Do You Want Less Work and More Fun for Your Students?

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If you want less work and more fun for your students, then you’ve got to check out BOOM Learning.  This resource has students begging to work, and it is self-correcting!

I’m very excited to announce that I am now creating and selling digital task cards, hosted at BOOM Learning! I’ve a growing library of resources for the elementary school classroom.  These digital task cards are self-scoring and can be played on a PC, tablet, cell phone, or Chromebook. Students beg to play them!  Not to mention that you’ll love the ease of use and the quick data. Come check them out!

I Found an Amazingly Easy Way to Assess Students

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Have the Back to School Sales got you shopping; lots to do and lots to find?! I hope that you are finding the resources you need for your classroom, home-school, or teaching needs.

One of the ways that I want to help you is by updating my resources. If you shop Teachers Pay Teachers, I encourage you to check out your purchases page and look for those “update” notifications. I’ve updated quite a few of my products on TpT so far, and I suspect many other sellers have too. I will be looking at each one of my resources on TpT and determining how they need to be updated for the new year.  Keep an eye out for those updates!

Recently, I and fellow TpT’ers, were visiting at one of our colleague’s home as a part of our collaboration efforts, and she shared with us some digital resources through BOOM Learning. https://wow.boomlearning.com/  (If you have tablets or smart phones, there’s an app for that!)BOOM reminded me a lot of the resources that can be made with SMART and Promethean Boards, but these task cards can be used on PC’s, tablets, and phones so that students can learn, practice, or be assessed individually, anywhere.  Boom Learning even scores the work automatically. Talk about a time saver!

(Check out our view.  Dreaming here.)

I love using technology to help our students today. This Boom Learning was right up my alley. So, I went home and began creating Digital Task Cards on BOOM. I’ve recently created a free one for primary students about how to make a Jack-o-Lantern to go with my sequencing resource. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/How-to-Make-a-Jack-o-Lantern-Procedures-with-Differentiation-2164926

I invite you to try the task cards. 
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/How-to-Carve-a-Jack-o-Lantern-BOOM-Digital-Task-Cards-3282356

After completing this fun resource, I began to create a set of vocabulary decks. They currently have students practicing prefixes, but I plan to make more for suffixes and other morphemes. I’m excited about it! These sets are geared for grades 3-4, but anyone who is working on these skills can benefit. Check them out!

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Vocabulary-Prefixes-Task-Cards-Un-Pre-Post-Auto-Digital-Task-Cards-3285267

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Vocabulary-Morpheme-Study-of-Prefixes-Anti-De-Dis-En-Digital-Task-Cards-3296032
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Vocabulary-Morpheme-Study-of-Prefixes-Mis-Re-Sub-Mid-Digital-Task-Cards-3302753

But if digital isn’t your method of practice, don’t worry; there are plenty of printable resources too at my store on Teachers Pay Teachers. Come on over and see what is new!

Teachers’ Keeper

This is a Joyful Event with Students

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Eat a Cookie and Give a Compliment

Today I was privileged to be in a classroom while they shared in “Compliment Cookies”.  As I walked into the room, the students were very excitedly moving their desks to the edge of the room. I asked one of the boys what was happening and he joyfully said, “We’re doing Compliment Cookies!”  So, I just had to see what this was all about.

The teacher had asked all the students to move their desks to the side of the room so that they would have plenty of room on the floor to sit in a circle together. After the students, the teacher, and I all gathered together, she brought out a bucket of letters and numbers shaped cookies. (She happened to get hers at Trader Joes) 

The students’ excitement heightened.  The teacher explained: Each student was to select one cookie from the bucket – without digging through it. If the cookie they selected a letter, they were to give a compliment starting with that letter.  If it was a number, they were to give that many compliments.  But to whom?  Well… the teacher used her popsicle sticks with student names on them to determine.  After a student selected his/her cookie, she drew a stick from her cup and told them who they would be complimenting.  There was no complaining.  The students simply said things like, “That’s different.” Or “I wonder who I’m gonna get.”

I can see this being done in various ways as well.  You could have the students give the compliment to the person to their left, right, or directly across from them.  You could have the student whose name was pulled be the one who gives the compliment to the one who selected the cookie.  Or many other ways.

Once the compliment was given, the cookie bin was moved to the next person in the circle and the compliments continued. 

The kids were great. Some of the compliments I heard were:

“You are a good friend.”

“Best at basketball” or “…soccer”.

“You’re pretty, nice, smart, helpful, intelligent, and a good friend.”

“Really nice”

“The best at being quiet.”

And so much more.

