Blending Learning All the Ways

Blended learning doesn’t have to mean a combination of hands on and technology based learning. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. To me blended learning balances all the things! I believe blended learning means educators are spending time providing students with hands on, emotional, self guided, outdoor, projects, technology, physical movement, and creative learning throughout the day. I give my students a lot of choice and agency during the regular school day. At the beginning of the year, I spend a lot of time talking to kids about how to make choices.

True blended learning provides and equitable learning experience for kids because you are taking care of the whole child. Educators should be getting to know their students on a personal level and providing opportunities for students based on their interests. During remote learning, I discovered on a phone call with one of my students that she has been watching “old Disney movies” a lot and one of her favorites to watch over and over is Alice in Wonderland. Because of that, I made sure that my time lesson included a white rabbit with a clock. She recognized the connection right away and even asked me if it was there for her! This tells me that my kids KNOW to look for ways the lessons I plan for them specifically connect to themselves or their friends.

Hands On

It’s no surprise that kids learn best from hands on experiences. We all use manipulatives on a daily basis. It is important for kids to build concrete understanding through manipulating hands on materials like magnetic letters or letter tiles, counters, legos, playdough, etc. These materials are always available to my students in my classroom to use throughout their day.

Emotional

In my classroom we begin each day with a morning meeting. We sit in a circle and greet each other, check in to see how we are feeling, take time to share important artifacts or stories, go over the plan for our day (especially when things vary from the ordinary), and move! I also set aside time for a a weekly community building circle in which we focus on something that came up that week or a specific topic so we can get to know each other better. We use talking pieces to take turns and have a centerpiece in our circle with important community building artifacts to remind us of past conversations or shared experiences. You can see our centerpiece below.

Self Guided

Providing students choice and agency over their learning is important to me (and them). Students already have agency but they need opportunities to practice it in a safe environment. I provide those opportunities though flexible seating, genius hour, and allowing students to choose how they respond to learning (worksheet, technology, creation). Response to learning choices aren’t always possible, but when they are I provide them.

Outdoor

I get my kids outside whenever possible! Obviously, outdoor recess is a daily occurance (weather permitting). In addition to that I take kids outside to read or to practice word work or math using sidewalk chalk. We go outside to observe our shadow, organisms, earth materials, and to collect samples. We are fortunate to have a school garden so every spring, my students take over one of the beds and plant seeds to care for.

Projects

Projects and Project Based Learning (PBL) are a great way to get student buy in to learning. PBL is multidisciplinary and allows kids to connect their learning across subjects. They practice skills and gain knowledge through real world, rigorous tasks. Kids take ownership over their work and and learning is sticky. You can check out some of the projects I’ve done with kids here.

Technology

Typically when people think about blended learning they are referring to the use of technology in the classroom. I’ve shared about my technology integration here.

Physical Movement

I incorporate movement regularly during our day through movement breaks using both guided movements and fun dances on Go Noodle. Some my favorite and quickest movements that I get kids doing are crossing the midline movements. I direct kids through touching their opposite knee and elbow. This is great because there is a lot of brain research behind having kids cross the midline. I also add yoga poses into lesson activities. This is a photo of a “scoot” activity. In a scoot activity, I put problems or tasks around the room and kids start at one and “scoot” around the room until they’ve completed all of them. They carry a recording sheet around with them on a clipboard. This is a math scoot activity where students were solving story problems that are all about fruit trees. I taught them tree pose and had several stops around the room where students needed to hold tree pose while they counted by tens to a certain number.

Creative

Allowing kids time to create is also important to their learning and development. In my classroom, I have a makerspace to allow kids to build and create during projects, centers, and soft starts (the beginning of our day).

School should be a balance of all the ways kids learn best. If there is too much of one thing, the day can be monotonous and you run the risk of not reaching all learners. Changing things up keeps the classroom fun and interesting and helps to reach every child and grow the whole child.

What else do you think is important to blend into the school day?

Better than Carrots and Sticks

Why I chose this book

I chose this book because I have been wanting to learn as much as I can about restorative practices and how to implement them in my classroom. This book came highly recommended by many people in my PLN.

