Teacher Theatrics

I saw this picture on a site where the followers' reactions were mixed ... some thought it was funny, others thought it was sad and discouraging. I can see why it's both, but I think the message we can take from it is that we should be designing lessons and activities that captivate children. We cannot continue to teach in ways that don't excite their curiosity and provide opportunities for authentic learning experiences. Although we hear a lot about "the 21st century learner," we don't have to feel limited by our lack of the best, most current technology available on the market. It changes faster than school budgets can keep up with and we all know that many kids have devices at home that are typically better than what we're providing in our schools anyway. But we can grab kids' attention in other ways ... by planning rich, hands-on instruction and inviting children to discover, collaborate, think critically, create, and lead. We need to move away from old ways. I think that's the point.

And yes ... creative teacher-theatrics help. Ms. Mosquito gets it. 

(Is she a mosquito? She looks like a mosquito.)

Empowering Children to Speak Their Mind

Recently, I received a "Friend Request" on Facebook from one of my former first grade students who is now in middle school. There are a lot of things I think about this, so I'm not really sure what I'm going to write, but I promise to get to the topic of the title eventually.  

I'm struck by the fact that she (1) remembers me and (2) wants to be my friend on social media.  Her mother told me that she's limiting her FB friends as she starts out, so the fact that this sweet girl chose me to be on her short list not only surprises me, but makes me feel so grateful to be included.

So here are some of my thoughts:

BUILDING RAPPORT: Primary teachers sometimes wonder about the impact they have on their young students because we rarely get to know them much past their early elementary years. But a moment like this reminds me that if we are intentional and kind and take the time to celebrate who they are, they will respond by forming bonds and memories that may end up looking like a Friend Request several years later. When you touch a heart and make that kind of impression, the imprint is there forever. We can't forget that... it's both a gift and a responsibility.  Be human and be trustworthy.  Let them into your life and they will let you into theirs.

PARTNERING WITH FAMILIES: Let's not pretend this doesn't matter.  If children are important to us, then their families are, too.  We have to make the time to create relationships with them as well.  I have no doubt that the relationship I have with this student is also because I took the time to get to know her family... and because we worked to establish trust way back then, her parents felt comfortable letting her connect with me all these years later.  I LOVE getting to be part of their lives... not just their first-grade lives, but their teenage and early-adult lives, too. It has been really cool watching some of my first-ever students go off to college this year... what an honor to be included in that part of their ongoing journey!

EMPOWERING STUDENTS: I have always been a huge advocate for children and I believe even our youngest students have really smart things to say if we give them the time, space, and courtesy to think and develop their ideas.  I am rarely underwhelmed by what they bring to a conversation.  I also know many adults who avoid confrontation and who think it's impolite to disagree with others.  But it isn't if it's done respectfully and with the mutual intent to try to understand both sides.  That's why I think we should be teaching this kind of friendly discourse in early elementary classrooms. 

What happens next is the fruit of that labor.  

One day, I posted this picture from Chrissy Metz's new movie Breakthrough on my Facebook page.   

Taylor, my sweet former first grader, saw it and started commenting on that thread:

Ok... first of all, I love Taylor because she and her mom watch This Is Us, one of the best shows on television.  (If you aren't watching it, you need to start!)

Then notice how I subtly share my personal opinions about Kevin... lol.

And Taylor has no problem at all disagreeing with me:

Some people might think, "I can't believe she disagreed with you!"  But I'm thinking, "Yay... she disagrees with me!"  First of all, she's right.  Kevin CAN be a big jerk sometimes (even though he's super cute), but notice how she maintains diplomacy and also recognizes something positive about his character.  Not only is she aware of his complex issues, but she honors me in the conversation by adding in that perspective. 

It's a short exchange so it might be easy to miss this, but this is who Taylor is.  This is who these kids are.  This is what we want... kids who can form their own opinions, who aren't afraid to express them to others, and who can maintain civility with a potentially charged topic.  

(I can see future-Taylor being able to have a civil discussion about politics one day.  Can't you?)

And then, realizing the nature of our conversation, she, ON HER OWN, switches over to Facebook Messenger to continue talking to me.  She instinctively knows this conversation is maybe best held in private, or at least in a place where we won't keep bothering others with our constant notifications. 

Doesn't her first comment to me sound like teacher-talk?  Love it!

And you can hear her voice clearly coming through in that last comment... EVAAAAA!  (I agree, by the way.  Jack is amazing.) 

I guess I have many takeaways from this, but for sure I'm reminded that primary teachers (all teachers actually) have the opportunity to leave an imprint on a child's heart and mind.  You ARE shaping them.  You ARE leaving them with valuable skills they'll carry into their futures.  You ARE raising a generation.  And you do matter.  And I think that's important to remember because this job is hard and sometimes you wonder if it's worth it.

Well it's worth it.

Just ask Taylor.

The Anatomy of an Anchor Chart

I get asked about anchor charts all the time.  It seems to be a thing a lot of teachers dread making because they think they aren't good at it.  But anchor charts are an important part of any classroom.  They contain key information about the knowledge you want children to learn.  They represent the learning going on in the classroom and they foster independence, so they need to be posted where kids (and yes... anyone who comes into your classroom - GASP) can see them.

These are the three roadblocks I hear most often from teachers:

1.  I can't draw. 

2.  My handwriting isn't pretty.

3.  I can't fit everything on the chart.

Let me throw #2 out right away.  Your students' handwriting isn't pretty either.  It's ok.  And perfection just makes your kids uncomfortable anyway, like they'll never be as good as you.  So let them in on this one flaw of yours. :) However, if you really feel that strongly about it (and your handwriting is truly impossible to read), my tip for that is to print titles and labels from your computer and glue them onto your chart paper.  But seriously, just write with your own hands.  It'll be fine.  I promise.