One of the fun elements to this was that if a student selected a broken cookie in which they couldn’t tell what letter or number it was, they got to “pop” it in their mouth and select another. Bonus!  The kids secretly hoped they’d get a broken one too, but it only happened a few times.

It was a privilege to be a part of this and to share in the compliments of others. It was apparent that this class had built a trusting, caring community lead by their teacher.  The students were excited to give a compliment and to receive a small treat for themselves.  In today’s world of division, bullies, animosity, and selfishness, taking time to regularly teach students how to give and receive compliments is so important.  I made sure to tell this teacher just how great the activity was today.  I also wrote about it on our staff “brag board” where we get to compliment our colleagues.  Maybe more of us will incorporate these important moments and lessons into our days here at school and maybe even at home.

Leading our Response to Intervention Team

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Coming together to seek out ways to help students be more successful and be stronger learners is a very important part of our work.

Response to Intervention (RTI), Student Support Team (SST), Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT), Behavior Intervention Team (BIT); it can be called by a myriad of names. It is this team that comes together to discuss challenges and successes that students are having within the school setting. The team will discuss interventions, environmental factors, assessments, growth, and action plans. At other times the discussion is around how the student responds to the interventions tried.  I am fortunate to be able to lead this team at my school.  I love being able to be an advocate for our students who are struggling in our world of education. It is rewarding to know that we are making learning more accessible and successful to students.

RTI is a school-based, multi-leveled system to maximize student achievement and to reduce behavior problems. With RTI, schools identify at risk students, monitor the students’ progress, provide evidence based interventions, monitor the progress of the students within the intervention, and adjust the interventions needed in regards to length, intensity, or activity depending on the outcome or response of the students to that intervention.   There are 4 necessary components of RTI, as determined by the National Center on Response to Intervention. http://www.rti4success.org/ They are:

  • Multi-level, three tiered, prevention system
  • Universal Screening
  • Progress Monitoring
  • Data Based Decision Making

I’ve created a set of forms and documents to meet the needs of the various steps in the process of: determining the needs of a student, creating an action plan, engaging in interventions, recording or documenting the interventions and their outcomes, and revisiting these outcomes. After walking through these steps, it may or may not lead the team to consider evaluating the student for special education services or seeking out a 504 plan.  These forms may be helpful to you and your teams as well. Click here for a preview of this resource that can be found in my store on TpT.

One of the first things that I have teachers do when they have a student that they are concerned about is to have them complete our RTI Referral Form. This provides us information regarding the students general information, a cumulative file review, any known information about their health and life outside of school, their strengths and challenges, assessment scores, and the types of interventions already tried. I can also ask those that have provided some sort of intervention to provide their observations and data. This is followed by setting up an appointment with our team, which includes inviting the parent/guardian. If a teacher would like to first talk with the team privately, we may make that accommodation.  I also provide each team member with our agenda.

In my building we are fortunate to have a well rounded team of educators and specialists. We have: the principal or vice principal, instructional coach (me), teacher, interventionist, school psychologist, school counselor, a special education teacher, our family liaison, a speech therapist, and occupational/physical therapist, and our school nurse. I recommend having many representatives from the various departments within your school or district. Since each of these members view the student through a slightly different lens, we are able to come up with ideas that may have not been considered otherwise. The expertise of each member is a benefit to the success of the child.

After setting up the meeting, I then copy the documents that the teacher has filled out, as well as the completing and copying a full set of assessment scores that we have access to, and provide them to each member of the team before the meeting. This allows the team members to get a sense of the child before hand, allowing them to think about the child and generate possible ideas ahead of time. It also reduces our time spent in the meeting going over the teacher’s concern. Not to say that we don’t ask the teacher to share, but it aids in managing the short amount of time that we have in our meetings.

At the time of the meeting, we will start by going over our norms, and reminding ourselves to focus on the facts. We begin with having the teacher answer the questions, “Why have you brought this student to the team? What is it that you think he/she needs that he/she is not getting now?” Other questions to consider are:

  • What do you know about the student outside of the school setting?
  • How might race/culture/ethnicity impact this child?
  • Have you communicated with the family your concerns?
  • Tell us more about the interventions that have been tried already. (This would bring us to the point of using the Tiered Intervention Documentation form.)

We continue the conversations around the needs, challenges, and successes of the child. It’s important that notes are taking about the conversation.   As we talk, we are able to come up with an Plan of Action, which is also documented. Each element of the plan, the time line for the intervention or action, and who is responsible is included. A review date, usually about 6 weeks out, is set.  We also begin to fill out a Progress Monitoring Tool, which is then given to the responsible parties.

