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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I Have a Fever. Flipgrid Fever!

My mom loves to tell this story from when I was a little girl. I was sleeping over at my Grandparent’s house. I woke up in the middle of the night. Walked down the steep farmhouse stairs and started running around the kitchen island repeating, “I have a fever. I have a fever. I have a fever.” Until everyone in the house was awake and knew I had a fever.

My name is Aubrey DiOrio and I have Flipgrid Fever. This is one fever I hope is contagious.

I use Flipgrid to hear every voice in my class. Realistically, it isn’t possible for me to hear every child’s response to every question I ask. With Flipgrid it is. I use Flipgrid when I want to hear from every student and I want them to hear from every single one of their friends. Fliprid is a student voice machine.

One reason I love Flipgrid is that it has a flow that makes sense. Whether you access through the web or the app, it automatically prompts you to put in a grid code. Once you have accessed the grid there is a HUGE GREEN PLUS SIGN. From there it leads you through a selfie video response and the posting process. There are few options making it intuitive for all students. Once students understand this flow, they need very little support.

Other things I love:

  • I can attach content of my choice to any topic.
  • The directions for the topic show up with the selfie video so you can focus your video as you take it.
  • All the topics I assign to my class are connected to 1 grid and they can get to any of them by backing out of the current one.
  • Emoji reactions. Enough said.
  • Grid/Topic sharing for a global connection
  • Video replies (paid version – makes it SOOOO worth it!)
  • Video length requires students to be concise.
  • Video length is adjustable.
  • The stickers are so fun!

I have used Flipgrid with my class to reflect on a lesson, share their writing, share ideas, as a quick assessment, connect with each other over snow days, discuss books, celebrate holidays, connect on curriculum with other classes across the district and country. My students are learning to communicate clearly through these videos. They are learning to speak so others can hear and understand and truly listen to one another through these videos. Flipgrid takes away any anxiety they may have for speaking in front of the class because they can practice and re-record.

 

I also use Flipgrid professionally. It has amazing potential to connect PLNs on a more personal level. I participate in a twice-monthly slow flip chat in the #InnovatingPlay and #GAfE4Littles communities. I’m also co-moderating a book study with Caitlin McCommons using Flipgrid as a flexible connection tool. The ability to see faces and hear voices allows you to make connections that feel deeper than a Twitter connection. I feel like I have a professional relationship with people who live far away because of the conversations we have on Flipgrid.

Have you caught the fever? Share your favorite ways to Flipgrid below. If you are ready to catch Flipgrid Fever, I’d love to help you get started!

Gently Down the STREAM (soft starts in K and 1st)

Seriously! I love these additions to STEM! Reading and art are also important to 21st Century learning and broadening students’ experiences. I plan fo regular STEM challenges with my students but STREAM is my way to make sure my students are getting daily doses. I shifted to soft starts about a year ago when I was teaching kindergarten. I read Purposeful Play (read my reading reflection) and decided to include soft starts as a way to have more opportunities for play for my students. This decision was affirmed after reading The Curious Classroom which dedicates an entire chapter to soft starts.

Soft starts are a way to begin your day. Rather than assigning morning work for students to complete as soon as they walk into the room, they engage in playful, open-ended activities. I decided on incorporating soft starts because morning work seemed like busy work. Because the students who really NEEDED that extra practice rode the bus that was last to arrive at school and went directly to breakfast. Then they walked in the room with minutes to spare before the late bell rang and began their day already behind their peers.  I empathized with them. How stressful for a 5-6 year-old to begin their day at school already rushing to catch up and more likely to miss some fun thing because they needed to complete some worksheet left by the teacher. I no longer saw any benefits to the extra practice I was giving in the morning.

My first go at soft starts, I allowed students to choose right from the start. I know that student choice is huge in their feeling important and successful. I wanted them to spend their time doing something they wanted to do. We already had daily free-choice play in the afternoon so it was easy to open those centers first thing in the morning and allow the same choices. I noticed quickly that many of my students wanted to work on technology (iPads, computers, or BYOD). I wanted them to use this time more for collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking which they were not doing on technology individually so I closed that for morning play centers. I was honest with my students, this morning playtime was good for them, but in order for them to keep it going, they would need to be respectful of their time and stay engaged and clean up quickly when it was time. I didn’t want this to run into the other work I had planned for the day. There were a few times where something didn’t get cleaned up correctly or quickly enough and the consequence was that center got closed for a period of time. I was still concerned that my students who needed this the most were the students on the last bus and eating breakfast in the cafeteria. I still don’t know what to do about that, but at least they weren’t starting their day already lagging behind their peers.

This year, I’m teaching first grade and don’t have access to all the play materials that were in my kindergarten classroom. 😔 I had to change the way I did soft starts to work with what I have. I saw someone on Twitter sharing about STREAM (which was the first time I had seen reading and art added to STEM) and realized this was where I needed to take my soft starts. I made a STREAM to put in my students’ cubbies so they could keep track of which choices they were making. These are laminated and student cross off each one with a dry erase marker after they complete it. Then once they have spent time at each one they can erase and start over.

