Tuesday, January 23, 2018

1 Minute Book Review: Refugee by Alan Gratz

1 minute book review, book review, one minute book review, Refugee, Alan Gratz
Have you read Refugee?  This is one of my all-time favorite books and it captured my students in a way that great books do.  Watch this video for a one-minute review of the book!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Capture the WOW with Genius Hour

Genius Hour, Passion Project, 20% Time
Photo by Luca Zanon on Unsplash
  • How does your personality determine your sleep position?
  • Why is there more gun violence in Chicago than other cities?
  • How do you do a 360 on a scooter?
  • How has lacrosse changed over the years?
  • What impact does the paint color in a room have on you?
  • How do optical illusions work?
These are the deep questions that my sixth graders wanted to explore. Where did this passion come from?  I was stunned by the depth of their questions!

Genius Hour is a practice, first developed at Google (sometimes called 20% Time or Passion Projects), that allows people to explore things they are interested in as long as it benefits the company.  Some amazing innovations have come out of this time, including Gmail and Google Glass.

You can set this up in your classroom so that students can research whatever they're interested in. Anything.  School appropriate-anything.  (I didn't have any issues with this, but I teach sixth graders!)  You can put some parameters around it although I would encourage you to hold back.  It does mean giving up some control (I know, it's hard!) but it's worth it to leave choices, successes and failures in the hands of your students.

First, spend some time talking with your students about those things they wonder about, or even things that bug them.   I encouraged my students to talk with their families to see if those conversations would generate more ideas.  They used this graphic organizer to record their thoughts.  You can download it by clicking on the picture.
Spend time here!  The more students play around with ideas - and hear each others' thinking - the more likely they are to think through their own ideas and the less likely they are to change plans midstream.

Let students work at their own pace, within your time frame.  That pushes some kids, but allows others to move on and dig more deeply into their research.

Want to learn more?  I will blog more about Genius Hour in a later post.  You can also purchase this product from my Teachers Pay Teachers store, if you want to get started sooner!

Enjoy the journey!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Two Books You Should Read to Your Students in 2018

Boys in the Boat, Refugee, Read Aloud, Books, Fiction, Nonfiction

This is a great time for teachers in the world of literature and narrative nonfiction.  There are so many good books to choose from! 

I have been spending some time recently exploring good nonfiction books, partly because I've always enjoyed biographies, and partly because I like the way they help students get into the world of that particular time period.  And they're being written in ways that make them very accessible, even to more reluctant readers.
Image result for the boys in the boat

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown is one such book.  It is a powerful story of a journey that started with hundreds of boys wishing to be part of a crew team.  Within days, weeks, and months, those boys were whittled down to a small group that demonstrated the perseverance necessary to be successful rowers for the University of  Washington. 

At the center of the story is Joe Rantz, whose hard childhood will take your breath away.  His mother died when he was four, his father remarried and his stepmother rejected him in every possible way, eventually sending him to live elsewhere as more children were added to the family.  From a very early age, Joe learned not to count on anyone. 

But, in order to be a successful rower, he had to give that up and depend completely and utterly on his teammates. 
And that was scary.

Image result for refugee by alan gratz
I can't say enough about this book.  My students collected money for refugees after we finished it.  
And every other book Alan Gratz has written has not been on my shelves since!

Refugee is the story of three refugees from three different time periods:  Joseph, fleeing from the Nazis in 1939, Isabel, fleeing from Fidel Castro's Cuba in 1994, and Mahmoud, fleeing Syrian rebel fighters in Aleppo, Syria in 2015.  Each chapter ends in a cliffhanger; the chapters take you from child to child and time period to time period.

Despite harrowing circumstances and in the face of regular rejection, you cheer each of these protagonists on to the very end, where they stories intertwine in an unexpected and beautiful way.  

Both books are thought-provoking and will lead to wonderful discussions with your students!

I have created chapter questions for The Boys in the Boat, which is available on Teacher Pay Teachers.

Enjoy reading!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Why You Should Go to the TpT Conference!

TpT, Conference, TeachersPayTeachers, Nashville, TpT18
If you've never been to the Teachers Pay Teachers conference, you should think about making the investment to go.  There is so much value in attending that make the commitment of time and money worth it.  I know that's easier said than done, but hear me out.

I talked myself out of going to the first two conferences.  They were in Las Vegas, and I live in Pennsylvania.  I had made only a few hundred dollars on TpT back then.  What would a small seller like me do at a large conference with people who made my yearly income in a day?  Was everyone on the fast-track, while I was moseying along on my own journey?

Teachers are by nature, pretty friendly people

Walking into a pre-conference dinner several years ago, I thought back to a widow who had talked with me about socializing on her own.  She said, "The hardest part of going out is walking through the door.  Once I'm inside, I'm fine."  Those words came back to me as I walked into the dining room.  Glancing around, I saw several people sitting at a table and asked if I could join them.  "Of course!"  That's the way it was, pretty much everywhere.  Once I asked, people said yes.

