Monday, February 29, 2016

3 Steps to Easy Comprehension for All Learners

The most important facet of teaching is giving students tools, right?  That's what we have been talking about for the past few weeks in our How to Be an Educational Superhero series.  Our last post talked about Project Based Learning and how to give the learning process back to the students.  In this post I will be discussing further how you can give process back to your students.

I was in fourth grade.  I was learning all kinds of new things academically and socially, and one of them was long division.  I hated long division.  There were so many steps and it didn't make sense to me.  My teacher would write problems on the board and we would go around the room walking up to the board and solving them.  The spotlight was on me and I cowered beneath it.  My face grew hot as I fought back tears of confusion.  I didn't know what to do.  I couldn't find the right answer.

When I arrived home, my father, a math major, helped me with my homework.  He gave me a different method of solving my long division problems that totally made sense to me!  It was amazing.  I had a breakthrough with long division and thought I could finally conquer it.  I practiced his method over and over again until my homework was complete.

Sadly, the next day, my father's method was but a fond memory.  I was faced again with long division, staring me right between the eyes.  I couldn't remember the method my father taught me so I asked the teacher about it.  She said she didn't know and her way was easier.  I was forlorn.  Her way was too difficult for me.  It didn't make sense.  It would have been so much easier for her to try and teach me in a way that I learn best.

Fast forward to now.  Does this sound familiar to anyone?  How many of your students are screaming this rallying cry right now?  It's likely that you don't know because you can't hear it.  It's simply ringing in their heads every time they hear about a process they don't understand.  I say "hear about" because they aren't learning.  They are hearing and repeating.  Making a simple switch in your instruction time will decrease the amount of time you talk and increase the amount of time your students learn.

Try teaching students concepts rather than processes.  Explain to them the meaning or purpose of something and give them the opportunity to figure it out.  I love this method from called Teach-OK.  It involves multiple modalities as you see whether or not your students understand the material.  Once you've seen that they have a grasp on the concept you're teaching, give them an opportunity to apply their own skills and logic.

The easiest implementation of this is with basic arithmetic.  We'll use addition:

Step 1 You Teach.  Many times as teachers we will gloss over what addition is and get right to showing students how to add.  Use your fingers, manipulatives, pictures, whatever.  Instead, just teach students what addition is.  Addition is one thing or group of things added to one thing or group of things.

Make it relatable: Ask students if anyone has been told they're getting an addition on their house, or new addition to their family.  What does that mean?  If we get a new student, he or she is an addition to our classroom.

Model it: Ask for a group of volunteers to demonstrate.  Put a group of students together(size based on skill level of your students, maybe 5.)  Ask how many kids are in the class.  When the students answer "5," write a 5 on the board.  Have a "new student" join them, and write a +1 on the board.  Ask how many kids are now in the class.  Students will hopefully count instinctively and answer "6."  You will then write =6 next to 5+1.  This way they can see how real life translates into a math equation.

Use the Teach-OK method with this sharing of information to ensure the students understand.  Once this is complete, class instruction time is over.

Step 2 Students Teach.  Put students in groups with an equation to figure out.  Give them the opportunity to devise a solving strategy as a group using any method they like.  Make sure you limit the number of groups as the students will be presenting their strategy to the class.  They can draw, use people, make models, use blocks, or whatever it is they desire.  You can do this as a center and present later or as a whole group time and present immediately after.  This process serves as a mini-project based learning experience in which students are finding the answer for themselves.  They will naturally differentiate on their own based on the way they rationalize and conceptualize.

Step 3 Individuals Teach Themselves.  Give students a short list of equations to solve.  Individuals can choose any method they like from the class presentations or develop a new method.  If you see something new from a student, encourage him or her to share it with the class.  His or her method might make more sense to someone else.