After 6 weeks of trying and documenting the accommodation/intervention listed in our action plan and progress monitoring forms, we meet again to see what the results are. Hopefully, the student will have made growth and gains. If so, we may opt for an additional 6 weeks of interventions to see if they will continue to impact the student for the positive. If the result of the interventions did not bring about success, we might move to bring the student to the evaluation team, which is a following step to consider evaluating the student for special education services.

Sometimes students move or withdraw in the process or at the end of the school year. So I have created a page that has several strips with our school logo and a statement declaring that the student was being discussed and possibly monitored by the team. I copy these onto florescent paper, cut them into sections, fill them out with information stating the school year, student’s name, area of concern, and whom they may contact for further information, and then place them into the student’s cumulative file that will move with them to their next school.   To respect privacy, I do not provide the RTI notes and documents to the file, but instead will share them with the school upon request and with the parents’/guardians’ permission.

I’ve also included a “Red-Flag List” for teachers to complete at the end of the school year. This is where they name students that they are concerned about and would like the team to consider discussing next year.   Many times the students on this list are those that are brand new to the school in the spring, that are making strides with interventions but should be further monitored, that the team may have ran out of time to meet about, or that teachers were “on-the-fence” about. It will be from this list that teams might start the following year.

I truly enjoy my work with our RTI team.  Not only are the members great to work with, but I love that we come together to advocate for a student who is struggling.  These students need someone to campaign for them and it often takes a team of educators with the family to find what is just right for that student.  We all know that no child learns exactly like the next, so coming together to seek out ways to help students be more successful and be stronger learners is a very important part of our work.  It is rewarding not only for us, but, ultimately, for the students.

Please note that these are the forms that my team and I use, but that are not endorsed by the Center on Response to Intervention.

This is the Amazing Teaching with the Iditarod

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It’s nearly time for the annual Alaskan sled dog race from Anchorage, (or Fairbanks as it is this year) to Nome! This 1000 mile race challenges teams consisting of a musher and his or her sled dogs to run through the scenic, natural, dangerous, and frozen land of the Great Last Frontier of Alaska.  This amazing race is carefully planned and supervised by professional dog sled racers, veterinarians, and Alaskans. It honors the history of working dogs in the state, the native lands and people, and those that have gone before.

I love using this event as a teaching tool in my classroom. The pure adventure of it, and love of animals, engages students in learning in ways unlike any other.  In my previous post, “The Unique Iditarod Brings Excitement about Learning”, I talk about the history of the race, the amazing men and women who compete, the thrilling event, and how I teach through it.   I’ve made several teaching resources that you may find beneficial to your own teaching. But don’t take my word for it.  Here’s some things your peers are saying:

“I can’t even explain how awesome this resource is. It has everything you need!” Elizabeth S.

“This is exactly what our special education class needed for a unit on the Iditarod. The activities are easily applicable”  SpEdtacular Resources

“This is seriously amazing!!!!” Kimrich33

“Hands down, the Iditarod unit is the favorite every year, and this will add so much to what we do! Thanks!” Linda T.

“Everything I could hope for.” Melissa I

“Love this resource! Saved me a ton of time and work! I will use this year after year!” Heather S.

“Thanks for these activities! My first graders loved them!” Lucy M

“We do a small unit on the Iditarod each year and this provided a great supplement to the unit! The kids enjoyed it too. Amy K

“This was very helpful for our Iditarod unit. A lot of student engagement. So easy to use!” Deb B

“Thanks! This was one more way to bring the fun of the Iditarod in the classroom!” Melissa B

“So many fun activities and useful items in this!” Deborah R

“Was an excellent addition to our study of the Iditarod!” Jodi M

Now how about some links? :

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Iditarod-Unit-Activities-and-Printables-2017-543433 

 https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Iditarod-SMART-Board-Unit-449719

 https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Iditarod-Race-Unit-Activities-and-Printables-for-Primary-Grades-2017-1597303 

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Sled-Dog-and-Races-Trifolds-Brochures-2402757 

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Sled-Race-Sight-Word-and-Math-Fact-Practice-Game-2362541

So, come on! Mush into the adventure and learn about the Iditarod! It’s the Last Great Race!

Teachers’ Keeper

 

 

 

The Unique Iditarod Brings Excitement about Learning

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brochure.pic1“The Last Great Race” takes place in Alaska each winter.  Numerous strong and amazing men and women gear up their sleds and tether in their dogs in order to mush from Anchorage to Nome.  The race was created in the 1973, in memory of the great race to bring back serum to Nome after diphtheria threatened to wipe them out and to commemorate the use of dog sleds throughout Alaska’s history.  The official Iditarod website, www. Iditarod.com, states:

“The Iditarod Trail, now a National Historic Trail, had its beginnings as a mail and supply route from the coastal towns of Seward and Knik to the interior mining camps at Flat, Ophir, Ruby and beyond to the west coast communities of Unalakleet, Elim, Golovin, White Mountain and Nome. Mail and supplies went in. Gold came out. All via dog sled. Heroes were made, legends were born.

