A Classroom Literacy Rich Environment

Getting students absorbed in meaningful, purposeful literacy activities requires a number of significant changes in the classroom – in the physical environment, in the events and activities, and in the nature and quality of the interactions. Noel Jones

By now, your classrooms are all set up, decorated and in full use by your students!  But I have a question to ask you: Is your classroom Literacy-Rich?  During my tenure as a district literacy trainer for Douglas County Schools in Colorado, I trained hundreds of elementary and secondary teachers in a program for best practices in teaching literacy that we called LIFT (Literacy Instructional Framework for Teaching). This program was based on the program, California Early Literacy Learning.

One of the most important components of LIFT was ensuring that teachers, especially those in elementary schools and teaching secondary Language Arts, had a “literacy-rich environment” in their classroom.  Dr. Kimberly Tyson defines this environment as: “a setting that encourages and supports speaking, listening, reading, and writing in a variety of authentic ways – through print & digital media”. During our LIFT training, we focused on the following components of the “LRE”: classroom materials, classroom design/layout and reading and writing through authentic activities.

Classroom Materials: The Classroom Library

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This how NOT to do a classroom library! Sadly it was mine back in the 90’s, a rolling cart with books on both sides. Ugh!

The classroom materials necessary for an LRE include books, books, and more books, as well as other print materials: magazines, comic books, online reading material, as well as print on the walls, writing materials, and displays of student work. During our training sessions, I spent a great deal of time discussing classroom libraries and how best to make them inviting, organized and useful. As an elementary teacher back in 1994, I had never been taught how to set up an effective classroom library, and mine was appalling, as evidenced in this photo.  Yup, that’s it..both sides of the rolling cart filled with books! Inviting…NO! Organized…NO!

At our training sessions, I began by asking our teachers this question:  Is the classroom library inviting, providing a range of quality books at all appropriate levels?  However, it’s not enough to have an inviting classroom library, it needs to be organized! Teachers can use many methods to organize…using bins/baskets separated by popular authors, levels of books, topics, etc. There must also be a clear and easy check-out system.  Check out the photo gallery of some exemplary classroom libraries!  

(Click on each picture in the photo tile below for explanation and credit!)

After leaving the classroom and moving into offices as either a literacy, GT or RtI specialist, I managed to hang on to some sort of classroom libraries: (notice the Laura Ingalls Wilder shrine on the right!)

Classroom Materials: Words All Over the Place!

“A printrich environment is one in which “children interact with many forms of print, including signs, labeled centers, wall stories, word displays, labeled murals, bulletin boards, charts, poems, and other printed materials” (Kadlic and Lesiak, 2003).

What goes on your classroom walls is important as well!  I never learned about an LRE in my teacher prep training, but I attempted it in my 5th/6th-grade classroom…sometimes to excess! Some of my displays probably overwhelmed my students…evidence below:

All grade levels need to have a great deal of print on the walls that assist students with (depending on the grade level) the alphabet, sight words, phonics concepts, writing and content vocabulary.  Of course, you can buy commercial posters, make some online, or print on chart paper. But more ownership comes when these materials are created with the help of the students through Interactive Writing (sometimes also called Shared Writing). Check out the interactive writing that students can continue to refer to during the school year…(these were all taken in Douglas County School District classrooms during my literacy training years, 2006-2009). More on interactive writing, including how to use it with older students, and in content areas, in a future blog!

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I even tried to maintain a print-rich environment in and right outside of my offices once I left the classroom! This was a display in the hall outside my door for our upcoming all-school Star Wars Day my GT students were planning!

And don’t forget Word Walls!  There are so many ways to create word walls: on the wall (of course) personal word walls, or electronic word walls. Content area classrooms in secondary schools should have them too and so should art, music, and PE teachers!  More on Word Walls in a future blog!399

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A Personal Word Wall that I had one of my tutoring students create on Padlet for her self-selected words in her book. We then use this wall for various activities to help her not only learn the words but retain them.

(Click on each picture in the photo tile above for explanation and credit!)

Classroom Design and Layout

“The room arrangement should encourage repeated opportunities to interact with literacy materials and activities to practice skills that students are learning.” (Gunn, Simmons, & Kameenui, 1995)

Another question teachers need to ask themselves is:  Does the room arrangement support all literacy activities of the instructional framework? How your room is set-up can affect how successful your literacy activities are!  What area will allow for a large enough classroom library, where students can both read and browse for books? Where will content print be hung so that students can use as a reference? And most importantly, where is your whole class meeting area?  This is something that I never had in my 90’s intermediate classroom; again, I had never been taught or told to have one! But in my classroom visits, I saw the power of this space, not only in primary classrooms but also in intermediate! These areas are used for read-aloud, shared reading, interactive writing, interactive editing (all topics coming soon to this blog!) and mini-lessons. And of course, they can be used for class meetings as well.  You also need an area for your small group instruction work. Check out some ways teachers have designed their whole-class meeting and small group instruction areas!