STREAM

I chose to make open-ended materials available to my students rather than specific STEM tasks because I give them specific challenges at other times. I was hoping they would take those experiences and extend them during their STREAM time. I store most of our materials on a shelf in my room we call the “Innovation Station.” Materials are marked with the letters of STREAM that I think it fits, but I’ve had students tell me they think something matches one or more than one of the areas, I will label it for them. I want them to know they have input in our classroom too. Below I’ll go through some of the materials we have in our STREAM centers.

Science

  • magnets
  • shells
  • magnifying glasses
  • kinetic sand
  • Playdough

Technology

  • iPads
  • computers
  • ozobots
  • Chrome books

Reading

  • classroom library
  • read aloud bin
  • Student book boxes
  • big books
  • Sign language materials
  • Literacy centers (from another part of our day) are also a choice
  • Students also use this as an opportunity to change the books in their book bins

Engineering

Art

  • construction paper
  • crayons and makers
  • pipe cleaners
  • beads
  • clay
  • playdough
  • legos (because)

Math

  • math manipulatives
  • worksheets that come pre-copied from my district (I was recycling ones we didn’t use and they were pulling them out of the recycle bin to complete for fun. So, I added a bin for worksheets they could choose from.)
  • tangrams
  • Math stations (from our math block) are also a choice

Let me know your thoughts on STREAM centers or soft starts in the comments below!

FAQs on Dropping the Clip Chart

This is my first year without a clip chart of some kind and Life. Is. Grand. I will never go back! I’m going to address some common questions I see float around twitter and some facebook groups I’m in in an effort to reflect on the behavior system shift I made this year.

Why did you drop it?

I dropped it:
because it focused too much on negative behavior
because it’s a public display
because everyone has a bad day
because using it as a consequence doesn’t fit any offense
because it is not how the real world works.

Now, I know what you will say because I said it too:
“Kids can move up or down.”
“They aren’t stuck at the bottom, their choices can move them back up.”
“It’s in the back of the room where no one can see it.”
“My kids like it.”
“The parents like the feedback.”
“It works for me.”

Mainly I dropped it because my kids fixated on it. In their 5-year-old brains, the color they were on at the end of the day mattered way more than something they learned, something that was fun, something new, the friend they played with, or anything else that happened at school. The color they were on defined them.  I realized that school should be full of positive experiences and memorable moments. And a behavior chart is neither a positive experience nor a memorable moment. I realized that the color of their day should not be their identity. I started to care more about their interests and obsessions and started to pick my battles.

What have you tried?

This year is my first year kicking the habit. One thing I know is I’m not turning back. Another thing I know, I have a lot of learning to do. I started the year with brag tags. I passed out laminated cards to my students for their positive choices. I tied it to our school PBIS – SOAR (Self-control, Own a positive attitude, Act responsibly, Respect myself others and the community). I passed out brag tags rapid fire to students who were SOARing and used them to mark the positive behaviors I was looking for. I never took the brag tags away for undesirable behavior. But then it hit me… how are these really different than a clip chart? They’re just as public. The kids know who has hundreds and who has 2. It is not how the real world works. I haven’t stopped using them because my kids really like collecting them all. (Yes I know I sound a little contradictory.)

I’ve tried (what I think are) restorative justice circles (I need to do more research). When something happens that warrants a consequence, we meet either as a whole class or small group depending on the action. We discuss what the problem was, what may have caused those choices, and how it makes others feel. Then we talk about what consequences would make sense and how we can make sure it doesn’t happen again. All parties involved make a promise to be kind and helpful to each other to become better. I have noticed that these conversations have helped my students be more honest about their behavior choices and admit when they did something wrong. They seem to be less worried about getting into trouble because they know the consequence will be fair and from a place of love.

What are you doing differently?

Behavior skills need to be taught just like reading, writing, and math skills. This year I have been more intentional about teaching expectations with clear modeling and students explaining and acting out examples and non-examples so we can label specific behaviors. We make a plan together for our behavior goals and practice how to respond to someone who is not making the right choices. It requires a lot of patience and practice. I have found myself doing a lot less assuming and a lot more question asking. This year, my school adopted a Social Emotional program called Positivity Project. It focuses on teaching students about the 23 character strengths, noticing them in others, and making a plan for how to apply them to their everyday choices. I have found this language so helpful not only during our morning meeting but also in literature discussions and our discussions about behavior.

What mistakes have you made?

It’s easy to fall back into old habits. At first, I caught myself just before telling a student to clip down. I had to learn a new replacement behavior for my responses to student behavior.

I’m loud by nature. I have to be very careful when speaking with a student about their behavior. I don’t want to embarrass them. I have to consciously make the decision to use a soft and even tone when speaking with my students about behavior. I need to model this for them if I expect them to do it for each other.

What are your next steps?

Next, I’m going to research Social Emotional Learning programs. I want to know more about restorative justice and the responsive classroom. If you have resources you love or ideas about these in an early childhood setting, I would LOVE to hear about it!

Making Family Connections – mulitple methods

In early education, it is important to make connections and build relationships early. It’s obvious to any teacher that we should be doing this in our classrooms with our students but we also need to make these connections and relationships with our students’ families. This is an area where I am still growing.