In 1925, part of the Iditarod Trail became a life saving highway for epidemic-stricken Nome. Diphtheria threatened and serum had to be brought in; again by intrepid dog mushers and their faithful hard-driving dogs.

The Iditarod is a commemoration of those yesterdays, a not-so-distant past that Alaskans honor and are proud of.”

I was first introduced to the Iditarod when my family moved to Alaska in 1976.  Coming from a southern state, the event was unlike anything I had ever heard of.  Not only was it new and exciting, the event was grounded in a completely new culture for me. With our first year in Alaska, my family bundled up and ventured out to see the start of the race as it began on 4th Ave in downtown Anchorage.  I distinctly remember watching the dogs get so excited to be going.  They were barking and jumping, and ready to run.  There was no forcing these great athletes to go.  As soon as the driver was ready, the dogs ran!  They ran for the love of it and for the love of their driver.

I’ve come to respect this race a great deal and later learned about the Yukon Quest (an 1000 mile international race from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse, Canada).  They are definitely unlike any other sport most fans/spectators cheer for in the lower 48 (also known as the 48 contiguous states).  I know that there are many that may be against this type of race, calling it inhumane to the dogs.  Yet, I have seen how these men and women care for, live for, respect, and love these canine athletes.  The mushers will voluntarily withdraw from the race if it is in the best interest of their dogs.  There are voluntary veterinarians all along the 1000+ mile trail inspecting the dogs and monitoring their health.  There are also members of the Iditarod and Yukon Quest committees that watch closely, and who will not tolerate any mistreatment of the dogs.  These races do not carry the same kind of cold-hearted competition that you may find in other sports.

Anyway, where I work now, students have had no experience with this culture or this sport.  When I introduce it in winter, the students become quite interested.  I believe, it is the unique qualities that this race holds that brings about new or renewed excitement about learning.  For that, I am absolutely thrilled.

My school district pushes for the improvement of test scores, like school districts all over our country. I believe we do need to push higher and expect more of our students.   So we work rigorously on our math and reading skills.  Sometimes there is little-to-no room for anything else.  But this kind of schooling can stop the love of learning for many students.  Research has shown us that we must differentiate our teaching; we must teach to the different learning styles and levels.  But when we are consistently pushing “fidelity to the curriculum” we can take out the fun of school.  Research has also shown us that if there is not some sort of positive feeling about the lesson or the activity, a student will not learn it…forever.

With that in mind, I take a couple of weeks in February or March to teach students about the Iditarod or the Yukon Quest. I still keep in mind the required standards that our students are expected to meet as I create my lesson plans. I won’t ignore those just so that we can do something fun.  Yet, there is so much we can do with this event to tie it to the standards.  Students can learn about scientific observation as they experiment with different types of insulation materials that a musher might use in his/her gloves.  There is a great deal of math that can be learned such as calculating miles per hour, time elapsed from one check point to another, poundage of food, temperature measurement, and problem solving.  For Language Arts students can write a narrative pretending to be a volunteer, musher, dog, or newscaster.  They can write a letter to mushers, volunteers, or organizers.  Poetry may be written about the race, Aurora Borealis, or the power of the dogs. New vocabulary will be gained.  Close reading and research opportunities are available as well conventions practice There are many books about the Iditarod or the history, such as: “Balto” by Natalie Standiford, “Iditarod Memories” by Jon Van Zylet, “Douggie” by Pam Flowers, and many more that can be used in book clubs, read alouds, and other comprehension activities.  Readers Theater activities can be practiced and performed in order to improve reading fluency. The students may also learn about geography, history, art, music, physical education, character education, and more.  In fact, with cooperation from Target stores, the Iditarod also has a “Teacher on the Trail” program in which a teacher is selected to spend time at the start of the race, at various checkpoints, and finally at Nome; all the while gathering more to use in future lessons, answering questions from students around the world, blogging, and even sharing with Alaskans various things that others far from Alaska have created.