Major Take Aways

The authors didn’t waste any time redefining classroom management. Which I was pleased by because I don’t particularly like that term. They refer to classroom management as defined by Cassetta and Sawyer,

about building relationships with students and teaching social skills along with academic skills.

page 2

I fully agree with this definition of classroom management and believe that my relationships with my students are paramount to being a successful teacher. I also believe that students will always mistakes and they are essential that I, as their teacher, help them to learn from those mistakes. Behavior needs to be taught just as academics.

I love that this book talks about the importance of goal setting and reflection to students learning social skills, problem solving, and self regulation. Kids need chances to make choices and learn from those choices.

Restorative practices aren’t mutually exclusive from rigorous content and instruction and they are not a replacement for rules. The book explains that rules need to communicate high expectations, be consistent, and fair. When misbehavior happen or rules are broken, it is in the role of the teacher to figure out what has caused the behavior. Finding the cause of a behavior isn’t excuse making, it’s about finding a way to help the child solve the problem they’re dealing with.

One of the biggest things I learned from this book at the restorative practices are more than circles. Circling up and building community and solving problems are a huge part of it. It also includes adults tone of voice and word choice, conferencing with individual and small groups of students, questioning, teaching students to dialogue about problems and solutions, and relationship building.

It’s extremely important that we separate humans from the unacceptable behavior. Teachers must speak to students with respect and from a place of love. “We have to learn to focus on restitution rather than consequences.” (page 111)

Making it Accessible for Littles

Explicit teaching and patience are skills most early childhood educators need to reach students. Restorative practices means teachers are calm in the face of heightened emotion, teach students ways to problem solve, and help students navigate ways to communicate their big emotions. Littles need this in all areas of their life.

As an early childhood educator one way I can ensure I’m using restorative practices is to help littles gain the language they need to communicate. I name the big feelings they might be having (beyond happy, sad, and mad). Then help them work toward communicating about that feeling by talking more about the situation.

The book recommends teaching students sentence frames to help them learn to communicate problems and emotions. One it recommends that I use often is,

I felt ____ when ____ because ____.

page 88

The Book Study PLN

I read this book along with others around the country with a digital book study I co-facilitate. We discussed the book on twitter and flipgrid weekly. The twitter conversations happened in September – October 2018 on #FlipBookStudy. And you can check out our video conversations here: https://flipgrid.com/carrotssticks. It was great to connect with others while reading this book to see ways they were already implementing restorative practices and new things the will try. I was able to ask questions, bounce ideas, share my ideas, and learn for others!

Teaching Thanksgiving: historically accurate and developmentally appropriate

For years I’ve known the story of “The First Thanksgiving” that I (and likely most of us) learned in school is historically inaccurate and white washed. It can be tricky to balance teaching the holiday, cute crafts, classroom/school traditions, and hard history especially in an early childhood setting. In the past, I have focused on thankfulness when teaching Thanksgiving in an effort to avoid teaching inaccurate history but still celebrate the holiday. I have also used the Scholastic News Thanksgiving issues to talk about Thanksgiving long ago and today but have realized they perpetuate problematic stereotypes of the first Thanksgiving story.

This year, I tried something different. I went out on a limb, took a risk, and attempted to discuss the truth behind Thanksgiving with my brave first graders. Our conversation focused around 2 images and the concept of myths.

Students looking at the images while they eat snack getting ready to discuss what they see.

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has some really great resources for teaching culturally responsive instruction here. I used one article in their list for my lesson: The True Story of Thanksgiving from Muse Magazine. I read the article prior to teaching and used the images in the article to show my students. It isn’t an appropriate text for first graders to read on their own.

First I displayed this image on my Smartboard. There were laughs as soon as I put it up.

I used a protocol for students to turn and talk about the image. The protocol is very familiar to my students because we use it regularly. The protocol is called See, Think, Wonder. Students used the sentence starters, “I see…” “I think…” I wonder…” to discuss the image with a partner. Then I asked volunteers to share what they think is happening in the picture. The class agreed that it shows a big meal, probably Thanksgiving dinner. I asked for evidence that leads them to believe it was a gathering for a meal and they pointed out the big table, all the people, some food and drinks. Then I asked what was wrong and I’m sure you can imagine the laundry list. I guided them to discuss things like which season is it and how do you know, which holidays or celebrations are shown, who might the people be and why don’t we expect to see them together, does this look like the past or present and how can we tell. Each thing we discussed I invited students to point out evidence in the image to support what they were saying.

