Fun

To start my daughter on her journey to driving, we got the chance to motor to the Department of Public Safety.  We decided to journey to a DPS in a small, nearby town to get her permit thinking we would avoid the crowds.

We arrived at 8:45 to find an overflowing full parking lot.

We parked and picked our way through an overgrown sidewalk around a portable building to a side entrance where about 50 people stood lined up on a covered porch. My daughter, son, and I dutifully got in line.

The silence was deafening.  No one was talking.

So I started up a conversation with the person next to me.  Then I walked up to the front of the line and asked how long they had been waiting. (Since 7:30!)  A gentleman who overheard me talking to the guy in the front of the line started joking about the wait.  The group started loosening up.

My kids and talked about leaving, but decided we would stick it out. We talked and joked around.  Others who were not as strong simply gave up and left. After and hour and 15 minutes the gentleman who was at the front of the line was FINALLY let into the building.

My natural reaction was to start cheering.  I was the only one.

For a few seconds.

Then others joined in. The silence we walked up to evaporated.  We suddenly became a community joined in a joint goal.  To get in the building!

We were doing the unthinkable. We were having fun at the DPS.

As my kids and I got into the car 3.5 hours later, I was struck by how the experience could have been so much more unpleasant. Standing outside for hours in heat of a Texas summer is nobody’s idea of a good time, but the choices we made shifted the experience to one of joy and delight.  It is true that time flies when you are having fun!

Thinking about this experience naturally caused me to reflect upon my teaching practice. Our classrooms can be as dry, dull and torturous as a visit to the DPS. We have the ultimate control over our classroom environment. In this I am reminded of Ebenezer Scrooge reflecting on how his old boss, Fezziwig, could make work laborious  or pleasurable.  By deciding to have fun, we as teachers can make an otherwise dreaded experience one of joy and a blessing.

How can we make the mundane delightful?

  • Celebrate EVERYTHING!  This is not a new idea, but it is a useful one. Everyone is seated when the bell rings? Celebrate! It’s Monday? That’s a reason to have fun!
  • Play a game.  I love randomly having a rock, paper, scissors tournament.  It takes 2 minutes-I’ve timed it-and it improves engagement.
  • Delight in your students. Say hi to everyone everyday.  Give high-fives or fist-bumps. Share a smile.  The vibe in your room when class starts will be charged for learning.
  • Embrace the silly. Don’t be afraid to look ridiculous or make mistakes.  Sometimes we take ourselves way too seriously.
  • Reevaluate what fun means.  Having fun does not necessarily mean every moment is a party.  To me fun means you’re engaged and interested or finding your task enjoyable. We can make everything fun if we try.

Ultimately, focus on enjoying the moment, your students, and the myriad of opportunities to teach children and not just a lesson.  It is up to us as the educational professionals to make the experience students have in our classrooms one our students look back on with a with a positive glow.  That is simple to do by adding some fun.

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

My daughter was just a few days old when Fred Rogers passed away in 2003. Knowing the world would no longer be influenced by Mr. Rogers was, to me, crushing news. It was as if the children of the world had collectively lost a wise, beloved guide.   If you’ve read a biography or seen one of the documentaries about him, then you know he was an amazing human being despite his legacy of groundbreaking children’s programming. His serene nature and direct dealing with all manner of issues was reassuring. If Mr. Rogers said it, it had to be true.

One of the things that stood out about him was the way he was able to form connections quickly with his audience. Something observed by many who worked with him is that when you talked with him, you really felt he was listening and cared. He was genuine and authentic. He was an expert at building community.

Time is precious-especially in education.   We have 180 days with our students. 180 days to turn around their reading lives and metamorphosize them into glorious academic butterflies.  The pressure is tremendous. Building a viable classroom community is imperative.

In order to grow readers, a pleasant, trusting working relationship must be established almost immediately upon them stepping into the classroom.   In case you didn’t know, that’s a challenge with reluctant readers. Knowing that my class is a remedial reading course AND takes the place of an elective, I have to work extra diligently to make it a place students want to be.

Bear in mind a lot is asked of our students the first few days of school.  We demand they write about their summers, tell us things we should know about them, and/or create goals. All of this and they are waking up before midmorning for the first time in weeks.

