Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Chopped & Blended




If you are familiar with the Food Network show, Chopped, you know that the premise of the show is to give the contestants a basket of random foods/ingredients and they are charged with the task of creating something tasteful and visually appealing within a certain time frame. The chefs work hard using their prior experience, professional judgement, and resources to plan, implement, create, adjust and deliver/present. They are then given feedback and a chance to reflect - in which they may even plan to alter their recipe for next time. 

Isn't that a lot like teaching? We are often handed a mixed bag of items (curriculum, resources, a class list with students of various needs and personalities, tools/materials, a dash of technology, and a full schedule) and are given a chance to create the very best recipe for a successful school year. 

Fortunately, unlike the show, we are not as restricted on time. Although educators have a lot of deadlines and due dates in our profession, we also have the whole school year to implement, practice, refine, and re-teach or re-define! We use best practice and years of experience to create a classroom climate where students are hungry to learn, and devour a buffet of appealing lessons, activities and projects along the way. 

As I have developed my own teaching practices over the years, I have taken a special interest in educational technology and placed an emphasis on purposefully integrating technology into my lessons and activities. Blended learning is the term given to the art of (seamlessly) integrating technology with intention and purpose. 

According to the Christensen Institute:

The definition of blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns:
  1. at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace;
  2. at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home;
  3. and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.
There are a plethora of resources to dig in-depth about blended learning and develop a blended learning classroom. That's for another time.  For now, let's just take the definition of blended learning to understand what it is and see how it relates to some random classroom items, otherwise known as the "Chopped Challenge".  Here they are: a pencil, a police car, crayons, and legos. 


How do these items relate to blended learning? 

Well, it's important to note that any good lego structure has a solid base/foundation. From there, you can build up. Once you have a solid foundation of classroom teaching and you feel comfortable and confident in what you do, you can build upon your skills to create a blended environment adding to it little by little. While your tower of expertise gets taller, you may even consider adding additions and expanding outward to create a bigger network of resources as blended educators do. I certainly do not know any architects, engineers or builders who work solely on their own, and educators are not meant to do that either. It's all about strong foundations and learning from each other. In the beginning, don't worry if your tower falls down a little, or even a lot. Persevere and keep trying. Remember, you haven't been 'chopped' from the cast. It's your show and your name is on the door, so get up and rebuild or redesign when necessary. 

The pencil is there to remind us that when you embark on your blended learning journey, you might feel dull and brand new. Good! That just means you have lots of room to grow and sharpen your mind and skill set. If you make mistakes, and you will, erase/delete/backspace and try again. 

The crayons remind us that you can't be afraid to color outside the lines. Learning is messy, there is no one right way, and sometimes you have to blaze your own trail. Blended learning is a mixed mode of traditional learning infused with meaningful technology to enhance, extend, and enrich learning. Get colorful and have fun in your classroom! 

The police car represents your safety net in your educational community. Those people will support you when you try something new in your classroom, guide you and offer advice when needed, and as with driving any car or learning something new, we have to 'go slow to go fast' (a mantra we often hear in our district 😃). When you get the hang of it, your classroom will be a 'force' to be reckoned with! 

Lastly, once you get the ball rolling, you will need something like an envelope, folder, cloud storage, or whole external hard drive to safely tuck away the hundreds upon hundreds of resources, ideas, sample teaching videos, etc. that you will want to squirrel away and put to good use. 

Many of the analogies above could be applied to the student perspective as well. 

I am excited to continue another year of growing professionally, and for my students to embark on a blended learning journey. Here's to the 2017-2018 school year!

 #MichiganVirtual
 #Learn.BLEND.Lead


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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Student Data Notebooks

As I gear up to go back to school, there are always a few new things I like to implement. After spending this summer reading and attending PD on Robert Marzano's Art and Science of Teaching, I am going to begin using student data notebooks. We have more PD coming up in a few days, which may get me thinking even more. But for now, I am going to come out of the gates with one new take-away that is focused on student success. Having students track their own learning is not a new concept...there are lots of teachers out there using data binders already and finding great success; so I am excited for this as well! 

The research states that when students track their own learning and data, they take ownership of their learning, have intrinsic motivation, and perform better on high-stakes tests.
I have always had students track their learning and be aware of where they stand on the standards and objectives through: conferencing and/or charting data in one way or another - but not for every subject. That's probably coming down the pipeline. Someday soon. Some methods I have used in the past are less formal than student tracking forms/data binders, and I am ready to up my game. I just like the idea of making student friendly forms for my little first graders, and I am starting with two very crucial first grade items: sight words and reading levels. These are the two areas I have had students chart their own data for in the past, so now I can toss those old forms and replace them with some student friendly ones.

I am looking forward to the ownership that students have with these notebooks and the growth/learning that they represent. They will be great for students to show parents at conferences and will lead to many meaningful discussions throughout the year as we stay focused on our progress in a way that makes sense to little ones! Students as leaders - and in charge of their learning. It's a good thing!! 

