Friday, February 28, 2014

Playing Favorites

I attended a workshop given by Todd Whitaker this week. If you aren't familiar with him, he has done a lot of research and written several books on What Great Teachers/Principals Do Differently. He was a great presenter-lots of stories and jokes to keep the audience engaged. And he sounded a little like Jimmy Stewart to me. :)

He said two things that got me thinking and I thought I would share them with you. One of them was (and I'm paraphrasing)--"in great teacher's classrooms, all the students think they are the favorites". I LOVE THAT! I have been thinking a lot since then about how you accomplish that. It's hard when the kiddos innately pick up on other students strengths and weaknesses. I try to praise everyone, but I know with 24 students, that probably doesn't always happen evenly.

It reminded me of a story from probably the 3rd year I was teaching. One of the students said "well, you are going to let 'Johnny' do it because he's your favorite". And of course, I said, "I don't have any favorites"-which in my head I do believe wholeheartedly. Out of curiosity I asked the student-"who is my least favorite in the class?" and he replied 'Kevin'. That bothered me soooo much! That he had an answer at all to that question. The answer should have been-no one, because in my heart that was what was true-that is not, however, what I must have been projecting. So something else to work on!

The other thing he said was "Negative people have no power-we give them power in our responses to them". And the more I think about this one, the more it rings true to me as well. A new program idea is floated and the response often is-but these teachers won't buy into it, we can't do it. And the negative people get what they want. He said we also often empathize with them, which makes them continue being negative-they got rewarded for it. So when we get back from a 2-week break and you ask someone how their vacation was and the response is a very dramatic "not long enough!"-he says you should just ignore that. Not say "oh, I know" or "aww, I'm sorry"--but just "great-have a good day". It's something I think I will try and see how it works out.

Anyway, just sharing some things I've been thinking about!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Digital Stories

I think students should be exposed to various ways to publish their writing. One of my favorite ways to do this is with digital stories. I know there are many programs out there to accomplish this, but we use Pixie. I have the students write an outline of what they plan to write on their different slides. I open the number of slides they need and name them all, so all they have to do when they are done with one slide is hit the "save" button and click on the next.

I encourage them to use text and an illustration on each page-but what they make is completely up to them. They record the narration and then choose a background music and they are done--we have a little movie. This time we did an activity where they are writing from the perspective of an author; what kinds of books would they write, what message would they want to convey? I like it because I can see what authors that we have studied have influenced them and how. I'm going to invite the parents so we can do a Movie Festival.

Here are just a few examples.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Skits for Black History

I'm a big believer in giving the students opportunities to show their learning in lots of different kinds of products. I think it's a much better way to see if they have actually learned what they were supposed to--can they apply it? That answer doesn't always show up in paper/pencil products.

In honor of Black History Month we have been learning about all kinds of historical figures who contributed to our society. The students got together in a group and chose one of those figures. They read books about them, watched Brainpop, Jr. videos and then used the details they learned to write a short skit starring that person. At this age, just working in a group can sometimes be difficult-I think they did a marvelous job with them. We performed them for parents. Here's one example:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Character Awards

I am a HUGE movie buff! I am the go-to person all the time when my friends need a bet settled--was this character played by Corey Haim or Corey Feldman? I can remember all that movie trivia and can't tell you what I wore yesterday! :)

So it goes without saying that I love Oscar season. I have my own picks of who is going to win vs. who should win. I even like all the glamour and glitz that goes along with Oscar night. In that vein, I had my students create awards for characters that they thought deserved it this year. They created the award and an illustration to go with it while also writing why they deserved it using details from the story. For example: the Best Escape from a Rabbit Hole goes to Winnie the Pooh, etc.

Here's what they came up with:

Love Award-How Much I Love You

Scariest-Where the Wild Things Are

Giving Award-The Giving Tree

Most Pretty Award-The Rainbow Fish

Teaching Award to Christopher Robin for teaching the animals about
the North Pole on the adventure.

The Good Booker Award to Dr. Seuss

Creepy award to Creepy Carrots

Brave Award-the Man Who Walked Between the Towers

Giver Award-Winnie-the-Pooh because he gave a present to Eeyore.

Flat Stanley award to Jeff Brown because he has imagination and make people different.

The award for stealing goes to the fish in This Is Not My Hat.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ethics and the Underground Railroad

We have been learning about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. I wanted to bring in a question using our Ethics concept from Depth and Complexity. I asked my students, knowing the risks (which for the purposes of 1st graders-they know as going to jail) if you get caught--would you have helped hide someone on the Underground Railroad? 

I love asking my kiddos questions like this because sometimes they really surprise me with their answers. Students say "no" where I would expect them to say "yes". But as always, I asked them to justify their answers with why.

                                    I'd rather not...because I am going to get caught.

Yes, because if I went alone I would feel sad fro the other people that have to stay and work.

I would help bceause I want to be treated right and I want to be nice to others.

Yes because if I get caught and go to jail. but I am doing the right thing.

Yes, if he or her was getting chased by someone or something
 I would help them and take them to the Underground Railroad.

I would not...if I got caught I would be a slave and the slave would still be a slave.

Yes-it is not fair that I am not a slave and they are.

Yes because maybe they don't have no friends and need help.

Yes because they are going to be safe because we have stations and they have signals
that we are safe.

Yes-I won't like people bossing me around and people might be mean to me.

Yes-I rather keep them safe than tell the truth.

Yes because if slaves were not free then they would do nothing fun and
I would do the stuff Frederick [Douglas] did.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Using Inkblots to Spark Ideas

In writing these days, our lessons often come back to how we can generate ideas of what to write about. So often, I hear "but I don't know what to write". We often brainstorm ways we can fix that writer's block and one of the ideas that always comes up is: just using our imagination.

So putting that to the test, we did an activity where they put little dots toward the middle of a piece of paper (you want to make sure they avoid the edges or it will squeeze out) of all different colors. I wanted it to be random, not that they were planning to make a butterfly or something. We folded the paper smushing the paint and voila! we had an inkblot design. The assignment was to use that image in a short poem. Many turned them round and round for some time, some saw their idea right away. Here's what they came up with:

My favorite one:

A lady angry, all day angry, angry
 So mean, like a witch
Witch green, green

When I play hide-and-seek, I say nani-nani-boo-boo
and run away.

A flying fish

A bighorn sheep

                                                        My dog is purple but also green, how can that be?


Go up up up, come down down down
Go up again and believe your life.