Fail Forward

Today ended the first week of the 2018-19 school year. For the most part, it was a great success. I had fun, the kids had fun, and it was low pressure. I did have the option to give a reading test this week, but I thought, “Who wants to take a test the first week of school?” And honestly, it won’t do any harm to wait until next week (but that’s another blog post altogether).

Along with all of this week’s successes, I did have a few failures. The biggest one was when I, ambitiously, decided that we would do two mini-reports (created by Jon Corippo). I thought two short articles on cats would be doable for a quick mini-report in one day…done as a group…Oh, how wrong I was.

I quickly realized while reading the first article with the class that it wasn’t going as planned. And for some insane reason, I powered on with the second article. What? Yeah, not sure what I was thinking (well, clearly I wasn’t thinking!). I did, however, extend the cat mini-report for a second day and scrap the dog report for next week. I also realized that I need to work up to two articles.

So…Next week we will read one article on dogs. We will take notes together. Together we will begin writing our mini-reports. I will have them do a portion of it on their own. Yeah, I’m learning. All it takes is one painful mistake for me to remember where to start. THEN, the exciting part is watching how far they will grow!

Get Them Hooked Early

Today was my first day back with students for the school year. I purposefully planned a fun day. I am a ‘different’ kind of teacher. I am definitely NOT your run of the mill, follow the textbook teacher. I want the kiddos to really get that message. We did art, a Breakout, and created TERRIBLE (on purpose) presentations and presented them.

At some point in the afternoon, one of the boys stated that he wanted to write a book. I thought this was great. I told him that I started playing with an app over the summer that created books. He thought that was interesting. Then, I showed him a short book I created on Book Creator.

Book Creator example by me

The book isn’t particularly good. I was exploring the tool and thinking of ways to use it in our classroom. However, when I showed the boy that some of the possibilities: voice overs, inserting your own image and text his eyes nearly popped out of his head. He looked at me, mouth wide open, and said, “I want to do that!”

I got him hooked! I can’t wait to use this in the classroom. The students will have so much fun creating their own books. THIS is going to be an EPIC year!

Class Culture

Last year I failed, miserably, at creating a positive class culture. I could go into all the ‘reasons’ why I failed, but in all honesty, they just sound like excuses when I say them out loud. I mean, this is how bad it got: at the end of the school year I ask students to list positive qualities about their classmates. This led to the majority of my class saying, “she gives good burns,” about one girl. And they meant it in an honoring way. They looked up to her because she could cut others down. Yeah, I don’t want THAT again!

So as a part of my reflection, I asked myself, “How can I do better this year?” I decided that ‘Motivation Monday’ might be in order. I’m sure I read or saw this somewhere. The idea is that each Monday (or Tuesday when we have Monday’s off) I will show a short inspirational video to the class; some ‘feel good’ video. I have begun curating a collection of these videos on YouTube. I will continue to add to them as the year progresses. There are so many wonderfully inspiring people, and in some cases animals, out there. I would much rather my students value the uplifting actions and words of others than the cutting ‘burns’ one spews upon others.

 

Classroom Theme

Each year teachers show off their cute rooms on various social media platforms. I am NOT one of those teachers. I don’t do color schemes or themes. It’s just not me.

I hate that teachers spend their hard earned money on their classrooms. And so many companies and sites exploit this trend. One site that pays other teachers (not mentioning the actual name as I’m not a fan) has sales! What? We are all in this together. Yes, you took the time to make a cute worksheet, but many teachers also create lessons, curriculums, and experiences and share it all for FREE. Yeah, I’m in this camp. Last winter I spend over two weeks designing a Hyperdoc for a novel study (Tuck Everlasting), which I shared for FREE. Then there are all the glossy magazines we get that entice us to buy items for our classrooms. I’m over it!

However, it appears that this year I have a theme. It’s my Bitmoji. I started off by creating a few images for signs in the classroom. I figured it gave the room a bit more of a whimsical feel. And well, I just sort of ran with it. The best part is, with the help of Google Slides and Draw I didn’t have to buy anything, which makes me happy!

Not into Bitmoji? No problem. Google can help you find free to use images to fit all your needs. Simply customize your Slide or Draw to 8.5 x 11 in and you’re ready to go!

