Friday, July 31, 2015

Beliefs into Actions Blog Hop

I'm going on year 23. When I actually see that on my screen, it blows me away. When I get number 24 done, I'll have been teaching for half of my life. Holy moly. Being a smart aleck, when people ask me how I've kept going this long, I usually say something like, "Oh, I don't know. I keep showing up in August and they keep handing me keys."

There is, of course, more to it than that. When we each find our vocation, which of course, is a very individual thing, life falls into place. Things feel balanced because we are able to live our beliefs. So, as I roll into 23, it's not a bad idea to take a few minutes, before the beginning-of-the-year-gotta-get-it-done autopilot kicks in to reflect on what exactly that is.

I'm a philosophy wonk. I read a lot of different teachers' ideas and theories, and not because I have to. When I had a young child, (Don't worry; I've still got him. He's just 6 feet tall these days.)  I visited a new Montessori school that was opening in Roanoke, VA, to which we'd just moved, as part of the Great Preschool Hunt. One of my questions was, 'Seriously? Paying tuition for him to spoon beans?" and the teacher handed me a copy of  The Absorbent Mind. Once I read it, I was sold. The best money I've ever spent was sending A.J. to a Montessori school. It built him into a self-confident, questioning thinker and a self-sufficient person, traits which have followed him to traditional high school. Dr. Montessori's beliefs about teaching absolutely apply to the modern teaching situation.

(Almost) Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from Maria Montessori

My own Montessori training (I told you I was sold!) has changed the lens through which I see the value of different kinds of student work and interactions, even though I teach gifted fourth and fifth graders in a traditional elementary. If you've got time to get in one more read before the year begins, I highly recommend Montessori: A Modern Approach to tie today's classrooms and Montessori philosophy together. If you've got time and/or young kids, The Absorbent Mind and The Secret of Childhood are worth your time. These two are by Dr. Montessori.

I'm not back in my classroom yet, but if I could, I'd show you pictures of my gazillion math manipulatives, my flexible seating, and my room arrangement that has lots of meeting space. Mine is a doing, collaborative classroom.

Thanks for dropping by. Taking some time to think about why I do what I do has been good for me! Makes my heart happy as I set out toward  doing it again...

Next, you're off to visit with Lila at the Polka Dotted Pencil! Just give her oh-so-cute button a click!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Seasoned Sages Sundays: Open House

Ah, Open House, or Meet the Teacher Night, or Back to School Night, whatever you call it, even we veterans meet it with a mix of high hopes and abject terror. Those last frantic hours when we finally just give up and shove the last few jumbled things into the closet, knowing that once it goes in, it won't come out until June, in the push to have a presentable classroom. No pressure; it just sets the tone for the whole. durned. year.

You, of course, will have it even tougher. At least I have a professional reputation to fall back on. (Totally required it last year, too, when I was still painting bookshelves at the last possible moment. Nothing like meeting parents with paint in my hair. Seriously, don't try this at home...) You are young, maybe even the age of your students' older siblings. Parents don't know you and worry a bit that breaking in a newbie could mean a wasted year for their child. Great.

So, what can you do? I've been on both sides of that fence. As a young teacher of eighth graders, I was sometimes mistaken for one of the kids. During that first week of school, another teacher, whom I'd not met yet, threatened, quite rudely, to haul me to the office for being in the hall without a pass. When my son, now a high-school junior, was entering third grade, he got the new teacher, a fresh-from college young man from Pennsylvania. Both situations turned out well enough, though not without their bumps. Yes, you can survive.

So, dear rookie, I'm going to offer you two bits of advice. One is simple. Dress the part. If you're young, and particularly if you're teaching big kids, invest now in an attractive-but-all-business wardrobe. Had I been in a suit and not in khakis and a polo, the teacher would have been much more likely to recognize me as staff. It helps un-blur the line between being young enough to be their sister and a being a Teacher. It will encourage your parents to see you as another adult. Yes, I know what firsties get paid. Do it anyway.

The second is this : Don't Reinvent the Wheel. 
Smart teachers totally rip each others' ideas off, but then we make it our own. Don't feel bad about it; sharing ideas is why we blog. Open House is as good a place to start as any.

