Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Are You a Great Teacher?

What kind of teacher would you say you are?  A great one?  Dynamic?  Getting there?  A work in progress?  All of the above?

I talk to so many educators and many of them are self deprecating by nature.  You know, you compliment them on something they did, an idea they shared and they can be so quick to point out the error of their ways.  

Are teachers just humble to a fault or do they truly believe to their core that they aren't really as good at this gig as they want to be, or aren't rockin' it out like their teacher-neighbor, or that blogger that really seems to know their stuff?

Do you know the saying... "Comparison is the thief of joy?"

You see that teacher that you think is "highly effective" or "innovating" and you think...

"Gosh, I'm not doing enough."

I have a lot of teachers in my life.  My husband is a teacher.  Many of my dearest friends are teachers. I engage in a lot of teacher conversations.  A LOT.  

Like so many of you, teaching is more than a profession; it's a hobby.

Mostly, the conversations I have are enlightening, fun, interesting and motivating...

But sometimes they can be disheartening.  I've heard teachers say they would never encourage another person to go into this field.  While, I understand that - because I do, I urge them to dig really deep inside and remember WHY they chose this profession. It wasn't for the kudos and accolades it was because they love children and want to help them move the mountains in their lives.

Another comment I hear SO often is that more and more they end their days not feeling like they did enough and this feeling has become more and more overwhelming.  

Whether you're a teacher or not, I'm sure we can all appreciate that to-do list that goes on for weeks.  A day will end and you'll find yourself thinking there are never enough hours.  Right?  
We can all relate.  

Real talk here...

I think it's not so much the physical things that are weighing some teachers down - like cleaning your desk, filing papers, grading work - I think it's the heavy feeling of ending each day and thinking you didn't reach enough students.  Not that this is anything new - I mean, we've always felt like we could DO more...but the shift is that we may end our days feeling like we DIDN'T DO ENOUGH for our students.  That's different - do you see that?  That effects your mindset.

Years ago, I might end my days thinking, "Man, that science lesson was so awesome it went long and I didn't have time to do social studies.  Oh well, I'll get to that tomorrow."  To me, that was a good thing - I went with the teachable moment.  Now, it seems that if we don't get to every lesson we're harder on ourselves - like somehow we've shortchanged our students and need to work harder to 
"do it all." 

I urge you to flip your thinking.

You ARE doing the best that you can.  It still is about the teachable moment.  You may not get to everything and that means you are a fantastic teacher.

No teacher does it all, all of the time.
{even bloggers}

Be forgiving of yourself and know that while it's important to hone your craft and look for ways to fit more in and maximize your time...

It's also important to realize you are awesome. Don't compare and if you do use it to your benefit - to motivate and inspire you to move your own mountains.

Are you a great teacher?


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Chocolate Milk, Por Favor! {Book Tour & Giveaway}

Guess what?

Michigan author, Maria Dismondy, has done it again - made the lives of countless kiddos BETTER...and our teaching lives easier!

She has written another book...and I'm so happy for that! 

If you're not familiar with her work - Maria Dismondy focuses on writing stories that help children navigate this social world of ours.  As teachers, we know that there is much more to our job than the ABC's and 123's.  We are also responsible for helping our little ones understand one another as human beings.  WOW - that's a daunting task - but one made easier with the help of Maria's books.

Such rich discussion can take place before, during and after a read aloud.  Chocolate Milk, Por Favor! is about two young boys, Johnny and Gabe.  Johnny loved school until Gabe entered into the picture.  Gabe doesn't speak English and Johnny has a hard time accepting Gabe with his differences.  As the story progresses; Johnny learns a lesson about empathy and he and Gabe become friends who are able to accept and celebrate their individuality.  

After I read this story to my first graders here's what they had to say...

Character education is part of a well-rounded classroom climate. I know sometimes it's hard to fit it all in - I'm right there with you.  That's why I like incorporating it into my daily read alouds.  
Maria's other books {here} can help you with that.

To get you started Maria has offered to give away one signed copy of Chocolate Milk, Por Favor! 

Because my first graders are so invested in this book and the lessons they learn from all of Maria's books, I'm going to ask that you give one piece of advice to my kiddos, in the comments below, that can help them be a good friend to others.  We {my first graders} will randomly choose one winner on April 20th! {Please include your email address with your comment}.

Next up on the blog tour...

