Sunday, August 14, 2016

Classroom Management: Put in the Time to Save Time!

My personal philosophy on classroom management boils down to this: Put in the Time to Save Time.

At the beginning of the school year, I focus very much on social skills, expectations, and procedures. I truly believe that when students know how the classroom functions, there is more room for learning. I have seen teachers who ignore the need to teach these things at the beginning of the school year and it ends up interrupting the classroom and wastes so much time. If I could give first year teachers any bit of advice, I would say spend as much time on procedures and expectations as needed! I remember one year, I had to literally repeat how to come to the carpet from their desks five times before my cute little third graders did it correctly! Thankfully, by the time they come to me (now) in 5th grade they can pretty much follow classroom procedures after they are explained. However... my little lovelies do benefit greatly by explicitly being taught social skills and how to get along with one another respectfully. 

I block out a time in my day to teach these skills and add any others, as needed:
1. Advocate for Oneself
2. Make a Complaint
3. Make an Apology
4. Disagree Appropriately
5. Choose Appropriate Words 

The procedure is (Day 1) brainstorm what why the skill is important and discuss how it can help facilitate a productive classroom, friendship, family life, etc. I share with them the poster for steps to follow in order to be successful with this social skill. Then students complete a "Think Sheet" as homework which is provided for every skill in the book, More Tools for Teaching Social Skills in School Grades 3-12
(Day 2) Role Play situations in which the skill would be practiced. I mostly do this in small groups and sometimes with partners.
(Day 3) Students play Community Building game to enhance the bond between each other (Great Group Games Book)
(Day 4) Real life - We discuss when they have used this skill in the past week. How did it turn out? Were you successful? If not, why? If so, why? How did it feel?

I hang the posters up around the classroom and continue to refer to them for the rest of the school year. I have a Class Meeting once a week and sometimes this is a great moment to reflect on these skills. I also am able to refer to the posters when students come to me privately with a problem. I have found that these 5 skills are the ones that, typically, my fifth graders need guidance in using. However, I have added more as the year goes on, as necessary.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Check Out My Writing Center!

I am taking my classroom piece by piece as I get ready for the school year. Today I worked a little bit on my Writing Center (along with organizing a box of posters I never use anymore, but refuse to throw away, cleaning and reorganizing my giant bookshelf behind my desk, and straight cleaning dirt off of things!). I kept everything the same as in the past few years, but added something a little special....

 Each of the boxes on the shelf hold supplies (extra lined paper, white boards, clipboards, dictionaries and thesauruses). The black box on the last shelf is for published student work) 

Notice that binder behind the pens? I put that together in an effort to keep all of the anchor charts I use during each writing unit! The *plan* is to keep adding to the binder as I work my way through lessons and then students will have a place to go for reference and reminders. 

The binder is set up by genre, although I have the very first section as a plethora of topics for when students get stuck and can't think of any ideas!

After I begin the Narrative Writing Unit and every time I use an anchor chart during a lesson, I will place it in the Narrative Writing section in the binder. If anyone is absent or needs a reminder of the lesson, that is where he or she should go. It's perfect! I made it easy for myself so I can keep up with it. It's easy because I use a document camera to project the anchor charts that I use, so they are all the size of a regular piece of paper. This is also easy because I make these charts on the computer and not on poster paper. 

This next idea I "borrowed" from another teacher many years ago when I was scouring blogs, so I forget who it was, but I love it! I put each student name on a cut-out of a pencil and a magnet on the back. The trays are from the Dollar Tree. I glued thumbtacks to the back of those so I could hang them from the wall. Students track where they are in the writing center by moving their pencil from one step in the writing process to the next. I have my pencil up there, too. That way, students can judge how far behind they are if they are not working in the same step as where my pencil is placed. I also use a calendar at the front of the room where I will label each week with what step of the writing process I will be teaching. Over the years, I realized that these two methods are the best ways to keep students on track and accountable for their work. 

If you are interested in any of the writing units that I teach, feel free to click on the links below to get a preview!
But, first! Check out how I organize the writing materials (notebook and binders) the students use by clicking on the link! How I Organize Student Writing Material



Wednesday, August 3, 2016

As a Teacher, I Cannot Vote for Donald Trump and here is why.

