Sep 16, 2017

You Pick: Giving Power to Our Students

First things first: I am not an expert on this topic!  But my teammate is trying it out this year and so I thought I would share what we are doing and WHY.

This summer a small group of us attended Nerd Camp in Michigan.  My teammate, Karen, attended a session on reading rituals and learned about a routine that we are calling "you pick."  Each day two books are displayed.  In the morning, students "vote" on which book they would like to hear read.  That book is then enjoyed by the class and the other one is placed in the classroom library or goes back into the basket of books to be voted on again.  Finally, a picture of the book is put on display so that we can keep a log of all the "you pick" books read aloud during the year.

That's it.

But why?  As a first grade classroom our students are hearing read alouds each and every day; however, the book typically serves some type of teaching purpose.  Maybe we are analyzing the character or we may be looking at the nonfiction text features.  "You pick" (for our class) is about just enjoying a read aloud each and every day just to...enjoy it.  No other reason.  We also want students to understand that they have the power of choice.  And we want to honor their choices.

Here's a little more detail.
Two books are displayed in the hallway.  We will typically put up two books that are shorter because this needs to be a pretty quick read aloud each day.  Here are some of the ones we have done so far this year:

In the Tall, Tall Grass by Denise Fleming versus In the Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming
How Kind by Mary Murphy versus The Neighbor Kid by Daniel Miyares
Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry versus Carrot and Pea by Morag Hood 
The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds versus Ish by Peter H. Reynolds

When students arrive at school in the morning they vote for the book that they would like to hear.  I think there are probably a million ways that this could occur.  The display is in the hallway.  Students place clothespins on a ribbon (fine motor skills!).  This is super easy for a student to take down all the clothespins after the book has been chosen.  Our hope is that putting them on display in the hall will entice other students to check out those books too!

 Finally, we post a picture of each book chosen.  This will help the students to remember all the books that were chosen by them throughout the year.  We decided to make it look like a calendar.  This display of books was not in our original plan; however, with the HP instant ink and a new printer, I am able to print these pictures off much easier than I thought.

There are many teachers out there that are doing a "classroom book a day."  This is just our version of it.  We had to make it work for our first grade students.  But I am really looking forward to the impact that it is going to have on them!


Aug 13, 2017

Relevant Reading: Connecting Students to What Matters

As summer winds down, I reflect on what I've learned this summer through the workshops I've attended, the books I've read, and all the great conversations I've had with professionals.

This quote has had me thinking quite a bit.  It comes from Disruptive Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst.  What they state is absolutely true.  Students need to find relevance in what they are doing right now.

So let's backtrack a little...
I have always been about purpose.  I look at what I'm teaching and ensure that what we are doing serves a purpose.  And I share that with students.  Understanding why we are doing something is very important to me.
Interest is also imperative.  I have always tried to make sure that I am matching the books I choose to the interest of my students.  Interest surveys, conversations, and book selection time have always been informative to me.

But relevance.  This is something much deeper.  It is something you are connected to.  It is something that MATTERS. 

Well...and when I think about I really read anything that isn't relevant to me?  Nope. Not really.

So what do I do now?  I've been thinking a lot about it and my first step is to just ask my first graders.  What issues or problems matter to you? So I added it to my interest survey (click to grab for free):

From there...I will need to get creative.  They are new readers.  And some of them may share some big issues and some students may not. But I need to be prepared to help them make connections to what matters to them and the books we are reading.  And I am up for the challenge because Beers and Probst state that:
"If they are to undertake anything significant in the future, it will be because they have learned the importance of significant work early on in their schooling."
This statement says a lot.  We need our students out there doing significant work.  We need them to have a voice.  So we need to help them find that voice...even at a young age.


Jul 31, 2017

Preparing for the Year (Plus a Giveaway)

As teachers, our summers are filled with preparation.  My brain has to reset, recharge, and refocus on what changes I can make to help my students and ME grow throughout the year.  And that is just what I have done this summer.

So as we prepare....let's celebrate, as well!  With a sale.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

I will choose a winner early tomorrow morning so that you can use up your giftcard to help prepare you for the upcoming year!

Jul 28, 2017

The Path We Take With Others

Last year was my first Nerd Camp.

          **Note-This is a free conference in Michigan where educators, librarians, authors, and illustrators congregate to discuss all things reading and writing for two days.  Day 1 is like a traditional conference with lots of great speakers and sessions.  Day 2 is set up as an "unconference," where we all help to create the sessions and schedule.**

Last year my sister and I went together.  We left feeling so empowered, excited, and eager to share what we learned.

