Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Am I an “H” Mrs. Baker? Am I an “H”?

           Several weeks ago, sitting across from me was one of my sweet 3rd graders.  His smile is contagious and he has a quiet demeanor.  As he swings his legs back and forth, he asks, “Am I an H, Mrs. Baker?  Am I an H?  I was an H last year in 2nd grade.  I think I’m still an H?”   I look at his face and quietly reply, “We are just going to read today.”  Sure enough as I place the “I” booklet in front of him, he immediately turns the book around and says, “I can’t read this.  It’s an “I”, Mrs. Baker.  This is too hard for me.”  As I turn his attention back to the book and have him start reading, I can already tell that indeed this book is a bit challenging.  He works his way through it.  Frustration, I think to myself, as he starts and stops, stammers and omits words.  So I pull the “H” out of the box.  And yes, again he flips it around.  Its’ an H.  He smiles and says, “I can read this.  It’s an H.”

As an elementary teacher the first 30 days of school are important for establishing routines and procedures, including developing and building reading and writing stamina.  Our goal is 20 minutes.  After stamina is established, it is our task as teachers to find each student’s individual reading level. We use the Fountas and Pinnell reading box full of booklets from A to Z.   Those reading levels are then used to group like-readers for guided reading. 

            This small group instruction or guided reading is a big deal.  It’s apparently where the magic happens. It’s when and where I can focus on specific skills or strategies for students with similar levels.  It’s October.  I have established groups.  Groups are flexible and do change.  How often do I see the different leveled groups?   That depends upon the levels of the students.   Groups above grade level a few times a week, groups significantly below grade level, I see daily.   

And now sitting across from me is my “G..H..I” level reading group, also known as the yellow group because their folders are yellow.  Each tub holds different colored folders representing the different levels.  I’m sure they wish they had the green tub.  It must hold the magic of the “R…S…T” or above grade level reading group.  3rd graders work through the “L-M-N-O-P” levels, the middle of the alphabet song.  But are we letters?  If I am reading at a level “H” am I only to read “H” books? If I’m a “T” can I still enjoy an “H” book or am I strictly to read “T” books?  Shouldn’t reading be about the enjoyment and discovery? Or is it the level?

Many of my peers say that students should know their reading levels.  They should know the goal.  They need to know their target.  But is it is realistic that an H will meet the target P by end of 3rd grade?   In previous years, I have told my students what level they were reading.  I’m not sure why or what the point was.  Anytime they came to the reading table, all they had to do was flip over the book and see the level.  Students catch on quickly.  They’ve been in this reading group game now since Kindergarten.  They know who is Yellow or Green without a letter telling them. 

I recently watched a webinar (September 2018) led by the reading gurus, Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell.  Ms. Pinnell stated that what a reader should be measuring for himself is:  did I choose a good book for myself, did I think deeply about it, did I maybe write something thoughtful about it, and am I eager to tell others about it? That's what the reader's thinking about, not whether a book is an “H” or a “T”.   I couldn’t agree more, so I have taken a stand this year to not share their instructional reading levels.  

Guided reading groups are an essential part of reading instruction and I will continue to group students with like reading levels. It’s a way for me to support my readers using books or poems or articles challenging and expanding their reading skills.  Maybe I just need to have reading group tubs filled with multi-colored folders. 

Questions for Twitter Tuesday?

1.  Thinking back, what was elementary reading class or small group reading like for you?
2.  What are the benefits of telling students their reading levels?
3.  What are the disadvantages of telling students the reading levels?
4.  How do you share your love of reading with others?
5.  Past or present, what has been your favorite book?

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Mindset and Student Engagement

Student Engagement.

So many places you can go and so many different directions you can take with just those two words, but how do you know where to start?  One challenge for us at the end of the last school year was to look at ways to increase student engagement… okay.  Again, where do you start?  Is that not what we all try to do anyway?  If we are truly looking at “student” engagement, doesn’t that mean the student has to buy in and do the engaging?  Do we really need to look at student engagement or the engagement strategies we use as teachers? 

