Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Ways to Incorporate Vocabulary

We all know vocabulary is important. It is especially important for me to explicitly incorporate these activities because many of them English Language Learners.

One of the ways I focus on vocabulary is using Language of the Disciplines from Kaplan's Depth and Complexity. We learn about the way different people in different careers look at the world. For example, an artist looking at the moon will see shadow, texture, hues. A scientist looking at the moon sees atmosphere, craters, gravity. For teacher appreciation week or Mother's Day the students learn about words that architects use-blueprint, area, arch, etc. Then they design a house for their teacher or their mom.

One of my favorite parent presentations is to do a Vocabulary Runway Show. The students are assigned a word and they come dressed as that word. They stand up and say the definition and an example. The best part is that the student is not just learning their word, but all the words in the class.

Powerful Words-we discuss what makes words powerful. We watch speeches like MLK's I Have A Dream speech or clips from graduation speeches. The students then make a mobile of what they consider to be powerful words. They use words like love, wonder, homeless. One of my students asked me if he could use the word hate-that is a pretty powerful word.

Vocabulary Block Party-each child is assigned a word and we go over the meaning together. We have a class "block party" where the students mingle, introducing themselves to their classmates as their word. "Hi, I'm wealthy, I mean very rich." "Really, I'm poverty which is when people are poor". 

We have vocabulary journals-some of their pages are Frayer Models. I love using this graphic organizer because not only are they thinking of examples-they are thinking of non-examples as well. If you can define what a word is not, then you understand that word.

Monday, April 27, 2020

You Be You

One of my favorite themes for read-alouds is characters who remained who they were even if people didn't like it. Here are some books that go along with that theme:

This book redefines what "beautiful" means.

A gorgeous story about being yourself in a world that doesn't always support it.

A girl growing up not liking her curly hair. She learns everyone has something that makes them unique.

One of my all-time favorite characters. She is small, has buckteeth and a horrible singing voice-but she sings loud and proud and stays true to herself.

Everyone (including her teacher) thinks Oddrey is just too odd. But her oddness saves the day.

I LOVE this book! His parents thought he was weird and worried about how different he was from the rest of the flock-but Woolbur is not going change who he is for anyone.

A classic! Tacky is an odd bird but a good bird to have around.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Difficult Kids

I posted this meme on Facebook:

We have all had "difficult" students in our classes. I actually feel like we are actually seeing more extreme behaviors year after year. In my humble opinion, the combination of growing up in a digital world where everyone seems more disconnected added to what seems like less recognition by adults on the importance of consciously teaching kids how to deal with their feelings-- I believe has made it difficult for many students to assimilate to school situations.

This past school year I saw the most aggressive and destructive behaviors that I have ever seen. Resources thrown across the room, torn up books, furniture destroyed. Tables were flipped over and chairs thrown-I had to put my classroom back together on a daily basis. This student would run out of the classroom into the parking lot, actually tried to climb over the fence to escape the campus at recess. I was bitten, slapped, punched, kicked. I went home with bruises, a split lip, a black eye, swollen knees and drove home many days completely stressed and upset because I felt completely inadequate. Always walking on eggshells trying not to do something that would set him off.

I wanted to share what I learned from this experience because as I said, I think many educators will face the same challenges in upcoming years.

1) You cannot let the stress and pain that the student is causing you show. Yes, you are frustrated, yes you are sometimes angry (I spent my own money on those resources that are being destroyed). But the other students will take their cues from you and you have to show that you still love that student just like all the others. I would say something like "I love you all" and a kid would ask even that student. Yes, of course! We had conversations after he was removed from the classroom about how everyone doesn't act the same way-this is what you can do that would be helpful, yelling at him and calling him bad is not helpful. I set the tone and these students tried to do whatever they could to help. We had a code word and if I said it there were 2 assigned students who would go next door and get help. If I had to run after him, I wanted someone to still be watching the students. If I had to evacuate the classroom, a student was the "manager" in the hallway making sure everyone was sitting down quietly while I tried to calm my student down in the classroom. They were part of the solution.

I worked with a teacher once who had a student that in hindsight was probably autistic. She couldn't stand the behaviors he exhibited and said when students would say "I hate you" to him she encouraged it because she wished she could say those words. I was appalled. That student was sent to my class one day when he was acting up for a sub and I had a talk with my students beforehand. Look, he's going to part of our class today and we are going to treat him like a member of our class. They were doing a group project and he gave an answer to the problem. One of my students said "you are really smart". I could see it on his face, he was so happy to finally be accepted. You set the tone.

2) Ask for help when you need it. This was incredibly difficult for me. I have been teaching for 18 years. We got a new principal last year and I didn't want his impression of me to be a high-maintenance teacher who couldn't handle her class. I had colleagues making comments about they would never let a student act like that in their class. It got to the point where I was literally losing hours of instruction every day. I needed help. 