Alright, I know all you OCD-ers - I'm one, too - are annoyed that I started with #2, so let's go in order now.

About #1, I am not an artist... at all.  

Stick Figures:  But I can draw stick figures which is all an anchor chart really needs.  If you've seen samples of my charts in other posts, you'll see little stick figures and other VERY PLAIN drawings are pretty standard for me.  And, if it makes you feel better, I learned this strategy from super smart teachers who were actually paid to write professional books about anchor charts.  Check out Smarter Charts by Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz or The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo. These are my go-to books.  

Clip Art:  If you need something more complex than a stick figure though, print clip art or images from the Internet.  I do this when I need an image that represents a more complicated concept or idea.

Real Artifacts:  Sometimes, the best visual for an anchor chart is a real sample of something, such as a piece of student work, a chart from a nonfiction text, an annotated article, or a page from a piece of literature. Use the actual sample, if possible, or make a copy of it and attach it to the chart.

(I somehow managed to attach entire books to this chart.  LOL)

Ok, #3... 

If you can't fit everything onto the chart, then you are trying to put WAY too much information on there.  I went to a PD session once where the presenter told us to think of anchor charts the way ad agencies think of billboards.  A driver has about 3-5 seconds to see the content of a billboard while driving by, so the advertisers know their words and images have to be brief, but memorable.  Anchor charts are the same way.  Think of the most important thing you want the children to remember and then figure out how to say it with as few words as possible, using images to help convey ideas.  

If this makes you uncomfortable, remember that the anchor chart "anchors" the lesson, but you're still teaching.  You'll be using the chart during your lesson, so you'll be explaining and facilitating rich discussions to elaborate on the chart... especially if you're using it for several days.  The children will understand and remember the important point from the chart if you take the time to explain it.

Still not sure if "less is more?"  Have you ever been to a training where the presenter had Power Point slides that looked like novels?  (I know you have.)  Don't do that to your anchor charts.  The kids will never use them.

Other Anchor Chart Tips

You can use anchor charts year after year, as long as the content is still up-to-date.  Laminate them for durability and label the standard or topic in the bottom corner so you know how you used it.

If you want to "grow" an anchor chart over time, use sticky notes to gradually add content as you teach it.  The basic shell of the chart can be used over and over, but this allows you the flexibility to change the text or ideas each time you use it.  This is one of my most popular charts on Pinterest.  This anchor chart took 3 days to build.  Each day I used a different colored sticky note and added the the ideas as a I taught them. 

Also, think about using colors intentionally.  On this sample, I used black, red, and green with purpose.  The black part names the character's feeling and the red part provides an example from the text.  The green part (which was my goal for the students' thinking) shows a deeper elaboration of that idea.  The green color symbolized "GO" ... keep that thinking going... dig deeper.  (Again, notice how plain my drawings are.  Trust me... they look NOTHING like the illustrations in the actual picture book.) 

As I think of more, I'll come back and them to this post, but I hope this little bit helps for now.

Happy teaching!

Determining Importance & Main Idea: More Anchor Charts

This is a follow-up post with more anchor charts to help children understand main idea.  A key part in being able to figure out the main idea of a text is being able to determine the importance and identifying the difference between plot and the overall theme. Ultimately, all of these lead to greater comprehension, which is our goal for every reader.  Here are a few of my favorites.

It's not always necessary to come up with ideas for anchor charts on your own.  Sometimes, the ideas just come to me as a natural extension of our lessons and discussions, but other times I think, "Why am I trying to reinvent the wheel?"  Jennifer Serravallo's resource The Reading Strategies Book is a really thorough guide for any reading teacher.  Sometimes I think, "Well, that's brilliant," and I use it exactly like she suggests.  And sometimes I modify her ideas so I can adapt the content for the age of my students.  Check it out:  

Happy teaching!

Teaching Main Idea: Anchor Chart

Here's a great little anchor chart to use with upper elementary students (grades 2-5) when you're working on the concept of main idea.  Readers need to learn that the author is intentional about everything included in the text and that includes not only the words themselves, but special text features.  The features an author chooses to highlight in a selection are usually a good clue as to what the main idea of the passage is.  Teach children to look at these key features when they're trying to synthesize several components and determine the main idea.  

Soon, I'll share another post to include more anchor charts that will support your planning and your kids' understanding of main idea.  Keep an eye out for those...

Happy teaching!

After the Fall: Teaching Perseverance

I found a great book today called After the Fall:  How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat.  

The story picks up where the original tale ends... Humpty has been put back together again.  

But now he's scared.  The fall broke not only his shell, but his courage and confidence, too.  His fears hold him back and they keep him from enjoying the things he used to.  Until, one day, one step at a time, he decides to conquer his greatest fear.

This story is a great support to any discussion you're having about growth mindsets, but it's just a good life lesson as well... even for me... even now.  As a matter of fact, when you're discussing perseverance with your children, plan to share a personal example from your own life.  It's a great way to connect with the kids and will give you credibility when working with them throughout the year.  And the lesson is a good one... young or old... "Life begins when you get back up."

Happy teaching!

Ditch the Teacher Desk

Go on!  Try it.  Ditch your teacher desk.  :)

I just finished reading chapter 18 from Justin Ashley's book The Balanced Teacher Path where he encourages us to take a leap of faith and relocate our desks to the supply closet.  

I moved mine into a classroom closet years ago... but for slightly different reasons.  Take a look at the video to hear some ideas!

Happy teaching!
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