Reading Class

When you think back to school and reading class, what comes to mind? Is it the many books on the ‘Required Reading List’, the dreaded book report or maybe its endless worksheets to prove to the teacher you actually read the book. Whatever your recollections of reading shouldn’t a class called ‘Reading’ actually consist of reading time?

I don’t personally remember learning to read, but I do remember the dreaded Required Reading lists, dull worksheets, and nerve wracking books reports that dominated my grade school experiences. My love for reading came during the summer, when I was free to choose my own books. I’d check out an armload of volumes from the public library. The ones I loved I devoured, those that I couldn’t get into I’d abandon. The best titles I’d often revisit the next summer.

My early years as a reading teacher were mostly spent following prescribed standards and instinctively coaching students to develop their skills. After 15 years in administration, I am back in the classroom and committed to instilling a love of reading in my students.  Lately, I have been providing a devoted time for self-selected reading, and they love it.  Now when the timer buzzes, I hear groans that they have to close their books.  It’s music to my ears!

So I ask, is there a better way to teach reading than to simply encourage students to read?

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The Teacher’s Most Important Job

As an administrator who has recently gone back into the classroom, I have come to the realization that my most important job is to H.O.P.E.

Helping Other People Excell

As the leader and facilitator in the class, it is my job to make sure my students succeed. It’s also my job to model for my students how they can help each other. Students must feel safe and accepted, not only by you but by their classmates as well, to thrive in your classroom. There are several steps you can take to get started.

  • Create an accepting and welcoming environment from day one.
    • Let students know you are interested in them as people, send home a questionnaire to find out what they’re interests are. Try to work that information into lessons.
    • Use the first days of school to conduct get to know you and team building activities. Get yourself involved so they can learn about you too! Continue them periodically throughout the year.
    • Make notes on your calendar to remind yourself to ask about events that students are involved in. Be present at their afterschool activities to cheer them on.
  • Assess your students early in the year. Group them in similar academic groups. Teach small group lessons to get them closer to the standard.
    • Help them set attainable goals and celebrate as a class when they meet them. Encouraging them to be cheerleaders for each other is very powerful.
    • Help students make tracking sheets so they can see their progress.
  • Use administrators and other staff members as resources.
    • Have students visit administrators to discuss their goals either academic or behavior and then celebrate when they are achieved.
    • Invite administrators to your class to see presentations. Students will show great pride when ‘performing’ for other adults.
    • Ask the media specialist, specials area teachers or even previous year’s teachers to visit the class or meet with students to encourage progress.

Stay tuned for future posts on instilling HOPE for your students such as Helping Set Attainable Goals.

What Time Is It?

Admit it, you’re shocked when you see the first ‘Back – To – School’ ads on TV backtoschooladin early July or the circular that comes in the newspaper; just like when you see Christmas ads before Halloween!

For me BACK to school suggests that we ended or quit something that now we have decided to begin again. True, we do stop physically going to a building we call ‘school’ but in reality, learning should be a year long activity. Most kids are excited for school to begin again. They wonder, ‘What will be different this year?’, ‘What will my teacher be like?’, ‘Will I struggle or will it be easy?’. Honestly, as a teacher, I wonder the same things!

  • As teachers, we must spend time honing our craft and growing. There are always new approaches and new techniques to read about and study. For me, one question I ask myself is “What could I have done differently this year to reach that one student?” Whether it’s a social emotional or academic issue that affects students, master teachers will strive to find the one thing that will reach them and help them be successful.
  • The second area I focus on is, ‘What can I do that will make me more efficient?’ I try to remember and make a list listof the non-teaching tasks I  spent a lot of time doing during the year. Was it running copies, grading papers, filing papers, searching for reading passages or other ideas on the web or Pinterest?  Once I have a list, I prioritize and spend time brainstorming/working on how to streamline the tasks.

Having some tools or ideas to work with gives me a focus and can make

Back – To – School a less stressful time.

Put Your Best Foot Forward!

Your first interaction with parents has to be a positive one! They may have heard through the ‘grapevine’ of other parents, teachers or students the kind of teacher you are. firstimpressionYour job is to confirm their already positive opinion of you or to win them over despite what they’ve heard. In reality, Open House may be the only time you have parents for face-to-face communication – make the best of it!

Open House/Meet the Teacher Night is the perfect place to start.  To ensure things go smoothly, begin getting ready for open house before school starts. Once pre-planning begins there are other things that will compete for your attention, so start early!

Put together an informational packet for parents that also has a questionnaire. Include questions about parent expectations for the year, things that have worked well/haven’t worked well in past years, what mode of communication they prefer, do they have skills/interests that could enrich your class. Parents are more than willing to give you information about their student. By asking, you are letting parents know that you too are interested in their success.

Put together a class handbook, include portions of the school handbook but add classroom specific information. studenthandbookInclude a bit of personal information about yourself so you create affinity with parents. Brag a bit on your qualifications; it is reassuring for parents to know that the teacher likes school and continues to learn and hone their craft. Let parents know what you will be doing to ensure the safety of their student. 