Erin Klein at Kleinspiration


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Book Study: Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: Chapter 11 {Music, Rhythm, Rhyme & Rap}

I'm linking up with Rachelle and Natalie over at What the Teacher Wants to talk about chapter 11 in Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites.

I think I may have said that chapters 9 & 10 were right up my alley - well, so is this one!
They don't call me DJ Jazzy Wazy for nothing..
Okay - they don't actually call me that...but they SHOULD!

Strategy 11:
Music, Rhythm, Rhyme & Rap

"Music has the remarkable ability to energize, relax, set the daily mood, stimulate student brains, inspire, and make learning fun." {Jensen, 2009a}

Holy powerful!  WOW!  That quote right there says it all.  I mean, really, "relax and energize", "inspire and make fun". You name the tone you are trying to set and music can help with that.  
That's just how powerful music is!

I use music a ton in my classroom.  Whether it be during a brain break, a transition, during a quiet calm work time, to have fun, as a celebration, to help us learn new concepts or review previous ones - seriously, I use music CONSTANTLY!

I'm not much of a singer, so I do rely mostly on the professionals when singing in my room, but you do know that our students don't really care about that, right?  So, I will break into song or rap if the situation warrants...{i.e. nobody is listening, all you know what has broke loose, I'm just feelin' it...}

I have so many songs/artists - I thought I'd share some so you can add them to your repertoire!

In no particular order...
We listen to this during writer's workshop.  For some reason I don't play music during reader's workshop.
We listen to all the songs on this album - I typed up the lyrics and put them on my SmartBoard because so many of them teach a lesson.  Some of our favorites:
Read a Book {that's our cue that it's time for reader's workshop}
All the Way Around the World {our cue that it's writer's workshop}
Itchy Itchy, Owie Owie, Boo Boo {clean up time after various activities}

There are so many of "these" that you can find on YouTube - from music set with a fire burning in a fireplace, to sea-side music.  I just search until I find one that I like.  This is a great one to use when we come in from outdoor recess in the spring time.  Lights out, heads down - a wonderfully calming way to give our little bodies/brains a break.

I have a whole collection of Kidz Bop from my own boys - we like to listen to these when doing "Ketchup and Mustard".
Need to teach a certain concept and you want it to stick?  Harry Kindergarten is your man!  Many songs are free on YouTube!
I love this blog post over at Scholastic - Mr. Vasicek put a lot of thought into the songs he uses and when he uses them.  You'll want to check out this post - because I downloaded most of the songs he suggested and will use them throughout the day.  
I just love Rockabye Baby!  Have a favorite music artist? Rockabye Baby may have just turned one of favorites into an album of lullabies.  Great to use during calming brain breaks.
Another YouTube favorite of mine - I love their ABC songs - I use these at the beginning of the year as a review - but also throughout the year when working on handwriting.
I still have this one on CD - I've owned this CD since it originally came out.  Enya is just good for the soul!
The Learning Station is a favorite of mine because they have a lot of "call and response" type songs.  These are great working those listening muscles!

I hope the list of above gave you a few to add to your bag of tricks - having a variety of musical artists/genres is as important as the eclectic choice of books in your classroom reading library.

"Change the music during a learning episode.  Set an emotional mood before class starts, upbeat tunes for moving around the room, music appropriate to the task during seatwork, and positive music at the end of the class." {Sousa, 2006}

One way I'd like to improve is by incorporating music more authentically by encouraging my students to create their own raps, rhythms and rhymes for various concepts.  I'm already seeing this as a work on writing activity during Daily 5!

How do you use music in your classroom?  Do you have any favorites that you'd like to share?

Go visit What the Teacher Wants to see what other teachers shared!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Book Study: Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: Chapters 9 & 10 {Mnemonic Devices, Movement}

Happy Spring Break!

We are having a staycation 'round these parts - and honestly, I couldn't be happier.  Instead of rays - I'm hoping to soak up a lot of laziness, relaxation, snuggles & Netflix! 

I'm linking up with a fellow "Holly" over at Mrs. Ehle's Kindergarten to discuss chapters 9 & 10.  These chapters were right up my alley because THIS is how I learn.  I might not be a graphic organizer kinda thinker slash learner - but mnemonics and movement...KA-CHING! 