(Click on each picture in the photo tile below for explanation and credit!)

Authentic Literacy

Children who are successful at becoming literate view reading and writing as authentic activities from which they get information and pleasure, and by which they communicate with others. – Richard Allington, Classrooms That Work

Finally, a literacy-rich environment needs to include authentic literacy activities, not ones created by publishing companies (disclaimer: nothing wrong with using these occasionally, but authentic stuff creates better readers/writers!). NWEA states that: “Authentic learning occurs when activities or projects offer students an opportunity to directly apply their knowledge or skills to real-world situations.”  So what are examples of authentic literacy activities?  Here are a few ideas in the slideshow below: daily class or personal news, novel character texts (I used http://ios.foxsash.com/), real text from tutoring student to parent using a vocabulary word, thank you notes, a character “Fakebook” page using Classtools.net, or this Google Doc template, and an Instagram template! For more ideas, check out my Pinterest board on the Literacy-Rich Environment for even more!

And that’s a wrap for this week! I would like to thank the following teachers for sharing photos of their classrooms!

  • Kelly Broecker, 5th grade, Gold Rush Elementary in Parker, CO
  • Sarah Rumsey, 3rd grade, Aspen Crossing Elementary in Aurora, CO
  • Renee Hartwig-Ott, 2nd grade, Westgate Elementary School in Lakewood, CO
  • Carol McRae, 6th grade writing, Sagewood Middle School, Parker, CO
  • Abby Schmitz, 2nd grade, Ruth Hill, Lincoln NE
  • Leslie Schlag, Pre-School, Cherokee Trails Elementary, Parker, CO
  • Angela Davis, Kindergarten, Saddle Ranch Elementary, Highlands Ranch, CO
  • The many K-12 Douglas County School District teachers who attended my literacy training sessions (LIFT) from 2006-2009!

The ABC’s of Back to School: Finale!

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So…how’s it going in your classroom so far? Of if you’re still gearing up for a new school year, good luck! No matter where you teach or when you start, this is a super busy, stressful time of year!

In the past two posts, I have shared a few ideas for the beginning of the school year, Back to  School Bingo and Me Collages. I want to share an idea I used once I was out of the classroom and working with small groups of Gifted and Talented students, the I Am Poem! I chose this poem because my goal for the year was to help students develop a sense of identity and become self-regulated learners. I had seen this type of poem before, and then I was introduced to a unit in the Autonomous Learner Model book by George Betts, called “Journey Into Self.”  The same publisher also has another unit called “Journey Into My World”. I decided to build my year-long theme around this concept and to launch the theme, I had students create visual I Am Poems!  You can see their presentations HERE; many had their photo on the initial slide and throughout the poem, so I had to delete those for student privacy. I did have some students turn their slides into a movie with music, and some just created a Quicktime or iMovie for this activity! Another student used Glogster to create her visual poemOh…the image up at the top of this blog is an idea I always wanted to do, but never got around to it…creating an “I Am” Wall with the students’ names and first line from their poem!

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To start with, I created an I Am Poem for myself to serve as a model for the students, then walked them through the creation of their own poem, using THIS template. You can find many variations of this same template online.  Here’s a sample poem that one of my students created! Next, I had students use copyright free images they found online (that’s an entire lesson in and of itself!) to turn their poem into a visual I Am Poem in Google Slides!

The classroom teacher for my 5th grade GT students wanted the students to create math goals in their Advanced Learning Plan, so I had them all create a math version of the I Am Poem. And at the end of the year, I had all of my students complete an End of Year I Am Poem to reflect on their learning throughout the year. Some added in this new part of their poem to their Google Slide presentations.  My younger students did something called an I Am Story.  Click HERE for an example by one of my students!

IMG_0445So to help you get your classroom rules and expectations set up…here are the final ABC’S OF BACK TO SCHOOL, based on my “bestselling” packet I created for my students and their parents back in my classroom days.

Image result for s gifSubstitutes: I included my expectations for students when I had a sub. I expected my students to respect all subs they had, no matter what, and I always followed through on both positive and negative comments from the sub. Here’s an article on how to prepare your class for a sub! How do you prepare your class for subs? Comment below!

Image result for T gifTelephones: In the years before cell phones were common, we only had a phone in the workroom across the hall to use (primitive, I know!) I had to set expectations for the use of this phone for my students. It amazed me how many times my students would ask me to use the phone to call parents to bring in forgotten homework….Uh…NO! These days, all schools and classrooms need to have cell phone guidelines (for teachers too, LOL!)