If you have an open house where you are expected to make a presentation, use pictures from the previous year of engaging lessons, classroom activities, lunch and the playground for a presentation. Video students talking about something they are studying. Include slides that spell out the class expectations.

Let parents know that they can expect you to communicate with them. Talk about your newsletter and what kind of information it will include. I’ve found that a newsletter every 2 weeks is plenty. If you send it each week, it just becomes noise and unimportant. If you send it with graded classwork, it’s more likely to be read.

An innovative idea that I’m intending on starting this coming school year is an electronic newsletter via QRC code. My hope is to pass out a QRC code at Open House for parents to scan, then update it with newsletter items for them to read. I’m not even sure if that exists but some version of it might!

In general, parents want to be involved in their student’s education. Have a list of in-class and out of class jobs they could do. Give parents an index card with a few questions they can ask their student after the first day of school.  firstdayFor example; What was the best part of the day?; Was there anything that was hard/challenging?; What was easy?’; What are you looking forward to this year?.

 

 

All in all, parents want to know several things that you can address at the open house:

  • Parents want to know that you expect their student to be successful. Tell parents how you plan to accomplish that very goal.
  • Parents want to know the important things. Be organized and prepared! Rehearse what you will say to parents at open house. Don’t waste their time.
  • Parents want to know how they can help. Give suggestions on how they can volunteer both in and out of the classroom.

 

 

 

 

Don’t know what to do with all that time in the summer? P.L.A.N.

P.L.A.N – Prioritize; Lessons; Anticipate; Narrow

Before you begin planning, spend some time prioritizing the things that need the most attention. For me, it was the standards. This past year my district was beginning the process of converting our standards to scales in order to help teachers and students see where they were in the progression from below proficiency to proficiency to above proficiency. As teachers, we were to analyze the standard and decide what declarative (need to know) and procedural (skill) information was needed to move students. This was difficult during the year, we were only able to get a few completed before school was out. downloadMy goal was to work on them during the summer. For me, it is easier to focus and really dig in if there is not much else going on, so summer it is!!

 

During the year, I keep a lesson notebook. If a lesson goes really well, I make a note and ask myself if there is anything to make it even better. Likewise, if a lesson flops, I make a note. I try to figure out why it was a flop, there could be a number of reasons; preparedness of me or students; student interest; interruptions; behavior. Whatever the reason, I brainstorm ways to remedy the problem. Sometimes it may be that I just need to scrap that lesson and come up with another way to teach the skill.

Unless you’re new to teaching or new to a school you have an idea of all the events of the year and a roadmap of where you’re going. To anticipate, highlight certain activities on your yearly calendar like report cards, holidays and testing. Use the curriculum to determine where students should end up at certain points of the year and then ultimately at the end of the year and then work backward for an overall picture. imagesPlan out each unit and quarter then decide how to get students there. Use your lesson notebook to add time to skills that require more practice or teaching time. 

Another thing to anticipate is getting new students and losing students. Getting new students might throw you for a loop if you’re not expecting it and sometimes they can just show up at your door with an administrator. Have at your fingertips a packet with getting to know you questions or reading/writing and math activities for them to start with. This gives them a few minutes to acclimate to you and the class while having something to focus on. This will also give you a few minutes to finish the lesson or get students working so that you can then spend some time with the new student.

In my years in administration, I’ve learned that teachers are lesson hoarders and being a teacher, I’m in that category too! If I find a lesson that I really like or enjoy, I’ll keep using it year after year, admittedly even if it doesn’t quite fit the skill anymore, I’ll keep it in the rotation. messydeskI have to narrow my lessons each summer and purge the ones that just don’t fit anymore. Sometimes I get rid of them completely; other times I’ll rework them to include technology or cooperative learning. Be open to creating new lessons that include things that students are interested in. Do some research and find out what the big thing is for the age level you teach and try to incorporate it into a new lesson. For example, you could incorporate a ‘texting’ feature into a lesson on finding the main idea. Even though there won’t be any actual texting, the idea of a lesson looking and sounding like texting might be fun or interesting for students.

Let’s Do Lunch

Many schools have duty-free lunch for teachers, i.e. the teacher has a break while lunchroom monitors supervise the students.eater It’s a wonderful benefit that provides a much-needed respite.  Even though it might seem like a minor thing, kicking off a new school year with a few simple strategies can make duty-free lunch a “win-win” for you and the monitors that serve you. 

Students have a tendency to act differently when the teacher is not around.  To counteract that, you’ll need to create an expectation for your kids to do the right thing all the time. How do you set that tone?

  • Training appropriate behavior requires consistency and vigilance. Consider having lunch with your students in the cafeteria the first week of school. You’ll gain an opportunity to reinforce good manners, address outbursts and conflict, and encourage healthy eating habits.    
  • Do a surprise “pop in” and make yourself visible a few times in the first month or so. This will sit in the back of their minds, and serve as a subtle, lasting cue to behave.
  • I also like to invite them to have lunch with me in the classroom on occasion. By taking the time to do this you are showing them that you are interested in their lives.  When students sense that you truly care, they want to please you and behave correctly.