Strategy 9:

"Mnemonic techniques are time-tested activities that enable students to recall and use material without conscious efforts from the brain." {Mayer, 2003}

There aren't a whole lot of specifics {aside from those personal stories my teachers told about themselves} that I remember from my days in school.  I do, however, remember:

...and so many others!

One I STILL use today!

Just this year, I had one of our parapros say to me "I was working with some of your previous first graders and they shared with me how they will never forget how to spell the words "would, could, should"

Click to grab!

That just goes to show how powerful those mnemonics are!

Strategy 10:

Getting those kiddos moving is so important and that's what this strategy is all about!

"Any task learned when we are physically engaged in doing it remains in our memory for a very long time. {Allen, 2008}

"Because physical movement increases the energy of students, it, therefore, enhances their engagement." {Marzano, 2007}

"Movement not only enhances learning and memory but it also causes neural connections to become stronger." {Hannaford, 2005}

I could just keep pulling quotes from this chapter.  Movement is essential to learning in any classroom - young and old!  I've been Brain Breaking before "GoNoodle" even existed.  HA!
...but thank goodness for those folks at GoNoodle - why didn't I think of that?

Circa: 2013
I'm great at incorporating movement in the form of a brain break in my classroom - but where I'd like to improve is incorporating it into my actual teaching/student learning more often.

I'm sure you've heard of  Whole Brain Teaching.  I've read up on WBT quite a bit and after much hemming and hawing - it's not for me - not in its entirety, anyway {It's a little too robotic for me}.  There are pieces of it that I really like and believe in.  Much like mnemonic devices, I think involving movements as we learn engages the brain and increases retention of new concepts.  There are a few techniques that Whole Brain Teachers use that I use as well...

Blow it in Your Hand/Release - I'll have my students go eye-to-eye, knee-to-knee with one another and share their thinking.  Once they've firmed up their thinking I'll have them whisper/blow the answer into their hand and then release it - by saying the answer out loud.

Just the other day we were talking about decomposing numbers.  When we said "decompose means break apart" we pretended to break something apart with our hands.  The next time I asked them what decompose meant I had several that quickly made the motion.

There's a song we sing about living or nonliving things that we've been singing for years.  I wish I knew who originally wrote it but it goes like this...

Tune: Yankee Doodle

Living or nonliving things,
Now which one will it be?
If something is to stay alive,
It has some special needs.

Give it food and water,

And lots of air to breathe.
It also may need space to grow,
And sunlight for its leaves.

Each year my kiddos love singing this song and creating movements to go along with it.  When I give the test at the end of the unit - without fail, I see kids making the movements to this song and whispering the words when they come to the part of the test where they have to list things that living things need.

"The one most detrimental barrier to learning and recall of information may be a teacher's deliberate attempt to stop students from moving." {Jensen, 2002}

My goal is to incorporate even MORE movement into my teaching/student learning.  Here are a few bloggers who are Whole Brain Teaching gurus that I'm hoping to pull a few more ideas from.

Mrs. Shipley's Whole Brain Classroom

Whole Brain Teaching With Style

Teaching and Learning Together

I'm curious how you incorporate mnemonics and movement into your classroom?

If you are a Whole Brain Teacher I would REALLY love if you would share why you like it so much, how much you incorporate the techniques into your day, and anything else you might want to share.

Go check out Mrs. Ehle's Kindergarten Connections   and read what she has to say about these two strategies as well as what others have to say in the linky!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Book Study: Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: Chapter 7 {Manipulatives, Experiments, Labs & Models}

I'm linking up with Deanna Jump over at Mrs. Jump's Class to talk about Chapter 7! I love this chapter!  I love it so much because I think had I been taught this way I would have done a MUCH better job in school! {One of the reasons I became a teacher}

Strategy 7:
Manipulatives, Experiments, Labs and Models

The chapter started off with a story about the author's daughter doing very well in her chemistry labs but not very well on the paper/pencil tests.  


Okay...I'm having a Twilight Zone moment....

Just today, we were dealing with this as a family.  My son, who is in 7th grade, found out he received a C- on his final in Art class.  He received A's all along on every other project - but since this final exam counts for 30 percent of his grade - he'll receive a B in the class.
I know - a B is fine - it's not the letter grade that we are most concerned with - it's the message that was sent to our 7th grader - grades aren't always fair and definitely aren't always reflective of your hard work and your skills.