There are lots of great methods to build classroom community out there.  Google classroom icebreakers and tons of ideas appear from elaborate games to simple activities.

In talking with various groups of students as part of an informal survey, I discovered that almost all teachers in all content areas do pretty much the same thing in all classes for the first few days.  It has to be mind numbing.  And it has to feel a bit disingenuous from the students’ perspective.  Teachers expect so much of students, shouldn’t the opposite be true as well?

Besides, most students want to find the right rooms, friends, and a tribe with which they can eat lunch those first few days.  They are nervous about their new batch of teachers and just want to not stand out in the wrong ways.

In observing Mr. Rogers interactions, he does several things to establish rapport.  He greets, maintains eye contact, smiles, says how he feels, asks questions and responds.  He was not afraid to look goofy trying something new. If something needed to be explored or stated, he found a way to do so with grace. A perfect template for the classroom teacher.

Here are some things I do to help establish relationships and community right off the bat:

  • Reassure students
  • Ask nothing of them I wouldn’t do myself
  • Allow time
  • Explain how class will run
  • Reassure them

Reassure them

As I stated earlier, I teach remedial reading to secondary students.  They know failure. They need to know that I’m in their corner and that I believe in them.  I tell this in no uncertain terms.  I explain that they may not leave my room at the end of the year loving reading, but they won’t hate it anymore.

Ask nothing of them I wouldn’t do myself

I love passing out note cards, sticky notes, or using Pear Deck (a fabulous Google Drive add on) and having kids write down three things they would like to know about me.  This is a reversal of an activity where kids make a list of things they feel the teacher should know about them. I don’t feel it’s fair for me to expect students to joyfully give up personal information to an almost stranger right off the bat, although I do eventually ask them once some trust is built.

Then, I tell them what I think they should know:

  1. I was socio-economically disadvantaged
  2. I’ve never met my dad
  3. I spent the first five years my life on a farm with my great aunt and uncle

Students LOVE to know about us. My dramatic personal story is an instant way to              connect with many of my students.

Allow Time

Those first few days I really want them to know my class is a shared space.  I let them explore, ask questions, peruse our reading selections, and get to know each other.  Instead of jumping straight into curriculum, I live by the “go slower to go faster” philosophy.  We play games, talk about reading habits, what we are good at and what needs work.  It feels like play, but LOTS of groundwork is being laid for future lessons.

Explain how class will run

We generate expectations together and I get books in their hands ASAP.  I start with a tower of picture books activity.  Read as many as you can and rate them from 1-5.  Then we discuss ratings.  This is a fun way to ease into reading and it gets them exposed to independent reading quickly and in bite sized chunks. A few days in, I start explaining course objectives and how we will do things.  I wait a few days so that I’m not just repeating what students are hearing in all their classes.

Reassure Them..Again

Of course, we end where we began.  I strive to be my student’s biggest cheerleader. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of constantly building kids up.  The first thing they hear walking into our shared space as well as the last should be positive and uplifting.  If I mess up, I try and find kids and fix it ASAP.  They need to know I am for them and with them during our journey and beyond. I create comfort with routines we revert back to with consistency. Much like Mr. Rogers changing his sport coat and shoes.

I hope to be a beloved guide to literacy like the incomparable Fred Rogers was a guide for so much to so many.

Honey and Trunchbull

Ever read or watch Matilda?  If you haven’t, it is a story by Roald Dahl that has been made into both a movie and a broadway musical.  Matilda is about a precocious young girl genius who is not understood by her brutish parents.  School is a terrible place where learning is not a priority and unfair punishments are doled out by the ogreish Trunchbull.   Miss. Honey is the  kind and loving teacher who sees potential in her students and cultivates it.  This story throws two types of teachers we often see in school into extreme hyperbole.

I’m sure I’ve been seen by students as both a Miss. Honey and a Trunchbull.  For example, last year I saw a boy launch an apple far down the hallway as lunch was dismissing.  Luckily, it didn’t hit anyone, but I was furious.  My inner Trunchbull came roaring out and the student was confronted with an irate teacher.  He became rude and sullen in direct response to my highly combative reaction to the situation. After enough time to cool down, I visited him in the AP office and explained that my response was unacceptable.  In my worry about students getting hurt, I failed to handle myself in an appropriate way.  I apologized.