But what about students I work with?  I love to start with having students randomly selected a musher from the list of teams.  For primary students, I might have one team selected for the whole class to follow.  We then follows the status of the selected team/s, write about the dogs and the scenery, and learn about diagrams through images of huskies, sleds, or the dog team. We even play a game with our sight words that uses a sled dog theme. Sled Game Multi use Coverhttps://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Sled-Race-Sight-Word-and-Math-Fact-Practice-Game-2362541  We work on poems and similes as well as engage in morning math problem solvers related to the race.  Our reading selections are related as well. To finish, we might create a brochure or trifold with facts about the race. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Sled-Dog-and-Races-Trifolds-Brochures-2402757   coverWhat excites me is the thrill that the students show each morning as we begin our Iditarod or Yukon Quest lessons.  Older students can’t wait to get on the computer to check the day’s stats. If you purchase a site license to Iditarod.com you can follow the mushers via GPS.  At the time of this posting, the Yukon Quest provides Live Tracking and takes donations.  I love that!  In addition, the students’ writing often improves immensely because they are engaged and enthusiastic.  They want to know more. This kind of enthusiasm in class doesn’t regularly occur when I am solely teaching the adopted curriculum to its fidelity.

I’ve created several resources that offer a multitude of activities and lessons.  Some are geared for primary students while others are more for intermediated grades.  Two of those resources are linked above.  I have larger units for each race that provide a plethora of learning opportunities and idea. Slide1Interm. Cover

SMART Bd Iditarod 2017

Slide1

Now, I respect my administration and will continue to teach to my district’s adopted curriculum, but I would like to also continue to use the Iditarod and Yukon Quest lessons.  They not only engage my students in a new way, but they share culture, and history that my students may otherwise  have not  experienced.

I am glad that I lived in Alaska and was introduced to Alaskans and their amazing, unique culture and traditions.  It has truly enriched my life.

Eleven Secrets for Making Testing Season Less Obnoxious

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Portrait Of Stressed Young BoyIt’s standardized testing season.  Unlike Mother Nature’s seasons, this season is not looked forward to, especially by educators.  You can turn to just about any Facebook page, Twitter feed, or blog of an educator and find some negative comment about these high stakes tests.  Many are even going to their legislatures and those in charge to share their concerns and frustrations.  But I’m not here to write about all the things we dislike about standardized testing.

Instead, I’m writing about how we can help our students decompress from the intense, often very left-brained, thinking that comes from the hours of standardized testing in the classroom.  Though we may not like these tests, we know they are going to happen for now.  So, I’d like to share with you some activities that will engage the right-brained thinking as well as engaging students in kinesthetic and emotional de-stressors.  These can be used after the test is over or during a short breaks that you might provide for your students.

  1. Daydream: As your students finish their test or take their break, hand them a slip of paper that allows them to just dream. You could give them a prompt such as, “Imagine that you are a superhero or unique animal.” or simply state, “Now is your time to dream.” Let your students minds drift to something of delight for themselves.
  2. Walk or skip around: Our brains need oxygen to think and when we walk or skip around, it forces us to increase our oxygen intake. The Director of Human Cognitive Neuroscience, Andrew Scholey, at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle, England states that a dose of oxygen or glucose can improve performance on tasks that require great mental effort,” In addition, exercise prompts the brain to create endorphins and these endorphins are natural mood enhancing hormones. (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/studies-show-glucose-oxygen-brain/story?id=117530)
  3. Have a snack: First of all, know your students’ allergens and never offer food without consenting parents. That being said, berries and oranges are full of vitamin C and can help to reduce stress. Walnuts have been found to keep stress hormones in check. Other ideas might be cheese sticks, celery, peanut butter, pretzels, or other nuts.
  4. Eat Chocolate: Studies have shown that eating chocolate, especially dark chocolate, reduces stress hormones. The glucose may aid in the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical known to raise a person’s emotional state.
  5. Draw: Drawing engages many parts of the right side of your brain. It also helps to take your mind off the things that might be increasing your logical thinking. When you are drawing you’re focused on the project in front of you and not on the hard work or problem solving. Art increases relaxation, enjoyment, and positive thoughts. To engage my students in this I’ve created a set of doodle and, what I call, creativity collage pages.  https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Creative-Thinking-Engagment-Pages-1788366Creativity Rocks
  6. Chat about anything but the test: During these standardized tests, our students are not allowed to talk. They sit for hours in silence expect to perhaps say, “I’m done.” Or “Can I go to the bathroom?” When your students are on a break or the whole class is finished, let them chat. But there should be one rule: No talking about the test. Not only is that a rule of these secure tests, but getting your students to talk about anything else is better for their break from the intense thinking involved throughout the testing period.
  7. Deep breathing exercises: You’ve probably heard this one a lot. In fact, you might just be one who uses this regularly. But it bodes well to include it here because it is so beneficial and regularly agreed upon as a stress reducer. (See notes above about getting oxygen to the brain.)
  8. Watch a funny movie: I know this one won’t work in many classrooms as there are regulations about movies in the classroom, but try watching a funny clip or short movie.   I’ve included some funny snippets here but I’m sure you have some favorites of your own that would be appropriate for your classroom.: http://boredshorts.tv/; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8N_tupPBtWQ (Mahna Mahna); http://www.wimp.com/funny/needwater/ ;http://www.wimp.com/funny/mariojumping/
  9. Play a game: There are so many great games out there. A quick game of tic-tac-toe, to good ol’ Heads Up 7 Up, or other games you play with your students can definitely break up the intensity of testing days.
  10. Dance: Dance has been proven to be a great energizer and re-newer of spirits. Not to mention how the kids love to laugh at our crazy “teacher moves”. Many of my colleagues are using www.gonoodle.com for some terrific brain breaks. The kids have a lot of fun.
  11. Play: Get out the Playdoh™, Legos ™, or bubbles. I wouldn’t use these until all the class is finished, as I don’t want kids to finish early just so that they can play with the cool stuff on the table, but what a great way to end the day.

