Lesson Planning, student driven, Student Engagement

A Few Things to Do Before the End of the Year

There is something about after spring break that feels like the end of the year is creeping up. As if the beginning of the last quarter is really the beginning of the end. As if, the days which were already rushing by are now flying so fast that it is hard to keep your wits about you. As the sun comes back – even as they call for more snow, as the days get longer, as the paperwork starts for the next year’s classes, we realize that the end of the year is coming whether we like it or not. Whether we are ready or not.

So as the year starts to slowly unwind and I realize just how deeply I will miss this group of kids again, I am thinking of what I would still like to do. After all, there is so much still to be tried, still to be explored, still be built together. There is still so much to try and now is a great time to do a few things that will often leave a lasting impression.

Now is a great time for another round of book clubs. We do two rounds in one year, more than that is overkill, less than that is a missed opportunity. These center around the theme of overcoming obstacles and allow us to channel the extra energy students bring in the lighter months into discussion. It also gives students a chance to sit with self-selected book people as they choose their next read together. I get to listen in on their conversations to see how they have grown and they get to show off their newfound knowledge as well as confidence when it comes to discussing texts. The last round finished in December so there has been a nice break between then and now. The choices in text they were given can be found here and if you would like to read more about book clubs, see this here.

Now is a great time for more picture books. With state testing and other more high pressure learning opportunities we have been taking the last ten minutes of class to relish picture books, particularly funny ones. As we dive into our “Overcoming Obstacles” book club, which tend to deal with heavy topics, the humor from our picture books provide a nice balance and offer a great way to end our 90 minute block together.

Now is a great time for surveys. I love tapping into the minds of students, after all that is pretty much the premise of all of the work I do, and right now they have some fantastic things to share if you only ask. And by fantastic I mean things that can help you grow. Now is a great time to ask whether they feel valued and respected, what their summer reading plans are, how you can better support them, and also what they would still like to learn. I recently did a beginning of the quarter survey and have been using their answers to guide my planning. In a few weeks, I will ask for their help in assessing the year; what should we have done more of, what should I never do again and such. The trust that we have hopefully built up really allows me to reflect on the past year and to have them help me think of the new one. These students are, after all, the best professional development I can receive.

Now is a great time to plan for summer reading. While I would never require my students to read over the summer, after all, that falls far outside of my rights as their former teacher, I do want to encourage it with all of my might. This is why we have been talking about summer reading all year but now it really becomes a starting point. I try to ramp up conferences with students in order to help them sort through their habits as well as ask them point blank how they will keep reading throughout the summer when there is no teacher there to nag them. With more than 1/3 of my students reporting that they didn’t read a single book last summer, I am really hoping to help a few kids onto a better path. This means book talks, book shopping, and continuing to work on our to-be-read list until it gets emailed home that last week of school.

Now is a great time to plan for a book giveaway on the last day of school. Last year, we planned a new event for the last day where we gave every single student on our team a brand new book. With the help of school funds and Books4school.com we were able to spend a few hundred dollars and provide 150+ kids with incredible choices for their summer reading. This was one more way we hoped to entice them to actually read over the summer and also meant as a parting gift for all of our students as a way to thank them for the year we had had together. However, pulling that many books together takes time and so now is a great time to start planning for that. Can you secure donations for books? Is there a way to get a brand new book into the hands of every child?

Now is a great time for another read aloud. As we wind down together, there is something special about settling in with one last shared book. The last three weeks of school, we will crack open the pages of a final read aloud together to see how far we have come in our comprehension of text, but also just to continue to build community. Contenders in our classroom right now include The Bridge Home and Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie but I will also be asking students for suggestions to see what mood they are in.

Now is a great plan to start thinking of summer check outs. I allow students to check out books from our classroom library every summer and so does our school library. For me it means checking out books and keeping track of them in the last week of school and then asking students to bring them back when school starts again. For our library it means having extended hours a few days for kids to check out, a few days open throughout summer, and then again asking them to bring back all books when the new year begins. While I inevitably lose a few books every summer, I also have a lot of students read more books because they finally get to check a great book out that they have been waiting for or can have an enticing pile to take home to hopefully tempt them . There is no reason for all of my books to just sit on my shelf all summer when they could be in the hands of readers.

Now is a great time for more free writing. Many of our students have been asking for more creative writing and so we have been making time for this as well. Using prompts from The Creativity Project, John Spencer, or student generated, students take 10 minutes most days to either write about the prompt or continue their own story. They then share with those they would like to share with. It has been a really wonderful way to reclaim the joy of writing as students continue to work on who they are as writers.