Later I discovered that my apology was an intense shock for this boy.  A teacher had NEVER said they were sorry to him before.  That’s a problem.

Hopefully, I am perceived more often as Miss. Honey. We educators may strive to be tolerant and loving like Miss. Honey, but we are not perfect and occasionally fail. It’s important to acknowledge when we fail to meet our own expectations-out loud to our students.  After all, we expect our students to apologize when they are out of line.  We should, too.

So what are steps we can take to ensure our inner Trunchbull never sees the light of day?  thrunchbull

Remember you are dealing with a child.  As capable as they are, they are limited in their capacity for dealing with conflict and confrontation. Plus, the teacher/student relationship is not a balanced one.  Teachers have the ability to make education rewarding or painful.  We need to be sure we keep that at the forefront of  our dealings with students.

Evaluate what matters.  Are you getting upset over things not covered in your guidelines and procedures? Change them. So many of the things that frustrate me in class are my own fault! Clear explanations of expectations go far in keeping everything sailing smoothly. Think about what sets you off.  Does a student not having a pencil make steam come out of your ears? Reteach a procedure for this issue.

When you feel temper stirring, stop.  Wait a minute. Is your temper truly at the proper level for the infraction? Question why you are upset. In these moments I try and remember who has the power.  The answer is always going to be me.  I’m the adult, the professional, the one with life experience. I ask myself if I am allowing a child to control my emotions. If we go without sleep, are sick or hungry we need to take steps to keep Trunchbull at bay! It is important to be sure our own personal needs are being met.  Let you kids know you’re having an off day.  Students seeing you are human is absolutely ok.

How can keep our Miss. Honey in charge?

matilda

Plan for variables. If you are able to have contingency plans in place when things aren’t going as hoped, you can adjust and move forward without frustration. Planning carefully ensures you can point students in the right direction efficiently, help put your hands on needed items without turning the room upside down, and meet everyone’s needs with efficiency.  This can be a simple as a few extra copies of instruction sheets for group work or a healthy supply of lined paper for a writing task.  It can also be more complex, such as pre-recording something for a student with accommodations or transforming you class to create a special environment for a lesson.

Have Fun. If no one is having fun, what is the point? Take some time to nurture a love of your subject.  For me this means book talks, silly games, flashlight Fridays, silly jokes, or more time with a beloved read aloud.  Sit back and chat with your students and enjoy the time you have with them. Read the room and put in movement breaks or brain breaks to keep everyone on their toes.

Appreciate your students as they come to you and look for what is loveable in them. This is the most important action we can take in the quest to be like Miss. Honey. Every child has something in them that can be appreciated. Gravity Goldberg in Moves and Mindsets advocates this approach by asking teachers to view students through a lens of admiration.  When you start out with a loving mindset, it’s hard to fly off the handle.

I go into my 19th year of teaching knowing I will make plenty of mistakes. Hopefully there are going to be more Miss. Honey days than Trunchbull days in the burgeoning school year. It’s important to remember that if you’re not perfect, it’s ok. Perfect is overrated.  Plus, your kids will forgive you if you just ask.

NEXT WEEK

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

 

Crime and Punishment

The past two posts have dealt with rules and procedures.  I explained that I prefer a single classroom guideline and explicitly clear expectations.  The next logical step is a discussion about what happens when student behaviors fail to be upheld by the guideline and don’t meet expectations.

But first…

I am not on a mission to catch students and penalize them. It is much more pleasant catching students doing what is expected and promoting the positive.  If a child is doing something undesired, I point out and give specific praise to others who are meeting expectations.  Even in a secondary classroom, once a kid is praised for writing their name on a paper tons of hands suddenly pop into the air to show they also complied in order to receive praise. Looking for students doing the right things and catching them at it also maintains a more positive classroom environment.  And it’s just less exhausting for the teacher to promote good vibes!

Some rewards are:

  • sitting at the teacher’s desk
  • choice of seating during instruction
  • stinky feet
  • choice of activity
  • playing DJ
  • stickers
  • create an illustration or quote for the room when work is done
  • lunch with the teacher

These rewards work even for secondary students.

