Sunday, July 30, 2017

Teaching Gifted Students in a Mixed-Ability Class

Statistically speaking, we will all have 1 or 2 students in our class who are way above average compared to their counterparts. Whether they have been identified or not, we know they have different needs than the rest of our students. I think the hardest part of our job is making sure we differentiate for all the needs of our students. The kiddos make progress on a daily basis and it's hard to keep up with that. 

How do we make sure everyone is being challenged? Here are a few suggestions.

1) Compacting-see what they know before you teach it. If half the class already knows 2-D shapes, then I move on to 3-D shapes and teach the others in small group. This can be as simple as observing the class as you ask them to name the shapes. Or you could give them a pre-test at the beginning of the week, a survey. You could even make your exit ticket activity and entrance ticket activity.

2) Next step after knowing where they are is to pay attention to that. My whole group lessons are very, very limited. Everything I am teaching and reviewing is something most of the kiddos do not already know. If my students come in, for the most part, knowing their letters and sounds-I do not spend weeks teaching them again in whole group. I teach vocabulary, phonemic awareness, phonics rules and do my read aloud in my reading whole group block.

3) Differentiate their homework. I have started using homework menus which give them choices on the activities they can do. For one week they have 9 choices in reading and in math. Some are easy, some are on level, some are more challenging. I had a friend whose daughter's homework time would be tears every night because she had to color the letter A and she would much rather be reading her Magic Tree House books. It should not just be busy work for them.

4) Differentiate classwork. Does this take more time to plan-yes. Is it worth it, yes! I see so many posts from teachers who want to know what to do with early finishers-why are they finishing so early? Because they already knew all the answers without really having to think about it. You can give different work to different students on the same objective. Your expectations for work can be different. I have students who I expect to write in complete sentences when we write and some who I expect to draw a picture of their answer and then bring it to me to help them sound out their words. Equality does not necessarily mean everyone is doing the same thing.

5) Assessment-we can also differentiate assessments. This is easy for me because I create most of my assessments myself. If I am asking them to read words and match them to the picture, my readers will have sentences to match instead. If my students can add with fluency, then they move on to adding higher numbers.

6) Keep things open-ended when possible. I ask open-ended questions on tests. Most of our daily work is open-ended. What they create is authentically at their level.

7) Project-based learning. All my students work on projects at the end of a unit together. I think all students can benefit from stretching their thinking and showing another way to apply what they are learning.

8) Include everyone in the critical thinking activities. This will help foster thinking skills in all students and prevent your GT kiddos from being labeled with a title they don't even understand in early childhood.

What does not work:

1) Go read to yourself.--As much as many kiddos might appreciate this activity-it is not helping them grow as readers. All students can benefit from being included in small group instruction and working on workstations that challenge them.

2) Partner up with the low student.--this is also unfair to your GT kiddo. I get into a debate over this with people more than anything else. Their justification is that the students like it and by teaching something you learn it better. Bologna! I have helped teach other teachers about tech tools all the time-it does not make me learn how to use that tool better. As a matter of fact I often get flustered because it takes time for people to learn.

3) Go around and help other students. My favorite is when this is referred to as "peer tutoring". Peer tutoring is something that happens outside of the regular curriculum. That is not what students should be doing during class. EVERY student should be learning something new every day!

I hope this doesn't sound too preachy-I know everyone has different experiences and things that work for them. I just wanted to share my wisdom from my experience. :) 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Unique First Week Read-Alouds

I know there are many titles that have become staples for the first week of school. Many classrooms emphasize establishing rules and read titles on that subject. If you know me at all, you know I'm a bit of a rebel and want to read stories the students have not already read with previous teachers. I choose titles the first week that emphasize empathy, risk-taking and creativity.

Here are some of the titles I use:

Elmer is different from his friends and therefore a bit misunderstood. It's about being yourself, even if you march to the beat of a different drummer.

If you have a  Discovery Education account this is read on Reading Rainbow. It's about a little girl trying to keep her personal sense of style within her school's uniform requirements.

My all-time favorite 1st week book. This is a charming story about the farm animals trying to figure out what "Kindergarten" is when their boy goes off on the first day.

I wish we all could be like Molly Lou Melon! She is confident in her own skin and won't let anything stop her.

The kids LOVE this story! It's on Tumblebooks which most public libraries give you access to with your library card-Munsch reads it out loud himself. Stephanie doesn't want to follow the crowd but wants to do her own thing.

The very well-meaning principal at this school thinks school is so great we should have more school. I like to read this story and then write from the perspective of a principal-it lets them know what their job is at a school.

We can make ripples of kindness if we decide to. A little long for the little ones, but worth the read.

Do you have any unique reads you like to do on the first week of school?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Back-to-School Activities with Rigor

I read a lot of articles, websites, blogs (probably too many if there is such a thing :). I know the focus for a lot of people the first week of school is on classroom management and routines. Of course, I know that's a big part of what we do in the beginning, especially with the little ones, many of whom have not been in school before. However, I also think it's important to see what they can do and where they are academically which includes levels of creativity and critical thinking. Not to mention my major goal the first week of school is to get them excited about coming back the 2nd week!

So here are a few ideas:

1) Invent a new school supply. We list all the different kinds of school supplies and what their purpose is. Then we make a list of needs for our class. For example, wouldn't it be great if we could erase crayon when they make mistakes?

2) New uses for everyday things-you can use a pencil or a paper clip. Model for the students using an object-what else could we use this for. This is my all-time favorite answer to this question. He turned the paper clip into a hanger for ant clothes!

3) Multiple perspectives-if I were a principal. I love to read the book Fine, Fine School about a principal who goes a little overboard with his enthusiasm for learning, then the students write what they would do if they were the principal. It's our first attempt to put ourselves in another's shoes.