The most important component to this approach is that you listen, observe, and ask questions more than talk.  I can say firsthand how difficult this is for me personally.  I see a student struggling and I just want to help.  The best way to help is to allow him or her to figure it out.  Ask questions that lead to a conclusion.  Be wary, though, of leading questions.  This is another thing I'm super guilty of.  Make sure your questions are open and lead to reasoning rather than pointed questions that lean heavily toward an answer.  For example, using the class model from earlier:

Answer A
Student: I don't get it.
Teacher: Ok, well if you have a group of 5(model with your fingers), then you add 1(model with your fingers), how many is that?(gesture for the student to count your fingers).

Answer B
Student: I don't get it.
Teacher: Ok, what is the number 5?  Think about what we did during carpet time.  What did I say the number 5 is?  You might even ask the student to tell you what the number 5 represents.  Is it 5 puppies, pencils, friends?  If you know of a student who can demonstrate a method well, have him or her assist the struggling student.

Allow the confused student to decide what method he or she prefers, and make the room open.  Students may use any object they like as long as the object returns after math time.  Or, if that kind of chaos totally freaks you out, put out a bucket of objects for the students to use.  You can include toys that are alike, counting bears, blocks, or whatever.  The idea is that you don't tell the students how to add.  You tell them what adding is.  Coming up with their own methods will help them relate better, and ultimately remember better.  Not to mention, the more readily they can conceptualize, the more easily they will understand those pesky word problems.

Now you might be thinking, "great, but what about the other subjects?"  Agreed, math is probably the easiest subject with which to demonstrate this approach.  That being said, apply this thinking to your teaching.  Before you begin a lesson, think to yourself Am I giving the process or the concept?  With history, you might give students a small bit of information and encourage them to research the rest.  With reading, you might just put the book in front of the student and ask him or her what he or she thinks it says.  We have many natural processes in our brains, and I'm sure your students will amaze you with what they already know.

Please, please, please share stories of how this is working in your classroom or if you have devised a system that works well.  Pam and I would love to hear your feedback.  For more ideas to improve your classroom and be an educational superhero, SUBSCRIBE to our newsletter.

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Leap Year Sale

Today's deal is 50% off products: We are offering our Plants Bundle which is over 100 pages! It includes our fun song, book, games, ELA and math sheets, scoot games and more!
Just click the picture below to see more or purchase for 50% off!

I made a big book with the plant book that is included.

 There are some cut and paste sheets.
 There are read around the room cards.
 There are 20 word family sorts!
 Your kiddos will love to play scoot with these missing addend cards.
 There are also manipulatives if you want to use the math cards in a center.
 Here are a couple of the math sheets included.
 Here are a couple of ELA sheets included.
 This is the coloring book your kiddos can color and then use to complete the  fill in the blank sheet.

Still $4 for one more day! It is one of our featured items. Here is the post link for the goods and services project we did that y'all may have seen on FB.   

Today is the last day and we are doing $1 Deals! We are excited to bring y'all our newly revised March Word of the Day Calendar! And if y'all missed the first deals, they are back on the table just today! Goods and Services Bundle for just $4! and our Plant unit which is posted above is still just $6! 
This calendar introduces a new March word every day as well as a math pattern that builds. There is also a cut and paste student calendar,definition sheet, journal page and 2 teacher guides with ideas on how to use the group calendar and student calendar. 
"Thanks so much for this great resource. It has really been a great tool for learning new vocabulary and then being able to incorporate it into the writing. The kids really enjoyed it."
"My ESOL students will have a great resource in this!" were a couple of comments made about this calendar:)
This is a couple of writing samples that show how the words of the day from the February calendar helped to keep my kiddos on topic. They like having these words when they write. It gives them confidence in their writing! 

We hope y'all will check out our other Word of the Day resources that go with this calendar while our store is 20% off!  

Don't forget today is the last day to enter to win a $50 TPT gift card! 

We hope that you are reading and enjoying our "Teaching Like Super Heroes Series"

Wish us luck, good thoughts and say some prayers for us! We will be presenting at the VA. State Reading Conference at the end of this week-  Mar.3-5
We appreciate it!!

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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Teaching Money!