When student behavior needs to be corrected it’s important to remember almost all behaviors have an underlying cause.  My first job, before slamming down a detention slip or calling in someone else to deal with issues in my class is to go through a mental checklist.  I pull the student who is showing undesirable behaviors aside and run through my list, remembering I’m dealing with someone’s baby.  This is a CHILD over whom I have power and control.  I must be mindful of this.

First things to check before doling out consequences is getting to the root of the behavior:

  • Have the student’s physical and emotional needs been met?  Kids who are hungry, sick, anxious or tired may need TLC.
  • Have I shown respect? I have been flippant or unknowingly rude?  Did I lash out and need to apologize?
  • Did something happen in an earlier class or this morning at home?

Nine times out of ten, the issue causing the behavior is one of  three listed above.  I may not be able to address all of these things, but I can listen and hand out pop tarts if needed.

When that one of of ten circumstance occurs, it falls squarely on me to fix it.  I obviously did not communicate effectively in a way the student not meeting expectations understood or bought into.  This means I need to speak with the student one on one straight away.  My first questions is, “Did you understand what was expected?”  If the student says yes, it’s my job to then find out why they made the choice to not comply.  I point out the expectation not met and ask if they are aware of how they did not meet the expectation.  I explain I regret they made this choice as dispassionately as I can.

I then discuss a logical consequence with the student.  That’s right, the student takes part in deciding how they will be held accountable in the situation.  I do not believe in having a list of consequences  listed like a menu on the wall. Students are children who often don’t have a rational reason for what they do, so I believe that consequences should be as individual as the students involved.

My number one personal goal is to deal with classroom issues in my classroom myself.  The moment I involve someone else in the maintenance of my class, I have made it clear I am not capable of governing the space.

Additionally, students should never receive two consequences for the same infraction.  For example, if a student cheats the logical consequence is an academic one. They earn a failing grade.  That’s it.

The only thing that gets an immediate office referral or a emergency call to the AP office is if students are in danger-such as a fight.

Some consequences I’ve assigned over the years:

  • assigned seat
  • work independently
  • temporarily lose privilege of choice
  • mandatory tutorial
  • loss of flexible seating privilege
  • phone call home
  • loss of phone/device use

Of course, several conversations have taken place before one of these outcomes is assigned.

Punishing students is not why I became an educator.  Sometimes walls are built when teachers focus too much on enforcing rules.  Ultimately, it’s about encouraging students to buy into the guidelines and encourage positivity and learning.

NEXT WEEK:

Honey and Trunchbull: Who are you?

 

 

Rules and Procedures II

My fifth year of teaching was the year of a major epiphany.  I discovered that if I told students exactly what I expect from them clearly and with reason, they tried their hardest to comply.  It was a shocking discovery.

I learned that the frustrations I had in my classroom were directly a result of my own actions. When I allowed quite discussion and became irritated when students would shout across the room, I was to blame for not setting up the parameters of the discussion properly. If I told students to raise their hands to respond, but allowed students to blurt out answers and then became frustrated with the blurting, that was on me. When I told kiddos to turn in their work and all 30 rushed to do so, it was clear I made a huge mistake.

Procedures, for me, are the expectations for behaviour in various situations. Rules are something else completely. Last week I began as series about rules and procedures, mainly focusing on procedures.  Now we turn to rules.

There are several personality types out there in the world and dozens of ways to evaluate personalities. I feel that classroom rules can also determine personality type. Some teachers have a laundry list of nick picky rules that are not really rules, but procedures.  Others have absolute rules meant to catch behaviours and not truly correct them. A few even have rules that nobody knows.  It’s a mystery.

The main thing to consider with rules is that they are absolutes.  When you break a rule there is a consequence.