Disclaimer: I have family members who are Trump supporters and had some really good conversations with them, so I understand why some people are voting for Trump. However, I cannot. My goal in this post is not to offend anyone (teacher or otherwise), but to speak up for what I believe in. I am not trying to convince readers, but simply stating my opinion. If your opinion is different than mine, I respect that and I hope that you respect mine as well. Thank you <3

If you haven’t been following my blog or are new here, then you may not know that I had the privilege of writing my entire fifth grade curriculum (with the exception of Math). Four years ago, I found the exact kind of school I was looking for - a school that gives me the trust and freedom to do what I think is best for my students. The number one greatest joy I get from this kind of an opportunity is that it gives me the chance, every single school year, to teach my students how to be the best versions of themselves. That is the over-arching theme in my classroom and what I continue to come back to throughout the entire school year.
And although my curriculum teaches academics, it also focuses very much on being a good person and a positive part of society. It is because of what I believe and what I teach every day that I will not be able to look my students in the eyes and tell them that I will vote for Donald Trump. There is no way that I could teach my curriculum and at the same time tell my students that I am voting for a man who goes against every moral value I expect my students to uphold. I was in bed the other night thinking about each one of my units of study and how Donald Trump just doesn’t fit into the equation. Let me break it down for you.

Unit 1: Building a Community of Kind Learners
The title of this unit alone makes it pretty obvious as to why I couldn’t vote for a man who clearly does not demonstrate kindness even in the least. Some examples include making up nicknames for his opponents so much so that the general public is being brainwashed into believing the names and lies actually identify these people’s personalities and things they have done, he degrades women and comments on their looks, he announced that he could shoot someone on the street and not lose a vote, he called President Obama the most ignorant and worst president we’ve ever had and so on. Of course, this isn’t it. I could list more examples, but keep reading. You’ll see those examples come up to support other points I plan to make.

During Unit 1, I also teach about the 5 major religions. Students make connections between religious beliefs and the choices people make. We also discuss the importance of learning about the different religions so that we appreciate people who are different from us. Learning about religion gives students the opportunity to UNDERSTAND those who have different beliefs. This type of learning helps create a productive and tolerant society. Obviously proposing a ban on people because of their religion does not help support my teaching objectives in this part of the unit.
Unit 1 has an over-arching goal to bring the classroom together and realize that our differences from one another are what make our classroom successful.  To then tell my students that I voted for a man who wants to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of our country as well as set a ban on all Muslims from entering, well that would make me a hypocrite.

Unit 2: Alaskan Exploration and Research-Based Learning
Part of this unit in particular teaches about the Alaskan culture and so again, we get into appreciating the different ways in which people choose to live their lives. This part of the school year will be during the months of Oct – Dec.; right before and right after the election. So, it is only natural that I will be incorporating a project and activities that teach about how elections work, goals of politicians, states they need to win and how that all works. We will dabble in propaganda a bit (but focus more on that in Unit 4) and without a doubt, students will be expressing who they would vote for if they were old enough. I hope to share clips from debates, but after how I saw Donald Trump act and things he said in the primaries… well, I have a vested interest in keeping my job, so I am not sure that is a possibility yet.

Unit 3: American History and the Struggle for Human Rights (Focus: WWII , Civil Rights Movement and Exceptional Children’s Education)
During this unit, I start with teaching students about Japanese Internment Camps during WWII, the Holocaust and the role women played at home in our states. We discuss the importance and goal of learning about such a dark time in history – so that history does NOT repeat itself. Students inevitably make the connection between having the Japanese-Americans put into camps and essentially blamed for Pearl Harbor along with the general reaction of people becoming racist against Japanese-Americans because our government was publicly accusing them of the attack on our land. The connection?  Donald Trump is essentially blaming all Muslims for the terrorist attacks and he is proposing a ban on them coming into our country. There is no doubt that because of the rhetoric he spews, Americans are becoming afraid of and prejudice against Muslims. He is also calling for a wall to be built to keep Mexicans out because he said “the ones that come over are stealing from us, taking our jobs, killing our people and raping our women.” Hmm now what kind of thoughts do you think this feeds into the minds of those who are susceptible to this type of influence, our kids? Do you think the lives of Muslims and Mexicans in our country have become easier or more difficult since Trump has been given a podium on a stage?
My school backs up to a neighborhood that is mostly made up of Latinos. Students see these families every morning when they come to school, sometimes after school kids from the neighborhood come to our campus and play on the swings and field. There have been instances of vandalism on our property and I make sure to remind my students that we cannot blame those who come here to play. It wouldn’t make sense anyway, but here they have a very influential man going on TV and swearing up and down there needs to be a wall to keep these horrible people out. I can see where my students would be made confused as to what to think. Surely he must be telling the truth if he is our elected nominee, and even more so if he is our president!

