Thursday, May 11, 2017

How will you TpT this summer?

As the school year winds down, I find myself thinking about all the projects my students worked on this year.  Good learning worked both ways!  My students had a variety of projects that engaged them and I learned what needed to be more clear and where I needed to add an additional step along the way.

I keep a list of projects I want to create for TpT, ones I want to tweak, products that need to be updated, good products that need better graphics or more exposure, social media sites I want to spend more time on....the list can get quite lengthy!

Here are some tips I use to help me stay organized and not feel overwhelmed.

Take Time for Yourself 
It's easy to get caught up in lists and "to-do's" and before you know it, school's about to start up again. Take time to reflect on this past school year.  Breathe.  Play with your kids or grandkids.  Wander. Think.  Read a book.  Sleep.  Garden.  Eat.  Get together with friends.  Run. Walk. Eat ice cream.  Lots and lots of ice cream.  Laugh.  Do yoga.

You'll be so much fresher when you do sit down to work. 
 Create lists
Everyone has their own way of doing this.  Figure out what works for you.  I jot notes everywhere because I'm afraid I'll forget otherwise - on my phone, post-it notes, in a notebook, on a pad of paper. Those get tossed (don't judge) on my desk.

Then, when I have time, I write them down in a notebook.  The pink one. 

I keep four folders on my computer:  Under construction: Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer.  I put all of my half-started projects and ideas there, and then when it's time to work on one, I know where they are.  Projects get moved if they need more time.  And sometimes I know I won't be able to work on something for a while - whatever the reason - and so it gets put in a later folder.  But that way, I don't lose what I've started.  Sometimes it's a Powerpoint I've started, sometimes it's just a title with a note to myself.
 Set a task and a timer
This is SO important!  I belong to a number of facebook groups, some of which support each other in a variety of ways.  It's so easy to get sucked into the vortex of "let me just check...."

Set a timer.  Work on social media.
Set a timer.  Work on a blogpost.
Set a timer.  Work on a product.
Set a timer.  Work on a graphic.

Whatever your goal is for the day, decide how much time you'll spend and commit to doing it.  That timer keeps you accountable!
It won't all get done (and that's okay)
I'm always surprised by how much longer it takes me to get something done than what I'd thought. I've had to make peace with that and you will, too.  Be happy with what gets done and move on.

I hope these tips help you get yourself ready for some creative time this summer!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Increasing empathy for visually impaired students with a book {and a freebie!}

Last year, a colleague and I received a grant to have all the students in 5th and 6th grades read the same two books.  We started with Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt, and now we're reading A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel.

Blind Guide is a multi-layered story, the heart of which is found in Alice Confrey, a young girl with albinism.  I wasn't aware that people with albinism often have an eye condition called nystagmus, which causes their eyes to flutter up and down a lot, resulting in difficulty seeing.

To start off the book challenge, we asked a local organization, VisionCorps, which works with blind and visually impaired children and adults in our area, to visit our school.  They provided a safe place for our children explore the world of visual impairment and the tools people use to navigate the seeing world.

One of my students is visually impaired, although not from albinism.  His vision issues are quite similar to those of Alice's, however.  It was really beautiful to watch students gently ask to enter his world, so that through his explanations they could get a glimpse of what it felt like to see the world  like he does.

I created the study guide for A Blind Guide to Stinkville for my students to use as they read and discussed the book in small groups.  I'll be honest, I'm not a fan of "right there" kinds of questions, nor do I like to ask questions chapter by chapter.  The questions in the study guide require students to think more deeply about ideas in the book, using the text to support their responses.  For the most part, students are really enjoying the book!

....And now for the freebie!
Because I find my students talking about books so much, I decided to have them give book commercials this year, so that I wasn't the only person doing book talks.  I've finally gotten around to putting it into my TpT store.  Grab it and use it if you want!

