Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Testing Idea # 2

Testing mode is here and is definitely staying for the next couple of weeks. My school goes up to 8th grade and we are basically frozen till everyone is done with testing. To get out of these testing blue, I like to provide activity to my students that are engaging but yet serves as a release from the big test.

Now instead of caving in to give the kids free time, I like to do small activities where they still can have sort of a break. Yesterday activity was to write a note of encouragement to a friend. Today activity includes reading and writing poem.

Today we learned about two types of poems cinquain and acrostic poems. These two styles of poems are super for kids to explore and venture out with words. My students loved the idea and to my surprise eager to start. I also added in that after the poem is perfect they can type it in the computer. And this is where the crowd went wild!

Here is a recap of what we did…

#1: Review the difference between an Acrostic Poem and Cinquain Poem

click here to get this as a PDF file

#2: Show examples of both poems 
#3: Brainstorm and Write! 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Testing Blues

The time has arrived for the day we have all been waiting for, Testing Day! This is the part where I sigh and cross my finger for the time to fly by. But, this never comes true! Instead time passes by slowly and the clock hands seem to slow down. I also have to mentally prepare myself to stand up for a minimum of two hours. Yes, two hours even though it’s a 70 minute test.

As I am trying to pass my testing blue, I think about ways to fill the rest of the day with activities that are fun but yet the kids can gain some educational value as well. For the first day, I decided to make note cards of encouragement. I have paired up two students together to leave each other notes of encouragement before the test.

I feel that at times with the pressure of testing and doing their best, we forget how important is to slow down and feel encourage by others. I remember as a kid my parents would rotate each day of big exams such as these and write me little notes.  Some notes were just silly and full of happiness. Nevertheless, they shape my day and attitude for those pesky big tests.
Today, I encourage my students to the same. At the same time, I was able to do a quick review of parts of a letter and writing. The kids loved the idea and thought it was AWESOME ! They all can’t wait to come tomorrow to class and share their notes with each other. 

I will be sharing pictures of the note cards and delivery tomorrow. 

What are some ways you encourage kids to support each other in the classroom? 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Best Practices In The Classroom

Once I released responsibility to the kiddos yesterday, I decided to take a step back and analyze what can go better. I even caught on tape those moments of glory and moments of despair.  As I was watching the video, I started taking notes on their behaviors and anything that I thought was worth it.
 I quickly realized that many of the students thinking changed from one point of view to another. Before starting to teach the reciprocal strategies I gave a reading survey to analyze the students thinking and attitude towards reading strategies in general. In the pre- assessment I discovered that many of them were aware of strategies but did not really know how to use them. Another portion of the students felt that certain strategies were used for certain parts of the story only.    
As soon as I glanced back at my notes I realized that my students still need support. They were proficient in using the strategy when they had guidance on where to use them.  Eventually, my notes turned into a list of “myths” and teacher solution on how to break them.

One thing that I have to point out is that regardless of the outcome of yesterday their way of thinking has taken a turn. They understand that strategies are a game plan but for reading. This is how I explained it to them earlier in the year. One cannot read without having some sort of plan to understand the text. This is where reading strategies come into effect. To comprehend the text the reader must engage physically and mentally to accomplish this goals.

All reading strategies are successful when the reader becomes aware of when and how to use it. As teachers, we teach these strategies to facilitate comprehension and interaction with the text. Even though we have preference over certain strategies it’s always good for students to know an array of them in order to pick when necessary. The more the students know the better they are equipped to tackle whatever they are reading.

What other “myths” have you discover your students to have?                      

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Big Step: Releasing Responsability

After modeling for a long period of time the reciprocal teaching strategy, I decided the students were ready to take it one step further. Today, I release responsibility to them. Not all the way, but I wanted to evaluate and observe what they have learned. One of the greatest things about releasing responsibility is not only to evaluate them but to analyze my own teaching skills. Once I felt they were ready, I crossed my fingers and waited in anticipation what they will do as I observed them. In my class I feel that this can be a scary moment but at the same time a milestone. I know you might be thinking its ok! But, really the way I see it can be best describe with a quote from Maria Montessori:
When the students are ready for such responsibility to be place upon them, the end product will always tell me a lot about my teaching practices and what they still need to learn. Again, it’s a perfect time for a major reflection.
So, let me share with you the excitement of today’s observation. I first started with a small group instead of the whole class. I wanted to see a smaller group first, to capture every detail from their conversations to their behaviors. The group I chose was chosen based which I expected them to do well, since they love to share all the time.
To take the reciprocal teaching strategy one step further I decided to do it in small steps. I did not want to overwhelm them, so I made four cards with the first letter that represented each of the four strategies. They randomly pick a card without knowing what it meant. I proceed to explain to them that today they will have the role of the teacher. They will also be responsible for the strategy they picked. At this point some were smiling and others were just in shock.
I proceed to do a quick review of the four strategies by using the bookmark that I made for them. After the review, I assured them that I was going to intervene if I felt they were going off topic. And this is where its gets interesting.
Student 1 began reading and halfway remembered that it was a good time to make a prediction. He then realized that he was responsible for summarizing and not predicting. He made the prediction and continued to read. I noticed that the other students were not really pay attention, they just continued to read. At some point there was just a salient silence among the group. They looked at each other back and forth confused and not sure what to say next. At this point, I had to intervene and guide them in the right direction. I decided to start again but this time kicking off the conversation and slowly disappearing in the background of their great conversations. After the push, they had some moments of glory and then it went back to the looking for the teacher.

Overall, for the first try they did their best and that is all I can ask for. I thought they were going to be chattier but instead I felt they were looking for reassurance. The start was rocky but thank goodness there is always tomorrow.
How do you release responsibility in your classroom?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Testing Crunch Time

Testing mode is just around the corner for many students. Many upper graders have gone through the endless routines of drills either in reading or math.  Before I began the famous testing countdown I knew that drilling wasn’t the way to go. From pastexperience, I know a good foundation and solid instruction is what brings high test result. But, what happens to the students who still receive solid and quality instruction throughout the year and are still struggling? This is the question that ended my happy teaching week.

As a teacher, I know I have given my best and pushed for higher thinking. When I reflect on my practices in the classroom I can say with confidence that everyone has received research instruction and high expectations were expected from everyone. As a class we have built a community of readers and writers who support each other and have learned to work in harmony. However, there are still a handful of students whose progress has not been enough to put them at grade level.
So what do we do with these kids? Do we give up? Of course not! We encourage them and continue to teach till the last minute. As a result, I resort to two of my go to strategies for those pesky standardized test.

click here to get All About Question & Answer Relationship (QAR) in PDF.

Click here to get All About Reciprocal Reaching in PDF file.
What are your go to strategies during crunch time?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Monthly Reflections in Pictures

April is here and so am I! I love the start of a new month. It is a time I use to reflect upon my previous month and come up with new goals. I also like to share my reflection process with my students. I love how now they are looking forward to it. One of the main tools I use for reflection in the classroom is the use of pictures. It is incredible to look back and see all the things we have accomplished.

As a result, I wanted to share with you my class reflection poster for the last two months that has passed oh so quickly and of course the famous April currently made by Farley over at Oh Boy Fourth Grade