Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Putting it in their words

Kelley Tenkely tweeted this out today, and it totally fit what I was thinking about blogging!

I also wonder why the things we expect our students to know aren't always written in words they can understand.  Students should understand what they are expected to learn, just like I am supposed to understand what I am evaluated on as a teacher. 

Yesterday, we started discussion on our first Essential Learning in reading.  This is the wording that is given on the progress report:

Use text structures to determine main idea when reading text consisting of multiple organizational patterns.
There are some big words in there that some fifth graders might struggle with, so we talked it out.  We read through it, picked out words they knew - like text and main idea - and then took words they weren't sure about - like text structure, determine, conisisting - talked about what we thought they might mean, reworded them, and rewrote the Essential Learning in our own words.

Here's what we came up with:

It's not a huge change, but it is written in words that all of my students can read and comprehend.

What are your thoughts?  Should our progress report statements and the Common Core be written in student speak?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Workin on the Chain Gang

Building community continues to be important in our classroom.  A few years back, I came across the chain gang activity.  I really like it because it leads to conversations about how we are one as a class but all have our unique strengths.  Try it with your class and hang the chain proudly so students can see how their individuality is important to our classroom.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Building Community

I love how quickly community can be built in a classroom if one makes the effort.  I'm at a new school this year and the teachers I work with in my grade level have made it a tradition that students bring a grocery bag with a few items about themselves to share.  It's really a simple thing, but it has turned out to be a wonderful community builder.  We just finished our second day of school, but it is amazing to me how quickly community has been built.  Sure, by the 27th bag that had been shared, kids were getting a little weary, but I spread it out over the two days not listening to more than 4 students share in a row.  The 27th sharer did get a huge round of applause when she was finished sharing!

I already know that I have a student who collects elephants, a few aspiring gymnasts, some avid readers, some painters, some crafters, a couple aspiring bakers, some sports enthusiasts, one who has 500 silly bands, and that family is very important to many of my students.

I also shared a bag about me.  If you've seen very many of my photos of the day, you will know that I'm a crafter/sewer/baker.  Today as I left, a couple students asked when I was going to wear one of the dresses I've made soon.  After the second day.

We're building community, and I can't wait to see where it goes!

How do you build community in your classroom?  How do you show your students that you want to know them as a whole person?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lesson from the garden

Tonight I was out weeding the garden. It's been raining cats and dogs here, so I haven't been able to get out there for a while. It was weedy! I was trying to yank handfuls of weeds out at a time and all I was getting was fistfuls of leaves, keeping the nasty roots to the weeds intact. It made me think about how this relates to life and my calling as an educator.

When I was trying to pull out tons of weeds at once, it was messy and unsuccessful. When I focused on one weed at a time, I was able to get the whole thing out, roots and all. There were/are maany weeds, but small steps make progress toward getting the job done.

In life and in my classroom, I have to focus on one thing at a time. Trying to tackle all many things at once can end up messing with many incomplete jobs. Focused, small steps get the job done well. This is huge for me to remember as I enter a new grade level and new school next year!

What lessons from nature have you experienced that relate to your life, school, or classroom?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Collaborative Writing with @jonathanferrell's Class

My students recently worked on collaboratively writing fractured fairytales with Jonathan Ferrell's class in Kansas.

We skyped initially as classes to read some fractured fairy tales from The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales.

Skyping the first time with Jonathan's class

One student reading to both classes from The Stinky Cheese Man

We set up a group on Edmodo where we posted information and shared the links to the TitanPads (We chose TitanPad because it was available to Jonathan's students.  Google Docs would have been a great place to collaborate, but his students don't have access to that this year.) the students would work on.

a screen shot from our Edmodo group

The students were so excited!  We split them up into groups of two or three across classes.  It was wonderful because we were also able to schedule it so that students could work on the document at the same time! I checked in on the TitanPads each day so that I could peek in on the group's productivity.

Here are a few screenshots of snippets of students conversations in the side chat box in TitanPad.  Notice that they use text speak in their chats, and that's ok!  Their stories did not include text speak.

One student hadn't heard about Paul Bunyon, so he went to learn about it!

pondering how to get started

making changes to wording and deciding how to share

The students collaborated for about 30 minutes each day for a week.  At the end of the project, we Skyped again, and many student groups read their stories aloud to the classes.  

a student reading his fairytale with his partner

Many of the students posted their completed stories on our blogs:
These links may not be relevant past June as I plan to take down my students' blogs in preparation for next year.

Afterward, I talked with my group about what they thought about the project.  A few of there thoughts were:
  • It was fun to be able to work on the document at the same time.
  • It was hard to come up with an idea that everyone agreed on.
  • Some people took over the group and wouldn't allow others' ideas.
    • I was aware of this and tried to intervene to make sure all authors were a part of the story.
  • It was nice to have someone else to give ideas when I was stuck.
  • It helped having other eyes to catch errors I made.
All-in-all we came to the conclusion that it had similar drawbacks and benefits that we encounter with face-to-face group work, but it was motivating to work with students outside our building.  It was a good end of the year activity because students were engaged when they were working on their tales together. It's definitely something I would do again with my students.  

How could you apply this to your classroom?  What collaborative projects have you tried?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Image used from Flickr

Students appreciate the opportunity to be able to choose.  Currently, my students are sharing their poetry projects.  They had to research a type of poetry of their choice, find examples, write their own, and present it to the class in a creative way.  I've been so excited to see what they have come up with.  I've had a variety of presentation types: glogs, a blog, prezis, poems on our blog, books, slide presentations, and just students coming up and talking. 