For many of us, the standardized tests are here and we have to get our students through them. There will be a lot of left-brain thinking, problem solving, text synthesizing, and the increased depth of knowledge questions being answered. Some students (and teachers) will take it in stride and others will stress. Let’s give our classrooms something positive to take away from the testing season. Maybe the season won’t be as obnoxious as its reputation.

Imagination is More Important than Knowledge.

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Primary school children work together in class, close up

Being creative as a group may be easier than trying to think of something original on his/her own

 

“I’m not very creative.”  This easily may be a frequent thought for several of our students, especially those who generally prefer to work alone.  These students, whose strongest learning style is Mastery, like to work with logic and structure.  Creativity may feel as foreign as planet Mars.  But have you ever thought that perhaps we, teachers, have been contributing to this negative expression through our instructions and assignments?  You see, many teachers give an assignment to individuals and simply say, “Just be creative.”  The student asks, “How?” or states, “But, I’m not very creative.”  Fortunately, we can make changes and help our conventional thinkers turn to more unconventional notions.

Dr. Art Costa tells us that creativity is a means that we all have inside and that we just need to learn to unloose it (Laureate, 1996).  Children have creativity.  We see it on the playground and in backyards everywhere.  Yet it seems that some have learned to bind it during school hours; others might have trouble accessing it due to biological challenges.  Those that have learned this constriction place expectations of logic and control on themselves and their situations, thus hindering potential innovations.  For these students, we can use others to loosen the strings of restraint.

By having our students work with others they can bounce ideas off each other, generate new ideas together, bring out each other’s strengths, and find that being creative as a group may be easier than trying to think of something original on his/her own (Laureate, 1996).  Sometimes all a creativity-bound student needs is a jumpstart.  By talking, brainstorming, and problem solving for a short time, the creative juices get flowing and turn to a boil.  At other times our independent students may need the support of their group from beginning through to the completion of the project.  When we provide these opportunities we can help our students to become more creative and more self-confident in their creative abilities.

In my classroom we would a significant amount of time throughout the school year learning about various cultures.   The different cultures were introduced and examined through interviews, videos, projects, a mock trip around the world, and through literature.  One text that we read was Yoshiko Uchida’s The Rooster Who Understood Japanese (Uchida, 1976). In the story, a Japanese lady, Mrs. K., and her assorted pets live next to a young Japanese girl and her mother.  A problem arises when a new neighbor complains about the lady’s pet rooster crowing in the morning, and he threatens to call the police.  The young girl comes up with a clever idea to solve the problem.

Before my class gets to the end of the story, and the solution to the problem, I would stop and engage my students in working together to devise their own solutions to the problem, being mindful of cultural differences, traditions, respectfulness, and needs.  After I was certain that the students understand the problem and its limitations, the students were assigned to small groups of three or four.  They were instructed to work together in order to present a unique solution to Mrs. K.’s problem.  At that point I wouldn’t guide their thinking other than to ask, “If you were Mrs. K.’s neighbors, what would your group suggest as a solution to this problem?”  The students are expected to work cooperatively to not only create a solution, but to creatively present the solution to the rest of the class as well.

At this point, students often began to ask questions for clarification or direction.  My answers provided limitations to classroom routines, time constraints, and redirection to discussions with their group members.  In this pre-problem solving time the students were not limited in ideas, other than to say that things must be appropriate for a school setting, and adhere to the context of the story.

Students usually begin by talking and brainstorming.  When I noticed my independent students not participating, I often would encourage their peers to invite them into the conversations.  (Using accountable talk would be a helpful element in this discussion time.)  The children gather together and discuss the various possibilities.  Sometimes groups chose to record their ideas with pencil and paper, and some did not.  For some groups, the ideas seemed to pop like popcorn, fast and furious, while others worked like delicious maple syrup.  It may have needed a little squeeze or change of angle, and it came out slowly, but it was a wonderful result.

