Opening Minds

I have now started reading Opening Minds by Peter H. Johnston and it has my mind racing all over again. Words have such an impact on students and teaching. Thinking of the classroom as a world that we all live in for 8 hours kind of seems silly, until you look at it. My students often ask me what I do after work, even in fourth grade they are unsure of my life outside of the classroom and tend to think I live here. Well I do with them for 8 hours and we have become a ‘family’. So when you look at it like that then yes, our classroom is our world for the day and we are able to accomplish so many things.

Since we are looking as the classroom as our world for 8 hours the words we use to communicate with our students is still vital. Being able to ‘level’ with our students and show them that we are human just like them goes a long way. In my own classroom my students have experienced many of my mistakes. They are not afraid to let me know when I have made a mistake and accept when I goof/make a mistake. It has helped them to see me as not only their teacher but as someone like them who is not perfect.

So many times in the classroom students look at themselves as a person who is able or not able to do something. While I want my students to think they are able to do anything- it is easier said then done. They have learned and convinced themselves that once they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at something that, that is the way it is. Building confidence in students and getting them to ‘work hard’ is a great way to help students see that they are able to do anything and have the ability to do it. Students believe that they are born with good and bad intelligences and are stuck with that title. In my own classroom I have experienced this many times. The case the hit home with me was one of my students telling me he was not good at math so he did not like it. After showing him multiple ways to do something and encouraging him on what he is doing- he is now enjoying math and excelling in it.

Giving students a dynamic learning frame they are able to escape the ideas of good and bad students/learners. This help students become flexible in their learning and understand what they being challenged to do. Having to retrace learning steps helps us look at what is going on. In the classroom world there is so much that is going on. The words and interactions that we have students says so much about it.

communities in the classroom

While finished up Choice words by Peter H. Johnston, I am draw to the learning communities that I have tried to set up in my classroom. There are just many times when students would rather alone than build and bounce ideas off of their peers. They are aware or their friends and love to talk with them and be with them but have not been able to bridge that friendship into the classroom community. Learning with peers is such a powerful tool in the classroom for students and the teacher. There are many times when my students peer tutor and I get to watch them grow as learners and teachers.

Johnston has great question stems that help build the community in the classroom that allows all students to partake and share. There are many times in my classroom that we use similar questions to have students interact and work together, even when they don’t want to. Also during our group discussions there are many times when my students will say the ‘same’ thing as peer but have worded it differently in a way that makes sense to them.  Having students work in groups allows them to share ideas and ask questions when needed. This is something I have found very beneficial especially when I cannot be in 5 places at one time.  These groups and communities also allow students to work together and build a bond that can help them later in life. One thing I want to work in my classroom is joining in the discussion with my students instead of just leading them and making them more open so students can freely talk/discuss what we are working on.

When talking to my students I am able to build a relationship with them as a teacher and a peer. There are times when my students feel comfortable to talk to me about things that they talk to their peers about. Sometimes I have to stop and think about what I am going to stay next because I know the impact I have on my students lives but there are time in learning where I  give an immediate response and see how my students take it and grow with questions and responses. The conversations I hear and have with my students are genuine and allow my students to feel comfortable in the classroom.

I have noticed how much my word choice and students word choice builds our conversations and communities. We are able to hold conversations about our learning and our daily lives. They are growing as learners, teachers, and so many other hats of knowledge. I am growing with them and are finding was I can help them better.

Generalizing and Knowing

After reading Chapters 5 and 6 in Choice Words, How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning, by Peter H. Johnston- I continue to reflect back on my teaching.

Having students be able to connect their background knowledge to what they are learning is such a powerful thing. Many students have a hard time connecting what they are learning to what they already know. This is something I have noticed in the classroom. Students have background knowledge of skills but cannot connect it to the classroom or vise versa. Johnston mentions this in chapter 5 and how we can help bridge this gap. There are multiple ways we can do it, but the best way that I have found is to question students. Using stems like “how else”, “what other ways”, “What else is this like” I use this language in small group math and reading to help my students relate to the stories and math skills we are working on. I have also done this is whole group science which has really helped my students connect to it. After reading  I am now more aware of how my students do not always connect their skills from one content area to the next.