4. Schools Over Time-I love showing students what schools and school supplies looked like in the 1800's. So we write what it's like in the past, compare to today and then they design a school of the future. This could also be a first maker activity or project-they could build their schools.

5. Creative self-portraits-one of our art objectives is using a different medium to create. I think it takes creativity to use different things to make art. We use food! Snacks are of course, the highlight of my students' day. The poor babies eat lunch at 10:30 and our day goes until 3:15--so they get hungry. We do a number of different self-portraits including an edible one. I just put out the materials and see where they go with it.

Don't be afraid to set the bar for your year and start off with some rigorous activities. Not only will it give you an opportunity to assess and see what your students are already capable of, but it steps things up for their learning from Day One.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Teaching Social Justice to Little Ones

I was watching the Daily Show the other day and Trevor was talking about how at least there is now a broader conversation when it comes to politics. I can remember being in high school and having to learn who the Speaker of the House was, etc. and after that lost an interest in politics. Ignorance is bliss, right?! :) 

 I think now, because of Twitter particularly-good or bad I am much more informed about what is going on not only in my state but around the world. I know many people who question what can they do to get involved and I think this generation is going to be one raised with a vast knowledge of social justice issues and their opinions of where they stand. I can tell you even my 5 year old Kinder students were already pretty well-versed in news stories and already pretty frustrated with trying to understand what was going on. I had a Student Council meeting where the kids were asking me what the difference was between Democrats and Republicans-I don't think I learned that myself until just recently and I vote in every election. We need to be an informed nation!

Anyway, I started cultivating books this year about people who stood up and started sharing them with my students. I actually wrote a Donorschoose proposal for these books and it got funded fairly quickly-many separate donors all voicing their approval of sharing these books with students. 

Of course as difficult as it is, I avoid taking a side politically (even though they begged me for weeks to tell them who I voted for) but simply want to give them role models for empowerment. It's okay to stand up for what you believe in, even if at first you are the only one standing!

 It's a little wordy for the little ones, I think we read it over 2 days. I love that Ruth was a bit of a rebel even when she was young-they wanted to try and make her right-handed since she was a lefty and she wasn't having any of that! I had a student who made "I dissent" her mantra this year. :) 

I tell my students all the time how they should be grateful for being able to come to school-not everyone has that right around the world. There is one illustration in this story that I skip because I think it's very scary but they do enjoy this book. They are very surprised to learn that everyone does not have the same freedoms we do.

I think we all know about Ruby Bridges and her brave fight to an education-but I for one had never heard of Silvia Mendez and her family fighting for the same right. Again, a bit wordy-but worth the investment.

This is the true story of a teacher and some students who took their futures into their own hands. Their city in Paraguay was the location of a huge dump and many people there spend days going through the trash looking for anything of value that could keep them alive. Ada and her friends created instruments out of that trash and went on to tour the world with their music. A great testament to not being stuck with your lot in life, but working toward change.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Teaching the Past

I find that my students have a hard time wrapping their heads around history. They just can't imagine a past without YouTube, cell phones and smartboards. We look at a lot of pictures and watch re-enactments in videos, but it's a difficult concept for them. And once you get started talking about historical figures their burning question is always "is he dead?".

There are some books I have discovered over the years that I love to use with my kiddos:

Technology is one of our Social Studies objectives and my students when they think of that word think of cell phones and tablets. This book shows how technology has changed over the generations with just a recipe for whipped cream. My students loved competing to see who could whip it first using just a whisk and then I showed them using beaters and finally a mixer. 

Alice Roosevelt was the Princess Diana of her time. The people loved her and I actually think Eleanor was a little jealous of that fact-the two didn't really get along. Alice's father Teddy once said he could keep up with her or be President he couldn't do both. She would go around saying the wanted to "eat up the world!". Spurns a great discussion of children in the White House and how their lives must be different.

Imogene loves history and when they want to tear down a historical site in her town she protests it! This is a great story to show how important it is to remember our past.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

My New Idea for a Comics Club

I facilitate for student book clubs with lists of books that are provided by my district, and I enjoy it very much! I like seeing the students get excited about certain books and certain authors. There are great discussions that the books have inspired. Every year though, without fail when I go around and ask the students what were their favorite books--inevitably they are the graphic novels. Not only are they easy to read, quite often the stories are exciting and involve a hero of some kind. One of the things I LOVE about this current trend is there are so many strong girls depicted! Parents have come to me asking if they should encourage them to read these books and my answer is always--YES! Anything your kiddos get excited about reading should be encouraged, even if you don't think it has "literary" value.

I am starting at a new school and am going to pitch this idea to my principal. I want to do a book club where all we read and discuss is graphic novels! We can look at the history of how they started, maybe even get some local authors to come visit with us. Watch videos on how the stories are drawn and then at the end of the year I want to have our own Comic Con where the students can dress up like their favorite characters and maybe some will want to display books of their own that they have written.

I wrote a Donorschoose proposal for the books, I know many of you are poor teachers like me but maybe it's something that you can share:  Comics Club

Here are some of my favorite graphic novels:

This is a great story about a girl who saves the day (and her sister).

This is a great book for growth mindset. When she sets off to do roller derby she finds it's harder than she thought. But she keeps at it and does not give up!

A story of a different kind of hero-the main character goes deaf and her world completely changes. But when her teacher has to wear the microphone connected to her hearing aids-she sometimes forgets to turn it off so she can start hearing her teacher's conversations in the lounge (gasp!) and becomes a class hero. Turning lemons into lemonade.

Do you have any favorite graphic novels?