Next I introduced the concept of a myth as a story that some people think is true but isn’t and we noted that the above picture is a myth because it confuses holidays and seasons, the alien, it looks like its both past and present, and the penguin dancing on the tray.

Then I projected this image which is a portion of a famous painting depicting the First Thanksgiving that shows a very similar scene to the picture shown prior.

We followed the same protocol and discussion prompts: What do you see? What do you think? What do you wonder? What is happening in this image? What is wrong about the image? Students quickly stated this is an old Thanksgiving feast because of the clothes and the turkey on the tray. Things they noticed we wrong were the “judge” on the left side (their word) and what looks like snow on the ground by a red fall bush but the tree has green leaves. One student pointed out the Indigenous man at the table guessing maybe he doesn’t have a home. Which was a great opening to the first important myths about the image: this man does have a home, he is Indigenous meaning he lived on that land before the other people got there (We talked about Indigenous peoples rather than Columbus day in October), he was not the only Indigenous person at this meal there were actually more Indigenous people than there were English people. I briefly talked about how people usually refer to the 2 groups of people as Pilgrims and Indians but that we will call them English and Indigenous because it is more accurate. I then asked who looks like the helpers in this image? They guessed the English were the helpers because that’s what it looks like in the image – another myth. Actually a lot of the adult English people got sick and even died. Most of the English people at the feast would have been children and teenagers. The Indigenous people were the helpers and taught the English settlers how to live on the land. We also discussed the food in the image and the truth is that at this gathering the Indigenous and English wouldn’t have had turkey, they would have eaten fish, duck, venison, corn, and wheat based on the crops at the time. A student shouted out, “I bet the didn’t even call it Thanksgiving!” Yes little friend that is accurate.

We did discuss what happened after this meal, did the Indigenous and English remain friends? My students remembered from our discussion on Indigenous People’s Day that the settlers told them to leave the land and sent them away and were violent toward the Indigenous people. That is as far as we went with this part of the discussion.

I next gave my students the 2019 Thanksgiving issue of Scholastic News and asked them to cross out parts they through were myths. I challenged them to look at the images and read the text but most just looked at the images. Some kids crossed out everything assuming everything is a myth, some looked critically and asked questions of classmates and me. We reviewed the issue by discussing the parts that were historically accurate, things we know are myths, and some things I was unsure about. That’s where we ended the discussion.

Things I’ll do differently next time:

  • Tell my students up front we will be talking about something tricky that makes a lot of people nervous
  • More time for students to reflect on new learning
  • Talk about cultural appropriation and why it is not ok to dress up like Indigenous people
  • If I choose to use the scholastic news again, we will read it together so they analyze the text and not just the images.

I know that it is scary and uncomfortable to have these discussions with adults and I’m not going to lie, my stomach was in knots for the whole 45 minutes this discussion went on in my classroom with 6 year olds. Depending where you are in your journey toward educational equity and culturally responsive teaching you may need to just stop what you used to do and try something low risk.

Low risk ways to celebrate Thanksgiving :

  • STEM activities such as Balloons Over Broadway or How to catch a Turkey
  • Crafts like disguising a turkey (this can be extended using chatterpix to make a short video of kids telling why the turkey shouldn’t be captured)
  • Focusing on turkeys
  • Focusing on Thankfulness
  • Compare and contrast foods

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I’m still processing and reflecting on the conversation I had with my students. What feedback for growth do you have for me? How do you celebrate Thanksgiving in your classroom?

Diverse Texts

It’s nothing new that including diverse texts in our classroom libraries and read alouds is incredibly beneficial to all students. Yes, all students. Not just students of color. Diverse texts allow students to see characters who look like them so they can see themselves in the world of literature. Diverse texts also allow students to see characters who are different from them so they can make connections across those differences and build their empathy.

