Saturday, February 28, 2015

Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites ~ Chapters 1 & 2 ~ This Post Will Make You THINK!

I'm all geared up for this book study.  If you don't have a blog, but you'd like to participate in this awesome professional development opportunity, join in the linky by visiting the various blogs that are participating. Chime in with your thoughts via the comment section.  If you don't have the book you  will be able to share your thoughts just based on what the bloggers have shared - but you could also pick it up through iBooks if you have an iPad, iPhone, etc.  That's where I got mine.

I'm joining Kickin' It In Kindergarten today to talk about chapters 1 & 2

Just as soon as I heard about the book study I shared it with my staff.  While I love all types of professional development - because there are benefits to each and every type {whether it be in a lab classroom format, webinar, Instagram, in-school book studies, blogger book studies, etc.} this is one of my favorites.

Life around these parts can be hectic - basketball, baseball, house cleaning, etc. it can be hard to be held hard and fast to a specific time/place/event for professional development.  Read when I can? Sounds great.  Share my thoughts with THOUSANDS of others?  Oh yeah!  Mull over the thoughts shared by many?  Sign me up!  Professional development at its finest! {In my opinion}

With that, it's time to link up with Kickin' it in Kindergarten for chapters 1 & 2 in Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites by Marcia Tate.

You know you have found a book that is right up your alley enough for you to relate and enough for you to learn from when you start highlighting like a mad woman...

...and talking to yourself "Oh yeah!" "Amen!" "Sing it sister!"


"...{we} are not only teachers but also gardeners, better known as dendrite growers because every time students learn something new in their classrooms, they grow a new brain cell, called a dendrite"

I just like that because it's such a hefty thing to think about.  Nothing bothers me more than feeling somebody in my class is there tuned out, and for lack of a better way to say it "rotting".  We are gardeners and we must cultivate those dendrites.  It can be daunting - but we have to remember the various ways students learn and how we can best reach them.  I have recently adopted the workshop/guided {fill in the blank} approach in most subjects.  It's just the only way I can see meeting individual needs in a way that targets their readiness and skill level the best.  Differentiation isn't just a catch phrase, it's not just a part of our teacher-jargon - it's what's right for students.

"When you examine the list of 20 {strategies}, you will find that they are used most frequently in the lower elementary grades. When the strategies begin to disappear from the repertoire of teachers is about the same time students' academic achievement, confidence, and love for school also diminish"

My colleagues and I have talked about this time and time again.  It seems that we work our behinds off trying to help all students reach their fullest potential and we do a darn good job!  Years pass and we hear mutterings of these same students struggling either in middle school or high school.  We just couldn't figure out what was happening.  Don't get me wrong - I'm not AT ALL disparaging middle school or high school teachers - my husband is one and a darn good one at that.  Things do change somewhere between first grade and 12th grade and I wish they didn't.  Sometimes I think we focus our "reform efforts" in the wrong places...not to toot our horns - but elementary teachers have such a strong understanding of human beings and their needs and I think your upper grade teachers have a very strong understanding of their's just that some need to find a way to mesh the two.

Strategy 1:
Brainstorming and Discussion

"They can't talk in class. They can't talk in the hall. They can't talk in the cafeteria. They can't talk at all!"

This one hit me "right there".  I see people asking for ways to make their transitions quieter, I hear of schools that require students to sit and eat without talking.  I'll never forget a quote a professor shared with my class when I was in college.  I wish I could find the person who first said it.  If you know, please let me know!

I know it's important to have control of your class and to manage behaviors but there is a way to do this and allow your students to be human beings.  Can you sit in a workshop for 6 hours without chit chatting with your teacher-neighbor?  I know I sure can't!  So why expect that of your students?  I swear, it's during these conversations, that our students learn most!  Next time your class transitions, pay close attention to what they are talking about - I can guarantee that in some way, what they are talking about, is helping them grow...whether it be socially, behaviorally or academically - they are growing!

Some strategies the book mentions to allow for constructive conversations:

*Ask questions based on Bloom's Taxonomy

"Stick Pick" - I've mentioned this app before - it's great for picking students to answer questions - and has the Bloom's question stems built right in!

*Think, pair, share {and oldie but a goody} - I do this in my classroom, but not often enough that my students feel comfortable with one another to take risks.  I create "learning partners" for each trimester where students sit by the same student every day for every group discussion {for every subject} - I just get so caught up in my own mini-lessons, I forget to have them TALK with one another {and keep my mouth SHUT}.  Must fix this!

My big takeaway?  Allow more time for students to talk and challenge one another's thinking.  Model this with your own questions during whole group conversations.

Strategy 2:
Drawing and Artwork

This chapter was EXTREMELY encouraging and validating for me.  I've had this conversation more than a few times, over the years, since moving toward a more "rigorous" and "data-driven" age of teaching - "How is artwork aligned with the common core?" It was hard for me to find words aside from "Seriously, you can't see how it's important?"  No, there isn't a CCSS that specifically addresses doing craftivities or the like; but you HAVE to trust your teacher instincts people!  You know what is good and right for your students.  

But now you have this book, written by an amazingly respected educator, and can you really disagree with more than 70 years of research? {Allen, 2008; Dewey, 1934} "Researchers have written about the positive relationship between thinking in art and thinking across the curriculum." Adding to that affirmation, "When children play - draw, dance and sing - they engage every sense and help wire the neurons for learning successfully." {Sousa, 2006}

So, when somebody skeptically gives you the hairy eyeball while secretly admiring looking at the artwork you have hanging in the hallway or your classroom remember Marcia Tate and her collection of research that supports why you do what you do.  