Once the group had agreed on a solution, they needed to work together again, brainstorming, thinking, and planning to determine a unique way to present the solution to the rest of the class.  Presentations could be posters, a visual sample, dramatic play, a mock petition, a group explanation with questions and answers, or any number of other ideas.  For some children the lack of limitations might have been overwhelming.  In such cases I might have limited supplies to those found in the classroom.  I also might also limit the time to two or three class sessions.  Dr. Costa (Laureate, 1996) suggests that sometimes limiting materials is an appropriate instructional practice that fosters creativity.  Yet sometimes opening up the possibilities can work equally well.  I see this to be true when we engage in STEM challenges too.

When my students participated and worked together, they came up with various ideas; many of which I probably wouldn’t have thought of.  Sometimes my Mastery/independent workers would get an idea after a brainstorming session and then chose to complete the idea and presentation on their own.  I was completely fine with that.  I wanted them to not only determine a possible solution to the story’s problem, but be willing to consider ideas that may not have seemed logical and structured.  They don’t have to use the unstructured, out-of-the-box idea of a group, but they should be respectful to hear ideas and be inspired by them.  I must say that I never had a group not come up with an idea, though I have had individuals that really struggled with the lack of structure and fell into ideas that showed their lack of comfort or confidence with the task.  It was those situations in which I had to intervene and coach more, encouraging and pushing the child to put themselves in the shoes of one of the characters, or to let them select a peer/group’s idea that they would agree to take a truly supporting role in the idea.  Eventually they would come up with an idea that we could both agree was appropriate or they would join another peer/group.

Activities similar to the one mentioned here, allow the children to see that there can be more than one way to solve a problem, engaging their flexibility (Costa, Kallick, 2000).  It can also give the self-doubting student a safe environment in which to let loose his/her creativity, imagination, and ideas, which in turn may build his/her confidence.  When that confidence is built he/she may change his/her thinking from “I’m not creative.” To “I can try to think of something different.”

It’s important to allow students to work creatively for several reasons.  Much of school is logical, sequential, verbal or linguistic.  Our self-expressive learners (Silver, et. al.2000) need equal opportunities to learn with their strengths, and our Mastery students need to learn and experience being innovative, spontaneous, and un-harnessed.  Creative work provides opportunities for metacognition (Laureate, 1996).  Without thinking, we are like a rock in a river letting everything swiftly go by.  Finally, Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  I’ll take that, and fondly watch as my students demonstrate their creativity.

References:

Silver, H. F., Strong, R. W., & Perini, M. J. (2000). So Each May Learn: Integrating Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (1996). Helping students become self-directed learners. [Video recording]. Los Angeles: Author.

Uchida, Y. (1976). The Rooster Who Understood Japanese. Encore Editions.

Costa, A. L., & Kallick, B. (Eds.). (2000). Activating & engaging habits of mind. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

 

Stoned Teachers Get a Special Surprise

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That’s right. Our teachers will be stoned and I hope to be able to share with our office staff too.

Freedom woman with opened arms outdoors smiling

Oh…did you think I meant THAT kind of stoned?!  Goodness, No!  I may work in a part of the country that has legalized that sort of thing, but I would never expect a teacher to start the day at work that way. I’m talking about stoning my colleagues on our first day back to work.  I hope that they will enjoy the event, and I want to start the day off with just the right stones.  I looked for the bigger ones, because the little ones just wouldn’t have the same impact. I found a great bunch in two colors and I brought them home in an abundance to make the stoning happen.  It took several hours to prepare, but I think it will set the tone for our year in a solid way.

What? “Don’t cast stones” you say?  You think I meant to harm my colleagues?  Oh my.  Let me start again.

I am gifting my colleagues with stones; stones with words, thoughts, and phrases of positivity.   I want us to start the year with good thoughts and affirmations, but I didn’t want to just say it or give a note.  I am hoping that these stones, that they will take with them at the end of the day, will remind each person throughout the year of the good ideas we started with. Yet, I know that what some might think is affirming might be meaningless to another.  So, I’ve designed nearly 100 individual stones so that each person may select the encouraging idea that they need.

stones

Teaching is hard work and we often get muddled in frustration, exhaustion, and irritation. When we let those emotions get the best of us, we might take it out on others and that can make for very unpleasant relationships.  These emotions can also bring us down like a stone around our neck.  As an instructional coach, I hope to provide support that may stave off some of those emotions, to provide a confidential, listening ear to the emotions that fill our hearts, or an elevating word that will lift others up.

