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.

 

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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. 

Quick Peach Cobbler

Quick Peach CobblerPeachCobbler

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup sugar (or Splenda)
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 large can of peaches
  • ½ stick butter

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Melt butter in a glass baking dish in oven.  When melted, remove from oven.  In a separate bowl, mix flour, sugar and milk.  Add mixture to warm butter. Put peaches and juice on top.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until brown. Crust will rise to the top of the dish. (Recipe courtesy of Dorothy J. Moore.)

Reading Aloud Is Totally Allowed

Reading aloud to my students is probably my favorite part of teaching. Not only is it an engaging way to connect with your class, but there are numerous educational benefits as well:

  • Auditory Comprehension – When you read aloud, a student’s auditory memory systems are engaged.  Comprehension goes up (skyrocketing for auditory learners) and this modeling will enhance their ability to participate in daily conversations, answering questions, and following directions.c02d06d16f2b893549504be94e8d9bfc
  • Mental Imaging – When students listen to you read a story, they are training their minds to ‘picture’ what is happening in the text.  In a culture overrun with visual media, students are bombarded with pictures and images already programmed for them, and this exercise is extremely beneficial.  You can help facilitate this by modeling it for them. Periodically stop at the end of a passage and tell your students what you’re picturing in your mind.  Prompt them to do so too and/or poll the class for suggestions on how the image might appear in their imagination.
  • Discussion – Wonderful conversations about predictions and opinions can occur when you read aloud. The practice helps them connect events in the story to their lives.  Seeing fiction through this real world lens can help students begin to internalize symbolism, see a broader world view, and recognize similarities & differences in the characters and story outcomes. By drawing the story out over the course of several days or a few weeks, you can build anticipation.
  • Multiple Resources – By reading aloud to students you can introduce other texts in addition to the primary ones you may be featuring.    For example, if the book is set in a foreign land or a historical context, reading a nonfiction book can provide background information or further color the narrative in the students’ minds.  If you’re covering a topic in a different subject (history, math, or science) you might read a related book aloud to supplement your teaching and further engage them.

RECOMMENDED READING:jim

For more information on this topic, I recommend The Read Aloud Handbook, a classic title by Jim Trelease.  Originally released (way back) in 1982, the book has been revised numerous times and still holds up with actionable ideas and suggestions for impacting your students through the practice of reading aloud.

Get on the “Write” Track

The writer Donald Miller offers an interesting thought about journaling: “He captures memories because if he forgets them, it’s as though they didn’t happen.”  

Numerous analysts celebrate the power of journal keeping, and its importance is especially critical for young learners.  I believe everyone can benefit from developing a practice of looking inward, recording actions and feelings, and observing their world with a critical eye.  So how do you take journal writing from an assignment to an opportunity?  How do you make it something that kids will look forward to continuing long beyond their time in your class?  Variety and consistency are two important things to incorporate as you move into this with your kids.Train-clip-art-free-free-clipart-images

For some students, the act of writing will be a foreign concept, and providing prompts and assignments can be helpful.  Your journaling assignment could take the form of a daily diary or creative writing.  (See examples below.)  Your students’ journals could be a series of responses to journal prompts, i.e. questions or considerations that ask the student to evaluate their mood, set or reflect on goals or objectives, or wrestle with life challenges and common situations that they might face.

The key is to just get started and encourage, encourage, encourage.  Here is a process you might consider:

  1. Begin the journal process by having students observe you modeling it; writing in a journal either on your ELMO, Smartboard or overhead projector.
  2. Brainstorm a list of topics that you might write about and list them in the front of your journal. Then each day for a week, share examples of how to write about a few of the topics. Go back and edit or revise something you’ve written; add to the topic list based on something you did the previous evening.
  3. After a week or so, have them begin their own topic list and journal writing.
  4. As they progress, conference with them about what they’ve written.  Use the time to nurture their early attempts to craft a story or communicate their ideas.  I would suggest that you avoid “grading” the writing itself.  You can track participation and even make the journal assignment mandatory, but the value of journaling comes more from the act of transferring thoughts into words than from the mechanics of writing.  Accuracy, sentence structure, and clarity aren’t as important as learning to process ideas and take thoughts captive in written form.  When a child begins to make progress in turning a phrase or communicating more clearly, celebrate their accomplishments, and challenge them to go to the next level.
  5. Have them refine their list of journal topics as their interests or experiences change. As the year goes by, model for them how to bounce ideas off each other and collaborate. 
  6. At the end of the year, have the students look back at their early work, and compare the ways they have matured or changed during the course of the school year.