So, whose ideas am I stealing this year? This summer, I pinned this blog post from  Turnstall's Teaching Tidbits about using stations for your night:Check it out here. 
Now, of course, she's teaching younger children than I am, and each person's classroom runs its own way, so I'm going to take the idea and adapt it. I'd like to add a station for Remind 101, but I might not be able to because cell reception on my side of the building is garbage. There are a couple of websites I'm going to use this year for which under-13s will need parent permission to sign up; I'll have a station where they can do that and save a lot of hassle later. My little giftie? I found - get this - kits to make sunglasses out of glow sticks! Squeee! Yes, there will be a bad pun involved about their future being bright, but since my kids are Lego-proficient, their hands will be busy when their parents get to the last station, where they meet me.

The other person I've been ripping off for a couple of years is Anglea Maiers. In a blog post you can find here, she gives a model of a bang-up first day letter to her students. I've taken her framework and adapted it to my situation and teaching style. (These days, I teach 4th and 5th grade math and reading to gifted students.) If you click it, it will take you to its Google Doc.
As I close, I'll gently remind you, readers, as I do my students, that borrowing and plagiarizing are two different things.  Again, make things your own. You could end up on the ugly side of a scandal if two teachers had the exact, same letter.

 Pin this article to help your teacher friends!

I hope I'm setting you up to borrow some amazing ideas from this week's Sages. Good luck...! Thankfully, it's only once a year!

Friday, July 24, 2015

What I'm Reading Aloud to My Fifth-Graders (and Where I Want Their Thinking to Go.)

It's time to, once again, map out this year's fifth grade reading. I center my units on ideas found in high-interest, challenging read-alouds and the Core skills that go with them. Keep in mind that when I do my read-alouds, every kid has a copy, because we'll do work with that text before I turn them loose on their own book club books. As I'm, you know, a stinkin' teacher, I'm not a rich woman. So, unless Scholastic has a bangin' $1 deal, which does happen from time to time, I need to keep the book sets I've been using. As I move from a regular classroom to one for gifted kids, though, I'll need to ratchet up the complexity and depth of the questions I ask in order to get the results I want. Not a huge deal; I've taught middle school English before, so I know where to go.The books on this list would serve well in a fifth or a sixth grade classroom.

One of the things I've re-thought since reading Readicide (A group of bloggy-friends and I did an amazing blog hop on it this summer! Check it out through my word cloud to this post's right.) is to begin with the end in mind. Decide before planning the daily instruction what you want kids to get from a book and use it to create your guiding question.

So - here we go. This year's read aloud list with (most of) their guiding questions. They're in the order I think I'll be doing them, but that may change. We'll see. For each book, if you click the cover, you can find it on Amazon.

BTW - it is assumed all answers will be supported with evidence from the text, and I'll find different ways of presenting the kids' ideas about these questions.
1. Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
    How does the author use Bear as an agent of change for Crispin, but also uses Crispin as an agent of change for Bear?
2. The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
   "Needing a lift" appears throughout the book as an Again and Again. Why? For which character is this most important?
Note: If you don't know what an 'again and again' is, check out a book called Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kyleen Beers and Robert Probst. When I looked the authors up, I found they've done a nonfiction one, too, to be released in October. I pre-ordered that bad boy without a bit of hesitation.

3. Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
    What was the author's purpose in presenting us with such completely different protagonists?
4. Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
    Of the many disrupted cycles in the story, from which can we learn the most?

5. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
   I didn't pick this one; it's a requirement in our AIG program and part of a William and Mary unit. Frankly, it'd make an excellent third-grade read aloud, but it's so much less complex than the stories we'll have already read, that I'm not enthused. That, and I'd like to b#$% slap most of the characters. I'll have to work on changing my attitude toward it.
6. Bomb:  The Race to Build - and steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
    Why did the author decide to write this as a piece of narrative fiction, rather than an all-about?
7. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
    How does the symbol of the fireplace behind the wall relate to the story's other strands?
8. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
   How can sharecropping, a cycle, be both dysfunctional and productive? What legacy has it left?
and, finally,
9. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
    Redemption is a repeated theme in the story. Did The Game allow Sam Westing to redeem himself?