Marcia Tate said "...when is the last time a chemist walked into a laboratory, sat down, and completed a worksheet or took a paper and pencil test?"

...and I can say the same for artists.

In his teacher's defense - I'm going to guess she wishes she didn't have to give grades like this either.

Moving on...{I will not send her an email, I will not send her an email}

We use manipulatives a TON!  I wouldn't know how to teach without them. 

These letters are from TouchTronic 

One of our math workshop stations - pattern block reflections

Bins are loaded with manipulatives for math workshop

Learning about shapes - using....shapes!

What better way to learn about plants then to plant some grass?
"When students use manipulatives over a long period, they make gains in verbalizing their thinking, discussing ideas, taking ownership, and gaining confidence in independently finding answers to problems.} {Sebesta & Martin, 2004}


On my Pinterest Math Wizard board I pinned a few manipulative finds that I really liked because many of them are DIY - we all know those manips can be expensive!

Sources: Learn, Play, Imagine
Rachel K Tutoring Blog

Where I need to improve is having them out year round so they are just part of what we do and how we roll - like an appendage.  

I found these awesome "math action cards" that I'm thinking about purchasing.  I think constant use of these manipulatives can only increase their learning value and help students understand that they can be used for any learning situation THEY deem them necessary.

Do you use manipulatives?
Which ones are your favorites?

Visit Mrs. Jump's Class to see what others are saying about this strategy and join in the conversation!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Book Study: Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: Chapter 6 {Humor }

I'm linking up with Amanda over at One Extra Degree to discuss chapter 6!  
Before I go on...I'm happy to admit we did a graphic organizer together, just yesterday, for one of our guided reading group books!  I've gotta tell you, it really solidified what we were reading. It really helped us organize our thinking!

Oh, gracious, she 'aint pretty - but I did 'er!
And doggone it - some little critter erased my "can, have, are"!
Strategy 6:

"Research shows that jokes, riddles, celebrations, and other forms of positive interaction not only create a positive learning environment but may also facilitate learning itself." {Allen, 2008; Jensen, 2007}

This chapter is RIGHT up my alley!  I don't know where I'd be without humor!!!! {probably curled up in a ball crying for my mommy}

You've seen this little guy on my blog before - it's meant to keep an eye on me.
I might be known to pull a prank or two at school.  I do have some accomplices though!  

 "Effective classrooms are alive with positive emotion, anticipation of novel experiences, the excitement of discovery, and celebrations of success." {Allen, 2008}

I have two boys of my own and as they outgrow Halloween costumes they make their way into my classroom.  You just never know when one might come out in the middle of a lesson.  I sort of feel like Superman - I dig deep in my closet and come out with something like this.  I realize this might not be your shtick - but I tell you; you put a beard on and they are putty in your hands!

I've used the magic hat, wand and beard to teach my students how to listen for those "magic words" in number stories {i.e. how many are left, how many in all, etc.}, I've threatened to turn them into goons if they didn't turn on their listening ears - you name it, and this get-up WORKS!

"What we learn with pleasure, we never forget." {Allen, 2008}

I've got a bin FULL of goodies!
Turkey, Firefighter, Old Man, Pom Poms
Capes, Hulk, Ninjas, Soccer Ball Hat

Who doesn't love a good joke, riddle or funny book!?

"Having laughter breaks in class increases the flow of positive neurotransmitters, which are necessary for alertness and memory." {Jensen, 2007}

I've got a stockpile of joke books - but I tell you, if you haven't allowed your little ones to make up their own - you have been missing out.  Sometimes we'll take a little break and read from my wide array of books - but other times, we just do an open mic kinda deal - and holy moly, I might laugh louder than my first graders! 

Of course there's GoNoodle - specifically KooKoo Kangaroo - those guys make me giggle like no other!  We like to switch up our brain breaks with a little song/dance and some jokes, riddles - both are great for those noggins and really buy you some time in the learning/teaching department.  Consider it an investment!

Might I suggest an accent?  This book is fun to "round up the rhymes" with.  It's full of rhyming words that you can record on chart paper and then look at spelling patterns {or notice that not all words that rhyme have the same spelling pattern}.  I like to read this one with a southern accent...which I do REALLY badly!!!  But you can't round up the rhymes without sounding like yer a cowboy, y'all!

