Periods of Reflection

Just random musings from an elementary perspective. Views are my own.

Month: September, 2015

Please Don’t Follow the Herd

Photo by: Dale Anne Potter

Photo by: Dale Anne Potter

These days in education, it’s all about pacing guides, companies selling “quick fix” programs, and teachers covering as much curriculum as we can, without diving deeper into content in creative and engaging ways.  I believe this shift can certainly be related to the enormous focus on standardized testing.  Can we blame teachers? In many circumstances, I’d like to say no.  Administrators are under intense scrutiny to close the achievement gap and to raise school test scores. The billionaire reformers want to see progress.   Because, after all, that’s all that matters, right? (((rolls eyes))) Never mind the fact we are creating robots as learners because so much time is used teaching to the test. Let’s not rob our students souls by the dreadful nonstop test prep.

We should be inspiring creativity and an enthusiasm for developing a sense of life long learning!  We must create a shift.  We must not follow the herd of the quick fix reformers in education.

How can this be done?

Planning Systematically:


We must get to know our students.  We must get to know their learning styles and tendencies.  This information will help drive how we go about creating lessons that will make learning meaningful and memorable.  You can easy create a survey using google forms to dissect each student’s strengths and areas they can improve. Utilize and high tech/high touch approach to learning.  Be sure to talk to parents about their child’s learning tendencies as well.

Relationships:

This is paramount in any classroom.  I can’t stress their importance enough. We must build the foundation with students and create an environment of trust in your classroom.  Talk to your kids.  Allow a few minutes each day to ask them how they are doing.  Read their signs.  This is a simple, yet effective way, to show kids you care.

Unpack the Standards:

The common core standards are not going anywhere anytime soon.  To be honest, I don’t hate the idea of having common standards.  If teachers unpack the standards and get to know them, you can attack and teach each standard in a way that is best for your students.  I know the argument to this by some teachers is that we have pacing guides and recommendations from the district how to teach standards.  They are just that, a guide. I’m confident if your administrator walked into your classroom and students were focused, engaged, and demonstrating learning, they can’t really disagree with your decision to make the lesson your own.

Student Voice and Choice:

 Technology and choice can go hand in hand.  Utilizing the many tools at our disposal, students have a multitude of ways to demonstrate understanding in creative and engaging ways.  Remember, technology is just a tool and pedagogy should always be thought about first! Some creative ideas for students to demonstrate understanding using technology are…

  • Animoto trailers
  • Green Screen Videos (great content creation app, regardless of subject)
  • Blog posts to connect with authentic audiences using Write About
  • ThingLink App Smash (great content creation app, regardless of subject)
  • Educreation/Explain Everything videos (great content creation app, regardless of subject)
  • Comic book creations.
  • Collaborative Google Slide presentations
  • Blogging with an authentic audience
  • QR code scavenger hunts

This list can go on and on.

Think Different, Take Risks, and F.A.I.L:

Don’t be afraid to try new things in the classroom.  There are times when we will plan a lesson that we think will be amazing, but will be a complete failure (First attempt in learning).  Accept this and be honest with students. This shows them that you can model taking risks, reflect, and grow from your experiences. An end goal would to have students be as reflective as possible to augment their social and academic growth.

Work WITH your team, but challenge them:

We all work on teams.  I believe we are stronger as a unified, collaborative group who have the students best interests at heart.  Will we disagree from time to time? Yes, but this can be done in a constructive and positive way.  If you respectfully disagree with something you team has asked of you, explain your reasoning, and offer a solution.  Brainstorm together.  Ensure all voices are heard.  This can lead to a positive working team, as well as a team that works together for our greatest stalk holders, our students!

It’s All About Purposeful Feedback:

This summer I read Assessment 3.0 by Mark Barnes. This book reaffirmed my believe about the importance of focused feedback and reflection to help students grow.  Students and parents have been trained since pre-school that grades are the end goal.  I disagree. For my students, I want to instill the value of using feedback, both from peers and teachers to grow as learners.   Set learning goals with your students.  Conference with your students.  Allow them the opportunity to re-submit work based on the feedback given.  Keep in mind the feedback must be explicit and not generic. This will show true growth over time and build an intrinsic motivation to learn. An easy way to keep a digital portfolio of learning for students and parents is Seesaw, but I’ll save that explanation for another post.

Genius Hour and Passion Based Learning:

Much has been documented about Genius Hour and it’s benefits.  Read this guest post I wrote on Angela Maier’s blog for more details.  It’s helpful to also follow Joy Kirr on Twitter.  She’s an amazing resource for Genius Hour.

I hope this post provide you with some ideas about way to not follow the herd.  Our kids deserve better. What are some ways you don’t follow the herd?

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I am a passionate teacher in Stamford, CT. I teach fifth grade ELA/Social Studies. I am proud to be an active member of the Twitter educational community. I am an organizer for #EdCampSWCT, a moderator for #ctedu, technology professional develop leader in my district, and a believer in a high tech/high touch blended learning approach to teaching.  I am nominated for the Bammy of 2015 Elementary School Teacher of the Year. I am a certified administrator. I believe in taking risks and working collaboratively to augment student achievement. I love children’s literature and strive to become better everyday. I am a husband and father. Follow me on Twitter @mrsapia_teach

Building a Reading Community

Reading Warrior Day!

Reading Warrior Day!