Image result for Q gifQuizzes and Tests: Just verbiage about doing your best, studying in advance, sharing the test grade with parents, etc. A great idea for intermediate and secondary teachers is to give Open Note quizzes…students can use their notes to answer!  What you are really assessing is their note taking skills! I would have my students staple their notes to the quiz. Not all quizzes were open note, but you should have seen the looks on their faces of the non-notetakers when I announced an Open Note quiz! Have you ever done this in your class? Comment below!

Image result for U gifUsing Computers: Since I wrote my guidelines back in 1998, things have changed, and laptops and Chromebooks are a necessary tool for students in the classroom. My guidelines are no longer valid! However, guidelines still need to be set for the proper use and care of these expensive school supplies.

Image result for Letter V gifVolunteers: My plea to parents for classroom volunteers! Since I taught intermediate, I did not have as much use for volunteers (and I was somewhat of a control freak :-), but I did need them for classroom parties and Friday folders! I appreciated my parent volunteers so much; always be sure to take good care of them!

Image result for W gifWhen will progress reports (report cards) come out: This is where I included my school/district’s policies and dates for progress reports.

Image result for X gifXtra Credit: I made sure students and parents understood that I did not give any extra credit, but they could earn Bonus Points (see “B” back in Part 1!) that could slightly help their grade.

Image result for Y gifYes, we will be using the library each week:  School library days, policies, rules, etc.

Image result for Z gifZoo: No, we’re not going there! I couldn’t think of anything else for “Z” so I used this section to discuss the various field trips we WERE going on, permission slips, chaperones, etc.

And that’s a WRAP for the ABC’s of Back to School! I hope that you will use the “I Am” poem with your students! Joy Thomas, on the Crixeo website, says about these poems: “It’s an invitation to ask ourselves: How do I show up in the world? How do I want to show up in the world? What do I want to give and receive out of life?”

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The ABC’s of Back to School, Part 2!

The ABC’s of Back to School, Part 2! More ideas on what teachers need to communicate to students and parents in the first few weeks of school! I also share a FUN activity I did with my students the first week: “Me Collages!”

IMG_0445First of all, be sure to check out my last blog, Part 1 of The ABC’s of Back to School. This is where you will get my A to I information I put in my back-to-school packet for students and parents

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 12.21.37 PMAnd, have you checked out my Back to School Bingo on Teachers Pay Teachers? This is a fun activity to do with any grade level on your first day or first week!

Before I start on J – S, I want to tell you about a super fun activity I did with my 5th and 6th graders during the first week of school! I can’t remember where I got the idea from (this was 23 years ago!), but I found directions online for creating these with kids. Using butcher papers and markers, I had students help each other trace the outline of each other and then cut it out. Next, they created a “Me Collage”, adding in words, designs, photos, and illustrations of who they were as a person, and as well as their favorite hobbies and passions. The students presented their Me Collages to the class, then we hung him in the hallway. Check out some of their creations below!

Now on to J – S from my Classroom Packet!

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J is for June Box: Since our school got out in June, I had a special box where all the toys or gizmos I had to collect from students would reside until the last day of school, or until parents came to me to request them. I ended up having quite a collection to give back in June: yo-yo’s, Pokemon cards, Beanie Babies, action figures, etc.

Image result for K gifK is for Kid Safety: Here’s my exact wording from the packet: “It is my responsibility to make sure that my students learn in a safe environment. We need to be safe our on the playground, at lunch, on field trips, and in our classroom. School supplies need to be used in a safe manner and experiments conducted safely. Poor choices will result in immediate consequences.”

Image result for L gifL is for Long Term Assignments and Projects: Our job as 5th/6th-grade teachers in our school was to prepare our students for middle school. I would often assign projects or writing that would take 3-4 weeks or longer.  After hearing about stressed parents trying to help their child finish that assignment in just 1-2 nights, I made sure to communicate to both students and parents to manage their time and START EARLY! I eventually began assigning staggered due dates (for proposal, rough drafts, conferences on progress, etc. – these were interim assessments before I knew that term!).

Image result for m gifM is for Magic Scrap: I have to admit…this was one of the BEST ideas I ever came up with (and believe me, there were many bad ones!). One of my expectations is that all students helped clean up at the end of the day, especially the floor so our vacuuming crew after school did not have to do their job on an obstacle course! So, to get the floor super clean, I would “pick out” a scrap of trash, or a school supply item on the floor. My students would frantically rush around trying to find the magic scrap; they would pick up a pile of stuff off the floor and bring to me waiting by the garbage can, where I would pronounce it as NOT the Magic Scrap or YES, that was indeed the Magic Scrap. If it was a “No”, off they would run to collect more stuff!  When the floor was sufficiently cleaned up, lo and behold, there would be the sought after “Magic Scrap” from a lucky student! That student would receive a Homework Pass which would excuse them from homework for one night.  Believe me, these were in high demand (see “P”)!

