Thursday, June 25, 2015

#LearnLAP Chap 4

Chapter 4 is about improvement focus vs. grade focus. It seems that so many parents and students are grade focused. They are so proud to have had straight A's all the way through school. So my question is, do they have straight A's because the work is too easy? I've often wondered about that. I want my classroom to be more improvement focused, but that is going to take some work.

Set the Expectation: "In our classroom, we have one rule: Be a good person."

I love this quote because students need peers, parents, and teachers to be examples of this as well. We are a Leader In Me Lighthouse School. So we have made many changes around our school in the last 3 years with the focus of becoming a better person. This is not just directed at students, but teachers and staff as well. I worked with my best friend and fellow teacher on a Random Acts of Kindness project at our school. Our classes did nice things for others and I loved seeing the changes in my classroom. We did things like writing nice notes to an adult in the building. Parents were happy to send in old note cards they had for us to do this. We wrote post it notes with positive words like: Great job or Super and posted them on the student work that was displayed in the hallways. We would have a set time and my class would make a loop through the entire building. Each student made 2-3 post it notes and they chose the work where they would leave the note. I always made them sign their name on the note. We also chose random teachers and covered his/her door with positive post it notes. 

Another thing that I really liked from Chapter 4 was the section about having students write reelections. If you know me at all, you know I had to create some super cute signs to post in my room for my students to use as a guide. I also started thinking about having students write in reflection journals. This is still an idea that I'm developing but if you use reflection journals I'd love to hear about how you use them and how often your students write in them! 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

#DitchThatTextbook Chap 4-7

Can I tell you how much I love this quote? I'm not one to pretend that I know everything. My students are always asking questions and I don't always know the answers. So I say, "Why don't you look that up?" or "Why don't you Google that and share the answer with us?"

It is all about teaching students where to find answers, not act like we know all the answers. I've had several parents tell me when they ask questions at home their child will say what I say, "Why don't we Google that?" I love that they are taking the initiative to find the answers to their questions.

I started doing #GeniusHour last year and my students loved it. They couldn't get over the fact that I would allow them to research and share information about anything they were interested in. We did have the discussion that their projects had to be school appropriate but they were super excited! When I first started planning to do this I had no idea how I would fit the time in. We have specials 4 days a week (45 minute block) but one day a week we don't. I normally used that time to catch up on social studies or another subject if we needed extra time. But I decided to make that our Genius Hour time and my kids never let me forget. There were days when we were out for weather last year and they would give up recess time to make it up. They were allowed to research something they were passionate about and I loved seeing their excitement.

I started by having them create a heart map. They drew a large heart and filled it with all the things they were passionate about. Then I had them write a wonder on a post it note. That would be the guide for what they wanted to research. They posted their post it note for everyone to see and they organized their plan using our class Trello board.

There were so many different things the students shared with each other. Once they finished we would let them share with the class and post about things on their blogs. There are areas where I need to improve and work on some mini lessons to help them grow beyond their basic questions. But for the first year, I'm tickled with the way this turned out. I'm planning to do it again this coming school year and I love learning what my students are passionate about. This last year we learned about aquatic animals, how to draw, break dancing, and many other things!

While I wasn't ready to make my class completely self-directed, I did find a way to allow students to find their passions. With a few little changes I made it work. I'm going to do things a little different this year, but I was willing to start. That made such a big impact on my students. I loved watching them work together to find answers, learn how to use new technology, and share what they discovered. So if you're thinking about finding a way to empower students to find their passions, this would be the route to go! Your plan doesn't have to be perfect!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

#LearnLAP Peer Collaboration

Chapter 3: Peer Collaboration

I love when my students work together and I think they do too. We do lots of group work in my classroom and one of my favorite things to do with math is Number Crunchers. This is something that is done in pairs or small groups. Feel free to download these to use in your classroom!

Paul Solarz also shares how he uses "Give me 5" to get the students' attention and for others the get the attention of the class. I've used this as the teacher before but never thought to allow students to do the same. I love this idea! I normally say "Holy Moly" and my students say "Guacamole" to get the attention of the class. But I love the idea of turning this over to the class to use as well. Of course it would need to be modeled and practiced but I can really see this as something helpful in my class

Responsibility partners is another idea I loved from this chapter.  This year at school all the teachers had accountability partners. We were partnered with another teacher on a different grade level. We did periodic check ins with each other to see how things were going. My accountability partner and I even got together outside of school to go to the shooting range and have a little fun. Accountability partners is something I intended to do with my class, but I never did. So I think after I get to know my class this year I'll assign responsibility/accountability partners, not sure which word I'm going to go with yet. I think this is great to help the kids feel like they have a peer to check in with to see how things are going or if they need help with something.

Next topic from this chapter that I loved: Strategies for Dealing with Conflict. I've always taught my class to use rock, paper, scissors to solve disagreements. We also have the rule that it is a one shot deal, not best 2 out of 3. This keeps resolution time to a minimum and then everyone is able to get started or continue working. I also use how Paul said he uses Choose Kind. This was new wording for me but this is what I'm always trying to get my students to use and understand. I loved these ideas so much I created a few signs to post in my classroom. Want them? Click here to download my conflict resolution signs.

Finally, Classroom Meetings is something else I was excited to see addressed in this book. We have Community Meetings in my class and so many good things have come from these meetings! I'm planning to host #5thchat on Twitter July 14th. We will be discussing community meetings and student leadership roles. I hope will join me for that chat. I'll share some things I do in my classroom and will be excited to hear what others are doing as well.