Being able to generalize and transfer information from not context to the next is major.  I am even guilty of this in my own life where I do not transfer knowledge from one skill set to another.

Another way to help students take control is to allow them the opportunity to ask the group questions, to be the teachers and take their questions and ponder them as well. In Chapter 6 Johnston references the IRE or QRE which stand for initiate/question, response, evaluate. This has the teacher doing majority of the talking and students responding to an agenda. By giving students control and asking questions that require them to think deeper. Since they will be thinking deeper they will need response time but by giving them this opportunity they will be able to conduct and lead the conversations in the classroom. Many times in my classroom my students are reluctant to participate in whole group conversations because of the fear of being wrong. One way I have tried to help eliminate this fear is positive feedback and always asking how they know that and respect their answers since they are able to support them. I would love for my students to be able to lead the conversations in the classroom and i can participate with them or just observe. After reading this chapter I feel like I have more tools that will allow me to do this. By making sure my students have time to think, asking questions that will require them to explain and bounce ideas off of their peers. Once they are able to ask questions and have peers answer and not me I think we will be on the right track.

As I continue to reflect back on my own practice I still notice that many of the things that I do are only done during small group and I am neglecting my whole class the opportunity to take control. Since in my small groups I have students from other classrooms. This is something that I am working towards and becoming more conscience about doing during whole group and have made some progress.

identity in words

As I continue to read Choice Words, How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning, by Peter H. Johnston I find myself asking and answering a lot of questions.

Since my last post I have tried to move some of my small group word choice to whole group and it has helped. My students do not notice the different but I have noticed that they are more positive and hear them encouraging each other. Since they are fourth graders sometimes encouraging phrases are not something you typically hear from them, but since I use them daily in small group and have moved more of them to whole group they are now using them when working in partners and groups.

After reading chapters three and four in Choice Words I am now pondering a whole new set of questions and noticing things in my classroom.

In Chapter three Identity- Helping students find an identity in the classroom an in their literature life. This is something I have not thought about a lot. Prompting students with phrases like: “as writers…” allowing them to take charge of their learning and identity. This goes for all content area. It gives students confidence in what they are learning and helps them to take ownership. Finding and creating an identity in the classroom can be difficult especially if the student does not think they are good at the subject. This is so powerful in the classroom. As a teacher I know this is something that I need to add to my practice. I have used this randomly but after reading, this is something that I want to be more aware of. When many of my students are struggling they tend to shut down and convince themselves they are not good at the subject. By affirming that they are good at the subject and referring to them as the writer, reader, mathematician I think they will change their thinking about the subject.

Chapter four is all about agency. How can we as teachers help build an identity for our students with a supportive atmosphere? In order to this we have to have a strategy and teach our students different strategies that allow them to take on an identity and realize that they are making the difference. To help students build agency in their learning we have to question ourselves and them. Why questions are a great to do this. Asking why allows the student to dig deeper into their thinking and create and understanding for themselves, allowing them to see that they can do the work. I often find my students asking why a lot and any of their whys are directed at me. They are always eager to know more and create an understanding. I also find myself asking students why to explain their thinking and learning. This is the most powerful thing that happens in the classroom. Having students explain their thinking allows them and me to understand what is going on. This helps me and my students build strategies to help their learning and planning. When they are struggling shutting down is easy but facing them with whys and questions that cause them to think help them redirect their selves to realize that they can do and take ownership for me.

Creating and identity and agency for my students is something that seems to come and go in my classroom. I was unaware of this until recently. Now I have a bettie idea of how I can help my students take control of their learning and identity in the classroom.

This is also makes me think back to word choice in different group settings because again I realize that more of these questions that help build agency and strategy for students are used in small group. While reading Choice Words I am becoming more aware of what is going on in my classroom and reflect more on my own practice.

Wording in the classroom

I have started reading Choice Words, How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning, by Peter H. Johnston and it has challenged me to think about the words I use in my own classroom.