Have a great rest of the week!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Turn your classroom upside down: personalize learning

There were times when I wished I'd never shared this thought with my Assistant Principal.  When I wondered why (for the umpteenth time) I had not thought through all the things that would take place in my classroom this month.  When I was frustrated by how hard it was to plan out the details.  But something kept me going, despite knowing that this required a real, and somewhat uncomfortable shift in my thinking.

Personalized learning takes differentiated instruction and ramps it up a notch.  It allows you to tailor your instruction to each student's needs and preferences. There's no question that technology plays a big part in making it successful (and gives you grey hairs when apps or videos don't work as planned!) 
1.  Start with the end in mind
What's your Essential question?  What do you want students to take away from this set of lessons?  In my case, students were going to read several passages about taking care of the environment.  After some thought, I decided that I wanted each of them to come up with an Action Plan, something they could do at home, at school, or in the community, based on what they'd learned.
2.  How do you want each student to achieve that goal?
For me, this was the tricky part.  It's easy for me to do this when I'm in the front of the room for a little while.  Putting it all in their hands meant shifting my thinking.  My students come in all shapes and sizes when it comes to reading comprehension.  So they needed passages that were either leveled, or ones they could read or listen to.  Some students needed to evaluate what they read, some compared what they read with how they lived, while others used what they'd read as a model for the Action Plan they'd create.  To keep me sane in planning this, I create three unique groups.
3.  How do you get students to move towards that goal?
We use Schoology in our district, and that certainly made life easier.  Each direction, link, assessment, assignment, video or photo submission was placed there.  Schoology also lets you make an activity dependent on the completion of a previous one, so students have to complete assignments in the order you determine.

I created one folder for the entire set of lessons.  Within that folder were four subfolders, one for each of the topics/activities I wanted students to complete.  I created three different sets of plans, and assigned them to my three groups.  That's one nice thing about Schoology!  Within those folders, the format in each was consistent: first, clear and detailed instructions tailored to each student group. Then, links to articles to be read, videos to be watched, links to websites, etc.  There was a checkpoint with me in each folder.  Some students had to show me that hey had mastered concepts by the end of that folder; others started reading with me before I sent them off on their own.  Still others worked with me in an even more chunked format, until I felt they were ready to be successful on their own.
4.  The good, the bad, and the ugly
So, what was the outcome?  Well, there were some things that my students and I really liked, some that we didn't and still others that I would change.  Overall, I'm pleased with the outcome and it has taught me a number of things about the way my students learn.

My stronger readers loved that they could pace themselves.  My weaker readers didn't.  They wanted my help as they navigated through sometimes unclear words and thoughts.  Even though I worked with them through some of the steps, they didn't have the confidence to continue on their own.  Lesson learned.

I felt like there were lots of opportunities to confer with me, although some students had to wait a few minutes because I was working with someone else.  We have to get to a place of comfort that when they give me an indication that they need me to check on something, I'll be there in a few minutes.  Or, as in some cases, that I tell them to move ahead until I can get to them.

Giving up control was hard for me!  And for them.  But I think, with repetition, students will come to own their learning a little more this way.  It's worth doing again.  With a few modifications along the way, I'm already thinking about the next set of personalized lessons!

Have a great week!

Monday, February 6, 2017

TpT Sale Event!

Another opportunity to purchase products for up to 28% off!  Click here to see new products in my store.  And don't forget to use the code (I've done that!):  LOVETPT

Now, I'm going to go take a look at some more Kimberly Gewein Fonts.  I love her work!

Have fun shopping!

Monday, January 23, 2017

This is what democracy looks like!

Photo credit: Brent Johnson, Newark Star-Ledger

This post is not about whether you voted for Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton.  It's not whether you lean left, moderate, or right.  It is about how the power of democracy is in the hands of the people.

Some of my students asked if they could watch the inauguration of our 45th president on Friday.  As they asked, a few others booed.  
"No, we can't do that!"  I said to the students who booed.  "Regardless of whom you wanted elected, you still have to respect the office of the President of our country."  We talked briefly about ways they could show they were on board with policies (or not) in the classroom, in our school, our state, and our country.  When did we get so polarized?