That moment before the first day of school.  The moment when you see your new scholars walking down the hallway.  Some with infectious and enthusiastic smiles.  Others with looks of apprehension and nerves.  As an educator, I experience them all.  Will they like my class? Will they develop a passion for learning? Will they respect my energy and love for reading? Will they respond to having more freedom and choice? Will they leave my room as a voracious reading warrior? Thousands of questions roam around in my mind. I love this challenge.  It drives me.

In our learning lab, we are surrounded by books.  Books in cases, on shelves, on counters, on designated coffee table surrounded by pub tables and exercise balls.  Books. Are.  Everywhere. How do I go about building a reading community?  Here are some simple steps below.

Relationships:

It’s my duty as a teacher to engage students in creative and interesting ways to help them develop a love and passion for reading for enjoyment.  The first step to building a reading community is relationships. Without this foundation, I truly believe we cannot harness a child’s true potential.  We need to think of kids as humans, not as DRA scores or lexile levels.  Those are a very small piece to a gigantic puzzle. How can this be done?

Talk and Conference:

We need to talk and conference with them as much as possible.  We need to ask them about themselves and their reading lives.  We need to connect with parents to learn about reading habits at home.  Invite kids to have lunch with you to have informal conversations about books. Steal 3 minutes in the hallway to ask them about what book they’re reading. Display books that students are currently reading on lockers.  When you buy a new book tell a specific child you had them in mind when choosing it, then watch their faces light up. Create a reading graffiti wall for students to recommend books.  (Thanks to Donalyn Miller for that idea!)

Surveys:

I use surveys to find out this information.  This is the springboard to in-depth, real conversations about book.  I usually administer a survey 3 times a year to ensure I value student voice in the process of buying books, let them reflect how they’ve grown as a reader, and to have an up-to-date pulse about their attitudes toward reading.
Choice:

It’s a non-negotiable that students have choice to read what they would like in my classroom. Sure we have many varying levels of types or readers, but using information from a survey can go a long way with working with students to ensure they have great books in their hands. Do students always make the best choices? No, let’s be honest.  But if you notice a child is reading a book that is too easy or too hard for them, conference with them, help them choose a book, and then set a goal in their readers’ notebook about wanting to read a specific book.  This can lead to intrinsic motivation for them to work harder to met a goal.

Model Strong Reading Habits:

One of my favorite days in class are our “Reading in the Zone” days.  I got this idea from the wonderful and amazing Nancy Atwell.  On these days, students read uninterrupted for 30 minutes or so, then we come back to the carpet to just have conversations about the books we are reading.  It’s so powerful for kids to develop deep questioning and listening skills, as well as a great way to recommend books to others.  During this time, I also read in the zone with students to model my passion for reading.  I also display current books I’m reading in class, as well as the book I’m reading next to show my scholars I set goals and have a plan for reading.

Technology: 

Technology and choice can go hand in hand.  Utilizing the many tools at our disposal, students have a multitude of ways to demonstrate understanding in creative and engaging ways.  Remember, technology is just a tool and pedegogy should always be thought about first! Some creative ideas for choice after reading a book are…

  • Animoto book trailers
  • Green Screen Videos
  • Creating an exemplar summary and QR to paste into books for other students to read
  • Blog posts to connect with authentic audiences
  • Voki
  • ThingLink App Smash
  • Educreation videos highlight major plot lines in story, character analysis, etc.
  • Using Edmodo for book clubs
  • Skype with authors
  • Global Read Aloud!!!
  • Comic book creations.
  • Collaborative Google Slide presentations
  • Create Shelfari Widget for classroom website to display books I’ve read
  • Integrate Twitter and Instagram into classroom website to share books

Book a Day:

Jillian Heise shared a great idea about a book a day on Twitter. I immediately loved this idea and have been participating in this.  The end goal for me is to read about 120 picture books this year, both as mentor texts and for enjoyment.  I then display the books we’ve read on our “Book a Day” bulletin board outside the classroom. I also plan on having students do weekly reflections using our green screen room to discuss what books we’ve read.

Engaging Books:

This year, with the help of my amazing and generous parents, as well as supportive administrative team, I have been able to get at least 300 new books for my classroom library.  Sure, this is more money than I can even think about right now, but students need access to highly engaging picture books, graphic novels, and informational text.  A really creative way that I introduce books is by becoming the reading warrior.  Click here for some pictures from this lesson.  I bought a shirt from Pernille Ripp’s web store, borrowed a cape and sunglasses from my brother, and became my alter ego. Needless to say, it was epic.  Don’t be afraid to embrace your inner pirate!

Read Aloud:

I can’t stress the importance of a classroom read aloud.  Please read this post that I wrote a few months ago about its benefit.

One more thing, JUST SAY NO TO READING LOGS.  Nothing robs a child’s reading soul more then this outdated practice!

These are just a few ways to I build a community of readers in my classroom.  Be on the lookout for part two of this post coming soon.  In what ways do you build a reading community in your classroom?

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I am a passionate teacher in Stamford, CT. I teach fifth grade ELA/Social Studies. I am proud to be an active member of the Twitter educational community. I am an organizer for #EdCampSWCT, a moderator for #ctedu, technology professional develop leader in my district, and a believer in a high tech/high touch blended learning approach to teaching.  I am nominated for the Bammy of 2015 Elementary School Teacher of the Year. I am a certified administrator. I believe in taking risks and working collaboratively to augment student achievement. I love children’s literature and strive to become better everyday. I am a husband and father. Follow me on Twitter @mrsapia_teach

Google Doc Link

Ripp Edcamp Agenda