The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Archive for February, 2017

Order Out of Chaos

I have a full-time student teacher from Eastern Illinois University, Mr. G, who began his full take-over of my classroom today. This is the first full-time student teacher I have hosted in my classroom in my five and a half years at Wiley. (I have hosted university students doing early field experience and student teachers who have been here for three days a week, all from the University of Illinois.)

One of the key aspects of full-time student teaching is doing a full take-over of the classroom for several consecutive weeks. After weeks of observing and co-teaching and taking over some of the instructional areas, it is now time for Mr. G to run the show. From bell to bell, he is in charge of planning instruction, teaching the whole class and small groups, directing tutors and volunteers in the classroom, managing student behaviour, holding students accountable for meeting classroom expectations, supervising recesses, taking the students to specials, etc.

It can be a daunting task. No matter how much preparation a student teacher does, no matter how smooth the transition is, when it comes to the full take-over, it can be overwhelming. An analogy I once heard is that it is like trying to hold two dozen rubber duckies underwater in a whirlpool while the jets are running at full power.

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Out of this chaotic experience comes order. Sometimes the order happens by the end of the day, sometimes it comes after several days, but the order does come. The students adapt to the teaching styles of a new teacher, the new teacher adapts to the many different responsibilities that he or she has to attend to over the course of the day, and class becomes stronger as a result.

In the meantime, there are going to be rough times. There are going to be students pushing against the boundaries, students who want to know what Mr. G’s limits are, students who want to know if he is actually going to hold them accountable for learning. But there will also be bright moments. There are going to be times when every student in the room is focused on learning, when the noise levels will drop down dramatically, and students will feel the peaceful calm that should be the norm for the classroom. Parents, you can help by talking to your student about classroom expectations, about the role of a student teacher, and of the need to help contribute to a positive, safe learning environment.

 


A Good Day for a Bad Hair Cut

Many friends, family, and regular readers of this blog (all fifteen or so of you) know that, about four and a half years ago, I challenged the Wiley students and community to read 1,000,000 minutes in a single school year. It was an ambitious goal but, with everyone working together, we not only achieved our goal, we exceeded it by 247,277 minutes! The incentive for this goal? I agreed to let my hair grow all year long and then let one of our teachers shave off all of my hair during a whole-school assembly. (more…)


Tweaking the Approach to Guided Reading

Right before Winter Break, my fourth grade partner and I spent a day looking at student literacy data and talking about ways we could better meet the needs of our four dozen or so students. One thing we realised was that we could more effectively and efficiently serve them by changing the way we grouped students for guided reading. Instead of each forming groups from our own classes, we put all of the data for all of our students together and made groups based on that new information. What happened was that about half of my students would be in groups with her and about half of her students would be in groups with me.

We looked at our schedules, bumped some things around, and found a way to both have our main literacy block at the same time. We started this shortly after the second semester resumed and have been meeting at least twice a week to discuss progress, strengths, weaknesses, and any changes we need to make.

Initially, I was meeting with all five of my new groups every day. Then I tried meeting with four groups each day by alternating days with two of the groups. Last week, as we looked at data further, I decided to tweak the schedule a little bit more so that I only meet with three groups on any given day. This has had the benefit of letting me a) give more time to students when I meet with them in their small groups and b) give them more time to work on independent tasks. With this newly tweaked schedule, my students now go to three of four possible twenty-minute stations: Teacher Time (only three of my five groups each day), Read to Self (every group), Writing (every group), and Front Row (two of the three groups, namely, the two not meeting with me for Teacher Time).

Yes, all of my groups are named after somewhat random and/or obscure trees.

At the same time, we decided to use an article series on the newly released Front Row Social Studies page as the foundation of our guided reading texts. Each article is published at multiple grade levels so we can differentiate as needed for our diverse groups of learners. For each article, students read it online, complete a brief comprehension quiz, and have a written response. I would like to say that the students are blowing me away with both their excellent understanding of the texts and with their detailed analyses of what they have read, but that would not be true.

What I am learning, instead, is that many of them are struggling with connecting what they have read and what they know with the questions being given to them. I am also learning that they are not writing very detailed responses. In fact, several students are only writing one or two sentences, while others have copied the entire article and pasted it into their response.

Fortunately, I am able to take this information and use it in my instruction! My student teacher is starting to take over more and more of the teaching responsibilities in the classroom, which means that I can work with more students on specific, targeted skills. I am hopeful that this will result in improved output from students, not because of a test or any arbitrary, artificial metric, but because being able to communicate clearly and effectively with others is an important life skill that I want all of my students to develop!


Workshop Presentations – Part II

[NOTE: This is the second of two blog posts about workshop presentations I recently gave.]

Ever since I started working at Wiley Elementary School and participated in the New Teacher Mentoring and Induction program, I have received regular email updates from the Illinois New Teacher Collaborative. I attended the annual conference my first year at Wiley, then I attended a Beginning Teacher Conference the summer after that year. The following summer I attended the Beginning Teacher Conference again. I have found these conferences to be incredibly useful and believe I am a better teacher for having participated in them.

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Earlier this year, I received an email seeking requests for workshop proposals for the the 11th Annual Induction and Mentoring Conference to be held in Champaign. One of the event organisers happens to also be one of the organisers for EdCamp CU, the “unconference” that I have helped organise for the past year. She asked me if I would be willing to put in a proposal for the conference based on two of the critical areas they were going to focus on: Teachers as Learners and Teachers as Influencers. I wrote a proposal for each and submitted them.

To my surprise, both proposals were accepted, and so it was that today I spent the day at the iHotel and Conference Center in Champaign, networking with teachers, administrators, and professional development coordinators. In addition to presenting two workshops, I got to attend the EdChats (mini general session presentations), and got to help two early career teachers from a nearby district make plans for how they can create an induction and mentoring program in their schools.