After reading chapter two on noticing and naming, it had me thinking about the conversations have in my classroom with my students. Am I using the right words with them? Am I allowing them to take the responsibility for their learning? As I was thinking about these questions, I started to notice that these are things that I do in my classroom, but I do them most often in small group. While teaching today i was very aware of the words I use and how my students accept them. In small groups I feel a closer connection to my students and that my word choice is more precise.

While in whole group lessons I often find myself repeating and rewording things. I feel as though many choice of my words are not always encouraging and getting my students to think. When prompted correctly the ‘wheels’ get turning and many of my students are able to take control of their own learning. I always encourage and recognize the thoughts of my students. Even when our thoughts are left field it is great to see that they are  thinking and wanting to take control of their learning. When they are able to ask questions and explain what we have been talking about I know something is working.

One thing that I really enjoyed from this chapter is excerpts from classroom teachers giving praise and showing students what they did to take control of their learning. This is something that I am working towards in my own classroom and have done a great job at achieving in my small groups.

In chapter one the language of influence teaching, it has allowed to see how important the words are that I saw to my students. How much a small phrase can affect a students learning in a positive or negative way.  This is something that I notice in my classroom. When students talk to each other and when I talk to them. The words we use and how we we say them.

When redirecting my students I have been able to do so in a positive way that allows the students to correct their behavior and take responsibility for their actions. This is something that I have been working on and still work on. I can still find myself giving students a direct direction to do something or face a consequence when things are starting to spiral and previous redirections have not worked.  In the past this might have been my go to option in an attempt to get students to focus but I have learned just being in the classroom for the past two years that students like to have the feeling of being in charge of what they are doing and thinking that they have come to the conclusion on their own with out being told.

There are so many things that I have noticed about myself in the classroom in just a short amount of time after reading these two chapters and have noticed the areas where I need to work to help my students be the best they can be.

Change

This school year has a been a year of change for my building. We have undergone a lot  of changes already in such a short time. Walking into our building on the first work day we have no idea what we were in store for. Change was how we started our school year and seems to be the theme for this year. As stressful as it may seem it has been a great experience so far.

When the school year started we did not have a principal but central office had placed a retired principal into our school to help get things up and running. We were off to a great start. Our staff pulled together and pushed through this. We came together to get things set in the school and started working. My grade level came together to make sure we were off to the right start and that our students were ready for what was coming. As the year progressed we were given a great announcement that was another change for us. The county had hired out principal and with that came all the stories of what has happened in the past (not the best things to hear) but going in positive is the best thing I have done. Ready to welcome the changes that are coming.

With all of this going on in the beginning of the year you would think things would calm down but no they have not. We were then given the news that our Assistant Principal would be leaving for personal/ family reason. We are now under a new change. We are settling in with our new principal and getting ready to see what else will be coming our way. Central Office has given us an amazing interim AP that has gone above and beyond and so willing to do anything to help us all. The hunt for a new AP is under way- now things have to calm down right?

That would be the hope but there is more this time it is a little more personal change. My grade level had a team member leave for a wonderful teaching opportunity and she will be greatly missed. Now we are in the wonder of what is going to happen. We have a long term sub coming in to get help continue the year but there is the fear of a new teacher not getting and the classroom getting broken up/ split up.

Even with all this change going on in our school, walking in you would never know. We have come together as a family and continue to do what is best for our students. As the changes continue in our lives and schools there is only one way to ever approach them and that is with a positive attitude and look out for what is best.

I am excited to see where these changes will take me and my students. We are prepared for whatever will come our way and will take on these changes.

Technology in 4th grade

As I wrote about in an earlier post I am very excited to add technology/media into my literacy instruction. As the year has progressed I have been able to implement some of these ideas.

MY students have loved these projects. They have been able to take their prior knowledge from a lesson and expand on it. So far we have been able to explore 3 technology ideas/lessons.