If you use Fountas & Pinnell (or other leveling systems that uses letters A-Z), as well as Dolch sight words, these forms may be beneficial to your students as well. Here's just a sampling of what you will find in these products: there are boy/girl versions of each form and notebook cover, varied graphs so that you have choice in what fits you and your students best, and a choice between just reading levels, or a pack that has reading levels and dolch word lists. Click any of the photos below to see the product in my TPT store.











Happy Data Tracking!! 

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Parent Survey FREEBIE


I just received my class list today, and I hear it is nearly final---maybe a couple of additions before the first day. At the beginning of the year, I think it is incredibly important to get to know each and every child. I love to hear what their parents think of them, too: their strengths, weaknesses, lovey-dovey nicknames, learning styles, you name it! In order to begin to get to know each child and understand where s/he is coming from, I send home a parent suvey. It's a couple pages front and back, but it covers just about all that I would want to know about a student. Important information about contact numbers and medical alerts are kept in our PowerSchool database, so I don't have to worry about that. This is just a get-to-know-you survey.






I often read the surveys that first week of school as students turn them in, and then I go back to them about a month later to see if I have forgotten any information that might be useful in educating, motivating, or understanding them. I find it really interesting and helpful! 

If you'd like to grab the survey for FREE, it is in my TPT store. You can also click the pictures, they are linked to the store, too. Have a great beginning of the year, everyone!! 


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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Choosing a Good Fit Book

This is my third year using the Daily 5 framework, and this is one of my favorite beginning of the year lessons. After I get all of their initial assessments done (and man, are there a TON!), we sit in a large circle and we talk about our shoes. It seems super funny to them that this is the reason I have called a group meeting, but they roll with it. 

We talk about how well our shoes fit us, how we go to the store and measure our foot to be sure it fits just right. Then, once we have our shoes, we are able to do so many great things! Run, jump, hop skip, etc. We also talk about how there are different shoes for different types of performance: running, tennis, basketball, baseball, and all the other sports. 

We demonstrate how my shoes do not fit a child's foot, how their shoes do not fit my foot, how my husband's hunting boots are way too big for me and are not a good fit for running around playing soccer, and even our principal's work shoes are not a good fit for me or the kids! Unless we had our own shoes chosen specifically for us, it was hard to do what we needed and wanted to do. To get the job done right, we needed our own shoes! 

This leads into a great conversation about how we just completed running records and now we know everyone's individual level and that when we look for books at school we will choose books for various purposes: interest, topic/research, and readability for independent reading practice. Like shoes, books also come in a variety of sizes. Some are thick, some are thin, some have no words, some have lots of words. Some books have big words, some books have smaller, easier to read words. 

I convey to the class that when we focus on choosing books that will help us become better readers, it is important that we find a good fit for each child (reading level). What is good for one person is not necessarily a good fit for someone else - and that's okay! We are all here to grow and learn together, but at our own pace. This really sets a positive tone for acceptance and tolerance for a wide range of reading abilities. We reference the shoe lesson throughout the year - especially when some readers get anxious for chapter books and they've got a bit of growing to do. I monitor my students' reading levels monthly so that they can continue to see their growth and be sure to move up levels if they are ready. 

If you haven't checked out the Daily 5 & CAFE books, you should give them a try! At the very least, a lesson like this will fit any classroom and your students will definitely be giggling!! 




Happy Reading! 



Thursday, August 14, 2014

Welcome Back Letters: Classroom DIY

I can't believe it is that time of summer---time to mail out the welcome back/intro letters! I like to do a welcome back brochure instead of a letter because I can pack a lot of stuff into that little tri-fold! Mine really needed an update, and a new, fresh look. So here it is! Now I'm off to stuff and sticker some envelopes!



You'll have to imagine it all folded up, but here's the front/back cover and inside flap…



Here's the inside of the brochure…





Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Close Reading for K-2

I've spent some time this summer thinking about how I am going to fit close reading activities into my first grade classroom, in addition to teaching more science this year. First of all, I had to step back and ask myself: what does close reading for young, beginning readers mean and what strategy/technique and I going to use to employ them to read closely? When trying to decide what is best for my students, I try to determine how I would have learned the skill or obtained the information as a child (did it work?), and/or how would I do it now as an adult.

I immediately thought back to my high school and college days. I am a visual learner, for sure. I love to dog ear my text book pages, slap a sticky note in there, highlight, make notes in the side margins, etc. I obtained information - especially complex information - through reading, re-reading, summarizing, and discussion (for me, it was mostly listening to other people discuss and analyze, and then I formed my own opinions or conclusions). I was 'digging deep' into texts before 'digging deep' was a buzzword in academia. How else are you supposed to understand Shakespeare and Beowulf as a non-genius, young adult, who loved literature but found it sounding like a foreign language at some point? Well, you take it apart piece by piece, you make notes, drawings, etc…..any important marks that make the text meaningful so you can remember and enjoy it more! 