When I use the term “diverse” I’m referring to all people of color, differing abilities, religions, sexual orientation, genders, family make up, etc.

I’ve noticed that many curriculums that include read aloud texts, aren’t very diverse so it is up to me as the teacher to intentionally select diverse texts that fit the same standards as the texts. It’s an important, time consuming, and expensive process to find and select texts for this purpose. I have built a decent collection of diverse texts for my classroom that I’m quite proud of. My Amazon Wish List is full of more texts I want to purchase.

One morning in the shower (because that’s where all the best ideas hit me) I realized it would be amazing to have some sort of searchable database of diverse texts linked to both curriculum standards and the Teaching Tolerance social justice standards. This curated list would connect curriculum to intentional text content highlighting diverse characters.

I created this form for people to input their favorite diverse character texts by answering simple questions about the book. I would love for you to add your own favorite texts to the form. This isn’t just for me, we are better together and we can build an amazing resource together too!

The spreadsheet this form populates is searchable using the control + f keyboard shortcut.

You can also follow my twitter and instagram for weekly posts of the books I’m using with my students!

How Letting Them Choose Teaches More Than Reading

How I Helped One Child Build Perseverance Through Reading

My school is Positivity Project school. We teach each of the 24 character strengths for a week at a time. Staff takes the character strength quiz to identify their top strengths. Perseverance has shown up in my top 3 strengths for 3 years in a row!

1: Love of Learning, 2: Creativity, 3: Perseverance, 4: Perspective, 5: Fairness, 6: Kindness, 7: Honesty

Part of my why is helping kids to build a sense of perseverance in their lives. Being that this is one of my top 3 character strengths, I’m not surprised that it is a huge part of my why!

I’d like to tell a story about a little girl from my class last year that was able to build and exhibit perseverance. She struggled with reading. She purposely selected leveled readers only from the A-C bins because she felt confident about those books. Even though I allow all students to choose books from any bin, she stuck to these bins. She stuck to those bins until I read Personal Space Camp by Julia Cooke as a read aloud. She did not struggle with respecting others’ personal space but she did LOVE this book.

At the time, I was teaching identifying lessons learned and central message of a story (NC.1.RL.2). I had created a bin of books that I had used to read aloud and model identifying the lesson learned and placed it in our classroom library. I wanted my students to have access to these high quality, diverse texts while book shopping because I know that access to complex texts helps to build students’ text comprehension. I also know that multiple readings of a text helps students become more fluent readers and helps them feel more confident in their reading abilities.

I’m sure it comes to no surprise to you that she took that book and put it in her book bin to continue reading. I allow students to always choose their books in their book bins and give them the autonomy to decide to keep books they love rather than swapping them all out each week. I believe that students self selecting a variety of texts is important to their growth and success as readers. She kept this book in her book bin almost the entire school year!

At the start of the school year after she initially placed it in her book box after I had used it as a read aloud only once, she could read about 10% of the words on the first page, most of which were sight words. I conferenced with her regularly and each time she wanted to read this book even though she struggled with it every time. One day, I asked her why she kept reading this book even though the words were difficult. She answered (paraphrasing since it was a while ago), I love the story and I want to read the story.

For her, this book symbolized her reading goal for first grade. This book is measured at about 600 lexile and the typical first grade range is 190-530. For her, reading this book meat that she was a good reader. For her, reading this book independently meant that she learned everything she needed to be a successful first grader.

This was the first time she selected a text other than from the level A-C bins so I decided to encourage her and coach her. Each time we conferenced, we read a different section of the book. We discussed how she felt as a reader each time. And we talked about what was happening in the story. The progress was slow. Very slow. But she read this book every day.

By spring, she was able to read the entire book cover to cover. She could retell that story like she lived it herself. She used it as an anchor text when comparing (NC.1.RL.9) the adventures and experiences of characters in stories. She even asked to read the book aloud to the class by her self during snack one day and of course I said YES!

Pictured above is a different student reading a different text with a similar story. I managed to not get a photo of the child this story is about reading her favorite story.