PowerPoint: We have gone over the basics of power point, how to insert photos, smart art, text boxes, bullets and list. Their first project was on the moon, earth, and sun. We had just finished up a unit on the moon and I wanted to expand their learning so they researched them and created a powerpoint with the information they found. This was done within the first 4 weeks of school and now that we are nine weeks in they are starting to explore with transitions and movement in PowerPoint. I am excited to see how these projects will turn out. Our technology teacher has also taken on the task of helping with PowerPoint.

Glogster: Internet Posters. This was a tool I had learned about in college and knew it was a great way to display student information in a public way outside of the classroom and school. After we had learned about the tribes in North Carolina the students were challenged to pick a region and create a Glog on it. I did a quick introduction on it and they were off. They took the information we had learned plus some more from their research. The final projects are amazing and are a great way to showcase my students new knowledge.

glog2

glog1

Pixton: Comics are a great way to help with reading skills. I used comics to help introduce inferencing and then decided to use them as a way for my students to express their writing since comics are not always considered ‘formal’ writing. Our most recent science unit was on fossils and and my students seemed to really enjoy it. Even though we had learned about dialogue I had noticed my students checking out graphic novels from the library and knew that comics would be the perfect link.

pixton1 pixton2

Blogging: So far this has been an epic fail in my classroom. I have started a blog site for my students and have not followed through with getting them to blog. I even linked it to our classroom site. My plan for getting our blog up and running is to add it to our literacy centers since one of our centers is a writing center that allows students to free write using the skills we have learned in class, i.e. paragraphs, subjects, predicates, conjunctions, and punctuation. Their writing so far has been a joy to read that I need to get it out for our parents and peers to read. This my goal.

Twitter: This is something that a few of my peers in grad school have started since our class is using twitter as a means of communication. I would love to start this with my students- I would be in charge of the account and monitoring it but giving my students opportunity to “tweet” what we are learning, our thoughts and what is going on. My plan is to have students write their tweets on a paper and I would post them through out the day or at the end of the day. This would also allow them to connect to other classrooms in the county and neighboring counties.

So far I think we are off to great start with incorporating technology/media into our classroom but I know we have a long way to go.

the 1st 9 weeks

It is crazy to think that the first nine weeks or first quarter of the school year is over. Time is flying by!

So far this year we have already covered so much and grown as learners, not only have my students learned from me I have learned from them. This year has a been a great challenge- jumping grade levels first to fourth – learning the history of the state and much more. This has been great experience and I would trade it or my kids for anything we have been able to accomplish so much.

We had a very smooth start to our year and things were looking upward. I was loving fourth grade and knew this was a great change for me. Then we got to math…oh how math was not my subject in school and how I struggled. I dreaded teaching math to my kiddies, I was so afraid of what would happen- Would they hate math like me? Can I teach them math? Are they understanding this? The struggles and worries I had. I was sure my grade level was sick of my worries since they started before the kids even came in the door but they have stood by me.

As we got into math I felt much more confident and KNEW my students and I could tackle this. We were making great progress- hit a speed bump- multi digit multiplication but we overcame it. Now we are on our next speed bump this one more like a speed hump- long division- and I am sure we will tackle this one too.

I have learned from my students how to take a step back and look at things differently. This has been a great thing for me.

Now literacy on the other hand is something I feel much more comfortable teaching. I have a passion for reading and wanting to help turn my students into readers. We have the battles of wanting to read and not wanting to write and vise versa but continue to grow. My challenge this was adjusting from teaching students how to read to teaching students to comprehend and enjoy reading. So far I think we have a made a great switch. We have been able to turn reading and writing into ‘fun’ activities that get us moving, searching books, reading and writing similar to authors. (our next writing task)

Science and Social Studies have been such fun since I am learning along with my students the history of North Carolina and science topics- the moon and fossils and the scientific method so far. Along with our science project. They have been so involved and encouraging of one another.

I love how eager my students are to learn this year and how much they try even when they want to give up and somedays I am right there with them but we push through. This first nine weeks of school how showed me how amazing my students are and how much they are willing to do.

I cannot wait to see what the second nine weeks hold for us!

Science Fair…oh joy

This week in fourth grade we have started the science fair and with that comes a lovely project and experiment.