This isn’t always easy. Some caregivers didn’t have strong or positive school experiences and tend to shy away from involvement opportunities. Some families don’t have access to transportation and need other access points into the school world. Some families may not be “traditional” and may not feel included in school life. I recently discussed this topic with my PLN in the #NCSnowChat

The general consensus was that we should use inclusive language, ask questions, and listen to understand. During this conversation, a few different methods for making those family connections came up frequently. The rest of this blog post will explore my thoughts on using different “tools” for making connections with families. Please chime in with your ideas and opinions in the comments below!

Seesaw/Dojo/Remind (fill in the blank tech tool)

I love Love LOVE Seesaw! It is my go-to for student choice. I love connecting with families on Seesaw and my students enjoy interacting with their families in real time. This year, Seesaw changed from a parent app to a family app and this subtle shift in name, with more inclusive language, makes their product more accessible to more families. Now, 10 family members can connect to a student’s journal and interact digitally. I encourage families to leave comments on their student’s work. The best comments are questions that students need to respond to. I partnered with Caitlin McCommons to give a Seesaw training to parents at our school. One of the resources we shared was a comment list. This gives parents ideas for leaving feedback to their student that helps continue the learning.

That being said, I think teachers need to be careful relying on these tools as a method of communication. I say this as a teacher who used Remind to communicate with families on a daily basis! Using technology tools creates stronger connections with SOME families but is not always accessible to ALL families. Think about it, does every family have a computer (no), does every family have a smartphone (most likely), does every family have internet access (no), does every family have data cell plans (no). You can argue that they can go to the library or so many places have free wifi. Go for it. BUT, would YOU go to the library or to a free public wifi location every time YOU wanted to get online for something? If you did would an app like these be your top priority or would you be paying your bills? I challenge relying on these tech tools for family connections. It is one way but should not be your only way.

Email

I communicate through email like 90% of the time and I know that not all my families have regular access to email, not all families read the emails I sent and might prefer a different method of communication. I choose email because it is convenient and comfortable for me. I’ve come to this realization:

IT’S NOT ABOUT ME!

And I need to change the way I do things to make better connections with students and families. I’m working on building relationships with better face to face interactions and more phone calls

Phone Calls

Real talk – I hate talking on the phone. I don’t like talking on the phone to my own friends and family much less calling the families of my students! I know there are people out there who like it and can spend hours on the phone but I just get … bored? awkward? I would rather type something through a text, email, or social media or hang out with someone face to face than talk on the phone. I took a step outside my comfort zone and called all of my families two weeks ago. It took a lot out of me. However, the families really appreciated it! I didn’t even call for a specific reason. I just called to check in. The conversations I had ranged from questions about lunch to assessments, something their child said that confused them to their last/upcoming family trip, new dance classes to current class size legislation. I have to say, as much as I dislike talking on the phone, I enjoyed these conversations and I feel like I built relationships. I’m going to continue these types check-in calls every 3-4 weeks. (If you’re reading this, ask me about it to keep me accountable ok?)

Face to Face

To me, these are the best connections. I enjoy spending time with people. I think that tone of voice, facial expression, and gestures help people communicate. I like parent-teacher conferences. I like to sit down and talk, share work, and celebrate growth with families. I have done traditional parent-teacher conferences and student-led conferences in the past. (How I run student-led conferences is another post for another day.) I like both methods for littles. Sometimes it’s not appropriate to have a student or other families present for a conversation. And, I don’t like to rely on one method. This year I’m going to try goal setting conferences (coming up in the next few weeks) with families before our student-led conferences. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes. I also try to be flexible with my conference times. I know that families have different routines and need options. Ideally, I like to offer morning, during the day, and evening time slots. Some families can’t leave work early for a conference and need other options. I pick 1 evening where I stay at school late to accommodate them. This year, I’m going to offer some weekend time slots as well.

In the Community

Making connections with families in the community can be fun! I used to avoid running into families at the grocery store or Target. But now that I don’t live in my school community, these chance encounters are special. It is so fun to see a family out in the world interacting and the students are always surprised to see their teacher, not at school. They treat you like a celebrity! Our school PTA plans family nights out to local businesses as fundraisers or to support our sponsors. I love going to these events to see current and former families. The conversations are so natural and not just about school life and academics. I feel like I create genuine connections. This year, with my team, we planned a weekend outing to the arcade. We planned to be there during a certain time and invited families to come and play with us. We used it to launch our arcade building PBL for our force and motion science standard (Sci1P1). It was so much fun to play games with my kids and have meaningful conversations using vocabulary we were using at school while making a real-world connection to the content we were learning. I enjoyed this so much, I would like to plan other community outings for my families!

I have in the past and will continue to use a combination of all of these methods and tools for family connections because developing a strong, collaborative relationship with my students and their families is important to me.

After starting this blog post and outlining it, I participated in a #SlowFlipChat with Jessica Twomey and Christine Pinto in the #InnovatingPlay and #GAfE4Littles community using Flipgrid as a tool for communication. The topic was *drum roll please*

Making Connections!

And that chat inspired me to finish writing this post. You should totally go check it out. I’ll make it easy for you, click here.