Image result for n gifNo is for No T.V.! (unless you have read your required 30 minutes at night): Lately I have been reading about how reading logs can be detrimental in getting kids to enjoy reading...but back in the 90’s, I used them and they worked for me, parents and my students.  My expectation for my students 120 minutes a week of reading, and then to record what they were reading on the log. I didn’t care if they were reading a novel, textbook, a magazine article, a comic book, (appropriate) stuff on the internet, or picture books, as long as they were READING! They could do all their minutes in one night, over the weekend, or could spread out the minutes over the week. Parents had to sign the log before it was turned in.  Do you use reading logs?

Image result for o gifO is for On the Chart, Oh No!: My consequence/behavior system was multi-tiered:
* 1st incident: A verbal warning
* 2nd incident: A check on the chart under their assigned number (no names and the numbers were changed often)
* 3rd incident: Another check and a recess missed
* 4th incident: Another check and an Inappropriate Behavior Form (used school-wide)
* 5th incident: Another check, a Behavior Referral (school form) and a phone call home
(Disclaimer: I realize things have changed since I used this system 25 years ago, and schools and teachers may have different ideas for behavior expectations. All teachers at my school had to have their behavior plans approved by the administration.)

Image result for p gifP is for Passes – Homework Passes! A homework pass could take the place of one nightly assignment (but I had the prerogative to say “no passes” for any assignment I needed them to have the next day). The pass had to be attached to the assignment when turned on, and they would then receive full credit! Students could use one pass per week. The passes were given for prizes in games, for rewards and recognition, and as a “thank you” from me for students who went out of their way to help others. I made my own, but you can find many already created on Teachers Pay Teachers!

Image result for Q gifQ is for Quiet Voices: I didn’t expect my students to work in silence during independent work time (I wanted them to ask questions about their work to peers and collaborate!), but I did expect low voices during work time. Many students actually liked to get as much work done at school if they had busy sports/activities schedules after school. Since I used this time to confer or help students, I did not want to be walking around and shushing kids all the time!  What are your expectations for noise during work time?Image result for r gif

R is for Recess: Yay, we all love recess (except for teachers when they have recess duty in February!) However, sometimes my students had to miss recess as a consequence for behavior or missing work. Or, they could stay in for positive reasons, such as to get extra help from me or assist me with set-up for an activity (of course I would have many volunteers on cold and snowy days!)

Image result for s gifS is for Standards: I was “lucky” enough to be a classroom teacher during the nationwide implementation of education standards in the 1990’s. Our workload was suddenly increased by the task of collecting specific pieces of student work and assessments to determine if they had met a particular standard or not. Standards are still around, and it was important for me then, as it is for teachers now, to make parents and students aware of the standards your state and district are using.

Stay tuned for the rest of the Back to School ABC’s in next week’s post! Best of luck to you getting YOUR school started! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you want to see future posts, and a HUGE THANK YOU to those that already have!

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

 

Finally…the end of the School Year!

 

For many of you teachers….just a few weeks to go!  Whoo Hoo!

Relief, happiness, joy….which emotion are you feeling now that the end of the year is in sight and summer is on the horizon?  I recently shared a photo I saw on the Facebook page of Create-abilities that pretty much sums up what all teachers feel like in May!

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Used with permission from Create-abilities

Before the year ends, though, you have to come up with something to celebrate, recognize and honor all the work your students have done throughout the year and find a way to say farewell to this year’s class.  I always struggled with this…I was exhausted, my daughters had all their May events going on, and the classroom budget was tight or non-existent.  So, let me share with you a few ideas that I did way back in my classroom days.

 

img006Being a huge fan of movies and the Academy Awards, I decided to create my own awards ceremony, the Anttila Awards.  Check out my flyer below; the writing you can see on the back is my list of what awards each student was getting, and yes, ALL students received an award!  Some of my categories include:

  • Best Performance in Math
  • Best Performance in a Science Fair Project
  • Best Performance in Writing
  • Best Performance in a Fractured Fairy Tale Skit
  • Most Likely to be Caught Reading
  • Best Performance in Public Speaking
  • Best Performance in a Research Speech
  • Best Performance in Making Up Work
  • Best Performance in the Oceanography Project

You get the idea!  We invited parents and asked them to provide refreshments, and we also invited administrators, specials teachers, the custodian and paraprofessionals to be “special guest presenters” at the awards.  SO, SO fun!

Another year, my students and I created a HUGE hallway display called “The Bitter and the Best”. There were two butcher paper columns, one for favorite classroom memories/activities, “The Best” and one for less memorable or bittersweet memories, “The Bitter”.  I hung up photos from our year, as well as project and homework assignments.  This really helped the students to reflect and provided a nice closure to our year!  img035

IMG_6292One thing I always struggled with was what to give my students at the end of the year…a gift…without breaking my bank account.  At the end of the year when I had the theme of Growth Mindset with my GT students, I had a local specialty cookie shop, Eileen’s Colossal Cookies (locations in many states!) and decorate cookies for all students (over 50 of them!) with our motto for the year: “Fail, Learn, Grow.” Needless to say, these were a huge hit! Check out this blog post from Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher for more end of the year student gift ideas!