Personally, I don’t believe in a list of classroom rules.  I think they can be arbitrary and irrelevant.  Most of the big stuff is covered in my district’s student code of conduct and I have no wish to rehash that with my kiddos.  Additionally, I am not looking to catch kids misbehaving, but raise their own standard of behavior at least for the time they are in my class.  To that end I have one guidline:

BE APPROPRIATE 

I introduce this to my students during our first few days and together we define what appropriate means in various situations.  I give them a scenario and my students tell me how be behave appropriately.  For example, what is appropriate when someone is answering a question? Listen and wait your turn, raise your hand to add, write you thoughts down. With this process students define the standard of behavior to which they will be held. The teacher is not dictating behaviors. Some people call this a social contract. We revisit this document at various point through the year and make changes as needed.

The best part is, the kids are doing all the work.  The things they come up with are right on track.  I am able to praise their insight and obvious excellent citizenship before we delve in to content.

I realize this crosses the line into procedures and expectations.  But I’m not posting “No talking” as a rule in a middle grade classroom because that’s idiotic.  My students learn best by talking. My goal is to help them appropriately engage in a learning discussion.  In fact I’m unwilling to post rules stating “no” anything because I aim to accentuate the positive and a bunch of “no” this and “no” that is not exactly uplifting. They’ve seen silly rules such as that their whole educational career.  They need to have ownership of the classroom community.

Whatever procedures, expectations, or guidelines you create remember to be clear and explicit in explaining them.  Don’t assume your students know what you want from them.

Next Week:

Crime and Punishment

 

 

Rules VS Procedures Part I

Ever been in a situation where you had no clue what to do? Where you didn’t know what the acceptable action was?  Where the rules or procedures were not clear? It’s terribly uncomfortable!

I imagine that is why class is so quiet for the first few days of school.  Everyone is learning the lay of the land. It’s like a fancy dinner party and nobody knows what piece of silverware to use and they are terrified of messing up.

Rules and procedures can be overwhelming.

A few years ago my son was obsessed with a new card game called Exploding Kittens.  The rules were a lot for me to take in.  I just couldn’t get my head around how to play.  It seemed that for every rule there was an exception and that consistency was impossible to maintain. It took a lot of practice just for me to understand the basics-and I still needed A LOT of help.

Reading the rules, comprehending the rules, and following the rules did not help me better understand the game. Playing the game helped me to “get it”. Then the company started selling expansion packs that complicated the game even more!  Although the rules didn’t change, they were altered enough to break down my understanding.

This also applies to classroom rules and procedures.

Teaching secondary, I have to keep in mind that my students are shuffled into 8 different classroom environments during the day. Eight different sets of rules and procedures. Eight different classroom expectations and environments.  Sure, some of the rules will be similar, but I imagine it’s a lot like playing a card game where boundaries are vague and changeable.

Harry Wong’s classic The First Days of School is a classic for a reason.  It touts that procedures make classrooms run smoothly.  And this is correct. The only issue I see is that teachers overburden students with lists and lists of procedures. Look up classroom procedures and there are tons of recommendations and student notes pages. One year early in my career I made up a powerpoint of every procedure I could think of and a notes page to go with it.  For THREE days I tortured my students with notes on how to do everything from blow their noses to sharpen pencils.  It as if I had singlehandedly started a zombie apocalypse.  I was bored, they were bored and the procedures were irrelevant without application. On the fourth day I apologized and we started over.  Instead of noting everything, we practiced it as it applied to various situations.  When students got rusty with procedures, we practiced again.

Procedures = Expectations

When setting up your classroom procedures, think of what matters most and what frustrates you.  Chose your procedures from there. Procedures that are constantly reinforced and practiced help classrooms to run smoothly. Messing up procedures is not something students get a consequence for, they just get to practice it some more.   If something is frustrating you, reexamine how you presented it. I’ve found that I’m most frustrated when my expectations have not been met, and that I mostly likely was not explicit enough in my explanation.

