Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Rigor Doesn't Have to Be Scary

I follow teacher groups on FB and forums online and the one trend that I've noticed is the absolute vitriol many feel for "rigor". Now I know that many feel (as I do) that objectives are being pushed down to the point of being developmentally inappropriate. That is not what I refer to when I talk about rigor.

Rigor is going deeper into a topic. Rigor is exploring, creating, collaborating. Rigor is applying what you are learning in different ways. We can do that in Kindergarten and not have it be a traumatic experience!

I wanted to give you some examples of simple ways you can inject rigor into your teaching.

1) Use different kinds of media. It's hard to find clean music videos these days but very often you have to make an inference as to what is going on because no one is narrating for you. We watched part of Katy Perry's Firework last year (part because some is not appropriate for 5 year olds). But there was a shot of a child in what appeared to be a hospital room with no hair-what can we infer from this? Everyone is a Firework, what does that metaphor mean? Deep thinking with literary devices going on even with Katy Perry! :)

2) Do transition activities where they have to think to be dismissed. We all know we can't just say everyone line up for lunch. What I do is have them make a circle and I give them 3 things-a snowman, a popsicle and Alaska in the winter. Now, each one gives me an example of things that go along with that category (without naming what it is). In the beginning you will answers like a snowflake, a snowball, a snow angel, etc. but the more you do it, the more they will try to think outside the box and come with something their friends did not think of.

3) Take the application process to the next level. I saw this article the other day:  Rigorous and something they will probably never forget. There are so many places we can do this and especially with the technology we have access to today, being able to connect with real people out there!

4) Differentiate! I read a blog post the other day about a sale on things for early finishers--if you have early finishers then they are not being properly challenged! It's ok to give different kids different work and different levels of expectation. For example, we are writing a fairy tale-they all get the same paper to write on, however I have conferred with my writers so they know my expectation of those actually writing is to write several sentences. Please don't read that as me saying give them more work-give them extra worksheets--no, I'm saying encourage them to produce at their level. If we are writing about a science experiment, I expect them to label their pics with words, my kiddos who are just emergent writers-I am fine with some words sounded out to explain their process. Unequal is not a bad thing!

5) Use technology. I saw this the other day:   If you are not familiar-Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a tv show where he collaborates with the public and videos they shoot. This one is an example of patterns. Not only do I think it displays what patterns are beautifully, we can do something like this with our kiddos. Ipads are not just for playing games! Have them make digital stories, take pics and videos and narrate them, do claymation or lego stories. When you read It Looked Like Spilt Milk go outside and take pictures of the clouds-turn that into a project. Yes, it's time-consuming to teach them how because they will come to you not even knowing how to work a mouse-but what they can come up with is sooooo worth it!

6) Let them apply their learning in different ways. I know I am in the minority but cut-and-paste activities drive me crazy. My favorite is everyone's description of their products as being "cute". I don't look for cute, I look for creative! I want everyone's product to be different. I want them to get messy. We write skits in groups about historical figures, we create our own science experiments, we interview our grandparents for Grandparent's Day. We dress up like vocabulary words and fairy tale characters who debate. They are learning how to apply what they are learning and not just how to stay in the lines and work a glue stick.

Hope these ideas are helpful and that it makes it less scary to incorporate rigor into your lessons. If you give them the opportunities you will be so surprised at what they can come with! And the biggest thing is not to get frustrated. I've heard so many people say "well, I tried an activity with them and they just didn't get it-they can't think that way". You have to teach them how! Don't give up-the more often you do it the easier it gets, I promise! :) 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Where Have You Been?

I really don't usually go a week without blogging something. My goal is to post several times a week-even in the summer. I have had a very interesting past few weeks and have not been inspired to post anything (I haven't even been reading!). You see, 2 weeks before the end of the school year I found a lump in my breast. My first official day of summer vacation was spent in 4 hours of imaging-mammograms, ultrasounds and then finally the biopsy. I had to wait over a week for the test results and they came back as Stage 2 cancer. So then it was follow-up appointments, meeting an oncologist. I'm not sure yet if it will be a lumpectomy or a mastectomy (honestly it doesn't make a difference to me except the recovery time is harder for the latter). But I will be having surgery again in the next few weeks, followed by chemo and radiation.

The good news is I am very grateful that I found it and found it early. I am also glad that somehow the fates saw fit to have it happen during the summer. It would be really hard to schedule all these appointments during the school year. I am a pretty private person and really debated on whether or not to share. I don't know how parents will feel about a "sick" teacher working with their kiddos and I especially dread when it gets back to the students-because it will. However, I thought the benefit of extra support would be worth it. I also think that although we all know about cancer and even probably have known people who fought it, it's  a good reminder to get those regular mammograms when it happens to someone we know!

So I'll keep you guys posted and hopefully will be inspired again to post something educational again soon.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mystery Readers

Well, the summer has just been flying by so far y'all. I actually had surgery again this past Monday, so I've been trying to recuperate from that-not getting very much done.

I follow teacher groups on FB and one of the questions that has been coming up is how do you get your parents involved. One of the things I have tried without much success in the past has been Mystery Readers. This year I think it was more successful because I really talked it up with the kids. Friday mornings I would give them hints as to who was coming and they would make their guesses as to who it was. Some parents brough their own favorite stories, some used ours from the classroom library. Some were gifted storytellers, some were a bit nervous. All the kiddos enjoyed hearing someone else read to them.