I try to repeat this mantra in my mind  - because even I, after enough hairy eyeballs, lose sight of the fact that I'm giving my students something that will serve them well in the real world.  

"As long as I can support why I do what I do, and what I do is purposeful, I'll do it - even if I may encounter some friction" {Crisscross Applesauce in First Grade, 2015}

I would absolutely LOVE for you to comment below, with your thoughts and ideas - we can learn even more through thoughtful and reflective dialogue with one another!

Monday, February 16, 2015

10 Things That Make my Teaching Life Easier {In no particular order}

1.  Planbook

I know I have mentioned on my blog many times - but that just illustrates how in love with it I am.  Honestly, I know I said this list is random; but Planbook has been such a life saver and TIME saver I may have subconsciously put it at number 1 for a reason!  I can do lesson plans from my phone, in bed, at the doctor's office...wherever.  You can see that I have a lot of specifics in my daily plans.  That's so  if I ever have an unplanned guest teacher - everything they need to know about the daily in's and out's of our day are there. I can easily email my plans to my colleagues and I am able to see my friend's daily plans {they have to give you "the key"} which is so helpful if I need a little help with where I want to go next or get ideas for how I want to teach a concept.

2.  A Great Coffee Mug

I have tried every travel coffee mug known to man!  This one is, by far, the BEST!  HA! You bet this makes my teaching life easier.  My coffee is still warm after lunch {I teach first grade - I don't get it all sucked down before lunch!} and you can drop this thing and it doesn't even get a dent...and no spills {No more coffee stained teachers guides, student work, clothing!}.  

3.  Instagram

I know it's nothing new - but it remains a constant in my life.  Need a quick motivator, either personally or professionally?  This is where I go!  Open the app and it's instant PD. {Professional Development/Personal Development}

4.  Friends
My teaching life is SO much easier with friends to talk with, laugh with, vent to, plan with, have professional conversations with, to LISTEN to me, the list goes on and on.  What would I do without my friends?  My students love them too!  I can't think of a better gift to give to my students then the gift of knowing their teacher is a human being!  It's these moments, when your teacher friends come in to sing to your class, your students will remember! {me too}

5.  Laughter
See above!  I don't know if you know this about me - I think I've blogged about it before - but I love a good practical joke, a costume to wake up my kiddos and put a sparkle back in their tired little eyes...if you're ever feeling like the burden of our profession is weighing you down...give yourself a good belly laugh {or somebody else} and that load will lighten just a bit.

6.  An Early Special
You probably don't have any control over this; but if you are ever asked for input on when your grade level wants their special {i.e. music, art, p.e.} I suggest the first slot! {If it's not TOO early}  Our day is broken up so nicely.  We teach for about 40 minutes {just enough time to get our day started and do calendar} then they are off to their special {and I can gather my thoughts for the rest of the morning}.  We also have a later lunch so we are able to really hunker down for reader's workshop. Our afternoon is a bit shorter with the later lunch which is also helpful because we all know their attention wanes as the day goes on.

7.  GoNoodle - Speaking of waning attention spans...our afternoons might be short, but brain breaks are a lifesaver.  Just think of yourself at a LONG day of professional'd welcome a chance to get up and get moving! Consider it an investment in your students' learning.

8.  Growing Our Village Together
Instagram, Facebook, becoming a lab classroom {letting others come in and watch you in action}, going into other teachers' classrooms, blogging, reaching out to others, encouraging others, opening yourself up to others...growing your village only makes you stronger.  You can't do this alone - nor should you.  You're not perfect - nor should you be.  The more people invested in your personal/professional growth and the more people you help or encourage - the better.  As nervous as it makes me; I like to open my classroom up to other teachers and I SO appreciate it when other teachers open their classrooms up to ME! Just as soon as I walk into those rooms I feel hopeful and validated. I see things that I do too and I think "okay, I'm doing that, they are doing that, this is good" or I find an idea that is just pure genius and nab it!

9.  A Cute Spiral Bound
I tried keeping notes on my iPad - it looked cool, it looked like I had it going on.  It just didn't work for me.  Instead, I have a cute spiral bound to keep my reader's workshop and writer's workshop conferring notes.  I this day and age I should be all "paperless" and "techie"...I tried.  It didn't work.  Add a cute notebook...and I'm all "Mistress of Note Taking"...

10. Prayer & Inspiration
I've always prayed but was pretty random about it.  I've made more of a concerted effort to pray before school {in the car - on the way} and after school {in the car - on the way home}.  It's more like a conversation and I do it while listening to Joel Osteen.  I realize this may not be your thing...but if there's something you can do in your car to find peace...I say give it a go. I don't even notice traffic now because I'm just chatting away ... thank goodness for "blue tooth" {which I don't have} I'm going to hope that the person in the car next to me thinks I'm chatting it up on the phone...but hey, who cares what they think!?!

It's easy to fall victim to a negative attitude - I have my ups and downs for sure!  That's why I seek out teachers who are able to hold on tight to why they do what they do and have made it their personal & professional mission to ensure that other teachers stay positive.  One of those teachers is Sarah, from A Rocky Top Teacher who posts Monday's Moment where she aims to inspire and motivate fellow teachers.

I did her sticky note challenge...

...which was just as much for those teachers at my school as it was for me.  Writing on those sticky notes and then sneaking them into teacher mailboxes just made me smile and I carried that warmth with me for the rest of the day.  Need to get rid of some stinkin' thinkin'?  Give it a try!  Check out Sarah's Monday's Moment for more ways to feel good about what you do!

What makes your teaching life easier?   I would love for you to share!  Who knows, you may just share something that makes a huge difference in a fellow teacher's life!
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