I made some really important choices that impacted this student’s growth in both reading and perseverance. I choose to allow all my students to use my read aloud texts for independent reading. I choose to let her read a book we both knew was very challenging for her. I choose to focus on her connection with that text over her current reading abilities. I chose to encourage her and coach her as a reader. I chose to build her confidence. Because of these choices, she grew as a reader from reading level B books at the start of first grade to reading level J books at the end of the year. Because of these choices, she learned that if she sets her mind to something and doesn’t give up, she can do amazing things!

Student Choice and Reading

I believe that student choice is important for lots of reasons. Student choice helps build relationships and trust. Students take ownership over their learning when they know they get a say. Students can make personal connections to the content through choices. Learning is “sticky” and memorable when students have voice and choice. Kids like having a choice. But, today I want to focus on student choice during reading instruction.

I teach reading in a workshop model with a mini lesson, call to action, conferencing, and small group instruction. Conferencing with students and small group instruction happen while students are independently reading. My mini lesson and call to action are whole group instruction. At this time, I make a connection, state a strategy, model the strategy, then ask students to try it when they get to their book boxes.

I give students full agency over the books they have in their book box. I have 2 rules: Students should have 10 books. They should have a variety of books. Students are assigned a day of the week for their independent book shopping. When students go book shopping, they have the choice to keep as many books as they want and trade as many books as they want as long as they keep 10 books. I teach several lessons about selecting a good variety of books ranging from: fiction vs nonfiction, finding books on similar topics (all books have bears but are different types of books), choosing books on topics they don’t think they like, making book recommendations and using them to choose books, leveled vs. non-leveled books, etc.

My classroom library is very organized. I have leveled books, theme books, author books, non fiction collections, chapter books, seasonal books, etc. I teach students how to put the books back so they stay organized and one of our classroom jobs is the classroom library helper. Last year, I purchased these dot stickers on amazon and I use them to label my personal books into their theme bins. I do have leveled books that belong to the school and those stay in the labeled leveled bins. I personally like to keep my books completely separate from the school owned books. Students have free choice to choose from leveled bins and theme bins. Choosing some leveled books is part of having a variety of books. However – I. 👏 Never. 👏 Tell. 👏 Students. 👏 Which. 👏 Bins. 👏 To. 👏 Select. 👏 Their. 👏 Books. 👏 From. 🙌

My quick thoughts on leveled books: Books have reading levels and can be categorized in that way. Children are not leveled and should not be categorized in that way. period

I have a flexible classroom and have blogged about it here and here. Flexible seating also applies to independent reading time. Students can read any where they want: under tables, at a table, on a pillow, on any flexible seat, on the floor, in any position they choose. As long as students are spread out, safe, and comfortable. They can be anywhere that works for them. This doesn’t happen by mistake or magic. It takes a lot of teaching, practice, praise, reinforcement, and modeling to make it work.

My students take our reading time seriously. It is important to them that they choose a spot where they can focus on their books and not their friends and they take some serious time selecting books for their book boxes. While I don’t believe that students should be leveled, my reading assessment data has proven that giving students voice and choice is beneficial to their growth as readers. At the end of last school year (2018-19) 100% of my students met proficiency or better. 2 readers even grew from exhibiting reading behaviors to decoding and comprehending a level I and K book.

An amazing thing happened today (7/17/19)

#Culturize #CYS Book Study

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is thinking about their school culture and ways to make positive changes. Even if you already have a positive school climate that puts kids first, this book has some great community builders and the stories really help you to see how to reach “Every student. Every day. Whatever it takes.”

Why I chose this book

This book was the second digital book club I facilitated with a small group of teachers from my school and one other school across the district. We chose this book because it has a focus on reaching EVERY student in a school building especially those who can be difficult. I loved the personal stories Jimmy Casas shared throughout the book.

Major takeaways

Jimmy Casas shares the importance of relationship building conversations in the first chapter and the importance of kid-centered conversations. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the video “Every Opportunity.”

He talks a lot about disrupting average and going above and beyond for our students. I constantly reflected on my “why:” To cultivate lifelong learning through perseverance and personal interests. My why has a lot to do with going above and beyond for my students and I try to create the best learning experiences for them. To me, this is their only time in first grade and it should be the BEST first-grade experience ever!