Now I have not done science fair since my senior year of high school (about seven years ago). So I was not very thrilled to hear we are doing it, but was ready to accept the challenge. My students on the other hand were extremely excited to start a science fair project. They love getting to be involved and try new things. So this was right up their alley.

To start our process of science fair we had to first learn the scientific method. This i was not so worried about. Since we use the scientific method daily without even realizing it. My students picked up on this very quick, as we went through the steps they would ask questions like:

-“Isn’t this like making a prediction?”

-“Don’t we do this (research) when we read and write stories?”

They were able to make the connects and started to get even more excited about our project. Since we are doing a class project I did not open this opportunity for students to do on their own. I’m sure if they had the opportunity they would have jumped at it, their parents probably would not be as excited. (remembering back to my science fair days and my parents hate for it) But since this was a class project we would have to decide on a topic together. My worries came back-how can I get all nineteen of my students to agree on one topic? I should have known better than to worry because yet again they surprised me and majority of them wanted to do the same thing.

Now this time for science fair I did not let my students come up with their own topics, my grade level has done research of fourth grade appropriate science projects a couple years ago which made this much easier. I displayed the approved topics/projects on the board for my students.

So after picking our topic/project/ question we now knew what we were in for. The excitement on my students faces grew as  the announcement was made that we would be working with fish to see their behaviors.

Our next step was not so exciting- we had to our research. Just like a scientist we had to build out background knowledge of our topic/project. I expected to hear moans and groans when I told my students this, we talked about how we can get research from books, experts, the internet and our own background knowledge and they were ready to go. They spent the next 45 minutes searching the classroom for books on fish- fiction and non fiction, asking me questions (even thought I am no expert), and taking to the internet last. They took notes and were ready to share.

Now we are writing the research ‘paper’ for our project. My students were not so excited about this part but they knew it was part of their project and the best way to show their new knowledge about fish. Our papers are just two paragraphs and we wrote the first paragraph together, but it all the information they researched.

We will continue to work on our project this week and see what are fish are up to. Our classroom now has three new beta fish to observe and care for. fish

Meeting students half way

This week in the building the conversations have revolved around student data. Looking at the core curriculum and student growth. Data is one of those things that is tricky to look at. As a teacher I am more concerned with students growth and who is needed extra help.

While looking at student data from the past years our school has noticed that our core is not meeting 80% of our students. Last year our third grade team piloted grade level plans which looks at the core curriculum and adjust it to meet 80% of the students needs. This was a success so this year as a school each grade level has come up with a grade level plan to meet students needs.

The fourth grade team has created a grade level plan for literacy skills to meet our students half way. This year fourth grade has become a tricky year. We all have students in our classrooms that are Read to Achieve transitional students, meaning they have not passed third grade literacy curriculum and are not ‘ready’ for fourth grade. So our grade level plan had to meet these standards and fourth grade literacy standards.

While looking through my students data there were a few things that I noticed. Many of my students are labeled ‘below grade level’ but looking far enough back the growth they have made is amazing. My students who are considered transitional have a bigger ‘gap’ to fill, but are willing to work. Our data also shows how our RTI (response to intervention) was not working.

By switching to grade level plans all of our students will have core curriculum that meets their needs and help them grow to be on grade level with grade level content. We will be working with fourth grade material but giving it to students on a level that they can reach. While working on fourth grade skills our reading passages will vary from 3rd grade to 4th grade to allow students a chance for success. Fourth grade also concentrates on fluency.

To my fluency comes afters comprehension. If you cannot understand what you are reading, reading it faster will not help. So for our grade level plan we will not only be focusing on comprehension but adding fluency practice for our students. This way students will be receiving both interventions to help them. Like I said earlier many of our students are transitional, so not only do they need fourth grade content they still need third grade content.

Data is something that makes teaching easier and harder all at the same time. Data helps to drive instruction and let you know where your students stand. But while being a teacher seeing your students make growth is just as important if  not more. In my three years of teaching I have also been able to use data to help students create goals and work towards the end goal of grade level. Now in fourth grade I plan on doing the same and allowing students to track their own growth and work towards their final goal of passing the EOG.