And my "smart glasses" - We can't forget zee smart glassees...complete with accent.
Trust me when I say, you will get through a whole lesson with your students hanging on
to your every last word if you do it with an accent.  These glasses help for some reason - Dollar Tree!

I've got a confession.  I think I'm pretty funny.  Sometimes I think I'm as funny as Ellen.  Like, I will giggle at myself and sometimes wish there was a hidden camera in my classroom - because Ellen
would invite me on her show if there were.  

Humor can come at the least expected of times -and honestly, if it's not in your nature to be silly/funny, I have to tell you - I'm not sure you can stick it in your lesson plans and pre-plan it. Maybe you can.  I can't...usually the mood just strikes. 

Like here...

I bought this little arm/hand thingy at the dollar store.  It has a magnet on it and it's a spinner.  Thought that guy would be mighty handy - except it doesn't work {on an upright surface}.  Every time you spin it, it lands in the same place.  Soooooo....you choose the word, say a fill in the blank sentence, spin the spinner...

Mrs. W. is ________________ {awesome}

Learning is ________________ {awesome}

The other day our word of choice was "macaroni".

Math is {spin the spinner}...MACARONI - oh the laughter!

Even if you aren't a stand-up comedian...anything silly you do or say, your kids will LOVE!

Ever drop a pencil? Giggles.
Write the wrong date? Laughter!
Forget something? All out chuckles!!

It doesn't take much, people.

And there's Yurtle - how can you not smile at a turtle tent?

My take away?  I'd like to find more ways to incorporate humor into our actual learning activities.

 Where are you in the humor department?  Deserve your own show? 
 Or are you the more sweet and quiet type?

Go visit One Extra Degree to join the linky and see what others have to say about humor in the classroom!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Book Study: Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: Chapter 5 {Graphic Organizers}

Today I'm linking up with Michelle Oaks over at Fabulous in First to talk about chapter 5!  

Can you tell that I am REALLY enjoying this book? Like I said before, I read and find myself nodding my head vigorously because I'm already doing so much of it.  But can I just tell you that feels GOOOOOOD!?!!?  Remarkable, as a matter of fact. Have you ever reached that point where you say "I can't do ONE MORE NEW THING" "Leave me alone!!!!!!"  

Okay, first let me just say I try many, MANY new things every single year.  I just can't imagine sticking with the same 'ol same 'ol - but....I've reached my cap this year.  With the newness of a school-wide WIG {wildly important goal}, data notebooks, math workshop, Marzano, and other odds and ends...this brain couldn't hold one more new idea...so, this book has been a perfect pat on the back and brought some oldies but goodies to the forefront of my thinking - gotta love that!

Strategy 5:
Graphic Organizers, Semantic Maps, and Word Webs

"They address both the left and the right hemispheres of students, so they are beneficial to all.  The students strong in the left-hemisphere can supply the verbage, and the right-hemisphere students have the option of showing what they know pictorially." {Marcia Tate}

Who doesn't like the sound of that?  Are you like me?  I go through hills and valleys with things. I use something a ton, and then for some reason, something else takes their place and I temporarily forget about that other thing I used to do.  That's me with graphic organizers.  I was using them a ton.  I've purchased several awesome packs of them on Teachers Pay Teachers! I also try really hard to make my own on chart paper....mind you, I don't have an artistic bone in my body!

After reading this chapter, I just know I have to incorporate them into my teaching more than I currently am....why?

"Because the brain remembers images more easily than just words, graphic organizers are one of the tools that are effective for organizing patterns." {Feinstein, 2004}


My brain is not wired for graphic organizers.  I don't know - is there another hemisphere?  They have never helped me and as a matter of fact, sometimes I get so caught up in understanding how a particular one works and what it's trying to teach me - that the concept has been lost for me.  

Having said that...I do realize they work for most!

A goal of mine, after reading this chapter, is to not only use them more than I have been in my classroom - but have my students create their own!

"Having students create a mind or concept map is a meaningful strategy for helping them make sense  of and learn vast amount of new content" {Budd, 2004}

Do you use graphic organizers in your classroom?  Do you use them across the content areas or do you find that you use them more in one area than another?  Is there anybody out there like me, that doesn't find them particularly helpful in their own learning? {I know, I could be completely alone here - wouldn't be the first time - HA!}

Head on over to Michelle's blog to visit other bloggers who shared their thinking on this same topic!  
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