That's my lineup for this year...which too-good-to-pass-up reads did I leave out? Let us know!
Remember to Pin this list for later!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Seasoned Sages Sundays: Classroom Management

We've all been there: you've put a lot of time and effort (and maybe even money) getting lessons and activities planned and ready, and it's all gone horribly wrong. Kids are out of their seats, supplies are now toys, and God only knows what That Kid is doing. This is why classroom management is the first skill a young teacher has to master; without it, nothing else works.

I remember the day that this happened - again - in my classroom. Part of me wanted to just quit. Then, I got mad. These little $%#@s hadn't earned a classroom; I had. One hot place was going to freeze over before I'd allow them to take mine. I pitched a fit of epic proportions. After school, I went to a veteran teacher across the hall for help setting up a consistent and simple management plan. (I had gotten my first teaching job the day before school started and in the next state, so there hadn't been time for thinking about it much.)

You'll  notice that I didn't go to the office and I didn't kick kids into Helen's classroom. That turned out to be a good move, because that shifts the responsibility for my discipline to people who aren't me. Why does that matter? Well, later in my career, when I found myself teaching in an inner-city middle school, our principal pointed out to all of us in a staff meeting,

"When you let the office handle your discipline, the office gets the respect. Not you."

She's right. So, my dear newbie, rather than give you tools to manage your classroom, which I'm hoping you'll pick along our hop today, I'm going to give you an attitude. You'll need it. My one, best piece of advice for you is this:

It's your classroom. Own it.

It's all you, babe. You make the choices about lessons, about routines, about how children will treat you and your classroom, and exactly how much crap you're going to take. Take some time to think about limits, because once you set them, you have to make them stick. Children can't deal with 'this rule matters sometimes'. If it's not worth enforcing, don't make it a rule. (I don't care that much about hand-raising, but the kids know that only a fool backtalks me.) Be true to your word; no false threats and no empty promises. Ever.

If you've ever been in a Target, Wal-Mart, or grocery store, you've probably seen children totally owning their parents. These kids will be in your classroom this August, and many will expect that you will abdicate your power as their moms and dads have. In more than a few cases, calling home is  pointless. which, again, is just as well. Wait...what? Yes, because parents are just like the office. 

Children need to behave in your room because YOU said so. Not the office, not their mamas. You.

Now, before you think I sound like an ogre, consider this: because I have control of my classroom, and my own (and the other kids in the grade) know it, I can actually have a lot more fun. It's OK to lie on the carpet in front of the Promethean to take notes. Yes, you can read around the room. Most of my work is done collaboratively because things don't get out of whack. When I say stop, it's done.

Case in point: we had a fabulous overnight field trip to the Georgia Aquarium. All  60 of the kids had their bed rolls laid out in front of and around the giant tank with the whale sharks and the manta rays, getting ready to climb in. Caleb, a boy from the classroom next door, whose sleeping bag was perpendicular to mine, said, "You know, this would make a great pillow fight. How could we start it?" I turned around, grinned, said, "I dunno. Maybe kind of like this?" and lit him up. He looked stunned for a second, then grabbed his pillow and got me back. Then it was on like Donkey Kong: sixty kids, two teachers, pillows flying. It was a great fight.

I let it run for a few minutes, and when I used my Teacher Voice (Bonus advice: you must develop this and your Stink Eye.) to count down from 10, it all wound down like it should have. By 1, everyone was panting and laughing, but it was done. If I didn't know that I could maintain control of something like that, it couldn't have happened. It would have ended up with at least a couple of kids in tears and something (or someone) broken. 

Kids do want structure, and in the next few weeks, you need to think about what YOU are going to do to provide it with simple, consistent rules along with their fair and consistent enforcement. In the end, this is the only way you can be the fun teacher with the engaged, happy classroom that you've been envisioning for the last four years.

Good luck! Remember, the Seasoned Sages are here for you. Feel free to send up a flare, should you find yourself struggling, using one of the social media buttons up top. On that note, there is a new teacher chat on Twitter each week. (I thinks it's run by @Cybraryman) that is totally worth your time. 