I used Sign-Up Genius to put in the days we had available and linked that to our class site. I had many 10 different moms and dads come read this year-which I consider a success! :)

So just an idea-in case you are looking to beef up your parent involvement techniques as well! :) 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Passionate Teaching

I am very passionate about teaching (if you didn't know that already! :). There is nothing I like better than collaborating with others who share my passion. It's something I think we are losing in this test-score-driven, education-reform world we have been in for the past few years. For example, when my principal addresses parents she talks about how we educate the whole child. However, when I try to bring in a person who trains support dogs to talk to the kiddos about pet care (for free, by the way)-- I am told that is not in our objectives, so no. When I told my administration that I needed knee surgery last year the response was "bummer, get it done soon because it can't interfere with testing". This is a standardized test we give 3 months into the school year to identify potentially GT students. That apparently trumps the inability to walk without crutches and excruciating pain.

Kindergarten used to be about teaching letters and sounds as the foundation for reading. Now we have a high frequency word test that is used to decide promotion/retention (which used to be relegated to a 1st Grade promotion standard). As a matter of fact the form we are given to track our data automatically labels the student "at-risk" and puts them in the red zone if they cannot read 40 words per minute the first week of school. This is literally the form we have to use to record running records and reading levels.

My point is that is easy for even the most passionate teacher to lose their passion. My principal was giving away awards this year and complimented one of our staff members for never arguing with a task they are given-she just always does what she is told to do. Um, yeah. That is not ever going to be me. I can't keep my mouth shut when I feel like we are going the wrong direction with our policies and that my students' education is going to suffer because of it.

I wasn't going to buy any more books this summer because I already have a ridiculously high stack. However, I read about Angela Maiers book: 

I love Angela Maiers and her message. She favorited a tweet I posted recently and I actually felt giddy! :) Although the perspective is one of a high school teacher and some of the advice she gives may be too challenging for us to use in our classrooms-I do have a renewed sense of trying to inject more passion for learning into my kiddos! Luckily, many of our students are just starting out on their academic careers so they usually enter with lots of questions that will get us off-track in no time at all. I will never forget one student I had (she graduated to middle school this year)-at the meet-and-greet she found her seat sat down with her hands folded on her desk ready to learn! That's the passion I wish we could keep in our kids!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

My Immobile Bookmobile

I'm actually calling it a Summer Reading Cafe. I read an article recently that posed the theory the reason our low income kiddos are always behind their higher income counterparts is due to summer vacation. You see children of wealthier families spend the summers traveling, going to museums, reading books. Children in low-income neighborhoods just don't have access to the same resources. Now, I've heard people say "libraries are free" and this is entirely true-however not only do you have to have access to transportation to get to one, they also require identification that some parents do not have to provide. We were talking about this one day and the subject of Bookmobiles came up. And a lightbulb went off over my head! Now I knew I couldn't drive around with a box of books in my backseat and we have over half our kiddos who come to us from outside our zone-that would be a lot of driving.

Instead  I wrote a Donorschoose proposal for books and decided that the the kids could come to me and check them out. My choices included those that I know kids have liked in the past and some of my faves. I have those books available to students for check-out one day a week throughout the summer. I visited classrooms to explain and promote our program and the kids were so excited. They would ask "for free?"--yes, for free! So today was our first day-we are going to open up part of our school once a week for 2 hours. Some kids read the books they picked out, some spent the time reading e-books online. Overall, I think it was a great experience!

Their choices of books (I covered it with the red paper because I didn't want them walking away during summer school).

We usually use a program called MyOn but of course, that wasnt' working. I did put them on Tumblebooks instead.

She is a page counter like me! I read 16 pages already Miss Trayers!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

My Summer Reading So Far

I haven't picked up any professional books yet, although I do have some in my stack for this summer. We've only been out of school a few days so I'm going to read for fun a for a little bit first.

I still have about 100 pages to go in this book-but I loved it! It's very dense, not a beach read by any means. But it's poetically written and a story where you really have an emotional connection with the characters. I think it's about how people can have all different kinds of family, not just the one you are born with.

Meh-I liked parts of it where it told stories from the past and the concept is an interesting one to think about-would you bring back a loved one who had died to spend one more week with them. However the last half just got really ridiculous so it was a bit of a letdown.

I really liked Reconstructing Amelia which was also written by this author. I don't know why all the mysteries I have been reading lately have the same culprit! I can almost always see it coming now.

Interpreter of Maladies-I don't judge books by their titles, but I do like good titles and I thought that was a good one! I read a list of books by foriegn authors that were must reads-lists like that are not good for my self-imposed Amazon book-buying probation! :) A collection of stories about people from India. Very well-written.

I'm trying to step out of my comfort zone a bit and read more non-fiction. This book really angered me which I guess was its purpose! Just the facts of what happened in this city in Montana-people can just be so stupid! It was a little dry sometimes with facts and studies-but I think that's what you get with non-fiction. :)

I am very proud of myself and my reading record this year! I'm up to 32 books! I've written about it before, just a few years ago my number was zero. My goal for this year was 40-so I know I can reach that even by the end of summer.