This year we went as a team of 5.

And this year we left with so much more than even last year.

Were we empowered?  Yes!  We had the opportunity to listen to this powerful speech by Donalyn Miller.  We heard research that stated reading enjoyment is more important to success than socio-economic status.  We were reminded that it is about the reading experience, not reading lessons.  And to always be asking ourselves, "How can I be better?"

Were we excited?  Yes!  I left with a list of books that I am eager to read.  I met Jess Keating and was able to explain how much I love Pink is for Blobfish.  Shelley Johannes shared her new book with me (and my daughter nabbed it as soon as I got home)!

Were we eager to share what we learned?  Always!!  I can't wait to try out Demonstration Notebooks with my students so that I can share with my building how to utilize them.  All 5 of us would like to work together to share the One Book One School program with our district.  And we have already started to share our learnings from the diverse book panel through a monthly book club that we will be hosting.

But this year...we left with even stronger relationships and bonds.  Going through an experience like experience that is powerful, that brings you to tears, that places you in a room with so many other people that love reading as much as you do, that surrounds you with people that want to help young minds grow, an experience that is meant to light a fire under powerful.  As a team, we laughed so much and shared so much personally and professionally, that our relationships grew. 

And that is something.

As teachers, we need to surround ourselves with other teachers that feel passionately about the same things.  Those people, those companions, are going to push you and help you to grow into that teacher that is always asking, "How can I be better?"  I need that.  I crave that.  And I am grateful that I do have those people within my school, my district, and in my blogging community.

So next year...I hope that my team of 5 grows even more because I know that we will leave Nerd Camp with more than what we came with.


Jul 6, 2017

Writer's Workshop: Conferencing

I know it's summer, but my gears never shut off.  They may slow down a little but, but there is not a shut down mode on my teacher brain.  I partially think this is because I'm doing what I love and I LOVE what I do.  Teaching only writing to our firsties has opened up an amazing world for me.  Throughout the summer I'm just reading and researching to better my craft and I find so much joy in learning.  Towards the end of my school year I had noticed that taking notes during my conferences had really gone by the wayside.  We were still having great conversations, but I just wasn't writing things down for me or my students.  This was not good.  Especially when we came to the next conference and I thought we had talked about things to try but neither of us could remember.  It was ok, but I knew I had to get better so I jumped online.  I came across Julie Shope's Writing Workshop Checklist. You can check it out here.  She did a fantastic job, but it just didn't fit what I needed to help my littlest authors.  That's when I decided to make my own.  They are common core aligned and really just hone in on what I need my firsties to do.


Here's how I intend to use these guys.  When conferencing with my firsties I will highlight what he/she can do and focus on one thing they can try.  Both will be highlighted.  At the bottom, I will write a little note that will include encouragement as well as a suggestion.  Then, the firstie will put this notes page back in his/her folder and off they will merrily go to try out what we discussed. (I do snicker a little at this comment because I know we will probably have the same conversation the next time we talk. hahaha) I do love how each firstie will keep this notes page in their writing folder for safe storage. I love how we will be able to take it out over the course of a unit and see our conferences together, what we've talked about, and the growth that has been made as an author.  I also think I'll send these little babies home at the end of each unit or save them for parent teacher conferences. That's yet to be decided.  Click the above images or HERE to get this packet for yourself!

I hope you'll be able to use these in your classroom and I'd LOVE, LOVE, LOVE any feedback you have. :)

Happy writing!!!

Jun 27, 2017

More Tips to Create a Trauma Sensitive Classroom

This summer my school building is taking a deeper look into how trauma impacts learning and what we can do to support our students.  My last post was all about trauma.  Chapters 3-6 focus on our self-awareness.  These chapters remind us that in order to support the students and children around us, we need to take a look ourselves first.

Who Are You?
Kristin Souers says, "We are most likely to make mistakes or say things that we regret when we venture away from our sense of self."  How true this is.  When the pressure is really on (testing season, new policies, etc) or when a new student challenge arises, it is easy to "lose your cool" or react in a way that will be regretted.  I know that I have been there.  She goes on to explain the importance of knowing who you are and what you stand for.  Sticking to your true self will keep you grounded in the decisions that you make and how you deal with challenges.

I'll admit it.  I think I know who I am and what I stand for.  But I also know that I have never written it down and formulated a personal mission statement.  The author stresses the importance of this.  She poses some questions for us to ponder as we create mission statements.  I answered each one of them and discovered some key words or themes that I do not believe I would have originally placed in my mission statement; therefore, it proved to be a worthwhile activity for me.