On page 38, Casas talks about ensuring every student gets the necessary support they need to grow at their personal pace based on their needs but that students also need to be exposed to grade level content because if they aren’t exposed to it they will never reach that level. This hit home for me. I’ve always thought my one-on-one instruction for intervention was more important than the core instruction for struggling learners. Now I know that if I want kids to fill their gaps and reach grade level mastery, they need time with both personal level and grade level content. That is true individualized learning. “What is important to remember is that working with all students, regardless of their level, takes time, patience, a positive attitude, and a certain level of persistence to inspire our children to believe they can do anything.” (page 40)

The section about being a leader struck me as well. You don’t need a title to be a leader. You just need to passion and mindset to make positive impacts in your school culture.

Core Principle 3 might have been the chapter that spoke to me the most. It talked a lot about taking chare of sharing the story of your school. Filling the community with positivity when talking about your school. I really liked the section about being life-fit over balance. I struggle with balance because I tend to focus on what I think is the most important at the moment. Being life-fit allows me to choose depending on the ebbs and flows of life and what I can ACTUALLY accomplish.

 

Making it accessible for Littles

This book was mostly about creating a school culture in which kids feel “safe, connected, and valued” (page 26) and that starts in elementary school. We need to create relationships with our students that help us understand who they are, where they come from, their interests, and how they learn so we can reach them. I don’t have specifics about how to make this accessible to littles because the book does a great job of showing how this is important in every school, every day, at every age.

The book study PLN

Having conversations about my reading with others reading the same text has pushed my thinking and allowed me to see different perspectives and perceptions. I truly enjoyed our talks on Culturize as we connected 2 schools on different sides of my district and helped to create a more positive school culture at both our school sites. View the conversation on Twitter and Flipgrid

Stop Teaching Digital Citizenship!

I’d like to challenge the common conversation around Digital Citizenship. Typically we teach students specific guidelines for how to act when they are online:

  • Your information is private
  • Be kind
  • Things you put online are permanent
  • Copyright

All of these and more are good topics to cover with students. These conversations SHOULD be happening in schools and at home.

I challenge the idea that these are digital guidelines. Students should be respecting privacy, being kind, being original, and acting in ways that make them proud both on and offline. These conversations shouldn’t be labeled as digital citizenship, they are simply citizenship. The two don’t need to be separate.

My crazy idea?

Teach citizenship. Teach humanity. Teach kindness. Teach kids how to communicate and collaborate in the real world. Teach them how to transfer those skills to all aspects of their lives. In the world we live in today, being online and active in social media spaces is as commonplace as talking to the clerk at the grocery store or having a conversation with friends. You wouldn’t tell the clerk your life story and you wouldn’t (shouldn’t) talk bad about people who aren’t in your friend group. We don’t copy people out in public, we think about those around us and behave and speak in appropriate ways. When you’re online, the same rules apply.

We don’t need to teach digital citizenship. We need to teach kids to be good people.

**end rant**

 

Beginning of the Year Must-Dos to Set up for Success with #innovate4littles

I don’t know about you but my first week of school plans look more like a to-do list than actual lessons. I find it really important to set the stage for the year with strong routines and procedures (obviously). My first week of school tends to give students a little taste of some of the big things will do throughout the year but also needs to be very strict with high expectations.

I teach at a year-round school in North Carolina so we just finished our third week of school. While others are just starting to wind down their summer breaks, we are in full gear! I thought this might be great timing to share how I like to begin my school year. Some of the activities below are completed during the first week and some within the first month.

Team Building

During the first week of school, I find it really necessary to complete some challenging or nearly impossible team building activity. You want the kids to work together to complete something that is really hard. This year we did a cup stacking activity. I started out simple and then added constraints to make it more and more difficult until I found their breaking point. I split my class into groups of 4. First, they were allowed to all stack the cups together however they wanted. The teams did great but all the stacks looked the same.

