Saturday, July 19, 2014

Try Something New!

Do you ever get stuck in the same routine?  Things seem to work (or maybe not), so you just stick with what you're familiar with, whether it be lesson ideas, organization techniques, or classroom management structures.

This will be a year of transition for me, as I have a new teaching partner and will now tackle 5th and 6th graders, instead of 4th and 5th graders.  I'm blessed in that I get to keep my same group of students; however, with the changes coming my way, I've realized this is the perfect year to try new things out and see how my students respond!  This is particularly important because this will be my third year with half of my students!  (I'm sure they will invite change, as well!)

So, with the encouragement of a colleague of mine, I've started researching new ideas around classroom management and community building!  Boy, oh boy, have I been enjoying it!  It's made me realize the importance of continually evolving and looking for new ideas that you haven't tried before!  I'm really thinking that this may not only help my students, but it may help keep teaching new and exciting for me!  It seems districts are always changing the way we are to deliver the curriculum (strategy/program of the year), but that change isn't nearly as exciting as the changes we can CHOOSE to make in our classrooms!  Changes we embrace and are excited to implement!

So, here is my reminder to all the hardworking educators out there...try something new!  All you have to do is go to Pinterest, type in what you're looking for, and it's as though the doors to thousands of classrooms open up right in front of you, allowing you to view the many ideas of our colleagues around the world!  

It's official...I'm now hooked on not only Pinterest (I know, I took me long enough), but I'm hooked on making changes and keeping things fresh!  I'm looking very forward to working with my new partner and implementing fresh ideas in my classroom!!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Light and Sound Experiments!

As part of our science curriculum, the students have to learn all about concepts of light and sound!  We decided to teach these concepts through introductory videos and books and then through hands-on experiments.  

The students had such a great time.  We had the following stations, which they rotated through:
  • Bouncing Sounds
  • Bending Pencil
  • Duck Call
  • Screaming Cup
  • Kaleidoscope
Bouncing Sounds required the students to make a megaphone/hearing aid and experiment with the types of surfaces that reflect or absorb sounds.

In Bending Pencil, the students observed a pencil in a cup of water and reflected on what they saw and why they felt the pencil looked bent.  They then watched a Study Jams video on light refraction, and reflected on the scientific reason the pencil looked bent.

Duck Call was hilarious!  Using a straw, the students made their own duck call.  They cut the straw to different lengths, observing the change in pitch of the sounds their duck call was making.  Again, they reflected on the reasoning behind how the duck call makes noises and how the pitch was affected.

Boy!  Screaming Cup was so much fun for the students!  They used the good ole experiment of attaching a string to the inside of a cup, getting the string wet, and then observing the sound made when they ran their fingers down the string.  Again, more reflection on what happened and why!

The students also loved Kaleidoscope, as they got to experiment with reflections in mirrors and then make their own kaleidoscope.  (No, not with actual mirrors!)  

All of these experiments required the students to do their own reflecting on what happened and why, as well as to learn and reflect on the actual reasoning behind the experiment results.  

The kaleidoscope station had a teacher at the station to talk to the students about the reflection of light; however, the other stations had a Why It Works paragraph explaining the reasoning behind the results, with the exception of the video in the Bending Pencil station.  

It was important to us to ensure the students had access to the true reasoning behind the results!  

I thought I'd share these fun experiments we used, as they were a big hit with our kiddos!  Of course, it was hysterical when anyone walked into our room during the experiments, as all the sound stations made it quite loud and entertaining!  Oh, the fun of science!  :-) 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Students Teaching Students!

Keeping up with our classroom this year has been more time consuming than ever before!  Wow!  I've been lacking on posts, but only because the classroom has taken over all my time!  The kiddos are worth it, though!  :-)

When you hear "Students teaching students," you might think I'm referring to students tutoring each other.  NO!  That's not it at all!  I'm referring to students teaching other students the information they've learned about a topic. 
So, part of our life science focus this year has been on animals.  We opted to attack these concepts through research, which the kids really enjoy.