3) You can get through this. I see posts from teachers all the time quitting because of situations like this and I understand it. I really do. It's almost like being in an abusive relationship. You think to yourself-I don't deserve this. I show up every day and I just want to teach. But this too shall pass. Hang in there.

4) Be open to new ideas. I tried everything anyone suggested to me. At one point our diagnosticians said to just let him do what he wanted to do. He liked to play with legos and draw. I was against this at first. I thought if we just let him do what he wants and not requiring him to do the work the other kids were doing it wasn't fair. But you know what, as soon as we started doing that I could actually teach again. Everyone was more calm. We had these major outbursts 2-3 times per week instead of 2-3 times a day. I'm glad I had been convinced to try that.

5) Don't give up on them. Every behavior stems from a need. Our job is to figure out what that need is and try to fill it. 

I will say I sent a letter to my district leaders asking them to consider offering more training for these situations and to make the process easier. This student was with me for 6 months before testing was complete for a referral. There really should be an emergency process in place.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Our New Reality: Virtual Teaching

So I used to think I was at least somewhat tech savvy. My students learn how to write digital stories. We use digital portfolios I maintain a class website, this blog. It has been very humbling to discover that yeah....not as tech savvy as I once thought.

We were at school on a Thursday and then told we would not return Friday, the following week was Spring Break. I did not know that our last day was going to be our last day. If I had known I would have sent more supplies and materials home with the kids. I would have made sure to hug every one of them and tell them how much I loved them and how proud I am of the progress they made this year. I have never had a class like this before-they are kind, creative, bright, hard-working. We had some amazing projects in the works and like that-all that has changed.

I posted this meme on Facebook and I truly believe that this is the truth! I've seen teachers and administrators step up and get things done. We aren't whining about the situation, we are doing our best to adapt. No training, no one who has been through this before to guide us. We are making it up as we go along. Readjusting our sails to make it more effective.

The platforms we were told to use were Google Classroom (I always thought this was a little advanced for my little ones-I wish I had paid more attention to the webinars I've viewed on this topic) and Microsoft Teams which if I'm being completely honest-I had never even heard of before this happened. It has been a learning curve-that's for sure!

My parents have been such good sports. Signing up for these new accounts-for many, having to keep track of multiple logins for multiple siblings. I have truly been in awe at how well they are balancing everything and applaud any effort to keep the learning of their children going.

My first online lesson had 3 students in it. My second had 10 and it was a disaster! I muted everyone so I could read my story and they were unmuting themselves. I tried to use management techniques I use in the classroom but it just didn't work. At the end I logged out and went back in to make sure it recorded-those little boogerbears were joining back in and talking to each other! I was like man, I should not have taught you guys how to read! :) So I had to manually kick each student off. Solving this problem-next week I am starting small groups. I feel like it will be exhausting but hopefully more effective.

The recorded lessons go better but still things I can't for. This is my teaching assistant who manages to photo bomb every single video!

All in all I am so proud of our profession and the  way people have stepped up. I am so grateful to be working on a team with people willing to collaborate and help each other. My principal sent out a request one day and every single grade level in the whole school had responded within the hour. Amazing dedication.

I read comments from people saying they shouldn't have to pay us for our "vacation". I have never worked this hard before. Planning the lessons (from what I have access to at home), recording the lessons, posting the lessons, checking the assignments, doing live lessons, answering texts from parents, contacting parents, responding to e-mails from admin and all the while documenting EVERYTHING because the state will review our work to see if they issue a waiver for these days. The days pass by so quickly-I look outside and it's getting dark-where did the day go?

Congratulations to our profession for showing dedication and flexibility (especially the more seasoned teachers like myself who are not as comfortable with the new technology or even just with recording ourselves-the Tik Tok generation seems much more comfortable with this). My sincere hope is that we can return in the fall and I can reconnect with each and every one of my kiddos!

How have you been coping with having to adapt to this new style of teaching?

Friday, April 10, 2020

My Favorite Egg Stories

I wanted to share my favorite books to go along with an egg theme. There are many stories about something unexpected that comes out of the egg-so I usually have my students write their own mysterious eggs stories in response.

A classic story that the kids really get a kick out of. Out of the egg hatches what they believe is a chicken (it's not a chicken). But an extraordinary friendship begins.

Non-fiction story that talks about all the different kinds of eggs. I even learned some new facts from this story.

Another classic-Duck and Goose fight over who gets to keep the egg. A bit of a plot twist at the end. :) 

The cat is thinking about how delicious an omelet would be with the eggs he gathers from a nest but after they hatch he becomes a reluctant papa to the hatchling. Lots of fun to read-aloud with the different voices of the different birds.

Hope everyone is doing well at home and staying safe.