So I added constraints. I watched the groups closely during their first stacking experience. I identified that one kid who was not participating in each group. They were now the group leaders. Only the group leader was allowed to touch the cups the other group members could help by giving ideas and talking to them, but they could NOT touch the cups. Once they got started there was a chorus of, “this isn’t fair!” And then came the cacophony! Everyone and I mean EVERYONE, started shouting directions at the same time. I stopped the stack and had them come to the carpet to discuss what just happened. We talked about fairness and including every person in a group to work together. We talked about how in a group sometimes everyone has a different role or job. Then we stacked again. This time, everyone was allowed to touch the cups but no one was allowed to talk. They quickly realized they couldn’t collaborate without communicating. For the last stack, students weren’t allowed to touch the cups with their hands but they could use pipe cleaners and rubber bands to help. I showed a video of how some kids used these tools to help stack the cups. One group asked if they had to do it that way or if they could try another way. Of course, they could try whatever they wanted as long as they didn’t use their hands. The only group to successfully stack all of their cups was the group who tried something different. They begged to do this activity again, so I added it to our math stations for the next 2 weeks. They got quite good at it after some practice!

Flexible Seating

I’ve written about my flexible seating journey before. It is so very necessary to teach flexible seating explicitly. State your expectations. Ask volunteers to model the correct way and incorrect way. Explain these rules are for safety and fairness. And let them know that if they don’t make smart seating choices, I make the choice for them. Then we play a game. We play musical chairs with the flexible seating to get students a chance to practice and MOVE!

Roll out the Technology

We have a hodge-podge mix of technology at my school. We finally got rid of all of our desktop computers but we still have some old laptops, new laptops, older iPads and newer iPads, and BRAND SPAKING NEW CHROMEBOOKS! Kids need to grow their flexibility with devices. I introduce devices with a mixture of small group and whole group depending on the number of devices I can get my hands on. We do a number of independent and collaborative grouping activities on devices during the first weeks of school to allow practice and peer coaching. We also use BYOD at my school and I try to roll that out ASAP! With chromebooks, I’m only able to get a group of 6 kids on at once so that’s what I did. I had them practice logging in and logging out and that is all on the VERY FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!

I can teach iPads with 1:1 devices. I like to start with chatterpix because it is intuitive and easy to use. Plus, its super cute and parents love it! I model using chatterpix to make a David craft talk and then how to save and upload it to seesaw. (AppSmashing the first week of school!) Then I allow them time to practice with 4 more crafts and chatterpix/seesaw activities. We also do a quick partner kahoot to help kids get used to sharing a device. I usually choose a math kahoot to start with.

Bucket Lists

It is so important to let kids know their ideas and opinions are important to the way my classroom runs. I try to get quick feedback daily with thumbs up thumbs down to see if they like or don’t like something we did. The first day of school, I give out a bucket list where I like to collect ideas about what my group likes to do and wants to try or learn. I make my own bucket list to pique their interest. My bucket list includes 3 act math, break out boxes and rooms (we’ll do our first one in week 4), badges, technology, PBL, coding, makerspaceSTREAM, room transformations, genius hour, and more. I like to try to list things they don’t know so they get excited and ask questions. I also collect lists of books they love and things they want to read about. This helps me plan my classroom library (I don’t put out all of my books at once. I put out my favorites to start then change them out. I try to always have at least 1 bin of their favorites and 1 that might be brand new).

Along the same line, I teach the morning routine without our STREAM centers. I try to get them very independent with taking out their folder, hanging up their bookbag and signing in before they can make STREAM choices. If this isn’t strong, they will forget to do these important procedures so they can go play.

Active Listening

Last year I taught active listening skills in the third quarter. This year, I taught them the second week. We talk about and make an anchor chart for what active listening looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Then I watch for signs of active listening and take pictures. These pictures go on the anchor chart. Now, rather than telling kids to stop talking, I ask them if they are actively listening.

Growth Mindset

We talk about the importance of making learning mistakes, the powerful word YET, and growing our brain muscles. I love using the books Ish and Giraffes Can’t Dance to teach growth mindset. We also watch the big ideas on Growth Mindset in Class Dojo. I over celebrate mistakes to help kids feel safe taking risks and getting things wrong the first try.