"Lots of practice activities that make learning about money meaningful!" and "Thank you for a wonderful resource for my students. They loved the activities!" are just a couple of the comments that were made about this money unit.
This is a Daily Deal at Educents for a limited time! 50% off!!

Here are a few things that I do to help my kiddos learn how to count money.

I use coins every day, starting with the first day of school. Students put up a coin every day. They started with a penny and add a penny every day and then on day 5, I show the kiddos that we can change 5 pennies into a nickel, then we change 2 nickels into a dime on day 10, etc. My kiddos loved it when we put up a $1 for 100 days!

I have found that teaching math in small groups is very successful. I give my students a board, marker, coin chart that is included in our pack or you can use a hundreds chart, and a bag of coins.

Let me tell you a good time saver is to have the items I mentioned all in a gallon size freezer bag. That way you can give each student a bag with everything they need.

I will ask the students to place coins on their boards and write a line under each coin. I walk them through how to count and write the amount as they go. I also show them how they can use their number charts to help them count their money.  

I also show them how they can use their coin charts to help them count their money.  

Brittany and I have created a 70 page money unit that has fun games and activities with a daily lesson plan that lasts 4 weeks if the plan is followed. Just click on the picture below to see more or purchase.
We use our coin books that are included in the unit in a math center with coins for the kiddos to match the pages. This is a great center for the students and easy to set up. 

 We have our fun games included with our class mascot, Quality Quentin. The kids love seeing him on some of our products! I always tell them that we are doing quality math with Quality Quentin.

 Here are just a few sheets from this large bundle of money activities! Over 70 pages and a daily lesson plan that will last you 4 weeks! There is also a fun money rap song with a puzzle that matches the song about the coins.

We hope y'all will check it out and please follow our store so you will see all our sales and deals!

Thank you so much!

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Project-Based Learning

Thank you very much for visiting our post.  Feel free to read it on our new blog, HERE.

Hey there Super Teachers!

Welcome to the third article in our series How to be an Educational Superhero.  Our first article, Why This One Basic Teaching Principle is Holding Your Students Back,  talks a bit about the motivation behind this series.  In order to be a superhero in your classroom, it is important to facilitate and not dominate.  Our second article, 10 Ways to Stop Sending Kids to the Principal, talks about the most basic way to shift from teacher-directed to student-directed in the classroom: classroom management.  Today, I want to talk to you a little about a word that's been buzzing around: Project-Based Learning

So sorry for the inconvenience...we've relocated.  Continue reading HERE!

A Fun George Washington Craft and Song Book!

 We are so excited about our new addition to our word of the day products! We are adding these books each month that will include our calendar words. Your kiddos can highlight the word of the day as well as sing the words in their books, which they love to do! Each book comes in color and black and white. There is also a teacher guide. We have these books as well as everything on SALE in our new Educents store! We hope that y'all will check them out while they are on sale and please click on the little red heart to follow our store so you will be notified of all the new resources and sales that are happening there. We would also greatly appreciate your kind comments if you do purchase any of our products there!  Thank you so much!!!

My kiddos love having their own copies to read to each other! It is so cute to hear them sing the song as well. They make great book basket books! 

This is a fun craft that my kiddos loved doing last year! I will definitely do this one again this year:)
Just click on the picture to see the directions as well as some more ideas for teaching about George Washington.

Thank y'all for checking out our Educents store! 
Be looking for our next blog post on Project-Base Learning!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

3 Simple Steps to Breaking A Stale Routine

Last night, I hit my breaking point.  Same thing over and over and still feel as though I'm running across an endless plateau.  Will I ever see the end?  Or worse, will I suddenly drop off and never ascend again?  I decided to take today off, to take a break and clear my mind.  Then I got to many of you probably are feeling or have felt the same way?  So, I thought I should reach out and show you we're in this together.

So what do I do when I'm stuck in a stale routine?