Last year, since I was retiring and had worked with some of my gifted students for four years, I created a slideshow of our learning and fun together, complete with music. The students loved seeing photos of their younger self, as well as students who had moved away or gone on to middle school!  Here are some ideas for great songs for your end of the year slideshows! And even MORE ideas! IMG_6283

Over in the sidebar, you will find a link to my End of the Year Pinterest Board for teachers!  Hang in there for a few more weeks, and take time to enjoy the summer, family, and friends!  You are all my HEROS!

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Free printable from the Happy Go Lucky blog

 

Math Roll-a-Word-Problem

TEACHERS PAY TEACHERS FREEBIE COMING UP!  KEEP READING! (How’s that for a shameless plug?) Plus, there are photos of my cats coming up, so that is a reason to continue reading!

Math story problems…word problems…whatever you want to call them, they were the bane of my childhood school years.  I was never that confident with math and would just get a math skill mastered when suddenly there were words with the numbers, which in my young mind, just confused everything!  Consequently, while working with my gifted students for the last four years of my teaching career, I made it a point to focus on word problems to help them build both problem solving and reading comprehension skills. In one of my recent blogs on Math and Growth Mindset, I discussed using math challenges such as Math Olympiad, Continental Math League, Exemplars and the Noetic Learning Math Contest, all of which contain excellent math word problems.  I learned how important it is to teach problem-solving strategies, and also to honor unique and unusual methods that students will come up with!

However, I had never thought of having my students WRITE word problems, but this idea dawned on me because of dice…yes, that is correct, DICE!  During this last year of tutoring, I had used something I found on Pinterest, a “Roll a Story” with my 6th-grade student who was working on writing.  A roll-a-story is a table that has different options for whatever the die lands on.  Here is an example of one on Teachers Pay Teachers, created by Ms.JordanReads – and check out her blog for more information on this resource and other fun dice activities!

original-286634-2So, I was working a quite a bit with my third-grade student, Brayden, on word problems.  He was great at math; he knew his computation skills and caught on quickly to new concepts. But something happened when he was given a word problem…he really just glanced at the numbers and then either added, multiplied, or whatever, to find the answer. He wasn’t reading the problem carefully to find out what the problem was asking him to find. So I had him using several strategies to help with this, including reading the problem at least two times (if not more) and highlighting and/or underlining important words, phrases, and numbers.  I always made him answer the question, “What is this problem asking you to do and find out?”

After using the roll-a-story for writing with the other student, I hit upon the idea of having Brayden help me create a MATH WORD PROBLEM Roll-a-Story as he actually loves to write (whoo hoo, we need more third grade boys who love to write!).  I first created a blank template, filled with a few ideas, and then had Brayden give me suggestions for the rest. (At the bottom of this blog you will find a link to these FREE resources on Teachers Pay Teachers!)

 

I then had Brayden roll his die, and he came up with: cowboy for the character, in a magic forest for the setting, getting the wrong homework for the problem in the story and multiplication for the math skill.  He launched right into his story, which turned out to be quite the fantasy!  I am waiting for Spielberg to option the film rights.  You can read his story HERE!

Brayden and I thought this was so much fun we wanted to share it with other teachers everywhere, and I decided this would be my very first product on Teachers Pay Teachers! I have even included a blank one, as well as a link to the editable versions in Google Drive (which I prefer!).  Teachers of intermediate and secondary students can use this by changing the operations to things like fractions, ratios, percent, algebraic equations, etc. If you try this with your students, please post some feedback for us!

Okay, click HERE for your TpT freebie of this Math Roll-a-Story Word Problem!

P.S. At another tutoring session, I used a word problem from THIS resource and modified it to be about Ms. Crazy Cat Lady (who may or may not be me). I included photos of my current and past cats. Brayden integrated this into another Roll-a-Story word problem and made it be the “homework” the dogs were not expecting. I had him work the problem and then explain in a short constructed response how he solved it! Check it out HERE!

fullsizeoutput_57abThat’s it for now…have fun dice rolling and creating math word problems!

 

 

Growth Mindset Part 1: Math

We have all failed at something, and my personal list could take up this entire blog.  Here are just a few from the list: getting a job I wanted, receiving an “A” in a class, catching a plane on time (that only happened once in my life), weaning myself from Pepsi 0 (but still trying), driving a stick shift car, driving in the snow, etc.  How about you?  What have been your failures?  And…..what have you learned from these failures?  THAT’S THE IMPORTANT QUESTION!  When we fail, we need to learn the lesson that the failure taught us!

