Saturday, July 28, 2018

Books Every Teacher Should Read

I know as teachers we have limited leisure time. We read a lot for school whether it be previewing a book we will use with our students or for PD purposes. These, however are my recommendations for books we can read to better understand our students.

I checked this book out from the library and may owe them money to repair the tear-stained pages. What a touching story about how we need to have understanding for those students who always seem to be trying our patience.

I can't wait to share this book with my students-but I also think it's an important read for teachers. Things we may not realize shake a student's confidence-things that make them feel different-we need to make all students feel welcome.

Melody has cerebral palsy. In the beginning of the story she has trouble communicating so teachers underestimate how smart she is. She has good teachers and bad teachers. I think we can learn to look past a student's deficiencies and focus on their strengths.

A great book that shows how hard learning English can be. A student's life is completely changed by a move to America and he needs extra help assimilating. 

Zinkoff is an unusual child. Some of his teachers get him, some don't. He enters school with an enthusiasm and passion for learning but some teachers end up discouraging those qualities. We can learn from those teachers and remember that next time we have a Zinkoff in our class.

I love this book for many reasons. It's about a refugee from Africa and his attempt to learn how to get along in America. It's about cultural differences (he is so excited to have his own desk at school) and language differences (he puts the dishes in the washing machine when his relative asks him to wash them). It's a reminder of how many of our students will have trouble even simply understanding what we are saying.

Told from the perspective of a child with serious reading difficulties. A reminder that all students learn at a different pace and putting us in the shoes of a student who struggles.

What are your favorite books to recommend to other teachers?

Friday, July 20, 2018

Be A Rebel

I wasn't much of a risk-taker growing up. I was a rule-follower. My father once said to me that I had a bigger fear of failure than anyone he had ever met. That stuck with me over the years. I am sure I  passed up a lot of opportunities and dreams because I was afraid to fail.

As a teacher though for some reason it's different. My mentee last year followed me on Twitter and asked me one day why I didn't follow the themes in our district curriculum. Short answer is I like trying new things and doing new themes. This past year, for the first time ever, we did a whole week on read-alouds about unicorns-my unicorn-loving students have never been more engaged and they fought over the books in the library. They were so excited to re-read them. I love my district, I think they put together great curriculum resources for us but they do one theme for 3 weeks. I can teach 3 different themes in that time frame and I feel like we cover more vocabulary and share more great stories. I can do author studies or character studies and make deeper connections with the skills we are learning.

You know your kids. You have to decide what is best for your kids. Our students attend art class in ancillary every 6 weeks. I don't think that's enough. So I incorporate art into my class. I disguise it as writing about what we paint or a read-aloud about Frida Kahlo-but I make sure to fit it in. My students have time each week or work on projects and work in Makerspaces. Why? It's beneficial to the development of creativity. This is what my district has listed in its curriculum for a project suggestion:

It says "write the words President and Patriot on index cards and share accomplishments of both....have students write about if they were a president or a patriot what would they do.

This is NOT project-based learning. Where is the inquiry? Where is the PROJECT? This is a writing assignment.

I have definite beliefs when it comes to effective teaching. I don't believe in reading logs. . I don't believe in using worksheets to make kids "accountable" for their workstation work. I don't believe in packets (under any circumstances). I believe in interactive word walls with actual vocabulary words-not sight words.  I believe in sparking curiosity and creativity. I believe in teaching my students how to make an argument (especially if they use those skills to argue a point with me). I believe we can teach our kids to have empathy. I believe in modeling how to be a risk-taker for them. I believe students should be allowed to ask more questions than they are required to answer.

Most of our day is spent with just us and our kids. Take a risk. Do what is best for them, even if it's going against what others in your building do. As long as you can justify the content with your curriculum you should be allowed to give your students what they need. The world of education needs more revolutionaries. Don't just do it that way because it's the way it's always been done-try something new.

*steps off soapbox now. :) 

Monday, July 16, 2018

My Goals for This Upcoming School Year

I feel like if you put your goals down in writing not only does it help you articulate them, but also helps keep you accountable for accomplishing them. :) So that's what I'm going to do this morning.

I started at a new school this past year. It was a crazy year to begin with because we started 2 weeks late because of Hurricane Harvey. Many of our students' homes were affected by the storm so we relaxed a lot of policies last year including the policy about wearing uniforms.

Starting at a new school is interesting. There's a new dynamic you have to learn. I have always worked in Title 1 schools, but over 90% of my current students come from homes suffering from poverty. The students will often come in crying because mom had to go to jail or dad lost his job. These little ones simply do not have access to the same resources that students in schools in other parts of the city have. I was not expecting that. I haven't had to start with teaching the letter A in a long time. Usually kids come into Kinder already knowing at least some of their letters-either they learn them in Pre-K or their families have taught them those skills. I had to adjust my plans constantly based on what they needed.

My Goals:

1) I am going to be better at teaching reading this year. I look at my student data and I am not happy with the lack of progress made. Now I know we made progress-but I didn't even come close to reaching the district goals and I know that is because I wasn't prepared to start at square one. I am prepared for that now.