My plan is to lay the stones around each table’s supply bin so they are a part of the décor. At some point in the professional development session, I’ll instruct each person to select one stone that “speaks” to them.  After they’ve made their selection, I’ll invite them to tell the other people at their table why they selected that particular stone.  This will be a nice way to share a bit about ourselves, rekindle connections, and learn about our newest staff members.  I know that many people don’t like ice-breakers, but I hope that this will be a gentle way to build on positivity and connect with each other.  At the end of the day, each person may take their stone with them; walking away “stoned”.  I hope that whenever they see it they will be reminded of what it means to them and that they will not dodge the positive affirmation that goes along with it.

If you’d like to “stone” your staff, keep reading and I’ll share the steps I took to create them.

Materials:

  • “Glass Gems” or clear glass stone
  • Mod Podge or strong adhesive
  • Paper
  • Scissors
  • Permanent fine tip marker or a computer program like Power Point or Photoshop
  • Magnets (strips or circles)
  1. Buy bags of “Glass Gems” or clear glass stones. I selected the larger stones that were one inch in diameter. You’ll want to measure them before you start designing. I found mine at our local Dollar Tree. There were about 36 in each bag. I selected a clear set and a set of blue gems.stones in bag
  2. On your computer, open up an electronic imaging/text program that you prefer. I used Power Point because I prefer the ease of manipulation of clipart and text.  You might like Photoshop or some other.
  3. Create a number of circles that measure up to the size of your stones. In PowerPoint you can use the measurements to the side and top to determine the accurate size. You can also hand draw the circles on paper if you need.   PwrPt circles
  4. In your program, insert text with the words or clip art that you’d like to include. If you are making them by hand, you can write the text or draw images within the circles. I selected various fonts and clip art so that there would be lots of uniqueness.
  5. Print your page if using technology. (Skip this step if you are making them by hand.)
  6. Cut out your circles. circles
  7. Select an adhesive medium that will dry clear. I used Mod Podge. Use a paintbrush to paint on some glue to the complete flat portion of your glass stone.glueing
  8. Place a circle, image/text down, onto the flat, glued side of the stone.holding stone back
  9. Let it dry.let dry
  10. Paint more adhesive around and over the edge of the paper so that the edges will not pull up later.glueing close
  11. Let it dry again.
  12. If you want the stones to be magnets, you can glue or adhere magnets to the flat portion of the stone after the original gluing has dried. I used magnet strips with adhesive backing. I cut the strips into smaller sections so that they could fit on the back or flat side of the stone without being seen from the front. I wanted circular magnets, but they were a bit out of my budget.Stones w.magnets
  13. Wipe off any glue smudges or fingerprints. Be careful that you don’t moisten any glued edges that may be water soluble.
  14. Gift to those that you’d like to inspire.in the bucket

HAPPY STONING!

For Educators, It’s Literally a Nightmare

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Well, Ladies and Gents, it’s about that time of year again. It’s the weeks just before students go back to school.  For families; it is a busy time of hitting the mall and finding great deals.  For educators; it’s a nightmare.  No. Literally… A nightmare.

Is this real?

Is this real?

I have found that many teachers experience a sense of anxiety about the beginning of the school year and it often exhibits through dreams. After many years of back-to-school conversations with my colleagues I have found that these dreams have one of a few common themes: embarrassment, lack of control, or a nuisance.  The setting for the dreams is in the school; whether that is the office, the playground, or the classroom, it is still a part of the school.  The characters are generally the educator and students/colleagues.  The problem is (select any of the following):

  • Arriving to school not fully clothed,
  • Arriving late on the first day of school,
  • Having a group of students that are out of control,
  • Trying to teach without any supplies,
  • Coming to school and finding that your grade or classroom has been changed without your notification,
  • Having a dreadful administrator or colleague or student return and you have to work with them,
  • Losing your voice on the first day of school,
  • …and a myriad of other stressful situations.

The educator can try desperately to fix the problem and yet that only exacerbates things or causes more problems. There is usually only one way to fix the problem and that is…to wake up.

Now there are a few that avoid this exhibition of anxiety. However, the method in itself is a demonstration of anxiety.  That would be…insomnia.  You know you’ve got to sleep, but you can’t sleep, so then you get more anxious about not sleeping which then makes it even harder to get to sleep.  It’s a vicious cycle.

I hear professionals say that the only true way to get over the anxieties is to face the very thing that is causing the unease. For educators, that comes by experiencing the first day of school.  Since that day is set in time by the district or college, we simply must endure and decide whether to sleep or not.  So, bring on the first day already!  I’m ready to get some good sleep.