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Photo courtesy of Laura Gibbs on Flickr; check out her blog at http://growthmindsetmemes.blogspot.com/

“Raise your hand if you’ve failed at something.”  That was how I began my work with my 2nd through 6th-grade gifted students at the beginning of the school year.  I ended up getting a response from everyone, and also shared my own story.  I used this discussion to launch my theme for the school year, Growth Mindset, a term coined by Carol Dweck.  I had been introduced to this concept the previous year when my GT Facilitator job at an elementary school (we will call it School #1) was cut to two days (funding, funding, funding) and found a second part-time job, also as a GT Facilitator at another elementary school (School #2) in the same district.  This school had Growth Mindset as their theme for the year…with both students and staff.  At every staff meeting, we saw a video based on this theme or did an activity, and we all received cool staff shirts that said “Fail.Learn.Grow”.

I quickly realized how important this concept was in working with gifted students.  Some, not all, are perfectionists and tend to not try new things if they might fail.  Check out this excellent blog post by Gail Post with more about this fear of failure in gifted kids. I decided immediately that my job as their teacher was to invite them to failure…to ensure that they would fail!  My almost daily question to the students that year became, “What my job at this school?”  And the response:  “To frustrate us and make us fail!”.  In other words, told them they would be failing at several things this coming school year!  In order to prevent concerned emails from parents, I had already emailed all parents with information on this concept and links to resources.

Next, I had to come up with activities to ensure their failure, learning, and growth.  I decided to focus on math, as that has always been my “fear of failure” area. In addition, I had students who really needed some advanced math challenges! Below are some of the activities we did, along with photos taken during our learning and growth!

Noetic Math Contest
I was pulling my 2nd and 3rd GT/Highly Able students from their math block a few days a week, so I wanted something incredibly challenging for them…and this fit the bill.  This contest is THE BEST!  They offer practice questions, Problem of the Week (sent right to your email) and many other resources.  I already had some past contest problems from other teachers, so we used our sessions to work on these, and believe me, there were a few failures, lots of frustration, some tears, but a great deal of growth!  I varied between letting them work with a partner or alone.  I think the most important thing I did was never confirm or deny if they had the correct answer to a problem.  Instead, I had them check with other partner sets or individuals to see what answer they had.  If the answers were the same, they could be fairly confident they had the correct one (although a few times there were partners/individuals that both got the same wrong answer), and if they were different, both had to rework the problem.  For those students that were successful first, I sent them out to offer help and support to others.

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They provide an answer and explanation for confused teachers! Source: Noetic Learning Problem of the Week

Below are examples of the problem solving of these 2nd and 3rd-grade students!

One of the Noetic problems was SO difficult; the student and I were working on it for days…even though I had access to the answers, I could not understand WHY it was the answer (it wasn’t only the students who were frustrated!).  I finally emailed Noetic for an explanation!  Below are the problem and the students’ work (I’m sure many of you reading this can instantly come up with the answer…I was a victim of New Math in the 1960s, so be kind!)Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 7.54.04 PM

Before they took their first contest, I had to have a serious talk with them about possible results.  I told them that these contests were difficult and they should be very proud of even trying it out!  When the results came back, with the first contest results ranging from 1/20 to 10/20 correct, I did the pep talk thing again. I handed back the contest papers and challenged the students to try incorrect ones again, and then explain to us where they went wrong the first time around.  What an incredible growth experience this was!

Math Olympiad
While I had heard of this contest for students in grades 4-8, I finally had a chance to be involved during that year at the Growth Mindset-themed school.  As part of my job, I was one of the coordinators of the practice sessions and contests.  And wow…those practice and contest problems were challenging!  I tried working them before each practice session and was often flummoxed myself (fortunately the practice book provides strategies and answers, and so do the actual contest problems.  During practice sessions, we had students choose between working in pairs or individually, and I did the same thing as in Noetic when students came up for answers, I had them go verify and check with others. When the contests were returned, once again a motivation talk was needed as even the most gifted of students often ended up with on 1/5 or 0/5!  I highly recommend either participating in the contest or just using past/practice problems with your students as challenges.  You could even have your own classroom “unofficial” contests!  Here are some sample problems and information.  You can find other sample problems via Google searches.  I was proud that this math-phobic teacher (more on that in future blog posts) then began the contest for the first time ever back at School #1 and I encouraged my GT students to join.  I was especially pleased that two of my 4th-grade girls joined up.  It was extremely challenging for them, but their growth that year was incredible!

Continental Math League
I had used sample CML problems with my GT students at School #1 for a few years, but when I began working at School #2, I was able to be part of the official contest that was offered for primary students (although CML has contests for grades 2-9).  Just as in Math Olympiad, we held practice sessions, working on strategies and building up problem-solving stamina. Once again, these incredibly challenging problems caused, yes, frustration, but also an incredible amount of learning, growth, and pride when an answer was finally correct!  Here’s some work my 1st & 2nd graders were doing on CML problems; that chicken one was a tough one…two of my girls worked on it for weeks; we even had a folder to store all of their work!