If you choose to prompt your students to try their hand at different forms of writing other than a diary, here are some possible ideas:

  1. Poetry
  2. Photo captions
  3. Thank you notes
  4. Letters
  5. Lists
  6. Short stories
  7. News reports
  8. Biographies of friends or family members
  9. Interviews
  10. Instructions or How-To’s (recipes, playing a game, craft projects, etc.)

They’re “Yours” No Matter Where They Go

If you teach at a school where your students go to a specials class (i.e. art, music, P.E., etc.) it’s a good idea to intentionally connect with those teachers to find out what their expectations are for your students. Once you understand their procedures, you should emphasize them with your students; help them understand the importance of carrying over your expectations for good behavior into those classrooms. 9086-0-1453912396Then during the first two or three weeks of school, check in with the specials teachers and see how it’s going. Inquire for specific feedback; if there are ways you can follow up or reiterate their concerns, do so. You should treat your relationship to these teachers as a partnership and do what you can to remedy difficult situations.

When a student is assigned to your class, you should treat them as “your students” no matter where they are in the building. You can’t afford to take the stance that when they are out of your sight they are someone else’s responsibility. Students will pick up on this and sense that you only care about them when they’re in your class. It’s my belief that the key to being an effective teacher is to show genuine care for your students well being.

Think about it from this perspective: how would you feel if you thought that your spouse, friends or own parents only cared about you when you were physically near.  Those relationships would feel pretty hollow, and the value would be superficial at best. 

As the teacher and leader in the class it is your responsibility to reinforce the expectations for other classes. Certainly, the specials teachers should set their own classroom expectations and enforce them, but your students need to know that you support those teachers and expect obedience and achievement in any location, not just your room.

All Aboard the Technology Train

If you are age 35 or younger, you can stop reading this post now:  This post is written for us “old fogies,” especially those of us who have come to use computers late in life.  

If you’ve been teaching for 20 years or more, you may be surprised how tech savvy your students and their parents really are.  Most parents with elementary age kids were born in the mid-80s or later, and have spent most of their lives with access to laptops, the Internet, and digital tools.  They aren’t intimidated by it, and in some cases, they expect you to use technology to reach them.

If you’ve been resistant to get on board the “technology train,” rest assured, you can learn.  I am half a century old (!) and have learned to embrace technology out of necessity, and then out of appreciation.  After I got over the initial hump, I began to learn that most technology is relatively easy to use, once you start.  Just getting going is half the battle.  Use YouTube as a resource.  There are fantastic tutorials online there (and in other places) to show you how to get up to speed quickly.  A peer or friend can show you too, but I’d recommend the “hands on” approach.  You’ll learn more quickly and completely if you’re the one making the mistakes and being forced to figure things out.  If you get stuck, simply Google your question, and an answer is probably a click or two away.  

Once you’ve mastered the basics, technology is a great way to involve parents.  Using email is certainly an essential mechanism, and it has the most privacy controls, but social media has a wealth of potential too.  computee.JPG Create a class Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter account (or whatever the latest social media fad is by the time you read this post.)  Students can even get involved in creating or sharing content (as long as you monitor their activity.)  If you think videos could be fun and effective, consider setting up a class YouTube or Vimeo channel.  Please note: for any social media projects or online activities, it’s important to get parents to grant permission or sign a general release.

These ideas also create a unique opportunity for parental involvement and volunteering.  A busy professional may not have time to volunteer in the classroom during the day, but putting in a few hours during their off time to update your Facebook page or add pictures to your class blog is a wonderful way to get them to participate.