What sort of choices are you giving to your students?  How can you make your content more open-ended for them?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

humbled and uplifted

Today I attended the Iowa 1:1 Institute.  It was a wonderful day of learning and connections.  I was very humbled and uplifted at the same time today.  I had multiple people stop me to make the face to face connection from our conversations virtually on Twitter.

I was also reminded of that saying,  "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"  Sometimes I wonder if a tweet or blog post I write make an influence. 

image used from Flickr

I was told by a few Twitter friends today that they had started using KidBlog in their classroom because they heard about it from me.  One person thanked me for connecting with teachers at his school on Twitter. I have had a difficult last couple weeks personally and professionally.  It was uplifting today to hear that what I do and share has made an impact on classrooms other than my own.  Thank you to those of you who shared those tidbits today.  It's the little things that make a big difference!

What can you do to uplift someone this week?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

One time, at EdCamp...

Who wakes up at 6 am on a Saturday to go learn about new stuff in education?  This girl.

Last Saturday, Russ and I hit the road at 6:45 to head west to Omaha for EdCamp!  We arrived a little before 9:00.  Right away, I walked in and saw many unfamiliar, and a few familiar, faces.  It was actually really happy to see many unfamiliar faces, because that meant I was going to make some new connections.

Most current education conferences focus on technology because that's the "new" thing most people are trying to implement in their classrooms.  I purposefully (no offense to anyone) made it a goal to avoid sessions focused on technology.  My technology plate feels kind of full right now.  I view lots of links of new ideas on Twitter about what new website or app to try.  When I come to a conference, I come for the conversations that stretch me.

All three sessions I attended were in the same "genre" of discussion: 21st Century Classrooms, Creativity, and Authentic Learning.  I felt like the conversation built naturally on itself from one session to the next.  Some of my take-aways from the day were:

  • We need to revive the learning spaces we have.  They need to feel more natural, welcoming, home-like.
  • I'm not sure I'm a fan of grade-levels.  My son walked at 13 months.  Some kids walk at 9 months.  Some don't walk until 15 months.  Trying to cram all these kids in the same room and teach them the same thing just because they're of the same age isn't quite working.
  • To encourage people to do the arts, we need to make them a priority in our schools.  Right now, we basically label some subjects as useful and some as useless.
  • Life is based on diversity.  We don't want canned results, yet we treat all students as if they're on the college route.  
    • Many times, students leave school not knowing what they're good at.  
    • Talents aren't discovered because we get too focused on standards/benchmarks.
    • We need to give students time to explore things outside the "curriculum."
  • "Covering curriculum” is focusing on teaching, not on learning.
    • We're focusing on learning stuff instead of how to learn.
  • We need to be more of a "guide on the side" and not the "sage on the stage."
The big thing I'm struggling with after this is all the talk (which is what I came for). Where's the action? Where do I go from here?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

More of the little things...

I posted previously about the little things making a big difference in my classroom.

A few weeks ago, I learned about The Interlude Dance.  It's another small "YouTube sensation."  Students had just finished preparing their conference folders for student-led conference.  Some were a little bummed about their grades, and I was not totally excited about being at school until 8pm.  We just needed a little jam session to break free/let loose.  I put the video up on the screen, we learned the dance, turned the lights out, and jammed through the song a few times.  Everyone in the classroom, and I mean everyone (including me) just let go for a matter of 10 minutes.  It was freeing.

We all need these freeing moments.  We see the times on Gray's Anatomy where Christina and Meredith just dance their hearts out when life gets them down.  How many times do we just let loose, turn the car stereo up, and sing at the top of our lungs to let it all out?  We need to give students these freeing/let lose moments sometimes in school.

After the jam session, it took a little bit to wind down, but there was just a little different ambience in the classroom.  The stress of conferences, report cards, and other stresses seemed to float away for a bit.

What sort of brain breaks/freeing opportunities to you provide for your students?  What benefits do you see?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Be careful little mouths what you say...

There's a song I sang growing up.  It is called "Be Careful Little Eyes What You See," and it goes through verses about ears, mouth, feet, hands. 

I had a conversation today with a colleague that brought this song to mind. She is struggling with some students talking back to her.  We ended up going back to how she has talked to the kids and how that might affect how they talk back to her.  We're working with sixth graders here, so respect is earned and lost from them quickly.

A few years ago, I was accused by some students for calling them stupid.  I never directly called any of them stupid.  I did, however, state to the class, "If you don't know your math facts this year, you will struggle." 

It was twisted in their mind that I said, " Sally, you are stupid if you don't know your math facts."  Now this incident was clearly  blown out of proportion, and what I said was a true statement.  If you get to 6th grade and are still relying on your multiplication chart, things like simplifying fractions, finding common denominators, and long division will be a struggle.  But...

It just brings back to mind that when working with adolescents, we need to be careful what we say.  We need to be careful about the tone we use.  Their young, developing minds sometimes don't hear 100% of the things we say.  Sometimes they hear things incorrectly.  If we utter the word, "crap," sirens go off in their heads.  They are prone to hearing generalizations and feeling like they are stated directly at them.  

I've stated before that teaching is personal.  Sometimes we teachers can take things a little too personally and go off.  We must be careful about this.  We are professionals.  We must speak and act like professionals.

Do you have an experience where you needed to be more careful with your words in the classroom?  What are some tips you would have for teachers who let their emotions get the best of them?