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How classroom teachers can use Noetic/Math Olympiad/CML: Have your whole class, or just interested students do the official contest; use as enrichment for advanced math students; send the Problem of the Week home as an optional challenge assignment; post in Google Classroom or Edmodo and award badges for those students who try to solve and explain their thinking! 

Algebra Tiles
So my 6th-grade students at School #2 had an incredible math teacher; she was wonderful at giving those GT kids advanced math work and challenges.  One particular day in her classroom, I noticed the students using some colored tiles…and had them explain them to me.  They were algebra tiles, and the students were using them to solve equations.  I was blown away…I had only ever solved equations in the traditional way and this added an incredible visual dimension!  The students demonstrated solving several equations using the tiles; I was beginning to understand but my traditional methods kept interfering with understanding the visual, hands-on method.  Upon arriving home, I immediately ordered a set as I was already planning to use them with my 6th grade GT kids at School #1.  So at both schools, as I worked with these students, I would have 1/2 the group solve equations with the tiles, and half solve using the traditional method and then compare answers; they would then switch.  Wow!  Incredible growth mindset going on for myself AND for the students!  Take a look at our work below using some paper-made tiles before I bought the real tiles! There are lots of videos on YouTube to help you and your students learn how to use these, and IXL has a great practice activity on using the tiles!  Intermediate teachers can use these as enrichment for advanced math students and/or set up as a math center!

Polynomials - Photo by Jan

The Fibonacci Sequence
Here is a perfect growth mindset opportunity to challenge your intermediate and middle school students, as well as younger gifted students. That same teacher who had her 6th graders using algebra tiles introduced them to the classic rabbit problem and then partnered the students up to try to solve it using any method they wanted to try.  It’s a tribute to her teacher, as well as their previous math teachers that I saw every kind of method being used to solve this, and there were a few students (yes, the amazing ones I was lucky enough to work with) who were able to come up with the answer.  The teacher had students come up and show their methods and work with the document camera.  Check it out!

Please stay tuned for future posts on how I embedded and used this theme of Growth Mindset all year long, down to and even including some fun at our holiday party!  In the meantime, keep on growing your mind!

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Photo courtesy of Laura Gibbs on Flickr; check out her blog at http://growthmindsetmemes.blogspot.com/

 

Teacher Resource Round-Up

Here we go…Blog #2!  First, a HUGE THANK YOU to all of you checked out my first blog and subscribed; I appreciate you more than you can know!

You will be finding out in later posts that I am a HUGE groupie of all things Laura Ingalls Wilder!  I first discovered her in third grade in the Hartman Elementary School library in Omaha, Nebraska…I think it was Little House on the Prairie, but I quickly devoured that and went on to read the rest of her books.  At that young age, I must have already had a love of history and journeys.  I still have that original copy of LHP (below – bought in 1968) and now have all of the books she’s ever written, as well as books about her, about her family, and the Little House series stuff in general.

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My original copy of a beloved book! Notice my name printed with those label makers popular in the 60s and 70s! Photo by Jan

In the book, These Happy Golden Years, Laura became a teacher at the age of 15, in a one-room schoolhouse on the South Dakota prairie. All she had for her resources were her own school books, a blackboard, chalk and the primers for the students; check it out:

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Photo by Jason Klobassa on Flickr. Used with permission.

Today’s teacher needs far more tools! I’m happy to introduce the first of many blog posts about the latest and greatest teacher resources I have found and have been using with my tutoring students, or with the students when I worked in a school.  This week focuses on literacy (many more literacy resources to come in the future)…I hope these are helpful!

 

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 10.38.26 AMReading a-z:  I’m sure you’ve heard of it…the website with all the leveled books…but do you know how much MORE they have?  Yes, I have used this site to make leveled books in the past for my RtI students, and in the present for my tutoring students (leveled text is SO important for struggling readers!), but I have used this website’s resources for fluency practice (they have leveled fluency practice and assessment passages), benchmark assessments, and phonics practice and assessments. The phonics assessments are particularly helpful when first working with a young and/or struggling reader as it can help you understand where this child is at in his or her phonics abilities. There are also oodles of graphic organizers for reading, as well as for vocabulary!  There are so many resources on this site…I keep finding new ones!  I just discovered their close reading passages…short pieces of leveled text to strengthen students’ critical thinking skills. Reading a-z is not free; a school can either buy a license for or some classrooms or a teacher can buy an individual license for their own classroom.  The cost is $109.95 for a year’s license – and worth every penny; I bought a license to use with all my tutoring students.