Now is a great time for more discussion. I don’t know about your students, but ours are chatty! And while I love a fun class, it can also be exhausting to constantly try to get them to settle into more quiet activities, instead we plan for more discussion-based explorations such as book clubs, as well as our heated topic debates. Rather than continue to fight their voices, we plan on channeling their voices for productive means, much like we have throughout the year.

Now is a great time to have some fun. Because the days are winding down, because the sun is coming back, because these kids won’t be ours much longer, now is a great time to just relax and have some fun. We teach the age group we teach because we love them (hopefully) and I don’t want to forget that. While 7th graders can be a challenge, they are an incredible challenge to have, and one that I wouldn’t trade for much in the world. why not embrace it? enjoy it? And have some fun these final days together.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a teacher, Lesson Planning, student voice

Debate Boxing – A Way to Get Kids Thinking Fast

December is a fun month to teach if you know how to use the inevitable energy that the students bring in.  While I may long for my fireplace and a good book, my students are eagerly awaiting snow, break, and perhaps even Christmas.  To say that our classroom is loud in the afternoon is an understatement.  Knowing the energy level of the kids, my smart colleague Reidun, therefore, proposed doing debate during the month of December, and boy was she right.  The energy is infectious, the kids are committed, and the engagement is high.

While the students have successfully completed their practice unit, we are now gearing up for the big one; the summative debate where they must find their own articles, research reliability and also try to prep for whatever their opposing team will throw at them.  This is why thinking on their feet is so important, as well as being able to listen to what is actually being said and then formulating a response.

Enter debate boxing.  Not my idea, nor the idea of my colleague, but definitely an idea that needs to be shared (If you know where it came from please let me know so I can link it!).

The concept is simple:

Pick something for the students to debate.  We used this podcast from NPR’s More Perfect because it does not give a black and white answer.  We use the podcast to discuss how our perspective changes as we uncover more facts.  This took us about two days as the students took notes throughout and we stopped and discussed.

Then, using their notes, have students draft an opening statement.  I only gave them ten minutes to do so, because I don’t want them to get hung up on this.  They know they need to have an opinion, evidence for it as well as explain why their evidence proves their claim.

Then, split the class into two teams based on their opinion.  Have each team select a team member to start off their match.

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Either, create a ring in your classroom or have the two students debating stand on a table or a chair.  Either way; have where they are stand out.  Then with their notes in hand, one team reads their opening statement.  Their opponent then gets 45 seconds to give their rebuttals based on what they heard and what they know and off they go.  The rebuttals go back and forth at a fast pace.

At any point, the member can “tap out” and have someone else take over or we also said that the team can switch them out.

After a few minutes, the round is over, the team members both switch and the other team reads their opening statement.

You can go for as long as the kids have something valuable to say.

For a twist toward the end, I had the teams switch opinions and argue opposite of what they had.  This was amazing as they had gotten rather intense about their opinion and now had to debate for the opposing claim.

Today we debrief, we discuss what they learned from the experience, and also why thinking on your feet and listening is so vital when we discuss.  While our classroom may have been loud yesterday and just a tad bit crazy, it was the best kind of crazy there is.

being a teacher, boring, inspiration, Lesson Planning, lessons learned

Today I was Boring

I love Mondays.  They are loud, a little bit crazy, and always exciting.  My students are tapping their feet, their are sharpening their pencils and asking a million questions about what we are doing this week and when are we going to get to do this really cool thing?  The noise can be kind of intimidating to cut through but then you realize that it is excitement, not just chatter, and it becomes a different beast to maneuver altogether.

Today, I was boring, though.  I had my lessons planned, even with discussion questions, extra surprises and movie clips.  And yet, I fell flat.  During social studies, where I was teaching the writing of the Constitution, I yawned.  And you know if the teacher is bored, then imagine what the students feel.  So I stopped.  I put the book down that I was reading aloud and then asked them what questions they had.  A little bit of perking up.  Then I asked them to write on the board everything they knew about the office of the president, some motion and activity.  Then I started to drone on again – moment lost.