We started with I Wonder questions.  The kids brainstormed questions they wondered about could be anything, as long as it was realistic and a question that could be answered through research.  We recorded all these questions on chart paper and posted them in the room.

My teaching partner and I then did backwards mapping.  In other words, we looked at their questions and at the Ohio Science Indicators to ensure the information we needed to teach them were embedded within their questions.  As is typical, they all were!

The students then got an index card and wrote the top five questions they would like to research.  My teaching partner and I then took the results and grouped the students based on their preferences.  We made decisions based on: 
  • Giving the top question choices to those students who are the most difficult to engage in learning
  • Student personalities
  • Student strengths (i.e. writing, reading)
  • Which students received those questions that were the key focus points in the Ohio Science Indicators
Once the students were grouped, they had a certain amount of time to collect their research, organize it, and then create a poster displaying their information. (We usually give them options on how they demonstrate their information, but we opted to have them all do posters for our gallery walk.)

When all research was complete, we held gallery walks, where students rotated from station to station, with a group of students at each station, sharing what they learned from their research.   Each visitor at a station, wrote down three things they learned and gave them any positive feedback or construction criticism about their presentation/information.  

THE STUDENTS LOVED IT!!  They have asked us to please do more gallery walks.  Seeing how empowered and confident the students were, as they shared their information, was fantastic.  Even the most unengaged students were actively participating!  It was fantastic!

Since then, we have made plans to incorporate other gallery walks into student learning.  The best part is, the students truly did learn from each other; therefore, they were all active participants in the teaching and learning in our classroom community!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Students Tracking Their Progress

Well, the hustle and bustle of school is officially here!  What a busy year this year has started out to be!  We have a class of 49 fourth and fifth graders, with ability levels on complete opposite ends of every spectrum there could possibly be...math, reading, writing, behavior!  Of course, that's what keeps things interesting.  :-)

A student's fluency data
With all of these ability levels comes a grave responsibility of meeting the learning needs of a wide range of students.  Is it a tough job?  Of course.  Is it an impossible job?  Of course not.  With it being such a challenge, it helps if the students take more responsibility for their learning and if the students are more motivated to succeed. 

One structure that helps with students taking more responsibility and being more motivated about their personal growth is to have the students track their individual progress.

Students can track a variety of learning measures...
  • Pre- and post assessments in math or reading
  • Sight word growth
  • Reading level growth
  • Math facts
  • Homework scores 
  • Homework consistency (turning it in on time)
  • Behaviors that focus on frequency negative behaviors (behaviors you want students to stop demonstrating)
  • Behaviors that focus on frequency of positive behaviors (behaviors you want students to start demonstrating)
  • Standardized testing results (and goals)
  • Spelling words
  • Fluency (words per minute and/or a fluency rubric score focusing on expressive reading)
Basically, you can track any type of learning that is easily measurable, whether through a number, percent, score, or rubric!

Student tracking data for Counting Jar

It works nicely if each student has a 1" data binder, where they can keep their tracking information.  Typically, it works to have all students tracking specific measures, such as reading levels.  However, some students will need to track growth that is more reflective of their individual needs.

Students' tracking of comprehension on reading cards

For example, only our struggling readers track their sight word growth.  Other  readers whose difficulty lies in the area of comprehension, may be tracking their scores on short reading passages.  

The students had a chart, which indicated what the Proficient level was for each Benchmark Assessment.

When having students track their progress, it is beneficial for them to know where their individual performance level lies in terms of their expected performance level.  For example, if the students are creating line graphs to track their reading level data, there should be some indicator on the graph of where the "Proficient" range is so students understand if they are below, on, or above average.   Those expected performance levels can often motivate students to move to higher levels!  

One of my favorite parts about the data binders is that the data is only for the individual students to see.  

Often times, students' data is publicly displayed, which can be mortifying for those students who are not meeting grade level expectations.  I've seen data bulletin boards where nameless objects represent where the students in the class are performing.  For example, on one bulletin board, there was a hill with hikers on it.  The hikers represented the individual students' fluency rates.  There were no student names written on the hikers.   While the students' names may not be displayed on the bulletin board, the students know where they lie on this public display.  They know if they are the hiker at the bottom of the hill.  There are some students (particularly those with learning disabilities) who will likely always be "at the bottom of the hill" when compared to grade-level expectations.  How will always seeing themselves at the bottom of the hill on the public display affect their confidence, thus affecting their learning?