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Newsela
Oh, how I adore this site!  I have used it for four years now, both with my gifted/highly able students and with my tutoring students, many of whom are struggling readers.  Thousands upon thousands of leveled articles for students grades 2 through high school.  Every topic you can think of is here…current events, world issues, history, science, politics, kid stuff, biographies, primary sources, famous speeches and more!  You can choose the level of the article, assign to your students and have them read and then take the quiz or do a reading response.  The articles can be printed out and used for guided reading, especially in the intermediate grades where it’s harder to find leveled text for groups. Newsela can be used as homework, independent reading or in literacy stations. I just use the free version, but that’s all I need for my students.  Purchasing Newsela PRO can provide classroom teachers with more options; check with your school administration to see if they can fund this.  For comparison of the free vs. PRO version, click HERE.https://quizlet.com/features/live

A few of my favorite literacy apps!

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Quizlet – I use this ALL the time with my tutoring students!  When we read books, Newsela articles or other passages, if there is a word they don’t know, I add it to their personal folder in Quizlet. You can share the folder with your students, or have them join their class to study the words.  I also create lists of words they miscue in fluency practice passages or assessments and use others’ lists of Fry Sight Words (you can import lists other teachers have created into your class!).  These lists are great to have students practice for the first or last five minutes of tutoring sessions. After enough practice, I will have them take the test on the word. There are also games they can play with the words! I would LOVE to use Quizlet Live, but I only work with one student at a time, and this is designed for a group of students. I have given them feedback that they should set it up for us tutors!

Fry Words – I used the app on my iPad as my RtI students played “Around the World”.  All I had to do was hold up the iPad and they would say the word. No small flashcards!  This app is appropriate for all elementary grades and struggling older readers.

iSort Words – Students have to sort words based on their beginning and endings.  The app will keep track of how many they get right and their time.   Check out a preview video HERE.  Grades: 1st and 2nd grade, as well as struggling intermediate students.

Reading Comprehension: Fable Edition
Perfect for a literacy center of independent reading, this app provides elementary age students with a variety of stories to choose from and offers practice with vocabulary words and a comprehension quiz.  You could easily use this for comprehension progress monitoring data.  Grades: 1st – 5th

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Story Cubes
I can’t remember how/where I first discovered this app (based on the actual Story Cubes that come in a box), but it was many years ago when I was an elementary school literacy specialist.  Being one of the few certified teachers who did not have a classroom, I was often called on to cover a classroom when a sub didn’t show up or a teacher had to leave early.  I’ve always had this deep-rooted fear of being in a classroom and having nothing to do, so I quickly created a toolbox, both literal and digital, of activities I could do with any age of students.  Story Cubes was always a big hit!  I would put my iPad under the document camera, shake the iPad and the cubes would roll around.  Once they “landed”, the students and I would discuss what the images were on the cubes.  Many were open to interpretation…see my screenshot from below!  Once we all decided on what the images were (I listed our decisions on the board), the students were off and writing.  After a specified amount of time, I would have students partner up to share what they had so far and offer suggestions.  After another amount of time, I would use a choice wheel or other fair way of choosing which students could come up and be in the Author’s Chair and share.  You would not believe the variety of stories you will get, even if you have already decided on the images!  Students then can have the option of taking the draft to completion or not.  I developed a graphic organizer for students to use; they sketch the cube on the left and then write their description of what the cube depicts on the right.  Then they plan their story. You can access this resource for FREE by clicking HERE!
A variation is to roll the cubes under the doc cam and then let EACH student decide on their own what the images are, then create their story.  I did this with several third gifted students, and while I let them each decide on the images, but one of them was a pyramid, so I got several Egypt stories! This app, or the actual box of cubes (which you can purchase on Amazon, at Walmart or Target and other places), would make a fantastic literacy center as well!

Last but not least…a few literacy hands-on games!
Word Monkeys
I love this game…and loved using it with my RtI reading groups and still use with my tutoring students! Now if I could just get my friends to come over and play it with me… This game has students trying to create words with the various cards in their hand.  The more letters they can play, the more points they earn.  I help my struggling readers out by telling them how many words they can make with the cards in their hands.  If they immediately plan a two letter word, I ask them if they’re sure they can’t play a larger word for more points.  This really gets them to think about how to put together digraphs, blends, vowels, and consonants to make words!

Word Shark
Another fun word building game!  Students are given board with either blank side or a side with words missing the first letter. For the blank side, students take turns choosing both a vowel and a consonant and try to make words with each turn. For the missing first letter side, students choose consonants and try to make words.  The first one to fill up their board wins!
IMG_7481.JPG That’s it for now!  If you have also used any of these resources, please comment below and let me know what you think of them.  If you try any for the first time, also comment!  Stay tuned for more virtual mentoring, and in the meantime, hang in there, teachers!  You are all my heroes!