Be sure to pin this link-up to help your teaching friends!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

How Flipping my Classroom Rescued My Math Block

I'm tickled pink to be guest blogging this week over at Education to the Core! I've written about why and how I've flipped my math instruction, and the big-tme benefits of having done so.Curious? Click  the image to hop on over!
Are you arriving from Education to the Core? Welcome! I'm glad you're here! Click my Bloglovin' button at the top of the page to catch all of my freebies, teaching tips, and occasional shenanigans.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Readicide Book Study: Chapter Five

The final short chapter of Readicide reiterates the author's key points with a little gravy on top:

The increase in test scores we've seen isn't reflective of better readers. Test scores can (and have) been manipulated. Worse, the rise in scores has an inverse relationship with the ability to function as readers in the real world. 

Real-world reading is changing as the hit-and-git text of the internet becomes the text of our young people. This is leading our thinkers to be 'jacks of all trades, masters of none' as the breadth of information widens and analysis decreases.

(Dialectal difference - 'git' is 'get' in Southern American English. For our UK-English speaking friends, I'm not calling anyone a git. At least not today.)

Teaching to compliance, with one right answer and one way to get it done, sucks the life out of the American entrepreneurial spirit, the one real advantage we've got left.

The author also holds up, as was a trend when the book was written, Finland's schools as the best example of literacy teaching, based, oddly, on scores on an international assessment. 

So, what have we learned?

Yes, teaching only testing genre reading dumbs down your kids, especially in states, like Virginia, where a certain percentage of each school's students are required to pass and there's no growth model. (By the way, the state's testing system is called the S.O.L.s! Can't make this stuff up, folks!) I can't say that I needed a book to tell me that, but I'm also not one of the teachers who declare, "If it's not on the test, I'm not teaching it."

I think the reading available on the internet isn't too dissimilar from the reading available in the library. Analysis and deeper thinking is definitely there, if you bother to look. My high schooler is better informed on most foreign policy topics than most adults because he finds it interesting and has quick access to the information. He bothers to keep searching.
That's not to say that the internet isn't loaded with fluff; it is. The inane comments made by many on any topic is cringe-worthy. However, so's the book world. Can you say, "Harlequin Romance Novel?" or, at the risk of starting a war, "Twilight"? Fluff has its place.

Digging deeper into what's on the net is also a parent's responsibility. Obviously, I don't read to AJ anymore, and haven't for years, but at dinner, what he's been reading and thinking about online is a regular topic. It gives us, as parents,a chance to say, "...and you believed that?!" or to discuss his ideas about America's place in the world, which are very different from mine. (There are days I question the whole 'I want him to think for himself' thing. Maybe that wasn't such a great strategy...) 

I have argued for years that teaching to compliance does a disservice to children who will not grow up into factory, textile mill, or farm jobs as our parents did. Teaching to creativity and collaboration doesn't take a lot of extra work, but it does require a paradigm shift. Still, one could argue that America's done a lot of inventing and inspiring while the teachers were the old battle-axes of my childhood. My generation can also spell. Just sayin'.

Can creativity be taught? There's a whole different blog post.

Is the Finland Miracle any different from the Texas Miracle? As a Southerner, I've learned that faith healers are a dime a dozen and are usually frauds. I question anything with the word "Miracle" as part of its title. My parents and a couple of my siblings, who are Texans, absolutely believe in the superiority of their schools (but don't have kids in them.) A teacher from Finland I once met says that she most certainly does give homework, as do most teachers she knows.  She just doesn't give tons of it, as students and parents in some countries expect. Time will sort out the smart teaching strategies from the hype, and we'll continue seeking out our own Miracle. 

Thank you for joining us on our own learning journey. Next, you're off to Jessica, our Whimsical Teacher, to wrap it all up.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Easy-Peasy Formative Assessment with "Gimme 5!" and Freebie Poster Set

One of the keys to being able to differentiate instruction and keep groups fluid is good ol' formative assessment. Sure, I use exit slips and quizlets and such, but my go-to is a 'Gimme Five' approach.