Big procedures for me are:

  • starting class
    • I have a bell ringer or warm-up of some kind on the board at the start of class.  If we don’t have one, there is some type of self starting activity so I can greet each kiddo as they come in. My expectation is that all students get whatever supplies they need and get started. We spend about five minutes with the bell ringer so I can check in with students and do the necessary housekeeping.
  • supplies
    • If students need supplies, I expect them to get them.  I have paper, pencils, erasers, and various and sundry available to my students.  They get them as they walk in.  More about this in a future post.
  • discussion
    • Listen and participate appropriately.  This is a taught behavior. It takes patience and practice.
  • turning in work
    • We have a bin.  Put it there.  Don’t hand it to me or put it on my desk.  It will evaporate. Follow traffic flow so was don’t have a pile up at the bin.
  • exiting class
    • Make our space as nice or better than it was when you came in.  If you need to restock pencils or other supplies, do it. Stack dictionaries or manipulatives neatly. Check the floor for papers. This is OUR space and we all contribute to keeping it running smoothly.
  • rotations
    • Once again, this is a taught and practiced procedure.  I have a three day schedule rotation.  We practice, practice and practice.
  • independent reading
    • Eyes are on your book. Eyes are tracking words on the page. You are reacting to the text. Reading is happening at a reasonable pace. You are invested in the text.

Why?

Aside from presenting and practising procedures, explain the purpose behind it.  Nobody likes doing anything without a clear explanation as to why. When talking about my procedure for exiting the class, I explain that I really respect our custodial staff and want to not leave a mess for them each day.  I also explain that it helps me know what is needed in each station and that pencils and manipulatives stay supplied for each class.

As in all, practice makes perfect.

Even if it sometimes takes until April for perfection.

Next Week:

Rules VS Procedures II

Ebb and Flow-Setting Up a Classroom Part II

For most of us the SuperHero Teacher won’t swoop in and make our classroom into an amazing dream space planned to perfection. The majority of us are piecing it together bit by bit over years of experience.

In my last post I wrote about space and variety of seating. Prepping a classroom can be a overwhelming job, but a few basic tenants can help make the process more simple and streamlined.

Today we look over the last three points:

  • Flow
  • Stations
  • Student Independence

FLOW

As you are setting up your space, think about how people will move about.  Where are logical areas for traffic flow? Teach students how you want them to move about the space.  This is an area secondary teachers can emulate our elementary counterparts. I go so far as to place masking tape arrows on the floor to help mitigate traffic jams. Think about where you will want students to be in the space and make those places easy to get to-like pencil sharpeners, trash, tissues, and turn in trays.  Avoid creating a teacher nest. It breaks my heart to see teacher “areas” cordoned off and inaccessible to students. How often is that teacher sitting there and not interacting with kids? My desk is right by the door and I am rarely at it.  A student sits there more often than I do.

STATIONS

Consider if you will teach in stations.  I have three to four stations working in my classroom at any given time and my space is divided in such way to make those stations very clearly delineated.  Generally,  I have stations at computers, independent reading, teacher guided, and independent practice.  I tend to use the walls as station markers.  Along each wall is where different stations take place.  This way I can monitor even as I lead a teacher guided station.

STUDENT INDEPENDENCE

A few years back a teacher in my department had hand sanitizer and tissues set up in an unseen nook.  Any excuse kids could think of would have them popping up of of their seats and squirting hand sanitizer everywhere.  Clearly, these kiddos were not ready for this privilege. The way you organize your space allows for your learners to take ownership of it. Think about what students will be allowed to do for themselves–and make those tasks clear to your students.  The more independent your students are the better your classroom environment will be. Think of ways to build capacity in your students so you can spend your time conferencing, coaching, and mentoring. Of course, before setting students free requires regular discussions about trust, expectations and responsibility. Anticipate student needs and then make adjustments as needed.

EBB and FLOW

My classroom and students are my source of energy.  I get recharged when teaching and the space I’m in helps transitions run smoothly and ensure everyone has what they need. Ultimately, the classroom space needs to promote learning and growth.  It needs to be a place you and your students want to be each day.

And, most importantly, it needs to have a passionate, joyful teacher.

Next Week:

Rules and Procedures

 

Ebb and Flow-Setting Up a Classroom Part I

Like most of America, I’ve watched one too many home improvement shows.  The transformations wrought by smiling, well funded and prepared TV hosts is truly mind-blowing.  I have to remind myself that the stunning results created on these programs are NOT reality.

Carefully curated Pinterest and Instagram posts also don’t help. The pressure for cute and perfect is abundant!

When I go about improving the spaces in my own home, I don’t (and won’t) have unlimited funds and crafty abilities at my disposal.  I’m constantly reminding myself to stay grounded. As lovely as the results on home improvement shows and social media posts can be, it is important to go with what you already have.