The first session I presented was on the cross-grade collaboration process I have done with Miss C for the past six years. It started as Reading Buddies but has morphed into Learning Buddies. I only had four participants, but they seemed excited about the ways that could increase collaboration in their schools and find teachers to partner with to create vertical learning opportunities for their students.

The second session I gave also only had four participants. This one was on using social media to influence the school environment for good. I shared my belief that it is more important for teachers to have a positive social media presence than to have no presence at all. (Many teachers, especially early career teachers, are told to hide their identities online and avoid any networking with students, parents, or colleagues. I take a different approach, although, in general, I avoid adding parents to my personal Facebook network until after their students have left my classroom for good.) I showed how I use Twitter to connect with educators and researchers and how I use hashtags to track important topics. The teachers present shared how they use social media and gave others resources for how to get started.

The INTC Conference was a long, busy day, but it was so worth it! I was able to connect with great teachers, share ways that my school district has helped me become a teacher leader, and even got to connect with a friend from the Cebrin Goodman Teen Institute who is now a teacher in the nearby district mentioned above.

Tomorrow I return to the classroom after a long absence. I hope I will be able to use what I learned on Friday and today to make a difference in my students’ lives.


Workshop Presentations – Part I

[NOTE: This is the first of two blog posts about workshop presentations that I recently gave.]

Last Friday I had the opportunity to present a workshop to two groups of teachers during my district’s Winter Institute. My workshop focused on Hapara Dashboard, the web-based software that we use to monitor students on their Chromebooks. (Oddly enough, I have apparently never written about this software, despite the fact that it has been in use in my building for over a year. Oops.)
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Hapara Dashboard allows me to see what students are doing on their Chromebooks in real time by showing me what tabs they have open at any given time. I can also view and save screenshots of their active screens. Through Highlights, I can send links to every device in my classroom and I can limit students’ browsing to specific sites. I can view their Google Drive folders and can create documents that are sent to each individual student and automatically populated in a folder that I have specified. I can send students messages to remind them of tasks or call them to my back table without saying anything. Through Workspace, I can create assignments with stated goals, resources, evidence, and rubrics. I can grade assignments and return them for further editing or return them with a final grade, making it so students cannot alter them further.

My presentation was to showcase all of these features and ask teachers if they would be interested in using this software if it was made available. Every single teacher who came to my sessions told me that they were definitely interested and wanted to know why we didn’t already have this software in place. (Short answer: it is expensive.) Still, the response was overwhelmingly positive and many teachers felt that using Hapara Dashboard would greatly increase productivity in the classroom and make the devices more effective.

I am hopeful that this will be something that will happen soon!


KAM-BAM 2017

[NOTE: I started this post several weeks ago. but couldn’t get the photos to load and kept forgetting to finish. Sorry!]

When I first started teaching at Wiley Elementary School, I heard about a program the fifth graders got to participate in called KAM-WAM. Both fifth grade classes spent an entire week at the Krannert Art Museum on the University of Illinois campus, learning about and creating art. I admit it: I was jealous. The second year I was teaching, I continued to be jealous of this and wished that fourth graders could do something similar. During my third year, though, we finally got to do something with the Krannert Art Museum, too!

It wasn’t a week at the museum, but it was still awesome. We got to spend half a day at the museum. The students loved the experience and many of them excitedly brought their families back, many for the first time. The in 2015 we got to expand the program to a full day and KAM-BAM was born.

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Wiley fourth graders recently participated in our third full day KAM-BAM with the art museum educators. We divided students into four groups and, after a brief overview of the day, the groups separated and spent the morning exploring, examining, and the discussing art in different exhibits throughout the art museum.

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Following lunch in a classroom in the nearby Art and Design building, groups spent the afternoon creating artwork that was inspired by the exhibits they saw. One group repurposed materials to design drinking vessels of the future. Another group designed an exhibit to display items from the exhibit of decorative art. A third group created hidden messages in their artwork. The fourth group created fantastic creatures and told stories about their creatures.

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We wrapped up the day by coming together as a large group and sharing with one another. It was an awesome day of art and discussion that gave students the opportunity to do things that they wouldn’t normally do. I left the Krannert Art Museum once again filled with awe at the amazing resources in our community and I hope that many, if not all, of our students will take advantage of these museums and performance spaces!

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Integrating Curriculum

Teaching across the curriculum is a phrase that had grown in popularity over the years, but it is now starting to be replaced with the phrase integrating curriculum. It is one thing to teach similar topics in different curricular areas (teaching across the curriculum), but it is quite another to teach a topic through the lenses of these areas. It is doing this last that I am trying to do right now with my students.

We are in a unit on the Revolutionary War (the American War for Independence). I have at my disposal a classroom set of social studies history textbooks that attempt to teach the entire war in 20 pages, several different historical fiction book sets in my school library, a writing unit by Lucy Calkins that teaches note-taking and informative essay writing, and a new social studies unit developed by the good folks at Front Row that incorporates informative texts with reading comprehension, discussion, and writing activities. Instead of using all of these at once, I am using bits and pieces of them to integrate the instruction within the various curricular areas of history, social studies (I consider these two different, albeit related, topics), reading, writing, and technology.

By integrating my curriculum into huge parts of the day, students have more freedom to choose what they will work on through the day, but they still have specific assignments and tasks to be completed. For the next several weeks, my students will be fully immersed in the world of the Revolutionary War. They will be reading, writing, connecting, analyzing, discussing, debating, and exploring these topics. I won’t be able to cover everything, and there will almost definitely be topics that I wish we could get into that we won’t due to time, as well as other topics that we will spend more time on as students ask their questions and drive the instruction, but it is going to be great! I am excited and I hope that they will be excited, too!