Why Do We Have to Learn This?

At some point you will hear (or have already heard) a loud refrain from a child in your class:  “Why do we have to learn this?!”

Instinct may make you defensive, but this is a valid question.  And the answer can’t be — because it will be on the test or because I said so.  Students must feel their work has meaning and is valuable to them. If a child struggles to see value, they may go through the motions of the work, but they may not truly learn. The content has to be relevant to them today.why

For example, most elementary students are expected to learn about U.S. Presidents or significant historical dates and places.  Is the objective to merely memorize trivia?  Or are we challenging students to learn about characteristics of leadership, the principles of a Democratic society or how governing decisions affect our lives? 

Instruction of this type can be more than fact-based; it can be an opportunity to instill values (such as tolerance, obedience, leadership, cooperation.)  It can also provide an atmosphere for developing analytical or discussion skills.  (Ask students to compare and contrast political candidates or the impact of a local legal decision.)  

Clearly there are some facts and figures that students just have to learn.  And making it immediately relevant can be tough.  In that case, you can make the work engaging by providing different modes of delivery: books, movie clips, experiments, student-led discussions, etc.

As the teacher you must model for them how to go about problem solving. Navigating a confusing lesson is a problem that must be solved.  Talk through the topic and show your approach: what questions do you ask yourself as you make sense of a difficulty?  Celebrate when they accomplish something, teach them positive self-talk, demonstrate it for them.

Help them see that all learning is an opportunity, not an obligation.  With these tactics in play, eventually the refrain will change from “Why do we have to learn this?” to “When can we learn more about this?”

 

 

The Morning Meeting

The Morning Meeting.  Establishing routines is a key to accomplishing goals in the elementary setting.  For many children, school may be the first environment where they’ve encountered a structured schedule.   The more you can create rhythms, habits and routines, the more quickly your students will learn to self-regulate their own time and energy, follow procedures, and achieve learning objectives.f2755a29d5f2d21057d9fb6be5252123

I like to start every day with a morning ritual that includes a greeting, daily agenda, goals for the day, and a sharing time.

Set the Tone.  I take about two minutes to welcome the group and give them an overview of what’s happening that day.  Use a positive tone to start the day upbeat, but make sure you’re businesslike and professional so they know that it’s time to get focused. Your manner will help kids focus their energy from “arrival” mode into “learning” mode.  

Daily Agenda.  Depending on what you’re teaching, try to identify two or three specific goals to highlight.  If something unique is going on during the day (a fire drill, a guest, or special activity) be sure to mention that too and quickly remind children about rules or procedures that might relate.  Be brief and stick to the big picture items. Kids will lose interest if you detail every individual piece of the day.

Care to Share.  The morning is a good time to encourage your students to report on things going on in their lives (if something big has happened, a child will want to share it anyway, and it might interrupt a lesson later in the day.)  Have a “baton” (it could be a stuffed animal, toy or special object) that you can pass around from child to child; if they don’t have anything to say, they can pass it on to the next person.  If you have a class of introverts, you might create a schedule or provide topics or prompts for certain students to prepare for in advance.

 

The Two Most Dreaded Words…

Indoor Recess! Two of the most dreaded words any teacher must utter.

How can you take the difficult challenge of indoor recess and turn it into a positive?  Well, it’s impossible to make it as much fun as outdoor recess, but here are a few small suggestions to make it bearable for you and your kids:

  • Offer some structured activities that don’t seem too structured.  Part of what makes kids love recess is that its “their” free time, and you don’t want to mess with that too much.  Offer choices and give the kids the opportunity to select the activities that interest them that day.
  • In anticipation of the inevitable indoor recess day, fill a bin with board games, puzzles, comic books, toys, travel games, craft projects, and art supplies.  You might check your local thrift store or ask for “hand me downs” from parents in upper grades.  It’s important that these items be reserved only for indoor recess day.  If these items are exclusively available for only those times, they will feel like a treat and add some unique excitement and fun to the day.
  • Give students the components of a game (a few beanbags, some tape, rolled-up socks, paper towel rolls, yarn, etc.)  Challenge them to invent a new game or adapt an existing sport into something that’s safe and fun for indoor play.
  • Gather the group and watch a movie or Youtube clip (something fun.) Add a play component to the viewing by creating a scavenger hunt or BINGO game, specific to the clip you’re viewing.  Example:  when you see someone wearing a hat in the clip, you can check it off your list, get a point, or mark it on your BINGO card.

 

Germ-Free Bathroom Pass

Here’s a quick suggestion to make bathroom nametagvisits a little more sanitary.  Create clip-on bathroom passes for your students: one labeled for BOYS and another for GIRLS. You can use a name tag like you might have at a meeting or conference.  The benefit is that once it’s clipped on, their hands are free to do their business and wash up without touching the pass. Have hand sanitizer within easy reach of where you store the bathroom pass, as an extra measure to help kill pesky germs. 

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