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Saturday, February 27, 2016

When a Student Moves Away

Do you remember when your friend moved away in grade school?  Or maybe YOU were the one that moved away during those elementary school years.  I can still remember the names of my classmates that moved away: Linda, MaryBeth, Martha and that was many decades ago. Do you remember how you felt...sad, confused, hurt, nervous, heartbroken or a combination of these? 

Well, yesterday our class had to say good bye to one of our own.  Not only was this hard on the student who was leaving, but for many of the classmates. 

Fortunately, the school knew in advance that the child was leaving which gave us the opportunity to make some preparations for his departure.  (When Martha left we had no idea - she just wasn't in school the next day!) Informing the class ahead of time (when the student was out of the room) and answering their questions made a difference in how students would deal with the change.  Speaking privately to the student moving allowed him to share his thoughts and feelings.  A deep sense of loss was shared by many.

Luckily, we live in a day where technology can help us stay connected.  (When Linda moved away we lost touch until we recently found each other on Facebook).  Now we have so many ways to contact with those that move.  Hopefully, this student's new class will be willing to Skype with us. 

On the last day we were able to present the child with some gifts.  Students each made a page for a book.  "A Day In Our School Without Our Friend is Like..."  an Xbox without games; a banana split without bananas or ice cream; a hotdog without the dog; the stars on a lonely night.  Along with these were sentiments of how and why the student would be missed and a picture of the page's author.  A school tee-shirt was signed by all the classmates and some other small gifts were shared.
It's never easy to say good-bye but as educators we can help all involved cope with the change.  Here are some resources that might be of assistance.

7 Great Children's Books About Moving 
Education World - Student Mobility: Helping Children Cope with a Moving Experience
We Are Teachers: 5 Ways to Say Goodbye to a Moving Student


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Student Self-Selected Book Clubs

When it comes to reading, what's better than sinking your teeth into a good book?  For me, and for many others, it would be sharing our thoughts and ideas about that good book. Well, it's no different for 10 year olds!

This year I have seen the empowerment of  "shared" reading with my students via a "book club."  Over the years students in my class have participated in "Literature Circles" mostly with success.  Somehow though, the groups seem to be driven by me (with specific roles for each participant) or by the choices of books that are available in bulk.
A few weeks back a student approached me for a book recommendation during our Media time.  I led her to a personal favorite, "Stone Fox"  by John Reynolds Gardiner.  When another student overheard, I suggested they read together.  A third student overheard the conversation and wanted to join in. Fortunately, I have several copies of that wonderful book. 

This idea of reading together sparked the interest of another group of three students.  Quickly, scanning my classroom library I tried to find some books that might appeal to them.  I came  up with several I thought might interest them (of course these books were partly chosen because I had more than one copy.) As we were pouring over the library we came to the book, "Chasing Lincoln's Killers" by James Swanson. That was it! The boys were beside themselves as they anticipated reading this book together.  The problem - I only had one copy.  Not to worry, we scoured all the classes in the school.  Unfortunately, we came up with only one other. But we couldn't find a third book.

However, the next day the boys came up to me bristling with excitement.  One of the boys had gone to the local book store and purchased his OWN copy of the book (with his own money!) so they could read it all together!   Amazing!

But here's the really amazing part!  The boys collaborated with each other (without my intervention) deciding which how many pages they would read or when they would complete each chapter.  They used any free time in class to (voluntarily) read together and discuss what was happening.

And the discussions...just priceless!  Each student taking turns, sharing their predictions, their understandings, their questions with one another.  They were looking at maps and doing extra research.  They were learning new vocabulary and helping each other with unfamiliar words. They were recording important information in a Google Doc.

However, the best part was when they invited me to read along with them! They wanted me to learn about what they were reading.  Each time we sat down together, they would catch me up on what they had learned - showing true understanding.  All of this because they shared an interest in the story!  

Hoping this wonderful love of 'group reading' will continue.  It has inspired other students in the classroom to read together.  It's great to see the collaboration and shared interests.

Literature Circle Resources:

Read Write Think:  Lesson Plan: Literature Circles w/ Primary Students Using Self Selected Reading
Education World:  Literature Circles Build Excitement for Books
PBS: Book Clubs for Kids
Great Kids: It's not just for Oprah: Book Clubs for Kids

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Leading a Thankful Revolution

Thank You notes to Donors of WalkKits
A few years ago @coolcatteacher Vicki Davis, published a blog post titled,  Why Teachers Should Help Lead a Thankful Revolution.  Basically it was about helping children 'build thankfulness as a habit.'  This idea reminds me of Angela Maeirs' "You Matter" campaign.  Both of these inspired me to start a "Thankful Revolution" with my students.  But for some reason, it never really expanded beyond what I was already doing in my classroom. 

My students still carry on the tradition of sending hand-written thank you's to veterans for Veteran's Day and again during the Holidays.  The students have also mailed a note of thanks to a family member during Thanksgiving and then for gift during the the holidays.  Again, these are not new to to our class repertoire (and you can read about previous posts here: Veterans Thank Yous and Thank Yous with a Twist. ) We have expanded writing Thank Yous to donors who provide different resources to our classroom (like Donors Choose or from Donors of the Walking Classroom). While these ideas continue to be meaningful, in the back of my mind I keep thinking that I need to make the "Thankful Revolution" more of a daily ritual or habit.

In early December I attended a workshop on the Responsive Classroom. "Responsive Classroom is a research-based approach to teaching that focuses on the strong link between academic success and social-emotional skills. We believe that a high-quality education for every child is built on the foundation of a safe and joyful learning community." It is a hope that by incorporating some of the RC strategies, such as the Morning Meeting, we will begin the journey towards becoming more appreciative for one another with the idea of moving this beyond our classmates.

Each morning after the Pledge, (Yes We Still Say the Pledege of Allegiance), we go around the room, look a classmate in the eye, say their name and extend a pleasant greeting. The greeting is returned in the same way.  We end our day in this manner as well.  At first it was awkward with giggles and quick responses.  Now that we have been doing this for a couple weeks the students are more comfortable and giving better eye contact. This was a step toward extending simple courtesies to one another.

Thank You for the Gift!
Going forward we are going to broaden the "Thankful Revolution" to those times when a student shares his/her work.  After sharing or receiving feedback the students will 'thank one another' something like this:  "Thank you Katelyn for explaining your math ideas." "Your welcome, Jake."  Using a person's name is more powerful and sincere when saying thank you.

Other plans to Lead a Thankful Revolution in our Classroom will include:
  • Handwritten Notes: to a classmate or other school member for helping out in some way 
  • Acknowledge Absence: When a student is absent a classmate will welcome the student back.  (A student will also keep track papers making sure the absent student returns to a neat desk. The absent student will respond with a thank you!)
  • Public Praise:  Students will publicly thank a classmate or school member.  This could be done using a Pic Collage, a Sticky Note on Padlet (see below), a video,
  • Peer Applause: Time will be given once a week for students to give specific "Peer Applause" to a classmate for a job well done!  (We do this at every other staff meeting - it's nice to receive positive feedback from a peer for something.)
  • Small Token of Appreciation: Students will be encouraged to leave a small surprise for a classmate who has been especially kind to them: the gift could be a sticky note with a smiley face, a drawing, a homemade trinket (origami, bookmark, tissue flower, etc)

Once we have become comfortable and familiar with thanking a classmate, it is my hope to extend this beyond the walls of our classroom and our school.

Please share your ideas in the comments below on how the idea of a "Thankful Revolution" can be expanded!