I do not think it is the teaching strategies, though I know there are ways I can improve this in my classroom and I am constantly working on this, revamping and revising.  I really think it comes down to if the students are ready to receive the information and engage.  If they are not in the right mindset or not ready, rarely is your strategy going to be successful no matter what it is you are doing.  Sometimes things happen outside of our classrooms that our students cannot control and we cannot control.  These outside factors affect our students’ readiness to engage and in turn their ability to learn.

This summer I watched a few videos and read some articles related to gratitude and the power of having a more grateful mindset.    One of the videos I watched was a Ted Talk by Dr. Kerry Howells, “How Thanking Awakens Our Thinking.”

This video got me thinking, what if we let students vent a little before we started teaching?  What if they had a chance to get rid of whatever may be preventing them from engaging in learning that day?  Could we help them be more grateful for the positives in their life?  Would any of this have an effect on their level of engagement in the classroom? 

This is part of the basis for my action research this school year.  Students will journal and let out what is stopping them from engaging in school and then write down something for which they are grateful.  I will then look at if student engagement improves after they journal. 

I anticipate there will be some growing pains as students begin this process, but my hope is that as we continue with this the students will become more comfortable over time and honestly reflect on their mindset.  From there the goal is that they will have a more positive outlook, which will improve their level of engagement in school, and produce a more positive and productive classroom.

Twitter Chat Questions Tuesday, October 9th:

Q1: What factors prevent your students from engaging during class?
Q2: Name a strategy that you have found useful in helping increase student engagement.
Q3: How can we encourage a positive mindset in our students?
Q4: How can we help our students “thank” before they start thinking?
Q5: What are you thankful for today?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Classroom Mojo

Finally! The school year has progressed long enough that rapport has been established and students are comfortable enough within the classroom to participate in self-sustaining discussions, bravely stroll out of their shells a time or two, and speak frankly with teachers. Every year I wonder if I can manage to create the same climate and culture that the previous classes and I enjoyed. And every year, I am amazed that new dynamics are forged and new classroom atmospheres are created in ways I hadn’t expected. Classroom mojo is such an invigorating energy!

We are also approaching the time that reality truly begins to set in that the “real work” lies ahead. Novelty has worn off, content reviews finish, and schoolwork can easily begin to pile up for teachers AND students. Student issues begin to surface. Students procrastinate. Grumbling is turned up a notch or two. Impatience germinates.  Jimmy Casas states in his latest book, “Culturize,” that no matter what, no matter who, no matter when, we must be champions for all students. He includes this quote:

The moment you are ready to quit is usually the moment right
                                                before a miracle happens. Don’t give up.


Let’s never forget to champion for our students. Let’s believe that there is more inside each one than he or she may even realize. Let’s be that one person who has a smile just before the miracle happens for them. May each of our classroom environments inspire troubled students that there will ALWAYS be a caring teacher who is honest, empathetic, fair, and dependable. After all, we know that it takes just one person to help channel a child’s resilience, turning a struggle into a victory.

1. What is your favorite part of a beginning school year?
2. How do you know the reality of the school year has hit?
3. How can new school year excitement be reengaged later on?
4. When you were a student, how did you feel when an adult championed or advocated for your best interests?
5. Taken from “Culturize,” when was the last time you advocated for a student? What was the result?

Authored by Emily Jacobsen ~ September 20th, 2018

Thursday, September 06, 2018

A Note in Passing

My morning began with one of my Homebase students handing me a note. It had “please read” written on it. In the letter, she detailed her battle with anxiety and depression and asked that I inform the team teachers. I was astounded by the courage it must have taken to write and deliver that note so early in the school year. Previous experiences made me believe that students struggling with similar issues would do their best to blend into the crowd and try not to be noticed; that they would rather enter their shell and shut down than open up and share out. But not this student. This student chose courage over comfort. She embraced her vulnerability. She told her story and invited me in to help guide her journey.