1) Do something different
Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  I'm sure you're all thinking "no, duh what else you got?"  It's important to remember this simple fact though.  Our routines become comfortable, familiar, predictable.  Many of us are creatures of habit and we like to know what to expect.  That being said, what if our expectations are too low?

Start simple.  I know most of you are teachers and depending on your principal, you may only have so much wiggle room.  That being said, see how you can switch things up just for a day.  Add a math game, ELA game, or song to the day(That's the only shameless plug you can expect, I promise.)  You can also just pause and have a brainstorming session or Q&A forum.  Think about a subject your kiddos aren't getting.  Tell them you're going to talk about it and see what questions they have.  I advise sitting in a circle for this as it will make for a more familiar, open, and comfortable platform.  If you have a class mascot, like we have with Quentin the Quality Penguin, you can pass it around and they can take turns asking questions or explaining why they don't understand.  You may even find that one of your stronger academic children has an answer you haven't thought of.  Or, see how they might like to spice up the day.  You can start the morning by telling them they are in charge of how they learn today and they will be like the teacher.  See what is feasible given your schedule and try to incorporate as many ideas as possible.

2) Be Purposeful in Your Routine
Have you ever stopped in the middle of your routine after some time and just thought, "why is it that I do this?"  I was reading the book Break Through Your BS, by my college friend Derek Doepker yesterday, and it mentioned the danger of disconnecting from your routine.  He had certain practices throughout his day that had become stale because he was no longer intentional about them.  His heart and mind weren't involved anymore.  It is so easy to do this with routines because our brain becomes familiar and checks out.  It's almost like muscle memory takes over or like we're operating through our subconscious.  There have been some days where I have gotten through the day and couldn't tell you much of anything that happened.  Sound familiar to anyone?  So STOP.  Think about what you do and why.  Keep the practices that bring value to your day and your students' day.  Throw out the fluff, and replace it with something more meaningful or effective.

3) Ask Someone Else
Your pride will have to take a back seat on this one.  You know that teacher that has it all together?  His or her kids are perfect, his or her room is perfect, and he or she never seems to break a sweat.  You can't stand this teacher because how can they just get it?  How can they never seem to have issues?  Now I'm going to ask you to do something and you're going to hate me.  Then, hopefully you will love me.  Ask this teacher for advice.  Something he or she is doing works in the classroom.  You hate it, but it's true.  Here's the value to asking this loathsome person for advice: it will go a long way toward quelling that bitterness you have inside, and it will make that teacher feel really good.  Maybe you'll even develop a quality relationship.  Maybe that person is struggling with something you can help with.  You never know until you try.  Reaching out and being more vulnerable helps you become more approachable, thus welcoming new relationships and making people more likely to reach out to you.  We all have the same goal anyway, right?  We want the kids to learn.

Well, I hope this was enlightening, helpful, at least thought-provoking.  We are doing our best to break our routine as well.  You will be seeing more posts like this about how to rethink things in your classroom.  We already have 2 posts included in our Be an Educational Superhero series that are worth a read(Why This One Basic Teaching Principle is Holding Your Students Back, 10 Ways to Stop Sending Kids to the Principal).  Subscribe to our newsletter for juicy extras and of course, those freebies y'all love so much.  We want to bring more of these to you and accomplish our universal goal of making education better one day at a time.

Have a great week and break through those routines!

Monday, February 8, 2016

10 Ways to Stop Sending Kids to the Principal

“I wish I could just get my students to behave!”  Does this sound all too familiar?  It’s a common issue we face as educators, and let’s face it, parents too.  The rules are all too clear.  Why is it that the kids can’t just follow them?  We feel frustrated and angry, and sometimes we truly believe that one “difficult child” is just out to get us.  The truth is, sometimes that is completely accurate.  So what’s the solution?  Give students more responsibility for their behavior.  This article is part of our series on How to Become an Educational Superhero.  You can find the premise outlined in our first article.  Now, on to avoiding the principal’s office:

1. Introduce Must-Haves

What are must-haves?  They are the goals you have for your classroom.  Come up with 3-5 must-haves on your own that you desire for your classroom.  Think of it as your classroom mission statement.  You want all students to learn right?  That’s a must have.  Many of us like to create a positive environment.  That is a must have.  Bullying?  Not on my watch.  Kind friends are a must-have in my classroom.  You get the idea.  The key is to get your students on board, so find goals they will likely agree with.  Make this list and discuss it with your students.  Then ask them what types of behaviors lead to achieving these must-haves.  You can write them down to post in the room without using the word “rules.”  

