Saturday, February 17, 2018

Sweet Victory!

Congratulations, teachers! Most of you are past the half way mark in your school year, with Valentine’s Day marking the sweet milestone as (typically) the last classroom holiday celebration. If you are familiar with classroom holiday parties, you are all too familiar with the rush of getting it all set up either on your lunch break or during a recess/prep time. The rush of explaining the party agenda to the parent volunteers (if you were lucky to get some), getting it all set up before your class returns, realizing that you have WAY too much food, and noticing the dull headache that is coming on because it is no small feat to put on a one-hour holiday party for 28+ students, which typically turns into a ½ day party because no one can really focus on classwork when everyone is just watching the clock tick in anticipation of party time. Cue up the games and holiday themed movie, and let’s get those plates prepped. Don’t forget to save the container for the fruit and veggies and send them home with the dear child that brought them in because who’s going to eat those when there’s cookies, cupcakes, candy, and chips? At least you asked for fruit and veggies and one or two of your students’ parents obliged. It was all well intentioned. 

Don’t think, dear teachers, that it has gone unnoticed that you have also prepped a “safe food” plate for those that have food allergies and medical needs. As your colleague, I know you have the Clorox wipes on hand to wipe away food residue, the Epi-pen that you hope you never need, and the sink ready to wash the hands of 28+ students. Every teacher has every child’s needs in mind and plans accordingly each and every day, especially on party days. We are teachers. It’s what we do; but do you ever get to the point where you are mid-party, serving out seconds and refilling cups, and stop to think: “this isn’t what I had in mind when I signed up to educate children; I feel like I am hosting an indoor birthday party of sorts on a rainy day when no one can go out and play, and I am not a party planner/supervisor. I am an educator.”?

Traditional holiday celebrations in the classroom carry all sorts of baggage and obstacles, particularly elementary classrooms, so why do we continue to do it? In phases, I have slowly changed how I do classroom parties, and you can too! I am all about the celebrations and having fun with my students, but I didn’t find traditional classroom parties to be all that fun, and I even noticed how it was impacting many of my students, and how I actually wasn’t meeting some of their needs. I’ve observed:
  • Students with food allergies look enviously at the food they can’t have, even though they’ve been given a similar alternative. There are times when all kids just want what everyone else has.
  • The quiet introverts, selective mute children, and anxiety ridden children retreat even more so and look even more anxious and nervous on party days where the noise levels are up, there are more people and adults in the classroom (parents and people they don’t know make them highly uncomfortable in their safe classroom that they’ve become accustomed to. 
  • Students who thrive on structure lose the self control that they work so hard to keep in check on all other days, and their bodies and brains beg for calmness – usually shown by making poor choices or even getting in trouble. I’ve observed how sugar intake effects students on ADD/ADHD meds, and how it effects other students, too.

Emotions run high on party days. It’s fun, fun, fun, and then we all come crashing down – in the classroom, on the bus, or even a couple hours later at home. As a mom of three, I cringed when I knew my own kids would be over-indulging on party days and I knew exactly what kind of mood each of my three kids would be in when we got home. Two of my kids would seem to not be affected at all, and the third…well, tread lightly. I also felt like I couldn’t indulge my own kids in a sweet treat on these days because they already had a ton at school. Sometimes, I just want to be the fun parent that surprises my kids with a treat…because that’s what treats are---something indulgent on occasion, not in mass quantities throughout a whole day.

A year or so into teaching, I knew that I could and should do something different, but I knew it wouldn’t be easy. It is not easy to change tradition or make un-popular decisions – especially as a new teacher. Change is not easy – period! So, I followed suit for a long time. Fast forward to over a decade in the profession, and I still have the same feelings about classroom parties. I wanted to provide a richer, healthier experience for my students on party days. I wanted to focus on fun experiences rather than focus on food/movies in the classroom, and I wanted to support what it being taught in Phys. Ed., art, or even music - all of which we don't get enough of throughout our day. I have since had two administrators and my grade level teaching partner who are completely supportive and on-board, and so here we are…finally over half way through this school year, successfully changing up the way our students celebrate holidays and birthdays in my classroom. The focus is on the fun experience, rather than the food. No longer in my classroom is sugar synonymous with fun!  

So far this year, we have celebrated birthdays by focusing more on celebrating the child---a birthday book gift from the me, a fun song/dance or whole class game, and a treat that can easily be distributed at the end of the day rather than using class time for cupcakes. Students are just as happy receiving a piece of gum, a sticker, a fruit roll up, ONE jolly rancher, or some other small item from the birthday boy/girl without having to take up class time to scarf down a cupcake in between math and reading instruction. 

Halloween was a little tricky to kick this all off, but it worked and we all enjoyed it! Instead of the traditional party and costume parade, we opted for a fall Halloween Hike. Our amazing PTO decorated our nature trail with Halloween themed items, music, and cider and snacks at the end. Some students and families missed the tradition of the parade, but the majority were supportive and accepting, and even relieved that it wasn't a huge deal. 

 It was so great to get outside and enjoy nature! Our 4th grade students wrote short, spooky stories and poems and we hung them on the trees along the trail. Every so often, we'd stop and read one of the stories/poems.

One of the things we considered when we switched up our Halloween tradition was whether or not students would be missing something if we changed our plans. We decided that Halloween was a holiday that all students participate in at home, unless they choose not to, and so we weren't taking any experiences away from students. We were simply swapping out one way of celebrating for a healthier, more active way of celebrating.

Our Christmas celebration consisted of us putting on some snowshoes and utilizing the beautiful half-mile nature trail on our school property. You wouldn’t even need snowshoes or a trail…just take a winter walk, build a snowman with your class, play outside, and come in for some hot cocoa. They will love it! We also had a fun book exchange gift-giving activity. 