Teachers are by nature, good about sharing experiences 

The workshops are excellent; there is SO much good information being shared that you will feel like your brain is about to burst. Take notes!  You'll need time to read over and process everything you've heard after you return home.  The information makes you want to jump onto your laptop and start creating, but it can also feel overwhelming.

Teachers are by nature, collaborative

Everywhere you go, you see people talking at tables, grabbing a coffee or a drink, working together on laptops, talking and brainstorming.  The energy is palpable, helped no doubt, by the contagious enthusiasm of all the TpT staff!  You have to see them to believe them.  Cheers, cartwheels, I'm not kidding!

It's easy to assume that these folks were all friends before the conference.  Until you join a group and discover most just met each other.  Or they met the previous year and have stayed in touch through social media.

I have learned so much in the past two years of attending conferences, connecting with other teacher-authors, and learning from people who have paved the way ahead of me.  It's had a big impact on the way I create my products, how I plan my sales, and where I spend my time. And now, whenever I have a question, I just jump into one of the collaborative groups, most formed through the conference, and ask.

My sales have increased exponentially.  That growth has been helped in large part by the relationships I formed that first conference. 

Consider going!  You will be so glad you did!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

All things TpT on sale!

Cyber sale, Carla Fedeler, Comprehension Connection, TpT, Mentoring in the Middle

Take advantage of the Cyber sale Monday and Tuesday to save 20% off all of my products, and many of those in other stores, as well.  Use the code: Cyber17 and TpT adds another 5%.  Not bad!

***Special thanks to Carla Fedeler for creating this great graphic!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

When you feel like your class is going downhill....

Classroom management, classroom control, out of control classroom
Students are smarter than we think.  They know us.

Better than we think they do.

In the past few weeks, I've had conversations with teachers in my building, who are scratching their heads about why kids aren't following directions the way they'd like.  "You always have such great kids, Marion."

"Yes.  So do you."

Kids don't  always come that way.  Together, we learn how to get there.  We can't fault students for not doing what we need them to do if we don't teach them.  And I'm not just talking about the first or second week of school.  That's a critical time!  But it's not the only time.

Here's what I've noticed about kids....
 Talk to your students.  They know what they need, in order to learn well.  They also know that "knowing it" and "doing it" don' t always go hand-in-hand.  That's where you come in.

I was out of school for three weeks and had a young substitute in for me.  He was right out of school, charming and engaged with the students, good with academics, and apparently, needed stronger classroom management skills.

When I returned to school, teachers kidded me, "Now your kids are behaving more like ours!"  "You've got your work cut out for you!"  

So I had a conversation with the kids.  And they told me exactly what they'd done (that's what I love about teaching 6th graders - they're so honest!)  They knew it wasn't right.  That didn't stop them, because no one held them accountable.

And then, they asked me, "Can you do that thing you do for us?"  They didn't really know what that was, but they liked it better when the adult in the room did "that."  What was it that I did?  Nothing magical; I just held them to clear expectations.
It's tiring to practice behavior!  How many of us were good classroom managers in our first year of teaching?  Not me.  I was terrible!  My jaw was on the floor more times than not, and I didn't know what to do! Up to that point, I had only had my own children as an example, and they never would have talked back or refused to work (or swung from closet doors or slammed glass doors in an attempt to break them) the way those students did.

But I needed to have stuck to my guns way more than I did.  Oh my....that year!  If only I could do it over!

I'm not suggesting that you need to be a military drill sergeant.  But if you expect kids to come into class and take out a particular resource, you need to insist on it.  And if you want students to work around the room without hanging out with their friends, you need to insist on it.  If you want students to talk quietly with a partner, you need to.... you get the idea.  You can't get so caught up in teaching content that you allow behavior to get worse.  Because if it gets a little worse and you do nothing about it, it's only a matter of time before it goes a little farther.

So, if you're not happy with behavior, stop what you're doing and practice it.  Practice it calmly over several days until students are doing what you want them to do.  It doesn't take a ton of practice.  Kids would rather be doing other things.  But they'll know you're serious about that expectation.
Stay firm.  Stay calm!  Firm.  Calm.  Repeat it to yourself over and over again when you're getting angry.  Firm. Calm.

If students see that their behavior is pushing your buttons, guess what they're going to do?  Yup. That's their job!  Your job is to put up safe, calm boundaries around them so that they can achieve success.

No one expects you to work magic.  And some kids take a really, really, really long time to get there.  But, even though they might not admit it, they prefer feeling the structure of a safe, engaged, relatively quiet classroom.

Have a great week!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Teach them Context Clues

context clues, reading strategies, interactive notebooks

Learning how to use clues to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words seems like it should be pretty easy.  I mean, authors often provide context clues right in the sentence.  But children who don't understand the process, often don't know what they're looking for.  And teaching them - specifically - what to look for helps them so much.  The more metacognitively aware our students are, the more they assimilate this kind of clue-searching into their daily reading.

There are a lot of ways to teach this concept, and no one system is right.  I've added a couple of anchor charts from Pinterest that I think are worth looking at; you can click on the links to read more.  You can also download this freebie, which uses the IDEAS acronym.
Have a great week!