Up Next…

This upcoming week we will do our first Google Classroom activity (google draw the setting of a favorite book), introduce BYOD, dive deep into independent centers and choices (most of which are tied to literacy standards), have a break out room (math- counting efficiently), and try our first reader’s theater (social studies- rules and citizenship) (hopefully with a Facebook live event).

Now that we are past the beginning of the year “stuff,” things become more closely tied to standards. A lot of my to-do list for the beginning of the year is not all standards-based but it does help us build a strong classroom community and set us up for trying new things throughout the year. What are your must-dos to start the year?

Blended Learning with Littles

A blended learning environment is one in which technology and “offline” teaching are seamlessly intertwined throughout the day. Blended learning environments allow for student agency, passions, and mastery to grow.

21st Century Learning

In the 21st Century Framework, students use digital tools, collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking (The 4 Cs), and other career readiness skills to curriculum standards. In the 21st Century Framework, teachers design lessons, and experiences that pull in multiple skills listed above. Teachers must model risk-taking and perseverance. Teachers must also look for ways to include a global perspective in their curriculum. A blended learning environment provides teachers with tools to use to teach the skills and perspectives outlined by the 21st Century Framework. In a blended learning environment, students can use devices to share their learning with the world through Twitter, Instagram, a Seesaw blog, or other tools. Students can complete work in a way that makes sense to them. They can use a digital tool like Seesaw, Flipgrid, or Google Classroom to collaborate and communicate with one another. They can use their creativity to respond to assignments or teacher prompts using tools like pic collage, Seesaw, Chatterpix, and more. Students can apply critical thinking by considering their digital footprint prior to sharing with the world, solving problems with a team, or deciding which digital tool works best for them when given a choice.img_0862default

The 4Cs

Blending technology into your lessons allows for opportunities for students to experience the 4Cs. Blended learning can consist of student choices in response to learning. Students need to think Critically (1) about the task at hand and the best way to Communicate (2) their learning with others. I have given students choices for Letterland phonics sorts to use either Seesaw or paper and pencil. My kindergarteners figured out which way worked best for them and stuck with that method. In my kindergarten and first grade classrooms, we use #BookSnaps to reflect on text reading. Students have a choice in how they respond to that text and are very Creative (3) in their text annotating using labels, drawing, and emojis to annotate the text. I encourage students to Collaborate (4) and work together on one device. You know the saying 2 heads are better than one. Well, it still holds true when kids are creating content using technology. They aren’t only sharing their learning but they are learning ways to work on a team. Because a blended learning environment encourages collaboration, we don’t need to be 1:1 with students to devices in order to have a blended environment. There are times in my classroom where we use 1:1 and times where only 4 devices get used and the kids work together.

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Access to multiple types of devices grows flexibility

I’ve heard people say they don’t like technology in the classroom because technology changes frequently and just when you get used to something there is something new out there. I love that technology changes all the time. It forces us to be flexible, a super important executive functioning skill. In my classroom (not by choice) I have 2 desktop computers, one laptop, 5 iPad 2s, 1 newer iPad, my teacher laptop, my old iPhone 6, and 2 of my personal devices I let kids use occasionally (a chromebook and an iPhone 8 plus), and because of BYOD we have various models of iPads and iPand minis. Soon, we are getting new chromebooks from the district. The variety of devices that my students have access too requires them to transfer skills to different types of operating systems and to problem solve when something doesn’t work. I have kids who prefer the desktop computers for one task, an iPad for another, and my old phone for another. We have that flexibility for them to find what works best for them.

Learning first Technology Second

It is important to remember that the learning always needs to come first. Technology should support the learning. It never comes first in my planning process. I start by looking at my standards and unpacking what that means for students. My next step is to decide how we will approach the standard and how it should break down for student learning. Sometimes technology fits in and amplifies the learning, other times it doesn’t. Sometimes my devices sit without being touched all day and sometimes we use them in every block. Sometimes I don’t plan for technology but my students find a way to amplify their own learning and voices during a lesson or learning experience using technology and clearly I have to allow it! Like I said at the top, a blended learning environment includes both technology AND “offline” learning. It is important to know your standards, know your kids, and plan appropriately.

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