I thought about that a lot when I got on the bus in front of my church, heading to Washington, D.C, with my daughters.  What does it mean to live in a democracy?  How can we safely express dissent in this country?  
This sign felt like my answer.  Our First Amendment rights allow us to disagree, and to do so publicly.  And so, people gathered.  In large cities and small, around the United States and the world.  And each was peaceful.  And that, is what democracy is supposed to look like.

 So, whether you agree with our President or not, and no matter which way you feel with his cabinet appointments (especially with Betsy DeVoss as Secretary of Education) whether you marched somewhere or you thought the marches were stupid, please exercise your right in this country.  You have the right to express your opinions.  Call your elected officials and let them know.  They're waiting to hear from you! 
I hope you have a good week!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Does 1:1 technology make you read less?

I was chaperoning a movie night at school on Friday, and a former students approached me.  "Do you have a copy of Divergent that I could read?  Every time I go to the library, it's checked out."
"Of course I do.  Do you want me to get it for you now if it's on the shelf?"
"Yes, please."
A few minutes later, she was walking into the auditorium with the book in her hand, and I'd matched a reader with a book.

I wish I could say that I felt the same excitement about being a "matchmaker" this year.  It's not the kids.  I really enjoy them!  Or maybe it is the kids.  And what we've done to them.  This is the first year I've noticed it, but it also happens to be the first year that we've gone 1:1 with iPads.

So what's different?
At this time last year, students had read double the number of books this year's students have.  You read that right.                                                                        


This year, students think nothing of taking 6 weeks to finish a book.  Six weeks into a book and you hardly remember the beginning!  Many talk about how they don't love to read.  And yet, when they get time to read in my class (which is almost daily) they seem to enjoy it.  They can read paper copies, online versions, or audio books.  It doesn't make any difference.  Outside of my classroom, the default is no longer to pick up their book when their work is finished.  Instead, they pick up their iPads.

I'm curious.  Are you seeing this in your classrooms, too?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Improved Student Work with Guided Writing and Adobe Spark video

"Are we writing today?"  
"No, not today.  It's not Friday.
{Insert sad face here.}

This is the second part of a two-part series about improving students writing.  And their happiness about writing.  You can read the first part, about coming late to the mentor sentences party, here.

I was THRILLED with the results of this writing assignment I came up with for my students to work on together. My students couldn't wait for Fridays, our "Student Writing Days."

I started off by saying:  
“Close your eyes.  Imagine that you are walking home from a friend’s house.  You live about a ten minute walk away.  It’s dark now and you’re heading home.  Can you picture it?  Visualize what this looks like in your head.  As you are picturing this, start to jot down responses to these questions."
Each step of the way, I led them through a visualization and then a set of questions like this.  There's something about the power of being guided that gives kids confidence.  Their writing is more descriptive and they don't tend to get as stuck.  
This year, we started the week before Halloween, so I had "spooky" music playing in the background.  The students begged me to turn off the lights and pull down the blinds.  I was surprised they could work that way, but they loved it! 
After students had been writing for a while, they could share some of what they'd written.  Sometimes we'd share it on my Activboard, sometimes they read it aloud to the whole class, other times to a small group.  An important thing they learned was that reading aloud helped them see missing words and missing punctuation.
Mini-lesson:  Become friends with periods and commas!
Once editing was over, they started to cut and paste onto Adobe Spark video.  Adobe Spark lets you choose a layout, backgrounds, pictures, and even music, if you want.  Students had a lot of fun making their video slides their own.

Finally, when the slides are all together, students go back and record themselves reading their stories. This was so amazing!  They totally got into doing this and read with so much feeling!

For a first try, I was over-the-moon thrilled with how well this project worked out!
Although the cover has a Fall "feeling" to it, it can be used at any time of year.  Click on the picture to take a closer look at this product on TpT.

Have a great week!