Kids show, using the fingers on one hand, on a scale of 1 to 5, where they are in their understanding of a concept or ability to work a computation. Super simple, right? Not so much. What I found is that without some definition, 5 (or 3, or 1) meant different things to different kids, so I decided to standardize them. I looked on Pinterest and found a few anchor charts with ideas about what each number of fingers meant. I read them over, made some adjustments, and popped them into a poster set for my classroom. 

Now, a two is a two and a four is a four, and we're all speaking the same language, which makes it easier to get help to the kids who need it and helpers that can be trusted to actually be helpful. 

Are kids shy about showing a finger or two? They can be. Usually, I make a joke while I'm asking, which helps. I'll say something along the lines of,"Okay, guys, quick! Gimme 5! On a scale of, 'Oh, I got this!' to, 'Woman, what are you talking about?!' where are we?" even if we've done it a bunch. Some will laugh and that takes the edge off. Remember, in any classroom, things are only a big deal if you make them one. Risk-taking classrooms don't fret over a two, especially at the beginning of something.

Clicking the poster below will hook you up with the Google doc with the set.

Thanks for hanging out on The Big Kids' Hall today! I hope you find this useful!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Readicide Book Study, Chapter Four

I started to subtitle this, "Thanks, Captain Obvious!" but I won't. This chapter shows how vastly different the mindsets of elementary and secondary teachers are. I found this when I taught middle school: People with elementary licenses teach children. People with secondary licenses teach content.

Which isn't necessarily bad. I mean, you really wouldn't want me teaching chemistry...

A number of the strategies Gallagher suggests we should add to our teaching repertoire are exactly the things most elementary teachers are working.

Still, there were some things to think about. I tend to do my teaching with my read-aloud. Each kid has a copy; we notebook and blog our way through it, then, hopefully, transfer the skills learned to book club reading. However, how well am I framing the book club books? Am I doing as much as I can to catch the one in the group that's struggling with a particular book?

So, I've got a new plan, but it's going to have to happen as we go. For our book club books:
* What essential question(s) will become blog posts? Decide this before the kids start and let them know what they/it will be.
* Let the kids know the value of the book they've picked. Besides being 'good', what can they expect to learn about becoming teenagers? About citizens?
* What places are good for second and third reads?  This makes a lot of sense and would let me streamline my guided reading, which already happens in book clubs anyway. Do we really need read aloud and book clubs and task cards and interactive notebooks? Not all of the time. I should figure out where things overlap and make some changes.

What's scary is that I'm an advocate of student choice in reading and I own a helluva lot of book sets. Yeah, I've got my work cut out for me! I think it will be worth it.

So, I understand that our Whimsical Teacher is off to Vegas this week! Nonetheless, she's got her last stop on the hop all ready. Learn lots, Jessica! (And now the teacher becomes the student...) May the Force be with you!

Is this your first stop on the hop? Head back to the beginning! It's here

Monday, July 6, 2015

Growing Community, Critical Thinking, and Mental Muscle with Math Talks

One of my favorite routines in my classroom is Math Talks. For about 10 minutes each day, my kids discuss, debate, and confer, respectfully and focused on the topic at hand. They run them almost entirely on their own and when I listen to them, I feel like I might be doing a pretty good job, after all. 

What are math talks?
 In my classroom, a student, chosen randomly, places his or her solution to a complex word problem on the camera and, in steps, explains the process for solving it. Then, other students discuss the solution, adding their thinking, following some basic sentence starters that keep the conversation objective and on-task. 

How do you train your students?
At the beginning of the year, I lead as little as possible, but more than I will for long. We begin with an anchor chart:

 and I'll begin by modeling a talk. Something like this:
Jake has 163 Pokemon cards. Seth has 46 fewer cards than Jake, and Isiah has 84 more cards than Seth. How many more cards does Isiah have than Jake?

The presentation would sound something like this:
I found the numbers 163, which represents how many cards Jake has, 46, which represents how many fewer cards Seth has than Jake, and 84, which represents how many more cards Isiah has than Seth. My job is to find the difference between Isiah's cards and Jake's.

