All At The Right Time

Haven’t seen me here for a while?

I’ve been using my precious blogging time to really listen to my kids, get some extra exercise happening, paying attention to my husband, cooking some wholesome meals (okay…at least I try) and I even sat on the couch and watched TV once.

And I’ve loved it… but I love blogging too.

I read an interview this week on Quentin Bryce, Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, and she drove it home for me with these words:

“Yes, you can have it all, but not all at the same time.”

I’m going to choose what matters in time right now.

I’m sure I’ll be back soon.

Posted in About me, Dilemmas, Inspiration, Kids, Life, Parenting Tips | 8 Comments

Bad Teachers

“You don’t learn stuff from bad teachers, you just learn stuff about bad teachers.”

These are the exact words from a conversation between three boys aged 11-14 today. I know because the conversation took place in my car.

Something to think about?

Posted in About me, Inspiration, Kids, Life, Teaching Ideas | 18 Comments

One Target at A Time

Writing skills in my classroom have increased with a slowing down of targets.

The pressure of only seeing my writing students once a week resulted in me trying to achieve too much in one lesson and in the end I felt I was only achieving bits and pieces of certain goals. Now, I achieve so much more.

Now I run my writing classes with one target at a time. 

I realised that the ultimate goal for children experiencing some kind of writing difficulty was to create many writing opportunities for them rather than teaching opportunities. So, the odds are that if you walk into my writing class that is what you will see…children with their heads bowed, writing away furiously like little engines. One day I am going to film them and if you look closely you might even see little clouds of smoke emanating from their pens.

 My writing classes usually run in the following way:

  1. Students will open their books and look back to the week before to read my comments and enthusiasm about their writing(always meaningful of course, but always honest) and also to check if they have earned bonus points for shooting the writing arrow right through their target.
  2. Students then turn the page to where their new target for the week is pasted in. I love to write targets that start with, “I can…” as in I can put a full stop at the end of every sentence.
  3. I spend a few minutes introducing an exciting, stimulating, unusual, inspiring writing stimulus for the day.* Everyone writes on the same topic. Everyone works on individulaised writing goals.
  4. Background music goes on, timer goes on (to build up writing stamina) silence goes on.
  5. I may stop in the middle to remind children to cast their eyes on their writing target to make sure they are heading in the right direction. I rarely interrupt them as I want their writing and their ideas to flow. Sometimes I even write with them to model the behaviour of a good writer.

 The logistics:

  1. I created a leveled writing rubric/checklist to help me work out the targets. It starts out with a simple - I can write between the blue lines and I can press softly when I write or I can spell all my bossy e words correctly. It builds up to targets like, I can use paragraphs in my writing, and I can add people talking into my writing. I have written up my own rubrics by combining resources from the internet and teaching guides with some of my own ideas to suit my teaching stylyle.
  2. One of the most important targets on Level 1 is I can write on my own. Generally, students with writing difficulties interrupt their own writing flow by asking questions to delay the process and complain that they don’t know what to write.  Helplessness is not an option in my lessons, so students learn quickly that they should just focus on their target and get on with it and write.  I will not help until they have attempted it themselves.
  3. When I mark their writing, I comment on the target and great aspects of their content. I never use red pen. I never underline or mark or cross all the other mistakes. Those are targets for later. I honestly believe that lots of incorrect marks all over your page destroys your work and your confidence.

 Reflection:

When I started out using writing rubrics and targets, I got students to analyze their own writing using the writing rubric and then to select their own targets and write them at the top of the page. I know that self-assessment is an important part of the learning process, but I found that we were taking so long to tick the rubrics and write out targets that we were left with very little writing time. I still glue in the rubrics so that children can see what level they are on and where they are heading, but I check if they have reached their target and I write up the new target for each week. 

I have also observed that once a student reaches that target, they rarely need to be reminded about it again. Rather, they just seem to progress onto the next step without being reminded about previous targets.

 The pride:

How do I know that they are proud of what they have written?  Well, they beg to share what they have written with their classmates…but that will have to come at another time. This is writing class after all! 

 *In my next post, I will share some of my favourite writing topics. Also, watch this space for the success I have had with adapting the traditional Hamburger Writing approach.