  • Assignment idea-have each of them write a sentence describing a desired behavior in the classroom and post them around the room.  
You can employ a token system to encourage desired behaviors.  We have a post that goes into more detail on that HERE.  This creates an overall classroom culture that students want to maintain.  We use the idea of Quality students.  You can watch a video about that below or just type “quality” into our blog search for a number of articles.  It often helps to have students sign an agreement to uphold the must haves in the classroom. 

What you achieve:
-This page by has a number of articles on why it is important for students to take responsibility for their actions.  Giving them responsibility makes them more likely to desire a harmonious classroom as it is now their choice.
-By challenging students to come up with their own ideas about what actions lead to your “must-haves,” you are encouraging them to think more closely about cause and effect relationships, and to strategize to accomplish a goal.  These as you know are important life skills.

2. Teach Empathy
Help your students understand how important it is to consider their fellow classmates or friends.  If you want to make it simple and use the golden rule, go for it.  Challenge them to think about how their actions might affect others.  Would they want someone to make them feel that way?  The likely answer is no.

What you achieve:
-Students recognize a natural consequence when they behave a certain way.  Instead of seeing how it affects the teacher(aka frustrating the teacher or making the teacher angry), they see how they are affecting one another.
-You remove yourself as the “bad guy.”  You’re not imposing, you’re facilitating.

3. Explain Consequences
You would be surprised how many children just want to learn.  Again, I refer you back to the page.  I can’t tell you how many times teachers would dismiss me in school when I asked how a formula works.  They would often respond with “just learn it,” or “it’s too complicated.”  How many times have you either heard or said, “because I said so?”  Students do not respond well to this because it still leaves them with questions.  Instead, explain to them why we have consequences.  You’re not “punishing” them to be mean, you are trying to achieve your “must-haves” in the classroom.  If they are doing something that affects the classroom culture, there has to be a solution that puts a stop to it.  Encourage them to think about what would make them stop.  Use this example: “if there wasn't a consequence in your house for eating cookies before dinner, would you eat them?” They will likely say “yes.”  You explain that this is why there are consequences for our actions, to keep us from doing certain things that aren’t good for us or others.  I actually did this with second graders and it was amazing what they came up with.  

What you achieve:
-Students again see an example of cause and effect
-Students better understand the purpose of certain consequences, and try to avoid them.


4. Empathize and Understand

As the adult, you have a responsibility to first try and see where your student is coming from.  If he or she is acting out, attempt to determine the cause.  Is this student looking for attention?  Is he or she distracted?  Is he or she upset by something that happened before and is lashing out?  While children may not reason quite like adults, they do feel more than we realize sometimes.  Once you are able to determine the cause of the student’s behavior, target it. 
If it’s attention, ignore it to the best of your ability and wait to praise the student for desired behavior.  You can also distract him or her by delegating a certain responsibility.  Once he or she accomplishes the task, deliver praise.  Once the child is feeling positively, he or she may obtain the desire to work and achieve more praise. 
If it’s distraction, try to remove the distraction.  Gently encourage the child to sit elsewhere. 

What you achieve:
-You pull ideas of misbehaving and acting up from the equation.  Instead you objectively see a problem and strategize to resolve it without the student’s knowledge.  This eliminates argument with the student.

5. Discuss Consequences
Use this step if the child’s behavior persists or if he or she begins to argue with you.  It is highly non-productive to have a disagreement with a student in front of the rest of the class.  It generally provides attention that the student wants in the first place, or causes undue embarrassment. 

