Thursday, May 27

I caught one of my students teaching today!

Today I had my students doing seatwork.  While my students do at times work independently, I prefer when they work together.  I want to develop their communication skills, problem solving skills and their ability to be leaders!  It is something that I emphasize constantly.

Some of my students are powerful people and they are often the ones who take the leadership positions.  They are the first ones finished and the first to help others.  I watch this carefully and will distract or provide other learning opportunities so that they don’t dominate the others.  It is a balancing act that keeps everyone safe.

Throughout the year we discussed the various ways to help a classmate.  I've shown them the teaching strategies that I've learned.  I modeled for them proper questioning techniques to help someone discover an answer rather than simply telling someone.  We learned the difference between “thick “ and “thin” questions. 

Today I discovered one of my typically struggling students working with another student.  He was explaining how to try different strategies to figure out an unfamiliar word.  He did not tell the other student the answer, but appropriately asked her questions and encouraged her.  What made this even more impressive was that this student is usually the student that needs reminders to slow down – in every area, especially talking!  I was overjoyed by the way he spoke slowly and purposefully. 
I watched unobtrusively, and while I don’t like to interrupt the flow of learning in the classroom, I made a special announcement recognizing the excellent teacher in the room.  His smile filled the room with light.

Wednesday, May 19

What to do about fidgeting?

I live in the real world.  Although I think of my classroom as a magical place where children are valued and made to feel their voices matter, I need to make sure I prepare them for the world outside my four walls.  This is not to say that I am usurping the role of parents, but there are certain areas that parents occasionally over-look. 

Most parents do not address fidgeting.  I do… usually on a daily basis.

As many of you have seen from reading my blog, I don’t care about labels.  I look at each child individually.  I also recognize that sometimes, everyone needs to fidget.

So what do I do?   Here are some of my tricks.  (The goal is self-awareness.)

The Tapper:  This is the sound of the pencil hitting the desk in rapid staccato - incessantly.  Most times, the student doesn't know he or she is tapping.  I show them how to roll it instead. If that proves to be too noisy, I show them how to roll it in their hands.

The Knee/Leg Bouncer - I show the student what it looks like and show them how to transfer the energy to their toes and wiggle them.  It takes some practice and sometimes it manifests as a foot tap. Sometimes I suggest holding their hands together and squeezing.  I tell them about the transference of energy.

The DropperThis is the student who cannot keep anything on his desk.  Easy fix.  Put everything on a chair next to him.  We use a minimalist approach.

The Jumping Jack - This is the student who seems to always need to get something or go somewhere.  (See my last blog: Do Not Sit Still in My Classroom) Sometimes empowering a student with choices removes the desire to wander aimlessly. 

The Total Body Fidget - Greatest invention ever – stress balls.  This is for students whose bodies seem to move whether they want it to or not.  I only use this as an extreme measure.  It must be used carefully because the desire to have one can act as a catalyst for others to start fidgeting. 

I’d like to think that my teaching is so entertaining and riveting that my students would sit spellbound and motionless.  However, as a life-long “fidgeter” with more energy than most teachers knew what to do with when I was a student, I empathize with anyone who is forced to sit without motion. 

Everyone needs to fidget sometimes.  The goal is to find a way to do it without intruding on the  concentration/focus of others.

Tuesday, May 18

Do Not Sit Stil in My Classroom

I keep my classroom door closed.  I have a big secret. 

Shhhh…. Don’t tell!  I do not allow students to sit still. 

It doesn’t matter who you are or what label has been tagged to your file, no one is allowed to stay seated too long. 

Read on, but remember, we don’t tell anyone the rule.

From the first day of school, the kids learn the “don’t sit still rule.”   One of the weekly jobs in my classroom is the teacher’s helper.  Along with other responsibilities like answering the phone, which I hate, one of the tasks is to use sticky notes and write down times for me.  For example, “Joe, tell me when 30 or 45 or whatever number of minutes has passed.”  I get so busy with what I’m teaching or with working with someone one–on–one that I lose track of the time.  (We get an extra bonus – we master the skill of elapsed time!)

