Thursday, November 15, 2018

Give Thanks Everyday, It's a Renewable Resource

Beginning as early as Monday your social media feeds will be bogged down with everything “thankful, grateful, and blessed”. In our Pinterest society, those terms have become very cliche. You see them on wooden signs, vinyl quotes, t-shirts and so much more. I have a few questions about this: Do we only take out this decor during the month of November? Is being grateful something we should be thinking about daily or just during the week of Thanksgiving? Do these people posting about who they are thankful for on Thanksgiving actually rely the message to those people on a daily basis? Have we lost the true meaning to these words?

During a recent fourth grade Mystery Science lesson on electricity, a wonderful teaching opportunity was born that had nothing to do with electricity at all. Let me set the stage for you. I am all ready to teach a great science lesson on electricity. My students are going to talk about how important electricity is in our lives and then we are going to make flashlights! Every year this lesson is a favorite with my class. I start out like I do every year watching a few video clips, one of them in particular is about the Northeast Blackout of 2003. It discusses the problems that were created when there was no electricity in New York City. The questions posed after the video are: Imagine power is out for a day.

  • How would that affect your life? (For example: What things stop working? What things do you lose the ability to do?)
  • Now imagine power is out for a week (or even a year). What are some ways this might affect your life?

The answers I received this year surprised me. Typically the students understand right away how significant electricity is in their lives. We couldn’t use the microwave, watch tv, have heat/air conditioning, etc. However this year my responses were, “Not having electricity wouldn’t affect my life at all.” or, “I could still use my cell phone until the battery died, then I could use my portable charger.” I was baffled to say the least. It was hard for me to understand that they didn’t realize how lucky they are to actually have light switches in their homes. They had no idea how important electricity is in their lives. I knew this lesson was going to be much bigger than circuits, conductors, and batteries.

I started brainstorming things I could do with my class to help them find things they were thankful for each day. I told them about a study I recently read about being positive and thankful. In this study the researchers discovered that people who think happy and positive thoughts on a daily basis are actually healthier than those who choose to be negative. If you think about how thankful you are everyday, your life feel more fulfilled! If you’d like to read this study from Mind and Body, here is the link: How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain
We started out project by listening to Kid President tell us the 25 things he is most thankful for.

Every student thought of one thing/person in their life they are grateful for and we made a class “Gratitude Tree”.

From there each student wrote a letter to another adult in the building about how they were thankful for them. To remind ourselves every day how thankful we are for the things and people in our lives each student has a gratitude journal. Every morning when they come into the classroom they write one new thing they are grateful for and why. I was surprised how great the journals are starting off! To end this project we are going to think of a service project our class could lead or participate in. We have been participating in this project for a few weeks now and our class has noticed a big difference in their attitudes. They have commented on how they are constantly looking for things to be grateful for throughout the day so they can write it in their journal. It’s a great way to start our day and to bring positivity to our classroom.

Questions for Twitter Tuesday, November 20th :
1. How can we say thank you to others more often, in a meaningful way?
2. What experiences could we give our students to help them find things they are most grateful for?
3. If you were given the opportunity tomorrow to hand write a thank you note to someone in your building, who would you write it to? Why?
4. What gets in the way of showing others how thankful you are for them?
5. Do you think your students know how grateful you are to be in their lives? If not, how will you change that?

Authored by: Nikki Schaff, 4th grade teacher at Liberty Elementary

Friday, November 02, 2018

What are you thankful for?

All too often we hear so much negativity. But how often do we hear words of thanks and gratitude? The negativity in the world overpowers all the positive things that are going on. It can be hard to stay positive and look for the good when all you hear is the bad. Sometimes you have to search for the good when the bad is right in front of you.

But there is so much to be thankful for. As for me, I am thankful for my faith, family and friends. I am thankful for a good job that I enjoy going to every day. I am thankful for all the smiling faces that I pass in the hallways every day at Grimsrud.

This summer I watched a Ted talk about a young woman named Hailey Bartholomew who was married and had a couple little kids. She described herself as being depressed and was struggling to enjoy her life. She went to visit a nun who challenged her to do a 10 day project to find things for which she was grateful. She started seeing things that she would not have seen without refocusing her mindset.

This video got me thinking, if we don’t look for the good in the world, it’s going to slip right past us. This video pushed my thinking and provided the idea that sparked my action research project focused around random acts of kindness, gratitude and empathy in kindergarten. To begin my research I decided to interview students and hear what their perspective was right before the thankful season of the year.

I interviewed at least 2 students from every classroom at Grimsrud and I asked them all the same question “what are you thankful for at school?” All of their answers were incredibly inspiring. Many students were thankful for their teachers. And, I have got to say that I agree with them. I am fortunate to have the most amazing co-workers. One student said she was thankful for the janitors who help clean our school. Right? I am so thankful for our amazing custodians at Grimsrud who keep our school clean. Another student said he was thankful for the classroom. He is thankful for the physical classroom space to work in. I mean come on, it’s as simple as that. He is thankful for a cozy classroom to feel comfortable learning in. One of our staff members said she was thankful for the food bags that get sent home every week for students who need it. Our public school system in Bismarck is looking out for our students most basic needs even on the weekends. That is something to be thankful for.

This November, I challenge you to think about what you are thankful for, whether it be a short line at the Starbucks drive through or a helping hand from a colleague. Some days it might be right in front of you while other days you might have to search for it. But it’s worth the search and the good is there. So… what are you thankful for? Feel free to leave your “thankful thoughts” in the comments below this blog or join me to chat more next Tuesday the 6th at 8:30 for Twitter Tuesday on #learnbps.

Twitter Tuesday questions:
1. What are you thankful for at school?
2. Do you see your students being thankful for things at school?
3. What are your students thankful for?
4. How can we teach this concept of being thankful to our students?
5. How will searching for the good, change our school environment?

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