 Related posts:

 Lessons in Paragraph Writing With An Old Friend

Follow on Activities for Teaching Paragraph Writing

Graphic Organizers – Valuable or Not?

The Mechanics of Writing: Solutions and Strategies

My Blank Target

 

Posted in Inspiration, Kids, Teaching Ideas | 12 Comments

Kids Shouldn’t Go To School

Dan Haesler – teacher, blogger, speaker, Positive Psychology advocate and colleague – has done a fantastic post this week titled “Kids Shouldn’t Go To School.” I think every teacher should take the time to read and ponder over the essential points he makes.

While visiting Dan, take time to read one of my favourite posts on his site. You can find it over here.

Posted in Inspiration, Kids, Life, Resillience, Teaching Ideas | 8 Comments

Band-Aids, Fairness, Solutions and My Own Wounds

I used to think that “fair” means that everybody gets the same, but thanks to Richard Lovoie, I came to understand a few years ago that “fair” actually means “getting what you need.” Mrs Saylor, over at Salylor’s Log, uses this brilliant Band-Aid strategy to explain the concept of fairness and differentiation in her classroom of little students.

This is what Mrs Saylor says:

“On the first day of school, I call everyone to the carpet and we sit around in a circle. I tell each student to come up with a pretend injury. Then I call each student to the front. As they show me their injury, I put the Band-Aid on all of them in the exact same spot (upper right arm.) When someone replies, “But that wasn’t where I was hurt!” I tell them that I am treating them all fairly. They usually try to argue so I may say, “Ohhh you want me to give you a Band-Aid where you NEED it?” Students usually look at me and give me the “Duh!” look.  (I do this with all students and even though they know I will put it in the same spot as the others, they usually say a different spot hoping I will give it to them there.) Everyone is all smiles and seeing if I will change my mind about the spot.”

Mrs Saylor goes on to explain to her students that in the same way that they all had cuts and needed Band-Aids in different places, sometimes students do different things in classrooms because they need different Band-Aids. Differentiated activities mean that each child is getting what they need i.e. a Band-Aid in the right place rather than everyone getting a Band-Aid in the same spot.

I used this strategy a few times in my classrooms recently, especially to explain why some students were moving to different learning groups or why some students were working on computers…with thanks to the school nurse who supplied me with an enormous box of Band-Aids. It worked brilliantly, of course the kids loved it (some proudly wore their Band-Aid for the rest of the day) and it will be easy to refer back to it when needed as it will be a well-remembered activity.

So, as I sit and prepare my lessons for the final term of 2011, I find myself grappling with the  Band-Aids I need right now…Band-Aids that I wish someone would kindly come and stick onto me.

Band-Aid # 1: How do I get a totally demotivated young boy to stop giving up in the classroom when I know (and he knows) that he would NEVER give up on the soccer field. NEVER.

Band-Aid #2: How do I get a student to take on some responsibility for herself and her learning at home, when nobody else will, and when all the “Band-Aids” I have already tried have slithered off into a forgotten heap on her floor?

Band-Aid # 3: I wish when I started out teaching all those years ago, that I knew what I know now.  I know it takes time to learn and grow as a teacher, but in retrospect I would have helped so many children so differently. I need a band aid for my guilt.

If you happen to have the right Band-Aid for me, please let me know. Could you possibly make sure it is the tough, long-lasting kind?

Find the full link to Mrs Saylor’s article over here

 

 

Posted in About me, Dilemmas, Inspiration, Kids, Life, Parenting Tips, Resillience, Teaching Ideas | 30 Comments

Problems In Perspective

Ever had your child coming home from school with that, “Worst day of my life!” thing happening? You know those days when they really do feel that the world is coming down on them?

I once received this fantastic advice/strategy from our school counsellor, which has helped me teach my students and my own children about putting their problems into perspective. I have even used it on myself a number of times too.

Step 1: Rate your mood on a scale of 1-10 (with one being the most awful)

Step 2: Decide- is your problem personal or general.  i.e. Are you the only person to have this problem or do you think it is a general problem that other kids of your age face too?