The individual data binders can encourage student growth at the students' individual learning levels, while giving them goals to work towards (teacher/student-established goals and/or expected performance levels).    

Having students track their own progress can not only increase student motivation, but it can help students take more responsibility for their learning, which will result in increased achievement!  :-)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Writer's Workshop...What's Our Structure?

So, you and your kiddos have established the behavioral expectations of Writer's Workshop, you've made your anchor charts that describe what each step of the writing process looks like, and it's time to get in your regular Writer's Workshop routines!  What now?

There are different ways you can structure Writer's Workshop time.  I'll talk about the ways our writing time is structured in our 4th/5th grade classroom!

Writer's Workshop should start with a mini-lesson.   The focus of your mini-lessons will be whatever writing skills are included in your writing curriculum.  It may be about specific writing genres (i.e. how to write a persuasive piece), writing mechanics (i.e. using quotation marks correctly), content of the writing (i.e. using descriptive wording), or any area of writing where your students need support.

Now, our mini-lessons look one of two ways...either whole group or small group.

For a whole-group mini-lesson, we pull the students together, teach a specific skill, and model it through our own writing.  The students typically really enjoy observing as we write our own stories, especially when we personalize them!  

For a small-group mini-lesson, we may pull students who are struggling with the skills we taught whole-group, and use different strategies to reteach it.  This is a great opportunity to obviously differentiate the instruction.  Just as you may reteach during this time, it's also an opportunity to enrich students who are ready to extend their understanding of the skill.  

When we opt for our small-group mini-lessons, we pull the small groups as other students are working on their independent writing. 

After our mini-lessons, we like to do a Status of the Class.  For Status of the Class, we have a binder with a sheet for each child in it.  The sheet has the date, title of story, and what step of the writing process the student is on.  
This writing log can be used by the teacher for Status of the Class and/or by students to track their daily writing.

If we do a whole-group mini-lesson, we say the student's name, she gives us her story title and what step of the writing process she is on, and then she is dismissed to begin working on her writing.  This gives the students a chance to hear each others story ideas, which can help stimulate new ideas!

If we do a small-group mini-lesson, we do the same process as above; however, we just write down the status of the students in the group at that time.  This is a more intimate setting, where kids often ask questions of each other regarding their writing when they hear their story titles!

When the students are doing their independent writing, we pull individual students for conferences, or pull the small groups to do the mini-lessons.  

When students come for their independent conference, we look over their writing piece together, talk about strengths and weaknesses, and set individual goals together for the student to work towards.  This is not just the teacher telling the student the's a collaboration between both student and teacher.  This gives the student more ownership of her goal.  

When the students are doing their independent writing, they are all at various stages of the writing process.  Some students may be publishing on the computer (which they can't do until they have had a peer and teacher revision/editing conference), some may be involved in a peer conference, while others may be planning or writing.  The students are typically very independent at this time!  Because our students enjoy Writer's Workshop so much, they are almost always engaged and on task!

While much of Writer's Workshop time is spent on students' independent stories, we obviously also incorporate writing prompts into their writing time.  This helps us ensure they are working on and demonstrating an understanding of the different writing genres.  Sometimes the prompt is specific, while other times the students have a choice about the specifics they want to write about, but it has to be on the assigned genre.   The prompts are always accompanied by a rubric.  The scored rubric can then become part of the independent writing conferences as a means to discuss areas of weaknesses and strengths.

The students truly love writing time.  If we ever have to cut something out of our day due to things such as assemblies or snow days, the students have an uproar when it's Writer's Workshop that we cut!  Because they get to unleash their creativity and work towards their own published pieces, this is definitely one time of our day where engagement is spiked!  

There is something pretty cool to 10-year olds about being true authors!  :-)