I don’t know what it was today.  I had a long night with my daughter with croup, my mind is heavy with the scary legislation vote looming over us, and I didn’t take the time to think this morning.  I have a pretty set morning routine where I get in 1 hour and 15 min early, turn on my music, jam to that while I clean, pull out, discuss, give hugs to colleagues and just focus.  Today I had no music, ran around, got visited by students early, stopped by a great Valentines Day breakfast and just spoke a lot of politics  By the time the bell rang, I was ready physically not mentally.

And what a difference that makes!  All day I played catch up, tried to find my brain – it must be around somewhere – and just made it through.  That is not what teaching is supposed to be like; surviving.  So I wonder; what do others do when the lesson isn’t working?  Do you throw it out?  Stop and do something else entirely or just lumber through it?  I felt I robbed a great moment in history from my students today, something that I cannot get back.  So when your brain disappears and the day just seems to happen to you, what do you do to put it back on track?

I, for one, am going to bed early, charging my Ipod, getting my red shirt ready (all union workers are wearing red to show unity this week) and packing chocolate in my lunch tomorrow.  I will not let my students down like this again.

being a teacher, being me, Lesson Planning, Student-centered, teaching

Simplify

As I prep for the upcoming week of lessons, I find myself cutting ideas out and slimming things down.  I am simplifying my lessons.  And not because I am “dumbing” them down, not at all, instead I am offering my students the luxury of only having to focus on key concepts rather than overwhelming them with all the bells and whistles.

In order for my students to take ownership of the learning they have to understand what they are owning.  They have to be able to take an idea, make it their own and then push it through.  if I add too many components to something, they will end up confused, bogged down, or just plain bored.

In college I was taught to make it exciting, to add visuals, support, brainstorming sheets and even hand signals.  I now rebel against that notion of having to add more every time. Perhaps that is why I am no longer a supporter of IWB’s in every classroom.  I don’t need to be more interactive, my students do.

So this week, I am cutting back all the extras.  I am focusing on what the goal is and letting students add their distinctive spins on it.  I will have supports ready if needed but I will not assume they need them.  I will speak less and engage more.  Simplify my teaching = expand their learning.  I am excited.

This post was partially inspired by this excellent post written Josh Stumpenhorst @stumpteacher.

being a teacher, Lesson Planning, New Adventure

A New Adventure Begins

With the start of a new brilliant year, I am excited to unveil my new blogging adventure:  Lessons from the Fourth Dimension, a blog dedicated to sharing lesson plans and resources in my classroom.  While I teach 4th grade, these plans are meant for anyone to use and adapt to suit their needs.

I have been inspired by so many people, so this is my way of trying to give something back.  Thank you so much for your support on this blog, I hope you enjoy this new adventure.

being a teacher, college, Lesson Planning, lessons learned, new teacher, questions, students

Veering Off the Chosen Lesson Path – or Why You Should Take a New Route

As college students when taught the craft of becoming a teacher, one thing is hammered into us again and again; the necessity of lesson plans. We are given graphic organizers to ensure that we account for every single possible thing; special needs, types of learing, beginning, goal, standards and on and on. I slaved over my mine, creating perfect fictitious classrooms that would need my supposed expertise to reach the goal.   It would always be me as the fierce director bringing students into learning, the keeper of the flame.

As a first year teacher, I continued my meticulous planning, always knowing the end goal and more importantly the exact path that I would take to go there.  Students were forced down my chute of learning so that they could reach their glorious destination, often not having time to take a different direction, a different approach.  I had curriculum to get through and by golly I would!

And then I realized what I was really doing.  By glossing over student questions, by forcing my path on the students, I was losing them.  I was losing their inquisitiveness, their creativity, their sense of learning style and most sadly, I was losing their trust in me as a teacher.  Why would they open up when I barely ever slowed down to listen to them?  It wasn’t that I wasn’t a decent teacher, I was, but that was it, decent.  No room for individuality, no room for new discoveries, just here is the goal, let’s reach it.

Learning is always happening in any classroom you walk into.  But notice the different types of learning.  Is there room for student exploration?  For veering off the path?  For taking a totally different route altogether?  How stringent is the teacher with their lesson plan, is it followed minutely or used as a guide for the ultimate goal?  How loud are the students?  How engaged?  I was once asked by my principal what my goal for a particularly disastrous lesson plan was and I couldn’t tell him, what I could tell him was the path I was going to take.  What a wake up call that was – thanks Mr. Rykal -know your goal, think of a path but then don’t be afraid to go another route, to listen to the students,  let them shape the learning.  I promise, you will see the difference in excitement, in caring, and in learning.  Do you dare to take anther route?