Step 3: Decide – is your problem catastrophic (disasters, death etc) or normal.

Step 4: What advice would you give if this same thing was happening to a friend of yours?

Step 5: Rate your mood again.

Sometimes, putting our problems into perspective helps us deal with them rationally or simply get over them and move on.

Posted in Dilemmas, Discipline Strategies, Inspiration, Kids, Life, Parenting Tips, Resillience, Teaching Ideas | 4 Comments

Fits Like A Glove

The right reading book should fit you just like the perfect glove.

 I adapted this stunning idea from Melissa and Nicole at Lessonplansos.com when I downloaded their fantastic resource called Rockin’ Reading Workshop from the Teachers Pay Teachers Store.

I immediately charged out to buy my very own pile of gloves (yes…that’s my pile in the picture) and used them to demonstrate a perfect fit to my students. Of course some gloves were too big/ too scratchy/ too floppy/too bulky/ the floral pattern wasn’t right for me… and so I continued until I finally demonstrated my favourite pair of gloves which were the perfect fit for me.

In the same way, when kids select books for independent reading, they need to choose books that are just right for them i.e. books that are a perfect fit just for them.

I also love the idea of the glove, because it is a tremendous fit with the five finger test that I teach kids to use for choosing the right book:

  1. Hold out five fingers on your hand.
  2. Read the first page of the book.
  3. Every time you come across a word you cannot read or do not understand, put one finger down.
  4. If you get to the end of the page and all five fingers are down, well then that book is not a good choice for you right now. You may choose to share it with an adult or try it again at a later stage.
  5. If you have no fingers down, the book is probably too easy for you. However, if you are really enjoying the content and it looks like a book that you would love to read, then go for it.
  6. One or two fingers down mean that that book would probably be a great reading choice for you.

My pile of gloves has now been tacked up to the wall as a reminder to choose books that fit like a glove. I love the way the kids have connected with the strategy. Thank you Lessonplansos for sharing!

Posted in Inspiration, Kids, Parenting Tips, Teaching Ideas | 14 Comments

I Caught A Student Doing…

He kicks up a big fuss about reading. Says he hates it. Won’t go near a chapter book.

Last week I celebrated because he got lost…in a book.

Guess what I caught him doing at lunchtime today?

Reading a book in the library!!!!!!

Of course I went straight to his classroom teacher to report him.

Hee hee…I’m one happy teacher today.

Posted in Inspiration, Kids, Life, Teaching Ideas | 12 Comments

What Does Your Thinking Look Like?

If you had to draw your thinking, what would it look like?

I was blown away by the massive effect this simple question had on my students! Just look at their thinking. I’m sure you will be totally surprised at the difference too.

As a school, we have started embracing a Culture of Thinking. You can read up more on this fantastic Harvard Initiative over here. In short, we utilize a number of thinking routines in our classrooms which, in turn, allow us to discuss, reflect on and push student thinking even further. Ultimately, true learning is a consequence of thinking!

One of the routines I have been using recently in my reading conferences is called a CSI (Colour, Symbol, Image) whereby students connect a colour, symbol and image to the book they are reading.

I was working with a group of Year 4 students and two of them were supplying basic, concrete answers to their CSI response. Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the Cultures of Thinking Conference in Melbourne. It was over there that I got this idea for connecting students to their thinking and actually making them aware of the process. I had seen a poster on a classroom wall at the conference where students had been given blank outlines of their heads and they had to draw what they thought their thinking would look like.

I have tried to relate the conversations I had with both my students so that you can see the results I got before they connected to the thinking process and after.

Student A:

M was reading, “The Fantastic Flying Machine” by Jasmine Bell.

After reviewing her basic responses, I called her aside, spontaneously drew a blank head and brain and asked:

“M – If you had to draw your thinking, what would it actually look like?”

M (with a big smile on her face)drew a light bulb and lots of question marks connected with wavy lines.

 

“Right,” I said. “When you complete a CSI, I want to see those light bulbs and question marks happening. What you have given me is basic thinking…I don’t want that. I want to see those light bulbs and questions happening because they show me that you are thinking. If you ask questions about your own thinking then I would be delighted.”

