to stop! Ok, I’m fine.

Spring IS around the corner, right? With the inch of snow that fell last night, one wouldn’t think so, but I am seeing more green on the trees now, and more birds and animals outside, so I am hopeful. There, that’s better.

Hopeful — Harmonious — Happy!

See, writing DOES make you feel better. I tell my students to write daily. Some still say, “I don’t know what to write!” Tomorrow, I’ll say, “Start with some letters of the alphabet, and think of words that show how you are feeling.” Lesson planning continues…back to work!

 

 

 

 

 

 

WFMAD Challenge: Thinking about Consistency in Classrooms

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I’ll just jump right in; it’s late! I’ve been thinking about consistency in classrooms. I know (prior knowledge, research, communication with others) that consistency is key in classroom management, and I have found this short school week that consistency does play a key role in lowering stress for classroom teachers…eventually.

The stress level has been high (!) this school year, with getting to know new students, planning again, standing up all day again (tired feet!), and one of my goals is being more consistent and less flexible with my expectations for students.  High expectations = High achievement.  I followed my plan to a “T” this week, and today was a wonderful Friday, full of learning! My students behaved and were engaged in the learning. They seemed to take pride in their work, and I observed them working together well, communicating politely, and getting the job done. I was even surprised with some of the scores on my formative reading assessment; students were achieving higher scores than I expected. The week was full of stress: calling parents, writing notes for documentation, talking to the administrators. As frustrating as the week was, and as much as I wanted to assume the role of “nice guy,” I did not give in. I was consistent and expected the best. I even said to a colleague Friday morning, “No!” when she asked how I felt about having a Friday free time session. “They don’t deserve it,” I noted. Now next week, after staying consistent with practicing procedures and expecting high achievement, I hope to say, “Yes! Let’s have some fun! We’ve worked hard all week.”

Staying consistent with practicing the classroom ways and holding my students to higher standards was rewarding for me this week because even though I was the “mean, bad guy,” (Oh, man! Hey! I’m not a man. Stop it!) my students quickly changed their behaviors to comply with those standards, and they even noticed improvements and received rewards! One student even said, “You’re giving us a compliment? (Yes!) Well, I’ll be good more often now!” It seemed like we were practicing too much before this week. I remembered that the first few weeks of school are rough, and teachers assume that practicing procedures a few times will be enough for the students. But just like fluency research states that students must read a text about 7 times to be fluent readers, students must also practice other tasks several times to succeed.  (Got some reading research in there!)

I found that sticking to my plan, and “sticking to my guns” helped all of us. We were all calm, relaxed, and ready for the tasks at hand. Consistency pays off!

Have a great weekend!

Student Engagement…Defined?

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Administrators are looking for engaging lessons. Outside observers are looking for engaging activities. Teachers want engaging activities for their students. “Engaging” – a buzzword in education, to be sure.  What is “engaging” in classrooms, anyway?

The dictionary defines engaging as an adjective meaning charming and attractive. Hmm. Are lessons not engaging because I don’t write neatly on the chalkboard? Am I not dressed attractively enough to engage my students in the learning? Am I not charming enough? I tried synonyms for engaging: winsome, fetching, alluring. Now I’m supposed to be Prince Charming to be engaging? How am I ever going to get my students to learn anything? Then I changed my search to “student engagement in education.”

According to Chapman (2003), “the term ‘student engagement’ has been used to depict students’ willingness to take part in routine school activities, such as attending classes, submitting required work, and following teachers’ directions in class.” In my search to define student engagement, I also found Skinner and Belmont’s more comprehensive definition (1993): “[Students] who are engaged show sustained behavioral involvement in learning activities accompanied by a positive emotional tone. They select tasks at the border of their competencies, initiate action when given the opportunity, and exert intense effort and concentration in the implementation of learning tasks; they show generally positive emotions during ongoing action, including enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, and interest.”  If students are engaged in lessons because they choose to select activities, initiate action, exert effort, and show positive emotions, then how can teachers help them to choose these desired behaviors? Is it really a “dog and pony show?” I say, “No.”

My continued goal is to implement engaging activities where students choose to act, exert effort, and show positive emotions during the school day. I made a list of Dos and Don’ts to guide me in my journey:
DO                                                                                                     DON’T
use activity and movement in the classroom                 use worksheets to teach
show students how exerting effort leads to success      assign “busy work” I won’t grade
set the purpose for each lesson/activity/reading            sit down at my desk and watch students
communicate clearly                                                     tell students to “figure it out” themselves
create choices                                                                assign every student the same work
show positive emotions about learning                         give the “evil eye” to students
give opportunities of time to learn                                 hurry students to get the work done

Some of these Dos and Don’ts may seem vague or uncertain (of course I’m going to give the “evil eye” to a student who is wasting time, but only after I have clearly taught the procedures, lesson scaffolds, etc. and he/she is still not exerting effort to get the task done), but it’s a starting list for me to remember to be engaging in the classroom.

What is your definition of student engagement? How will you teach engaging lessons this school year? It’s almost time to start!

Chapman, E. (2003). “Alternative approaches to assessing student engagement rates.”Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 8(13).

Skinner, E.A., & Belmont, M.J. (1993). “Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across the school year.” Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(4). p. 572.