When the teacher’s helper says time is up, we move.  We stretch, we do a quick round of “buzz,” we re-organize, we go for a walk, we take a break.  I also make sure the kids drink lots of water.  

Now, it is very important to stress here that this only works if you put the time in during the first few weeks of school.  We spent a great deal of time learning how to transition.  They know my cues and they also know that the way we do things is very special!  The students feel that they are so lucky and they do NOT want to lose their break times. 

Another way we build the “do not sit still” rule into our day is by creating an “in-basket.”  In the old days, I had forms that were called “contracts.” Over time, I learned that no one needed the extra paper work.  The kids were more than capable of following a posted list, setting themselves up to work, and getting busy. 

My students love that they have the freedom of choice.  After I teach a lesson and independent work time begins. They know where everything is located: papers, workbooks, book boxes, their readers’ notebooks, etc.  Some kids like to pile everything up before they begin.  They use the floor, some use an extra chair, some use a shelf, etc.  It isn’t always neat and pretty, but it works for us.

On the other hand, some kids like to keep getting up and turning things in, returning materials, etc.  It may seem as if it is chaotic, but most days it is done silently.  Those that are working together, for example on a book share, find a private and quiet place away from others.   I have my list of kids I must see and usually get to everyone.  Classroom management is never an issue. 

My students are responsible for the work they do and the way in which they approach it.  Some like to do the hardest thing first and others like to do the easiest.  There is an abundance of trust in my room.  Students know that hard work is valued and I trust them to do their job.  More importantly, I want them to be aware of the way in which they work.  When I meet with them I discuss the way in which they approach their work, how they make decisions and work ethic.  

We stress process, metacognition, personal responsibility and most of all, learning.  My room is a busy, busy place! 

And, we do not sit still.

Friday, May 14

Looping: A Gift for Teachers and Students

Looping “is an educational practice in which a single graded class of children stays with a teacher for two or more years or grade levels. The children and the teacher remain together as the class is promoted.” (To read more about Looping, read this article from Brown University.)

I am a strong supporter of looping.

When this school year started, I knew I had my work cut out for me.  Unfortunately, during the previous year, the second grade teacher was overwhelmed and had numerous personal problems.  Moreover, the students were considered unmanageable and difficult.  The saddest part was these students who were the most needy, received the least.  They were not ready for third grade. 

I was ready for the challenge.  The three years with my previous class had ended and while I was sad to say goodbye, I looked forward to a new group.  I planned to move slowly, establish routines, and most importantly, generate enthusiasm for learning.  Admittedly, there were days where I went home teary-eyed, frustrated and even more than a little annoyed at the previous teacher for what these kids had lost.  (By the way, she was let go and no longer teaches.)

With each passing day (well, sometimes a day felt like a week) progress happened.  I worked on solidifying gaps in their foundations, remediating weaknesses and showering them with enthusiasm and laughter.  My third graders who couldn’t write a sentence in September, learned to write multi-paragraph compare and contrast essays.  The art, music, gym, computer teachers couldn’t get over the change in their conduct from last year.  Success was contagious.

Here is the best news of all.  They’re mine next year.   Granted this wasn’t a big surprise – not with my persuasive skills!  Once, I knew they were mine next year for fourth grade, I reduced the internal pressure I placed upon myself and maybe inadvertently, on them. Now, as this year winds down, I’ve been reflecting on what worked and what didn’t.  I know what I need to do differently or change based on their needs.

I can’t wait for September.  When we return, I know it will seem as if only a weekend has passed.  The students and I will resume the routines, expected behaviors, and we will easily slip into the new challenges for the school year.  I know them and they know me.  Furthermore, the parents know me.  All of us will have the benefit of established trust and can savor the saved time.  Looping is a gift.