Pinterest Classroom

It’s summer and I”m doing what most teachers do; reflecting, researching, and preparing for the upcoming school year. Yeah, I know it’s still June, it’s what I do. Recently, I joined a teacher Facebook group. It’s great. Teachers are asking questions, looking for ideas, gathering resources, and the like. Then there was a run on teachers asking about classroom themes and names. This got me thinking.

art artistic beautiful bright
Photo by Rakesh Naidu on Pexels.com

You see, I don’t ‘pimp out’ my room with a theme or a cutesy name. I never have. I’d like to say that it’s because of some philosophical reason but sadly, it boils down to sheer laziness. I mean, that’s a lot of extra work. I”m am definitely NOT the type of person who is all on board with creating more work for myself. And so seeing all these teachers being enthusiastic about themes and names (i.e. Ms. N’s RockStars) had me reevaluating my thoughts on the subject.

I came to the conclusion that I’m STILL not going to do that. Why? a lot of the same reasons: I don’t create extra work for myself. But looking at it deeper, why would I want to? Personally, I like to focus my creativity on lessons. I rarely do the same lesson twice. I don’t reinvent the wheel each year, I tweak or change up lessons based on latest research, tools, and needs of my students.

I’m not creating a ‘Pinterest Classroom’; it doesn’t help my students. It might make me feel good to have a cutesy room and others might look at it and think it’s cute too, but that’s not my job. My goal is to help my students learn and succeed. That’s not to say that I don’t try to create an organized classroom; I do. I try to create a safe, calming, relaxing, and a caring classroom. So if your looking for a cute ‘Pinterest’ classroom with a fun name; my classroom isn’t for you. If you’re looking for innovative lessons with successes and failures; look no further.

Podcasts & Sketchnotes

At the beginning of this school year, I had GRAND plans for sketchnoting. And I failed. My plan was to have 49 Mystery Hangouts where students would learn about the states and keep a journal where they sketchnoted their information. Yeah, that didn’t go as planned.

But sketchnoting is still on my mind. As the year ends it’s a great time to try new things. Experiment. We all do it. That’s when I decided to introduce my students to podcasts. I have a plan to have my students podcast next year, but in order to do that, they have to know what a podcast is. While they won’t get to start a podcast this year, it will help me work out some of the kinks for next year.

Student Sketchnote 1

I went on a search for an engaging podcast: something fun. After listening to Check This Out podcast with Brian Briggs and Ryan O’Donnell talk about podcasts for kids and tweens, I ‘checked out’ (see what I did there?) Kids Listen. Kids Listen lists great podcasts for kids. The subjects include science, history, stories, and creativity. I settled on The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. This podcast is an adventure story about Mars Patel and his friends, some of whom mysteriously go missing and the adults don’t seem to be worried. After listening to one episode, the students were hooked!

img_2043This is where I brought in sketchnoting. One complaint I hear over and over from teachers in my school/district is that the kids just don’t listen. I agree. The CELDT scores would also concur. By drawing the story, what they envision, they are forced to use different parts of their brain and listen. At first, a few students liked it but wanted to watch the episode. I explained that there wasn’t anything TO watch. They were not fans of this. However, by the end of the second episode, I didn’t hear any complaints. Some students had no problem drawing. Others listed the events in a note-taking style without any drawings. Others listed events and placed the notes in bubbles.

This has been a great activity. They come in each day asking if we are going to listen to Student Sketchnote 3Mars Patel. I have to beg them not to listen on their own and go ahead. Others have settled on finding other podcasts they can listen to. I am thrilled, and excited, by their response and the possibilities. Next year, I plan to incorporate podcasts into my lessons more often.

 

Countdown

pexels-photo-280264.jpegThe end of the school year is upon us. Today someone pointed out that we only have four more weeks of school. That’s not a lot of time. I know many teachers, and students, are in full ‘countdown mode’. Meaning, they are counting down the days until summer. I can’t fault them. The idea of a long vacation sounds wonderful. Time to do all the things that I’ve been putting off: steam cleaning the carpets, revamping lessons, relaxing, training ‘bat dog’ (aka Goldilocks, the 4-month-old puppy). Except, I don’t countdown. I used to, but I don’t anymore.

A few years ago I read a post (I can’t remember who wrote it) that changed my viewpoint. Basically, counting down sends the wrong message to the kids: learning isn’t that important. Learning is exciting and we should want it to continue. I am paraphrasing, but that was the message. I originally agreed, but have since changed my thoughts slightly.

While counting down and sending the message, “I can’t wait to get out of here” is what got me to change my thinking it’s not how I think now. For me, this time of year is bittersweet. I know what makes my kids tick. I know what will set them off. I know what to look for in others. I KNOW my kids. We are a family. We operate like a well-oiled machine. And now, I have to say good-bye. I don’t want to. I want to continue learning and growing with them.

Today I had a student upset about a personal problem. The student confided in another student. It warmed my heart to see the other student being compassionate and a good friend. We are a family and our family will be splitting up in a month.