  • ·      Call him or her over to your desk.
  • ·      Explain to him or her the behavior you are seeing and how it is affecting the must-haves in the classroom.  Remind the student of their signed agreement to uphold the must-haves.
  • ·      Remind the student that a consequence must occur to discourage him or her from continuing this behavior.
  • ·      Strategize with him or her to come up with a solution.
    •       For example, if it is distraction, see what he or she thinks will lessen the distraction.  Sometimes, this means removal from the room entirely.  See if you can collaborate with another teacher or your librarian to have a “quiet space” available for distracted students.

What you achieve:
-Teaching the student to strategize while taking responsibility for his or her own actions
-Making the student feel respected when you ask for his or her input

6. Remove Anger from the Equation
I know this is the most difficult step for me to follow.  For me personally, my pride gets in the way.  The student isn’t listening to me, they are disrespecting me, and that makes me angry.  The trick is to remove yourself from the situation.  The student’s behavior is not directed at you.  It is simply a response to something else. 

What you achieve:
-When you are not angry, you can objectively look at the best way to solve the problem in front of you
-Removing yourself from the situation eliminates the fulfillment of the student
’s desire for attention and it removes you as the source of “punishment.”

7. It’s a Collaboration, Not a Power Struggle
This goes hand in hand with removing anger.  Many times, a student is challenging your authority.  Again, this isn’t personal.  The student is testing his or her boundaries to see what you will allow.  He or she may also be testing how to get your attention and push your buttons.  Sometimes it is a matter of asserting his or her independence and not knowing quite how.  Collaborate with the student on how to remedy the situation rather than chastising him or her about a specific behavior.

What you achieve:
-Collaboration gives your student a voice, making him or her feel respected and grounded
-Allowing your student choices gives him or her personal responsibility, and removes the response that you dislike or are being mean to him or her.

8. Ask Your Student “Why.”
Sometimes it’s as simple as asking a student why they did what they did.  Now I know you’re thinking “well my student always just says ‘I don’t know’.”  If your student responds this way, pry further.  Give him or her a list of feelings to choose from.  Was he or she mad at a friend? Upset about something? Bored?  Ask in a way that makes them comfortable to answer without judgment.  “Why” can also be a dangerous word because it prompts defensiveness.  Be aware of this and proceed with care.  Once you and your student identify the cause of the behavior, give him or her alternative actions that are appropriate responses in the future.

What you achieve:
-Asking open questions promotes reflection and self-awareness in a child, while promoting critical thinking.
-Asking questions makes the child feel heard, and thus cared for, leading to a greater respect for you as an authority figure.

9. Open Up A Little
In addition to asking your student to be open, be willing to be open yourself.  Tell the student how his or her behavior makes you feel.  Again, this one is tricky, because you have to assess how the student feels about you.  He or she may not care about your feelings.  Try something like “That makes me sad because I see how it hurts your friend’s feelings,” or “I get frustrated when you act that way because I know you can do better.”

What you achieve:
-When you open up, it builds trust between you and your student.  He or she is again more likely to respect you and your authority if that trust is there.
-It brings attention to natural consequences that are a result of the student’s behavior.

10. Tell Them Something Positive
Find a way to convey a positive message to your student.  Help him or her to understand that you don’t see them as “bad” or “naughty.”  Highlight something good he or she did earlier or how you know what he or she can accomplish.  Build your student up.  You can even motivate him or her if you are using a token system in your classroom.  Encourage your student to work harder towards a reward of some kind.

What you achieve:
-Making a child feel positive helps build intrinsic motivation.  He or she will want to do better and will work harder as a result.
-You avoid making a child feel your opinion of him or her is less than favorable, or worse, that he or she is a “bad kid.”

Classroom culture is the first step toward creating an environment that promotes success through student-centered learning.  Once you foster a sense of responsibility in your students’ behavior, you can develop that into an overall sense of responsibility for their educational success.  Stay tuned for our next post on project-based learning.

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