Once you’ve established your communication outlet(s), you can use them for these and other ideas:

  • Send updates to parents about class activities, special announcements and upcoming lessons.
  • Research and suggest apps for parents to download for students to use.
  • Send an article or link to parenting tips on blogs and online publications.
  • Record lessons or special activities and upload to your video channel; send links out for parents who aren’t able to attend.
  • Set up a Shutterfly, Flickr, Google Drive or Instagram account share pictures.
  • Learn to create QR Codes to make it easy to share links and connections.

To make it easy on less-savvy parents, you can always print out copies of the information and send it home with the kids or through traditional means.  

Creating Leaders

I believe a teacher has a responsibility to do more than just impart subject matter. He or she must also challenge students to develop other aspects of their potential, including their leadership capacity.  Even the youngest of students has a leader living within, and you should strive to help that leader emerge.

Challenging students to lead in various ways can benefit not only them, but the entire class.  As each child begins to step up and be responsible for “lighting the way,” the class learns about being good followers, working cooperatively, and assuming responsibility for their actions.  If the teacher is the only leader in the classroom, students are only able to flourish when you are around.

At the beginning of a new school year, you should sit down with your students and outline all of the potential leadership positions in the class.  You will probably need to assign positions in an equitable fashion at first, but as the year goes on, you can reassign positions based on strengths, skills, tendencies, and personality. You might even encourage students to fill out an ‘application’ for a job they want, listing their qualifications.  (Showing students how to create a resume or “run a campaign” could be creative ways to teach job skills or a government lesson.)  

Many classes have weekly leadership roles, such as line leader, calendar leader, errand leader and so forth. By having students apply and obtain positions you can have them do the job for a longer period of time. Have job reviews for the person doing the job, let their classmates review them anonymously. Give them an opportunity to discuss their jobs with classmates and possibly try out other positions as the mature through the year.

 

The Best Time to Think About Back to School?

It’s May and the school year is beginning to wind down. Now is the time to think about gearing up for ‘Back to School.’ In the last week or two of school, use group time with your students to reflect on the year. backPerhaps you’ve kept periodic work or projects for the year;  pull them out and discuss what learning took place during that unit. Ask students to share their opinions about the lessons and what could be changed. Take notes on what the kids say, what they enjoyed, what they remembered and what was meaningful or memorable. Ask if they have suggestions on how to tweak things to invite more group collaboration or utilize technology or resources in better ways.

Ask their opinion of how you managed the class including the efficiency of simple, everyday tasks like passing out papers, turning in work, checking homework, storing materials, etc.  The students will likely have an idea to make it easier.  Find out how the classroom jobs went:  should there be more jobs, should they be combined, what should be included on the ‘job’ application?

The group that is leaving you is more mature that the one you will be getting in the fall.  They have ‘lived’ in the classroom, and will likely have a great perspective to benefit next year’s group.

To help pass along this wisdom, you might consider a last week writing assignment: have them write a letter with advice for a great school year to the student who will be in your class next year.

My Trusty Clipboard

My trusty clipboard is a key tool in my teacher’s toolbox.  It may be a bit “old school,” but in years of using it, I’ve yet to find a better documentation method. Here’s how I use it:

Start with a standard clipboard (depending on how many students you have in the class it might take the legal size.)  Next, create a ruled index card for each student in your class. Turn the card upside down so the red line and heading is at the bottom. In that space, write the student’s initials, student number, parent name and phone number.

Next, tape cards, one at a time, starting numerically with the last student in the class at the bottom of the clipboard and then layer the cards so that only the student information shows.  It will look kind of like a flip book. (See image below.)  

Use a string or yarn to attach a pen/pencil to the top of the board. I take mine with me everywhere I go and use it in the class during work time. On the lines of the card  I include notes about how students are working or if I notice they need help with something. While we are in the hall, I add notes to the clipboard if someone is not following procedures or, better yet, if a student is trying to do the right thing or improve.

If my students get compliments from other teachers or the Administration, I can document these remarks and reference them later, e.g. when I’m giving out rewards, creating a newsletter, or sending home notes or making calls to parents.   Students get used to seeing your clipboard and know that you are documenting. I’ve even held student conferences where we look at their card and discuss areas of improvement.

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