Response Colour Symbol Image
Student’s  representation Blue Family Cow Patterned Aeroplane
Before connecting to thoughts There is a lot of blue in the story. This is her and her mum. The plane what they made in the competition.
After: Showing me the light bulbs and question marks They need sunshine and blue skies for the flying machine competition. They crash into the blue sea at the end of the book. I am choosing a determined face because you can see that she is really trying her best. I have chosen this picture because it is the main product of the whole story.

 

Student B:

Now H is my weakest student in the whole group and her thinking really bowled me over. Take a look.

She was reading “Saving the Little Penguins” by Sylvia Gardner.

When asked the same question about what her thinking would look like I got:

“My thinking would be bubbles and boxes and speech bubbles.”

“Right,” I said, “So, when we go over this, I want to see those bubbles and boxes and speech bubbles happening. Show me how they work.”

 

Response Colour Symbol Image
 Student’s  representation Black Penguin Penguin in a jumper
Before connecting to thoughts I chose black because it is the colour of the penguins. I picked a penguin because I like them. I chose a penguin with a jumper because I think they are cute.
After: Showing me the bubbles and boxes and speech bubbles: The penguins got oily. If they eat the oil they can get sick and die. The oil is black. Black and dead go together. If the penguin does not wear the jumper it might die. If I saw a penguin wearing a jumper I might wonder why he is wearing one. This penguin is mad because he does not like oil. It has ruined his life.

I think that all too often, we accept any work from the lower achievers just because we are happy that they have actually completed their work…which leads to learnt helplessness. But just look at the results when we expect so much more!

Teaching our children to think for themselves and giving them opportunities to make their thinking visible is certainly the route to go. I can’t wait to get the rest of my students to draw their thinking.

I can’t wait to see the results.

Try it…hopefully you will be surprised too.

Posted in Inspiration, Kids, Life, Teaching Ideas | 13 Comments

Seven Things About Me…

Essential Mama Baby has awarded me a Versatile Blogger Award. I am over the moon!  Fly over to over to Essential Mama Baby where she aims to “… connect to other moms and to talk about the best experience of all: Motherhood. Essential Mama Baby is more than a name, is more than a blog, it is from one mother to another.”

 The Rules after accepting the Versatile Blogger Award are:

  • Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them in your post.
  • Share 7 things about yourself
  • Pass this award along to 15 recently discovered blogs. 

 Here we go – seven things about myself that you might not know already.*

  1. I can eat a whole slab of chocolate by myself. In one afternoon. And not vomit. At all.
  2. If I am teaching one student before recess, my stomach (not me) will launch into its own mini-operetta. Without fail. I don’t even get embarrassed by it anymore…but I think my poor students do. My stomach is actually quite talented on some days.
  3. I never started out at a teacher. I wonder if I will end up being a teacher.
  4. My new neighbours look at me strangely. Either they can smell my cooking, or they have heard me sing.
  5. I have written my final blog post in my head a number of times because I crumple at the thought of fitting it all in.
  6. I hate getting dressed in the morning. I would be a far better teacher if I could inspire kids while wearing my good old granny pyjamas and slippers in the classroom.
  7. Once a week my sister and I do kickboxing training with a pro kickboxer in a makeshift gym above his car mechanic workshop. [ Don’t shudder mom… we know]  The first time I did this I vomited on the way home. In my next life, I hope my creator will get it right and allow me to vomit when I consume the chocolate but ensure I can exercise happily all afternoon.

I am passing on this award to the following blogs (in alphabetical order) Maybe you would like to visit them too:

  1. Creating Lifelong Learners
  2. Dallas Single Mom
  3. Elementary, My Dear, Or Far From It
  4. Enjoy and Embrace Learning
  5. Fly on the Classroom Wall
  6. Life in Special Education
  7. Lisa’s Lingo
  8. Mamawolfe
  9. Sharpest Pencil
  10. Teaching With TLC
  11. Nina’s Arena
  12. Organized Chaos
  13. Planet Weidknecht
  14. Teachers at Risk
  15. Urban Mum

* Husband is totally horrified that I have admitted these things about myself. Let me know what you think.

Posted in About me, Life | 15 Comments