The same is true for the classroom.  Get a little inspiration online, then go with what you have. Although I did enter the #flipmyclassroom contest (fingers crossed).

Planning your room layout is an important step in creating a warm, inviting classroom. It is my hope that our space be a place my students want to be.

Much like in my previous post about purging classroom libraries, this is an area in which we need to think about what is engaging to our students.  Are they going to be thrilled to find shiplap? Will they learn better with a double chevron border?  Neon everything?  Cacti encouraging sharpness?

This requires forethought that goes beyond theming and hopes that it’s “insta worthy”.  There needs to be a ebb and flow, a give and take, in this space that is shared between teacher and student.

Functionality is vital for smooth transitions, classroom routines, and independent student procedures. Here are the things to consider when planning out a classroom.

  • Space
  • Variety of seating
  • Flow
  • Stations
  • Student independence

Let’s take a closer look at the first two bullets on the list:

Continue reading “Ebb and Flow-Setting Up a Classroom Part I”

Time to think about getting ready to get started

My great-grandfather, Gramps, was by no means an academic.  I don’t think he made it past the elementary grades before his mother’s death and crushing poverty caused him to join the workforce.  Despite his lack of education, he coined a plethora of wonderful sayings my family members still manage to liberally sprinkle into everyday conversations.

He was also a gifted gardener.  He knew when to till, prep soil, plant seeds, burn out patches of garden for the next season, and when to reap the fruits of his labor. His timing was rarely off when it came to planting.  Hence the title of this post. This was a phrase he’d use when a large project was about to start or he was simply considering getting up from the dinner table.

The next few weeks will be a whirlwind of activities and before anyone knows it, school will be starting.  That is a prospect that excites me! There is so much to do before I welcome a new crop of readers into my classroom.  In these summer posts, I will focus on the things I do to prepare for a new school year.  Some of it is completely obvious, but I hope to help some teacher out there with the benefit of my experience.  Or I at least solidify my own philosophy of teaching.

It’s time to think about getting ready to get started.

My first step-the great purge.  To build up my classroom library, I need to weed out the titles that are outdated, unappealing, or irrelevant to my readers.

My reading class runs on choice.  Students pick the books they will be reading.  I may have 20 different books being read at any given time.  To help my readers have the best choices, I must purge my book shelves.

During this process it is important to put myself as a reader to the side and channel the interests of my students.  If it were up to me, I’d have shelves stocked primarily with fantasy, magic, and sci-fi.  All things reluctant readers stay far, far away from.

I ruthlessly question each title and its relevance to my classroom. Here are some of the questions I ask?

  • Is the cover unappealing? (The old adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover” is FALSE)
  • Does the blurb capture attention?
  • Are the character, problem, and setting clear just from the cover and blurb?
  • How often has this book been selected during the past school year?
  • Can my students connect to this story?

Once I’ve done this, I may create a few new reading collections.

Ugly covers? I rip them off and create a “blind date with a book” section that includes a blurb.

Boring blurb? I ask students who have read the book and liked it to create a better blurb.  I also search for a newer re-vamped blurb to help sell the book.

A text that students perceive is too old fashioned to connect to? I create a “retro reads” tub.

Books that kids don’t read, but I know they would love it they just take a crack at them? Book talks-you MOST effective way to get kids interested in a text.  More to come on this in another post.

The unsaveable books get given away or sold to Half-Price Books.

I just let them go…and buy some new ones.

This process takes a while and is HARD because there is something redeeming about almost any book out there.   Despite the challenges, it is worth it.  My bookshelves will have appealing books that will possibly hold the one book that will change a student into a reader.

 

 

 

Summer Time Reading

Summer is a different type of work for teachers.  For me, a reading teacher, my summer is a series of meetings, trainings, prepping for the presentation of professional development and reading.  Currently there are over 40 books lounging in my to be read pile.  Actually, they are packed in boxes arranged in my living room.

I just finished this lovely read:

forget me not novel

here is a link to order from Amazon

This is a fabulous book for middle grade students.  It deals with so many various topics and would spur great discussion and reading responses.