My district has done some "mark it up"/close reading professional development in the past for older students, and I love the concept….because that's how I learned as a student, and for me, it worked. It may have taken me a couple years to figure out how I can make those strategies work for young, beginning readers - but I think I've got it!

I've come to decide that there are multiple ways that a close reading can be done; there is no one right way. For older or experienced students, marking up text with things like "LOL", question marks, stars for important information, little eyeballs for visualizing, etc. can be a little difficult and stray the reader from the text. I think these 'think marks' are a great tool to incorporate if your students are ready. I can see using them with my students, even in first grade, to a degree! There's a great FREEBIE poster from Just a Primary Girl



 For our young students, not only do they have to read the text, but comprehend it, and be able to pull out information from the text as evidence to support their thinking. I'm pretty sure I didn't do that until high school, and here I am asking 6 and 7 year olds to do it. So….that being said, what is the best way that I feel my students will digest lots of non-fiction and gain a lot of reading practice?

Well, we already read closely and do lots of "I Spy" and hide and seek techniques when working on our sight words. We are always looking for them in text and highlighting our focus words when we see them, mostly in fiction text. I decided to take that technique to a new level when working with non-fiction text. Here's a sample: 

I have designed my close reading packs to bring non-fiction text to early elementary students so they can read, re-read, and mark the text through guided instruction! This could even be used as independent work for higher readers. 

There are two levels of text, with the lower level containing concise information, less words, and a larger font for the ease of tracking for those emergent readers. The higher level is packed with information and more difficult vocabulary words. HOWEVER, the information given is not compromised and the concepts that students search for in the text are the same! Overall, all students will be learning the same concepts but at different levels, which is the goal with differentiation - as we all know. The articles are only one page so that early elementary students do not have to flip back and forth among pages in a book searching for information. 

With engaging text about animals, students will enjoy this 'hide and seek' approach to reading for information. Important information is embedded in these texts, and students just need to find it! They are asked to mark it up by highlighting, circling, underlining, putting shapes or smiley faces next to specific facts, searching for answers to fill in the blank, understanding the meaning of vocabulary words etc. 

On top of that, they are given graphic organizers and even writing responses where they are asked for form opinions and think critically about real world issues. If you want to check them out, click on the photos below! 



I am also looking forward to getting the students warmed-up with close reading strategies by using this great resource utilizing nursery rhymes. What a great idea! I am going to add a little "mark it up" technique to these nursery rhymes from Teaching in High Heels!  

So---that's where I am at with that! 





Saturday, November 2, 2013

Gobbling Up Great Writing!

I am very much looking forward to gobbling up some great writing from my students this month! There seems to be a lot of fret over writing w/ the common core and writing w/ our district provided units and how B-O-R-I-N-G it is. At first glance, it might appear that there's not much wiggle room in some curriculum/pre-packaged units. I, myself, struggled with these new teacher's manuals that are scripted word for word what to say throughout and entire lesson. I felt like someone handed it to me and w/o any words said: "Here, do this."

No teacher that teaches with a lot of style, art,  heart and flair wants to be told: "Here, do this". No teacher that wants their students engaged and on the edge of creative thinking wants to hear: "Here, do this." We want to teach with our own unique style, enthusiasm, use our own dialogue, and meet the diverse needs of our students without the script. Truth is, there are some teachers who might need that script. Even if it's to get the gist of things until they can make it their own. I know I've been there. There are some teachers that need that script all the time....although, we know if you are reading this, you are NOT one of "THEM"!

If we step back, we can read between the lines of "Here, do this" (did anyone actually ever say that out loud to you? I thought I heard it, but when I think about it, no one said "script it like a robot"....we have to differentiate our own teaching style. Administrators and districts choose curriculum based on a variety of criteria. So while new curriculum is often coming in with scripts, it doesn't mean your district wants you to stand up like a robot and read it word for word. They don't want it, you don't want it, and your students certainly don't want it. So don't do it! They want you to read it, get the gist of it, and make it your own. As always, the curriculum should GUIDE your instruction. Follow the units/concepts/pacing/vocabulary/etc. set forth by the comprehensive pack of your core curriculum...but don't forget to make it your own!

So there's no need to get your stuffing in a bunch this Thanksgiving....or at any point of the year. Simply know your district and state/national objectives, your goals for your students, and have a plan for how you're going to get them there.

I've considered the Common Core Objectives and the units from our local district writing curriculum and have intertwined that with topics that I know my students will be interested in doing. We will be engaged this year as we write, write, and write our way through the common core standards.

Bring on the small moments stories, the "how to" writings, informational writings, and opinion writings!




I've linked up to my TPT writing pack for November (click on the photo above). It touches on a variety of writing types and is aligned to the common core K-2. Look for more small moment writing opportunities coming soon! And stop being afraid of curriculum that just so happens to include a script. Think of it as an extra resource....use the script, or don't. It's up to you....you are the professional!