Monday, June 15, 2015

#DitchThatTextbook Chapters 1-3

When I got this book in the mail I read the entire thing in one days. The ideas were spinning and I was thinking of all the things I could do differently in my classroom. I don't rely on the textbook much in my room already so ditching the book wouldn't be that much of a stretch for me.

So I thought I'd go back and reread the book and post my thoughts and ideas here.

Section 1 Why Go Digital? Chapters 1-3

This section was excited for me because I am the technology integration mentor for my school. I'm the first one to try new technology with my students and I love sharing my experiences with others. I've done some backchanneling with students before but after reading this section I'm excited to try it a little more. Do you know what backchanneling is? It is like a chat room for your students to discuss material as you go through it in class. I've always used Today's Meet for that, but like I said I haven't done it a lot. My takeaway from this was the following quote:

In school, I was that student who didn't really speak out a lot. I have changed a lot as an adult but still don't say a lot in big crowds of people that I don't know. Backchanneling is a fabulous way for you to encourage those students to share their thoughts with everyone.

Because of our limited technology in the classroom we have always used the backchannel in groups. So I would allow group to discuss ideas and then share their take away in the chat group. Our elementary school should be getting a BYOT network this coming year so my students will be able to bring their technology from home. This would allow every student to be able to directly contribute something to the conversation.

Are you reading the book? I'd love to hear your thoughts on it as you read. If you want to link up check out the linkup below. Can't wait to hear what you guys think of the book.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

#LearnLAP Chapter 2- Concerns!

Chapter 2 is all about concerns teachers may have as they begin to start to develop a student-led classroom. 

My thought about this is that if you're reading this book you are more that willing to give this student-led thing a try! This is the chapter of excuses. These are relevant concerns but as lifelong learners and teachers, we are always looking for new things to try in our classrooms and new ways to do things. I have never had a completely student-led classroom but I was well on my way last year without really even knowing it. 

We are a Leader in Me Lighthouse School and as part of that we looked for ways to give our students leadership roles. My kids had things in the classroom that they were responsible for (answering the phone, taking attendance, doing the lunch count, etc.) and I know now that this was the beginning of my student-led classroom. 

Concern #2- "I can't do this. I'm definitely going to make a lot of mistakes and fail." 
Of course there will be lots of mistakes made but isn't there always when you're trying something new with your students? I say give it a try, learn from those mistakes, and keep on trying. It is great for my students to see me make mistakes. We use it as a discussion for how everyone makes mistakes, which is part of learning. I always tell my students if they think they can't then they can't. It is all about attitude and giving it a try.

Concern #5- "I'm overwhelmed, I don't know where to begin!"
To that I say, just pick a point and give it a try! The worst thing that could happen is that it won't work for you and you'll make those quick changes we make every day as teachers and find something that will work for you. 

Concern #6- "But, won't my room get loud?"
This one is laughable for me because I'm always that teacher with the loud class. I've found that students can often help each other understand things better than I can. I encourage relevant discussion between my students and we celebrate the fact that they are helping each other. After reading this book, I see other ways I can continue to encourage this with my students and I'm so excited to start next year!

Concern #9- "My students can't do this."
This goes back to my point with concern #2. If you say they can't then they won't. But if you have high expectations (and I'm sure you all do) then they will live up to those expectations. Sure there will be mistakes along the way but that's just part of the learning process for us all.

There are several other concerns but those are the ones that jumped out at me while reading this chapter.

I've seen the benefits of small groups working together to solve problems in my classroom. We always say two heads are better than one. My goal is to find a way for my students to collaborate more often and find ways for them to participate in problem solving where each may bring a different strength to the table. That's the way I work as an adult, if I don't know how to do something I ask someone I know, tweet out a question, search the Internet, or just sit down and talk with friends/co-workers to brainstorm ideas. Shouldn't our students be doing this as well?

I am ready to jump in with a student-led classroom but it will take time. I'm still working on my plan for the school year but that's the idea. It is a working plan and I know some things won't work right. I'm excited to give it a try and see what happens with my students!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

#LearnLAP Book Study- Chapter 1

I saw Primary Gal's book study for Learn Like a Pirate and I had to jump in and share my thoughts. When this book arrived last week I read it all in one day. There were so many ideas that were generated and also a lot of questions. Paul Solarz (@PaulSolarz) did an amazing job of sharing what he does in his student-led classroom.

Chapter 1 focuses on what a student-led classroom is.

"A student-led classroom is one in which students make decisions and choices throughout the day without consulting the teacher."

This is the classroom I strive for but have fallen short each year. I learn from mistakes and we make adjustments as we go. However, I'm still the one making most of the decisions. It was great to hear that student-led classrooms don't happen overnight because I've been working towards that goal for years. I guess I'm taking the "baby step" approach but I'm now ready to jump in with both feet! I've always used small groups for students to collaborate and share what they are doing, and I'd like to think that's a step in the right direction for student-led.

Solarz also mentions that students must feel "safe, appreciated, and connected to their teacher" in order for this to work. In my classroom we spend a lot of time talking about how we are a family. We share stories about how family members sometimes have disagreements but in the end we still love them because we are family. My students know I expect the same thing in our classroom. I know this is a message that gets across to my students because this year we did the Together We Soared Awards that they wrote for each other. Here's one that talks about being family.

I'm ready to go in all the way with the student-led classroom but I still have questions. I'm planning to continue to participate in this book study. Also, Paul Solarz is hosting a book study via Twitter Chat #LearnLAP on Monday night 7-8pm CST. Paul has been ready and willing to share ideas and answer questions that I've tweeted so I encourage you to join this Twitter book study as well.

Thanks to the Primary Gal for allowing me to link up for your book study!