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.
I=Inference
D=Definition
E=Example
A=Antonym
S=Synonym
Have a great week!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Thing About Jellyfish

When you open some books, you just read and read.  Some books, you put down.  And for others, you grab a notebook and start jotting down sentences.  Because. They're. Just. That. Good.

This is one of those books.

Part coming-of-age and part science book, this novel takes you on a journey with Suzy as she confronts and tries to make sense out of her former-best-friend's death. 
"It just happened." 
"It was an accident." 

None of that rings true for Suzy.

Imagine a book told from Suzy's point of view, that includes conversations she has with her deceased friend, Franny.  Mix in some wisdom from Mrs. Turston, Suzy's 7th grade Science teacher, in the form of the stages of a science experiment.  Which are metaphors for Suzy's life.  Throw in a lot of information about jellyfish.  And a kid - Suzy - who decides to stop talking.  Add a divorced mom and dad, a brother with his boyfriend, and you have the makings of something that sounds unusual.

It is.  And it's incredibly powerful.

This would make a great read-aloud for students in upper elementary and middle school grades!

I fell in love with novel when I started reading it, and halfway into jotting down my favorite sentences, decided to create a novel study for it, which you can find here.  But this blog post is about more than that.  Just borrow or buy the book and read it.  You'll see why pretty quickly!



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Is it important to teach grammar?

word wall, grammar, spelling
Yes, yes, oh dear heavens, yes!  And not just because I'm old.  But because, in our interest to get kids writing about interesting things, we've gotten sloppy about correcting grammatical mistakes.

Let me rephrase that,  I've gotten sloppy.

Because there are so many.
Correct their spelling and grammar whenever they write?
How often before we feel like we're destroying their little souls?

And yet.
And yet, there has to be a line in the sand.

I will not tolerate "Where you at?"
Sorry.
I know that's becoming part of our language.  I know that language changes regularly and that "sick" means something different today than it did 20 years ago.

I still can't tolerate "Where you at?"

I made up a list of NO EXCUSES words and phrases for my classroom.  You can see the product in my store on TpT.





And if you want to pin this for later, please use this Pinterest-friendly pin!


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Bud, Not Buddy novel study

Bud, Not Buddy novel study
One of the first products I created was this novel study.  Oh, boy, did it need an update!  With a lot more reading comprehension skills and strategies, and some deep-thinking-text-evidence-needing questions, it's a much better product now.



Click here to see a preview on Facebook.  And click here to see the product on TeachersPayTeachers.

Have a good week!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

It's like the Washing Machine! Only Who Eats the Books?



Michael Vey, When books go missing from your classroom library
Late last spring, I read the first Michael Vey book, The Prisoner of Cell 25 to one of my classes.  This Science Fiction series never fails to ignite a furious exchange of books, as kids move on to the others in the series.  Books go flying off my shelves, kids negotiate to read over weekends while others have plans; it's all pretty amazing.

As students were reading away, someone announced that he was waiting for the fourth book but couldn't find it.  We searched high and low; my check-out system (Booksource) hadn't failed; someone had neglected or forgotten to check it out.

Not wanting to stop the momentum of reading, I bought the book one weekend, and handed it proudly to this very hungry reader who'd been eagerly anticipating its arrival.

Three weeks later, it was the end of the year.
Students returned their book, we put them back on shelves.  And lo and behold, Book 4 was missing.

Again.

Students searched lockers, homes, we sent a Remind 101 message to parents.

No luck.

On the last day of school, as he was boarding the bus, one of my students casually mentioned that his brother, whom I'd taught the previous year, had never returned a book of poetry to me.  It was still sitting on his bookshelf at home.

I was a bit perturbed, to say the least, so using my kindest words, I emailed parents to ask if they would return the book to our school office sometime over the summer.

The next day, I received a mortified email from the boys' dad.  He not only offered to return the poetry book immediately, but knowing how much both his sons had enjoyed the Michael Vey books, he offered to replace the missing book.  Which was very kind.

Today, guess who comes to visit me?  The boy I had last year, the younger brother.  And guess what he had in his hands?

Yup.

"It was stuck at the bottom of my binder and I didn't notice it."

What?!

Ah, the joys of being a Reading teacher!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Video Review of A Blind Guide to Stinkville

Way, way, way back in the day when I was in first grade, we switched seats one day and I was placed next to Michael.  Michael had polio, and he wore braces on his legs.  Braces that clanked and made noise. Braces that scared me.  

I began to cry.  My teacher asked me what was wrong, but I was too embarrassed to tell her that I was afraid his polio was contagious.  

She got my older sister, in second grade, to talk to me.  

I couldn't stop crying.

So she moved my seat.

And I stopped crying.

I have felt badly about that for many, many years.  I didn't dislike Michael.  I was scared of his body. If Michael or my teacher had been able to explain his braces to me, it would have removed my fear, and I suspect that I would have been fine sitting next to him.

Have you noticed the number of authors who are tackling difficult topics to teach our students about all people, without making any of them seem scary?  I love how these books make a what could be unapproachable circumstances feel normal (think Wonder or Out of My Mind.)  They remind students (and me!) that each of us is more than what we look or talk - or even learn - like.

A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel is one of those books.  Alice has albinism, and that means she has to use suntan lotion multiple times a day.  It also means she has nystagmus, so she's considered legally blind.  Here's my review of this book by an author who's becoming one of my favorites!

I have a novel study for this book that you can find in my Teachers Pay Teachers store here.  Read this book to your students!  It will generate a lot of good discussion, and a fair amount of giggles, too. What kid doesn't like a farting dog?

Have a great week!