2) Makerspaces-we were lucky enough to win a grant and received $3,000 in makerspace materials. Our plan is for all the Kinder teachers to take the last 2 hours on Friday afternoon and have a rotation of classes where the kiddos can just "make". We also have a 5th Grade class who may do some cooperative learning with us. I'm excited to see if this makes a difference in their creativity.

3) ESL Collaboration. Last year one of our bilingual teachers had to escape her room because there was a little critter trying to join their whole group instruction. She brought her class to my room while waiting for the custodian and we were in the middle of workstations. Her kiddos just jumped in and did the activities with my students. We decided this year we would make this a weekly thing. ESL practice for her students, cooperative learning practice for mine.

4)  Podcasts-I have no idea how I'm going to do it logistically but I really want to have my students make podcasts. Maybe talking about what they are learning, maybe reviewing their favorite books-I still have a lot to work out but that is a goal this year.

5)  Organization-this is always a goal for me and not something that comes easily. I facilitate for 3 different book clubs after school and I just feel like I never have time to just get organized. I can find what I'm looking for 90% of the time, but my room just doesn't look like it.

6) Photography Club-again, not sure how I'm going to logistically do this. My plan is to learn about famous photographers and then things like light and shadow. Then I can give them assignments to take photos and see what they can come up with. Not sure how that's going to work with the cameras. I think it will be too expensive to do disposable cameras and pay for that processing for all of them. I have a digital camera that I don't use very often (phone is just easier to use) so maybe they can check that out-but that's a big loss if they don't return it. But I'll figure it out-I'm excited to see what they can do!

7) ESL Club-our bilingual students have difficulty transitioning to English. They just haven't had the experiences with vocabulary to make things easy to understand. I want to do an after school club where we can play games like Pictionary and Life and just talk--all in English. I think sometimes it's just a matter of building their confidence in the language and hopefully we can work to do that more.

What are some goals you have for this upcoming school year?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

I Want My Students To Take Risks

I know there are beginning of the year reads that many teachers use-Chrysanthemum, The Kissing Hand, First Day Jitters. If you know me at all, you know I'm a bit of a rebel and I don't want to repeat the same stories-I want to give my students a new experience. My focus the first week is teaching my students about being creative and taking risks. I am very specific with them that I do not mean skateboarding off a roof into a swimming pool kind of risk. But raising your hand when you are not sure you know the answer, or to ask about something you don't understand. To write an answer that is completely different from what everyone else wrote.

Because I believe that literature is the best model, I introduce them to characters who are who they are without any apologies. They take risks and it go against the grain and it pays off for them.

We have a TA who draws a character for us on a chalkboard in front of our classrooms. This year I think I will ask him to draw Molly Lou Melon for me. I love her spunk. When someone says she talks like a duck, her response is to say "quack". She is who she is and we love her for that.

                            Elmer just wants to be like everyone else, but he discovers there are benefits to being unique and being true to yourself.

I think all teachers should read this book. Oddrey's teacher didn't get her. But again, she takes risks and it pays off for her in the end.

When Olive was born she was the loudest baby in the nursery. Luckily she has parents who support her extraordinaryness.


                                          Monique goes through her mother's trunk and accessorizes her school uniforms in ways that make her unique. Fashion decisions can be taking risks as well.

Woolbur does everything in the opposite way from his fellow sheep. My favorite part of the story is the end where his parents tell him he has to be like everyone else-so everyone else starts acting like him.

Ferdinand takes a big risk to remain true to himself. I mean a bull who loves to just smell flowers?

Getting out on that dance floor can be a big risk for those of us with no rhythm. Giraffe proves once again that being true to yourself pays off.

Monday, July 2, 2018

My Opinions on Word Walls

Let me preface this by saying all opinions are my own! :) I know teachers do things very differently from class to class-this is how I do it based on my personal philosophy. I'm not saying the way I do it is right and the way others do it is wrong, I simply wanted to share my opinions.

I do think word walls are important in classrooms for several reasons. Personally, I do not use sight words for my word wall. I know this is controversial. I do teach sight words to the students, but prefer the words on our wall to be vocabulary we have learned which they can then use in their writing. Sight words do not have to be taught in isolation, we do activities every day where we are using the sight words. Plus I always include a picture with the word, for many sight words it is difficult to find a picture to represent it: because, the, do, can, now.

I also believe word walls should be interactive. I do not put the words in columns for each letter and then just post the words on the wall. I want my students to go get a word off the word wall and use it in their writing. I start the year with words we are learning-words like creative, unique, teacher, grit. Then I try to have over half the words on my wall be adjectives. I roll my eyes when the kiddos use "good" to describe everything-go get another word off the wall to use. I use the extra border to make strips where I clothespin the words. They can easily take the word off and use it.

I don't believe in overwhelming the kids with a growing and growing word wall. I usually only have between 15 and 20 words at a time. When I retire a word I put it in our writing workstation where it can still be used.

These are some pics of my word walls-most are from the beginning of the year:

Hollywood Theme-this was one of my first classrooms.

I think this was my NYC theme.

China Theme

Pirate theme

Alice in Wonderland theme

Dragon theme (clever, right?!)

A math word wall.

I don't believe there are rights and wrongs when it comes to word walls-you have to do what is best for your students!