It took us a long time to get to this point: us being a family. This is why I don’t do countdowns. I want to give it my all until the last day. I want to keep our family moving forward.

And next year I will start fresh. I will cultivate a new family. I will reflect on my new family in one year. I will be sad that we will soon go in different directions, but I will also marvel at their growth.

I Am a Lazy Teacher

Yes, you heard me correctly; I am a lazy teacher. Or so that’s how I feel. Being a 5th-grade self-inclusion teacher is hard. Now, I have nothing to compare this to, so I’m not saying that my job is harder than anyone else’s. I’m just saying that my job is hard. And I get lazy. I’m really hoping I’m not the only one.

So what do I mean by lazy? Well, there are days – more when it’s closer to a break – that I pull out the curriculum and do what’s next in the TE. I barely modify it, if at all. See, lazy. I hate this, but sometimes I’m tired and it takes a lot of energy to come up with engaging lessons for all areas of the day. I love Hyperdocs, Hypermaps, Breakouts, Ditch the Textbook philosophy, and all things engaging. But sometimes being an island in your own school/district is hard.

I want to BE the Rockstar my students think I am!

img_4891.jpg

So, this is why I am vowing to come back from break with more gusto, enthusiasm, and most importantly, engaging lessons for the students. They deserve it! I’m finally going to start that 50 states lesson I thought up last summer, we are going to read The Mouse & the Motorcycle by Beverly Clearly and the unit will include Flipgrid discussions. Science Camp is also scheduled for later in the week. And Math. I just received my copy of Jo Boaler’s new book: Mindset Mathematics Grade 5. It’s the perfect time to revisit certain concepts that they are struggling with.

No more lazy teacher! My students deserve better. I am capable of better. I will do better!

Notes & Voice Typing

pexels-photo-355988.jpegMy students constantly amaze me. They come up with great ideas and are innovators in their own right. Not only do I enjoy hearing their thoughts and ideas, often times we implement them in our classroom. I also feel fortunate enough that my students feel comfortable enough to share their ideas with me; knowing they will be taken seriously and not ridiculed.

Recently, one of my resource students (one with an IEP for both reading and math) created her own accommodation. We have been reading Tuck Everlasting and using a Hyperdoc to help guide us. While discussing one of the slides in the Hyperdoc, I noticed that the student had written some notes in the ‘Speaker Notes’ section. I found this interesting. It also made me a bit giddy as she was taking full advantage of our discussions. I privately talked to her about taking notes to tell her how impressed I was with her choice. She then revealed that she put on ‘Voice Typing’ during the conversation in order to capture everything that was said. Not going to lie, THIS really impressed me. Honestly, not sure I would have thought to do something like this.

student using voice typing

Later, I shared with the class what the student had done. Expressing how I felt it was a good use of technology, but shared with them my expectation that if they used this strategy, it is to be used as a means of note taking and all responses should be in their own words.

The next day, we were discussing the events that took place at Lexington and Concord – studying the American Revolution. At one point a group of students had ‘bug eyes’, began giggling, and pointing to their computer screens. I walked over to find out what was so entertaining. Sure enough, someone in their group had turned on ‘Voice Typing’ to capture the information. All I thought was, “Go kiddos!”

How Was Your Break?

pexels-photo-551590.jpegThis is one question I try not to ask. This and “Did you have a good break?” When dealing with many students from differing backgrounds, it’s easy to forget that not everyone has a ‘good break’. It’s a natural question for many of us to ask. We come back not really ready to be back. I mean, we all love to sleep in and get things done around the house or hang with family/friends or go on trips. But for many students coming back to school is a welcome break from their home lives.  And for that reason, I no longer ask students these questions.

I write this because I was reminded over my break that not all our students have ideal home lives. Some are dealing with the threat of a parent being deported or being evicted from their homes. Others are visiting a parent in jail over the holidays. Some don’t have money for presents. And yet others have had to deal with trauma and situations we can’t imagine. For these students, school IS their safe place; school is a welcome break from their everyday lives.

So what do I do? What do I say to my students when they come back? I’ve found that questions and statements such as: “I’m so happy to see you,” or “Are you glad to be back?” work well. “Are you glad to be back?” allows students to tell me about their trips to Mexico, all the toys they received, or the family they spent time with.  While allowing those in less than ideal situations to feel safe to say, “Yes, I’m happy to be back.” Many times they follow that statement with, “It was so boring.” Knowing their lives, I know this isn’t really the case, but rather they are happy to feel safe for 7 hours out of their day.

And it’s not just our students who don’t always have ‘good breaks’. Some of our colleagues have had to deal with situations that were less than an ideal Holiday. Remember: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” – Ian Maclaren.