The word fewer tells me that there's a difference between how many cards Jake has and how many Seth has. Seth has 46 less than Jake. I'll subtract 46 from 163.

The words 'more' and 'than' tell me that there's another difference, this time between how many cards Seth has and how many cards Isiah has. Once I have Seth's number, I'll add 84 to it to find out how many cards Isiah has.

There's another 'more than' in the last part, which tells me that there's a third difference, but this one's between Isiah and Jake. I know how many Jake has - it's 163 - and once I find out how many Isiah has, I'll find that difference.

So, If Seth has 46 cards fewer than Jake's 163, he has 117, because 163-46 = 117 (and I'll show my arithmetic as I go). If Seth has 117, then Isiah has 201 cards because 117+84=201. Finally, to find how many more Isiah has than Jake, I'll subtract 163 from 201, which gives me 38 cards, my final answer.

Because the problem didn't give us a total for all three boys, it's tough to prove my answer, but I used a bar representation here and did the numbers again to show that my process and calculations are right. 

From here, the students may comment on my work. For the first several weeks, maybe even until the first report card, they are only allowed to begin their comments with "I agree with ________ because..." or "I disagree with ____________ because..." The because is imperative. It forces kids to reason out their responses. Until they're good at talking - and they may respond to each other's comments, but they still have to use the two available sentence starters - this is all they get.

Over time, once the routine and the language are down, I can step away from it. Sometimes, I'll need to step in to get some different voices involved, but that's about all.

How does this build community?
Respectful-but-lively discussion is good for everyone. Presenters are sometimes wrong, and that's where the "I disagree because..." comes into play. Without prompting, most kids are kind in their disagreements. I usually get, "I agree with _______ 's process, but disagree with her calculations because 7x8 is 56, not 54." If, in your classroom community, risk-taking and mistakes are a natural part of learning, then these talks are an extension of that.

How does this build math muscle?
 Every kid knows that he or she might be called up to present on any day, so there's that factor. I also structure my question sheets to make the presenting easier, with each step
in its own space, which encourages all kids to get through them. It's a little less intimidating if it's all laid out. 

I use 'CUBES' as a strategy for approaching story problems. The acronym stands for:
C - Circle the numbers. What does each represent?
U - Underline the actual question. In your own words, what are they asking?
B - Box the action words.
E - Evaluate. How many problems are in the problem? What operation(s) do you need?
S - Slash the trash (get rid of distractions) and Solve. How do you know that your process
      and calculations are correct? Did you get all of the possible combinations?
 Giving them this feels a little 'drill and kill', but it also gives my lower students a life ring when they feel like they're drowning. It also translates well to testing situations. 

The discussion, though, is the important part. Students are always encouraged to have more than one representation, which requires more creative thinking. It's not unusual, at the end of a talk, for a child to say, "I got the same answer, but did it totally differently. Can I share mine?" Whenever we can, the answer is 'Yes.' Seeing multiple ways of approaching a problem gives kids a variety of strategies, and, again, encourages risk-taking, which, in turn, values divergent thinking. Good for problem-solvers.  

Where can you find problems that work for this?
 What you'll have to decide first is if you want to do this whole- or small-group. When my class is largely at the same level, with a few on the fringes I do this whole-group. If, however, the kids are all over the place, we'll go small. If your kids are like mine, they'll be all-about-the-same on some standards and very different on others. It's OK to vary the routine. If you're doing this small-group, you'll have to simplify the steps of some questions and algebra-fy others to increase the challenge. There are a couple of really good resources available for this. I loved Minds on Mathematics and Good Questions: Great Ways to Differentiate Math Instruction

I invent a lot of my questions, but I also model some from quiz questions that kicked their butts. On Amazon, searching 'Challenging Math Problems' will get some hits, largely
based on or around Singapore Math. (Don't let the Singapore thing intimidate you. Most of the questions don't really require the bars.)

Or, you can head over to my TpT store, where I've whipped a few into shape. 4th grade whole number operations is ready. I'll be adding more to the collection as the year progresses:

Clicking the cover will take you there!

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you'll find that adding a Math Talks routine to your math instruction has the same kind of positive effects it had on mine!