This summer I was introduced to a Ted Talk by Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor and expert on vulnerability. In the talk, Dr. Brown discusses grappling with her own vulnerability and living wholeheartedly. I spent the rest of my summer and the beginning of the school year thinking about my own vulnerability and noticing when others allowed themselves to be “seen.”

Brené Brown | The Power of Vulnerability | TED Talk

As school started, I realized that we ask students to be vulnerable every day when we have them...
  • Sit by someone new
  • Attempt a task
  • Read aloud
  • Collaborate with peers
  • Apply their knowledge
  • Share an answer in front of the class

In her book Rising Strong Brené Brown shares, “vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” There is comfort in fading into the crowd, in not being noticed. What made this student choose courage? I believe that key to her courageous act was the mentoring and modeling of vulnerability by a caring adult.

We model what we expect of our students.

When I ask them to read I model reading.
When I ask them to write I model writing.
When we ask them to follow expectations we model the expectations.
When we ask them to be kind and caring we model kind and caring.

Do we model vulnerability when we ask them to be vulnerable?

Twitter Tuesday Questions
  1. What gets in the way of students being vulnerable?
  2. What gets in the way of teachers being vulnerable?
  3. How can we model vulnerability for our students?
  4. What steps have you taken to create a learning environment in which students can be vulnerable?
  5. What is one way that you plan to embrace your vulnerability moving forward?

Friday, May 04, 2018

Adding To Your Tech Toolbox

One of my favorite parts of my job is working with technology.  Technology is always changing, so I love the challenge of learning new technology tools and adapting when there are changes.  This continuous change can also be overwhelming, especially with all the other continuous change in education(and within our district!)  It can be difficult to know where to start, what to use, and how to use it. I want to share some of my favorite tools and how I use them with students.   Whether your tech toolbox is full or empty, hopefully you find a tool in this list that you can add to your toolbox, or if it is already in your toolbox, use it in a different way?  
  • Google Slides - It is common knowledge that Google Slides can be used for presentations, but it can be used for so much more!  I love using Google Slides for students to write stories - students see the slides like pages in a book and it is easy for them to organize and design a story with pictures and text.  I also like to use Google Slides to create interactive activities, similar to a workbook but way cooler! I create a set of slides with activities where students have to create or type something on the slide.  I got this idea from Eric Curtis and his blog Control Alt Achieve with an activity called Build A Snowman.  Eric Curtis has all kinds of fun and innovative ways to use Google tools, so it’s worth the time to look through his blog.
  • Google Forms- I like to create Google Forms to create assessments, mostly formative, that I use for many of my lessons.  They are easy to create and I can add in pictures and videos that cover some of the direct instruction I would normally do whole group with students.  By adding these visuals in a Google Form, students can view at their own pace and go back and look/watch again if they are unable to answer the questions.  This helps free up class time for the good stuff, like class discussion and putting our learning into action!
  • Google Classroom - This tool is a must-have if you are using any Google Docs tool with your students.  I used to cringe at the chaos of having students create something in Google Docs and then share it with me.  Both my students and I struggled with managing completion of work. Google Classroom has saved my sanity! It is so easy to share templates of assignments with students(it even makes a copy for each student) and all work is stored neatly in a file in Google Drive for each easy access.

Although I have many tools in my tech toolbox, these are some of the ones I use most often.  
As with any tool, with some use I worked out the bugs and learned how to use it to fit my
students and my teaching.  Our district continues to increase technology access in our classroom
so I encourage you to continue to keep building your tech toolbox and leverage these tools.
 It can be overwhelming to know where to start, but your building’s library media specialist would
love to help! Library media specialists are a wealth of information on responsible use of
technology and often know the best way to break in a tech tool with your class.  Plus, we love it when we get to work with teachers!

Twitter Tuesday Questions:
Q1:  What is your favorite tech tool and why?
Q2:  What is a barrier to using tech and how do you overcome?
Q3:  What is one way you stay current on tech?
Q4:  What is something cool that your students have accomplished using tech?