In the last part of Unit 3, I teach students about exceptional children; those with physical disabilities and learning disabilities. We read a memoir from a girl who had dyscalculia and struggled throughout school, but learned she had a talent for writing. We visit a coffee shop in town owned by a mother with two children who have Down Syndrome. Every person hired at the coffee shop has Down Syndrome, so I bring my class there as a way to honor the commitment to a beautiful cause. I invite guest speakers that  work to advocate and educate children with disabilities. I don’t think I even need to explain about the time Donald Trump imitated and degraded a reporter with a disability and how that clearly does not align with what I teach. It makes me sick to my stomach to know that a man who did that could be our next president.

A president is someone who has a moral standing unlike most. Someone who is respectful, caring, compassionate, understanding. Someone who can relate to the people. Not someone who makes snap judgements and decisions and says when someone else viciously attacks him, he will always strike back, even if it is a grieving Gold Star family. Presidents should be above that. Presidents are supposed to teach our children how to face adversity and be a ROLE MODEL. A person who children aspire to be. If any one of my students told me that they aspire to be Donald Trump, I would have to ask why and then counsel the student.

Unit 4: Media and the World Around Us
During this unit, I teach about the media and the influences they have on the choices we make. I teach students about the importance of doing their own research and challenging information they find on the internet. We talk about facts. For example, numbers not mentioned or situations not accounted for and how that can skew a finding in order to influence a common belief. We talk about good questions to ask someone. I also teach about the importance of LISTENING and the goal not being to necessarily convince your audience, but to understand them. We use the internet. However, I would have to tell my students that they are not allowed to search for images of our potential next first lady for fear of inappropriate images coming up in the search.  
Among all of these social and academic objectives that I teach my students, throughout the entire school year, I am constantly coming back to and reminding my students of these lessons: How to have an argument with each other, how to apologize and how to advocate RESPECTFULLY for themselves and their friends. Most importantly, I teach them that if they see someone being treated unfairly or doing something they do not think is right, then they must speak up. If they don’t, I tell my students that they are then condoning the behavior they believe to be wrong. So, in taking my own advice and teaching, I cannot sit back and not say anything when I see Donald Trump insult a grieving Gold Star family because he felt attacked. I cannot sit back and stay silent when he mocks a reporter with a disability. I cannot look the other way or worse, make an excuse and say “well Hillary” – when I see him look into the camera at a press meeting and tell Russia if they are listening that he hopes they find his opponent’s emails and says Vladimir Putin is a “strong leader,  a better leader than our President Obama”. If I did not say something, or make it clear I do not agree with him, then I am no better. I also want my students to be very clear and not question whether I do or do not support Donald Trump. My students will know that I do not support the negativity and hate.

Lastly, I refuse to help set this new precedent for a US President. Donald Trump is not presidential material in more ways then I care to describe in this post. If as a teacher I can’t repeat what he says and expect to keep my job, then why would I help to give him the highest ranking job in our country? He says he doesn’t want to be politically correct, but no one told him that political correctness means to display kindness and compassion, to be nonjudgmental. A politician needs to be politically correct!  As much as he says he isn’t a politician, he is now applying for that job.

Unfortunately, because he was nominated as our Republican candidate, this election becomes less about policy (though he doesn’t have any of those either), and more about morals and choosing between what is right and what is wrong. When November comes and I have to vote, I will tell my students that I will CHOOSE KIND just like I tell them to do. 
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