For Valentine’s Day, we traded in the sweet treats for Valentines without candy attached, and we had a painting party instead. Several of my students noted how much fun it was because they don’t get to paint at home – it’s too messy, or they don’t have the materials. Students had a blast painting on canvases and later looking through all their cards from their friends, and we still had a cute, yummy snack and juice boxes that everyone could enjoy! 

Changing the traditional classroom party comes with some prep work and conversations with parents, but it can be done successfully. I have not had one student complain or mention that they’d rather be eating cupcakes or candy! As you can see, we haven't completely eliminated treats or food at parties, but have significantly reduced the amount of food offered. Now, the focus is on the fun, and we fuel up with one little treat or snack! 

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Learn.BLEND.Lead Student Agency

We have been talking a lot about student agency and how students take ownership of their learning in the classroom. For the past couple of years, I have been a big fan of SeeSaw. Every year, I learn more about how I can use the program gauge my students' learning, and the over the past couple of years, the quality of student demonstration videos and posts have really improved! I love that this program can be as exciting now as it was for me a couple of years ago. It is proving to stand the test of time, which is rare in technology these days. 

I love how SeeSaw enhances our classroom community. Students can hop online and share out their learning in various ways: pictures with text or voice recordings, drawings with text or voice recordings, videos, and Google Drive uploads. SeeSaw not only allows them to build their own digital reflection and learning portfolio, but also offer peer reflections, critiques, and receive feedback from peers/parents/staff at school. Students have become accustomed to posting quality work that showcases their learning in an environment that fosters growth and challenges them through questioning and comments from peers, parents, and staff. 

Here are some videos that my students have created with SeeSaw so far this year to showcase their learning. 

In this video a student is re-telling one of our focus stories, Little Red Riding Hood. Through the video, I can gauge whether students are able to sequence and tell the story correctly (a first grade Common Core standard). In this short video, I gain information about the story elements, and the student gets to share their learning in a fun way! Additionally, what a time saver in the classroom! Instead of having students write, cut/glue and sequence pictures, or listen to all 27 oral retellings during class time, this is a way that I can flip my classroom within the classroom, and watch the videos on my own time later, while we keep moving to the next thing in the classroom. I don't always do this for re-tellings, but the students really enjoy it, and it keeps things engaging when we shake it up every once in awhile! 

In this video, this child is sharing her tip on how to tie shoes in a "new" way! This aligns with our "How To"/procedural writing unit, but offers so much more! We talk a lot about independence in first grade and self-help skills are a must in order for students to feel independent and successful at school when they can do age-appropriate things on their own! This shoe tying video was posted on SeeSaw so that her friends in class could learn an easier way to tie, and they would have the video at their fingertips at school or home during the learning process. We know that the highest form of learning and mastery is being able to teach others, so let's just go ahead and give this a "4" on that Marzano scale! 

During our Human Body unit of study, students wrote a non-fiction book about the body systems, with one fun fact for each system. Once we published the final copy of the book, student authors had a chance to share their publication on SeeSaw in order to share it with a greater audience. This new take on author's chair eliminates the need for students to wait extended periods of time for their peers to stand up and read to the class one after the other, or for authors chair to be broken up over the course of a few short sessions for 2-3 days. There are times that we do share our writings in traditional face to face author's chair format, but this is another way that students stay motivated during the writing process, knowing that they will also get feedback from their parents, our principal, or myself! It is fun to write for a big audience! 

Sometimes I also like to catch little conversations and moments of exploration on video, as well. They are authentic pieces of assessment for me, and they also show the true nature of little minds in action. 

All of these videos are SeeSaw videos, but I often upload them to YouTube from the SeeSaw app after students post them so that I can use them in our classroom blog. Parents enjoy seeing their child's SeeSaw page, and the blog shows how these posts fit into the bigger picture of our learning, units, and goals. 

You can check out my classroom blog here: Mrs. Powell's Class Blog to find each post and some other SeeSaw content other than videos. 

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Learn.BLEND.Lead: Got Data?

Module 2.7 

Data collection vs. analyzing data are an integral part of the instructional learning cycle. In my classroom, collecting data is a means of gathering meaningful information and skills on each student through a variety of ways: observation, discussion, performance tasks, portfolios/work samples, and both formative and summative assessments. 

Once the data is collected, it is analyzed - thoroughly looked over - to find patterns, trends, mastery level of skills, and anything that will help gain insight to where students are, what has been taught or will need to be taught (or taught again), and where we are going. Analyzing data helps build a roadmap for where we are in our instructional cycle, and drives instruction. 

Collecting and analyzing data is a constant cycle:

Graphic Cred:

The most important part of collecting and analyzing data is what comes after that. It is the actions and plans that are launched into place to drive instruction. 

We have a lot of data that we use that to assess student growth and benchmark them from one point of the year to the next. The i-Ready reading assessment that I have been using in my classroom/district (and for this course) is a great tool for showing what a student knows and can do. It gives user friendly reports and provides cut of scores for what is on/above/below grade level. However, it is more important to look beyond that initial data and dig deeper. You have to know your assessments, and use valuable ones, to be able to utilize the data you are gathering.

The analyzing part is crucial---it is a time for questions and investigations into the WHY's of student performance. You have to know WHY students are struggling and what their precise gaps are in order to plan for them accordingly. 

Collecting and analyzing data does not have to be time consuming. It can easily get overwhelming, which is why it is important to use the right assessment tool, when needed, to paint a picture of your students' needs so you can tailor your instruction and the direction you are headed. With the right assessment tool, and the right timing, data collection is not 'just one more thing' on your plate, but a really helpful tool in the teaching/learning cycle.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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!


Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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!! 

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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!! 

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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!