Monday, May 10

I was a good teacher today!

I was a good teacher today.  Typically, this time of year can be stressful.  We only have 17 teaching days left.  Also, the never-ending program practices for the Spring Concert started.  (This annual event seems to take over every part of our school day – a topic for another blog.)  The students are losing motivation and momentum.  Everyone is a little cranky.

So, today I pretended it was January.  I like January.  The only holiday is Martin Luther King Day and there are no interruptions, except for an occasional snow day.  The learning momentum, along with my enthusiasm, is usually high.  I made a conscious effort to approach today as if there were snow on the ground and bare branches brushing against the windows of my classroom, rather than the spring breeze and beautiful azaleas.  Admittedly, I was in full imagination mode, but I was determined to make learning happen.

I started with a possessive pronoun lesson – risky, I know, but I love grammar.  Next, I moved onto our group work with a novel we are reading.  Good call on my part – they love when I read to them.  I even threw in the occasional southern accent for comic relief.  Then we moved onto I.D.R (Individualized Daily Reading) time where I went into full super teacher mode while I worked with kids one on one.  I ended the day with comparing and ordering fractions.  They loved using the manipulatives I provided as well as my “no sitting still” rule.  Everyone had to stand or lean or move during the lesson.  They actually grasped the concept of equivalency.  Everyone left happy, less cranky and with a pretty good learning momentum in place.

Today was successful.  I did my job and I laughed a lot.  It’s all in the approach, with a little imagination thrown in for good measure. 

So, I was a good teacher today!

Friday, May 7

Blogging is making me a Better Teacher!

Most days the fire alarm would have to ring before I would lose my focus in the classroom.  Typically, I am so engaged with what I’m doing that any adult entering the room startles me.  My students think it is hysterical the way I jump (and sometimes scream).  I’m so in the “moment” that the rest of the world fades away.

Lately, since I’ve started blogging, there has been a subtle change.  While I am working with my students I find myself listening for blog topics.  What I mean (add defensive tone here) is that I’ve added a layer to my interactions.  When I first realized I was doing this, I thought I should “check myself.”  I was afraid I was no longer totally engrossed in every second of my teaching day.  After closer examination, I realized this change was a good thing.

Blogging is making me a better teacher.  I seemed to have strengthened my radar. I’m listening for the slightest utterance that may lead to deeper and richer conversation, which along with good teaching might provide me with a blog topic.  While my teaching is usually laden with questions, I find myself listening even more closely to answers that may produce a blog topic.  Am I short-changing anyone? Does the end justify the means? 

Putting my Machiavellian tendencies aside, I see this as a win-win for both my students and my blogging.  My teaching has risen a notch and I am even more thoughtful, analytical, and attentive.  Furthermore, I find that while I’m writing a blog, I am more reflective about my students and their progress.  If a blog is the result from an authentic instructional moment in my classroom, than blogging is
definitely benefiting my teaching.

Tuesday, May 4

The Perfect Gift on Teacher Appreciation Day

"There's no word in the language I revere more than 'teacher.' My heart sings when a kid refers to me as his teacher, and it always has. I've honored myself and the entire family of man by becoming a teacher." --Pat Conroy, Prince of Tides

Today I received a plant from the administration in recognition of Teacher Appreciation Day/Week.  While others may have received more luxurious/expensive gifts and symbols of appreciation, my little wilted plant sits on my desk.  My real gift is tucked away in my heart.  After the little plant dies, I will still have the gift that Izzy gave me today.  

Izzy is new to our school and is repeating third grade.  Her road has been rocky and we fell in love with each other from the minute I put her hand in mine to show her the way to our classroom.  The progress she has made is extraordinary.  She was barely on a second grade level and is now close to a fourth grade level.  

While Izzy and I were working together today, she said, "I love, love this book. I'm so glad I like reading now."

I received the best, most beautiful and perfect gift on Teacher Appreciation Day.  Izzy likes to read.