I typed up the questions from Kristin Souers into a template so that I could edit, refine, and change my mission as I grow.  If you would like to try this activity, just click on the image below to download.

Mission Statement template for educators

Know Your Triggers

"Beware of Tornadoes."  I loved this heading within the chapter.  How true this is!  I'm sure we have all been sucked up into one a time or two.  Knowing our own triggers helps us to prevent twisters rather than just react to them.  And at the same time, we need to know our students.  What are their strengths? What are their fears? Knowing these answers can help us to be proactive rather than reactive when student challenges arise.  "If it's predictable, it's preventable."  This statement has great power.  What is predictable in your classroom?


Our words and our body movements has great power in a classroom.  The author reminds us that it can be difficult to not jump in and save a student when we have such empathy for the trauma that they have endured; however, it is imperative that we communicate our belief that they CAN do it.  Analyzing the way we speak to others is crucial.  Are we saying that they are capable or that they are not?  And Kristin points out, if we do communicate the later, how do we model a repair to that relationship with the student?  

Repair.  This was a huge take-away for me.  So many students may witness the fight, the blow-up, the anger.  But do they get to see the repair.  How is an explosion resolved?  How do you "clean up" after a tornado.  Personally, I have always felt that my own children need to witness my husband and I getting into an argument, but they also need to see how we resolve it.  If a student does not learn how to repair a relationship, then what message are they receiving? you have a mission statement in writing?  What are your thoughts on triggers and repair?


Jun 4, 2017

Tips to Create A Trauma-Sensitive Classroom

Do your students ever walk into school already angry?  Do any of your students have meltdowns, explosions, or find ways (good or bad) to get attention?  What about power struggles...have you ever found yourself caught up in one with a student?

For me and my colleagues, the answer is yes to these questions and many others that surround students with trauma in their lives.  So we are digging down deep this summer with the book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma Sensitive Classroom by Kristin Souers.  Getting honest with ourselves and looking at what we can do to better support the students that we love and teach everyday.

The Why...

Kristin Souers has a great paragraph in her introduction that I want to share because it really illustrates the need for this book, conversation, and changes within my school:

...Instead, they step into our schools toting heavy burdens: the stress of overwhelming
trauma and the scars of neglect and abuse.  The experience of trauma
has dramatically altered the landscape of the schools we work in. (p.1)

The demands on us are high.  Academic demands on students are high.  But a stressed brain cannot learn. I cannot sit back and expect my students to learn from me, if I am not helping them to address some of the emotional burdens that they carry into school with them.

What Is It...

Trauma and "not-OK events" is dealt with differently by each and every person.  Traumatic events can include: incarceration of a family member, suicidal family member, death, domestic violence, divorce, separation, mental illness at home, substance abuse in home, experience of any type of abuse or neglect, criminal behavior in home, deployment, war, homelessness, or bullying.

And because the statistics show that most students have experienced some sort of not-OK event, the author urges us to treat all students as though they have experienced trauma.  Especially because chronic stress like this does not discriminate.  It does not matter the socioeconomic status, religion, or race, studies have found trauma to be prevalent. 

The Brain...

The limbic area of our brain controls emotion and survival responses (flight, fight, or freeze).  This is what we can see in our classrooms when a student's survival mode is triggered.  Defiance, refusing to answer, daydreaming are some of the examples that I have seen this year.
The prefrontal cortex area controls our ability to think and reason.  It is also suppose to help regulate the limbic area; however, each time a brain is triggered to tap into the survival responses, a chemical is released into the body.  Souers explains that large amounts of this chemical can have a negative impact on development (including memory, mood, and some executive functions).  This means that this chemical is directly impacting the academic work we are trying to do with our students.

Something to Think About...

It is mentioned in the book that a teacher's method to dealing with behavior is habitual.  And habits can be hard to admit and even harder to break.  Having these conversations with yourself and with your teammates is hard, imperative, and needed.

Here is one example that is very difficult for me to admit: I know that somewhere along the line, I was taught that students need to kind of  "check their baggage" at the door.  What happened at home is at home and they need to learn at school.  In some ways, I have accepted this thinking because I did not have any other tools to help me help them.  I am admitting this and I am making a change.

A student that is working in survival mode, cannot also work in learning mode. So I am working to create a trauma sensitive class that I can teach in and my students can learn in.

What are your thoughts?  Are these conversations that you need to be having in your school?