Sunday, March 22, 2020

Why Students Must Experience Poetry

Poetry is an often forgotten genre of reading in the classroom.  I know I've been guilty of bypassing reading it to my students. With most of the country staying at home right now due to social distancing,  this is the perfect time to have your students write poems.
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Kids' Poems: Teaching Third & Fourth Graders to Love Writing Poetry by Regie Routman is my favorite way to introduce poetry to my students. Routman provides strategies for using kids' poems as models to guide children to write poems about things they know and care about: from their siblings to stubby pencils to wearing braces!  In the book, she describes the way she asks children to study the model poem.  Routman explains her thinking aloud and drafting poems about her own life, and then children write on their own.

Students naturally want to write about people, pets, and issues that are important to them. I love the humor and play on words this student uses, when writing about her dog:
Love to Mama by Pat Mora is a beautiful and celebratory collection about the powerful bond between mothers, grandmothers, and children. Thirteen poets contribute to this anthology with joy, humor, and love This collection is not only about mothers, but women who are important in our lives. This is also a perfect time to think about Mothers’ Day, which is coming up right after Poetry Month. The illustrations are GORGEOUS: they are bright, colorful, and draw in the readers.
Using photos is another great way to elicit observations and descriptions. You can grab this set of tree photos HERE or by clicking on the photo below. Each photo is the same tree, taken from different viewpoints.
While I'm teaching from home during COVID19, poetry as been a great way for students to process their emotions. My kids made their own little books to use as their poetry book while at home. Feel free to share this video with your class to make their own book:
You can read more about teaching poetry HERE or HERE or by clicking on the titles below.
Click on the image below or HERE to listen to our latest podcast, episode 73: Book Talk Theme Talk: Poetry Books. Visit my We Teach So Hard podcast friends' blogs below for more ideas!

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Teaching Effective Note-Taking

Have you ever told your students to take notes and they either highlight almost everything (sometimes even changing colors with their fancy highlighters to make it look like a rainbow pattern) or they take bullet points on everything? Mine used to write pages of bullet points, with no organization or greater understanding of patterns, themes, or bigger ideas. 

Personally, I know that I remember more if I write things down! Be it on post-its or now on my phone, if I don’t write things down, they don’t seem to stay in my head! Research has shown that the same is true for our students. Note-taking has been shown to improve student learning; our kids remember more of what they learn when they write it down. Learning to listen, watch or read, then translate the information into our own words or pictures, helps to stimulate new pathways in the brain, embedding it in long-term memory. I know that when I try to recall something I’ve written down, I can often visualize how and where I wrote it down. Thinking back to when I was in junior high, my parents enrolled me in a speed-reading course. Other than learning to read faster by having words flash by on a screen then having to read and remember them, we also learned to read by scanning and chunking groups of text (rather than read word by word or line by line). I learned to organize these chunks into graphic organizers by topics and details. Now these graphic organizers are called bubble maps or concept maps, but I remember using colored pens to group this information. The colors and the chunking made it simple to recall information.

During our non-fiction unit of study during Reader's Workshop, we review types of text structures:
  • Description
  • Compare and contrast
  • Problem and solution
  • Cause and effect
  • Chronological/sequence
Next, we brainstorm ways to best remember these types of structures as we read or listen or watch information. Click HERE or on the image below to grab a FREE copy of various note-taking strategies!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

It's All About Revision

I used to spend HOURS writing detailed helpful suggestions on my students' rough drafts, yet when they’d go to write their final drafts, NONE of my recommendations were implemented. It’s as if they never saw any of my comments or advice!! (Or chose to ignore them!) Peer revision groups are the solution to improve student writing without spending hours of your precious time!
Throughout the writing process, students meet in groups to share their ideas, drafts, and revisions. We practice sitting knee to knee, making eye contact, leaning in to listen, nodding heads to acknowledge the writer. 
Once the rough draft is complete, students meet in more formal revision groups:
  • Form a revision group of 4-5 students. (Each group ideally has 1 skilled/advanced writer, 1 struggling writer, and 2 proficient writers.)
  • Pass out a folder with numbered essays to each group. No group is allowed to evaluate its own essays.
  • As a group, review the Scoring Rubric. (The rubric has been reviewed as a class on our screen/Smartboard, as well as a copy is also in the 3-fasteners in the folder.) Carefully read and review each description together.
  • Next, each student selects an essay from the folder to read. 
  • Use the rubric to score the writing. On the scoring sheet, student readers write a score of 1, 2, 3 or 4, and a specific compliment about the essay then any questions or suggestions they may have. Students use the criteria from the rubric to help with comments. (It is important to emphasize this is NOT the time to comment on penmanship or spelling!) Students do not share their response with anyone in their group.
  • Students keep the scoring sheet and pass the essay to another reader in their group, who will read the same essay and also score it using the rubric.
  • After 2 people have read and scored the same essay, check the scores given by the 2 readers. If the scores are the same, then the scoring is valid. If however, there is a large discrepancy (such as a 2 & a 4), the essay needs to be read and discussed by all group members. Use the criteria from the rubric to talk about WHY each reader scored the paper the way they did. Come to a consensus.
  • Staple completed comment sheets to the student’s essay.
  • Return essays to the folder. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Bringing Hope in Times of Angst

Turn on the news or go online and hate, anger, and violence are the top stories.  Or nature and fires seem never-ending, causing animals to lose their habitats and become endangered. Or a new virus is at almost epidemic proportions. It is easy to feel overwhelmed these days.  This is such a timely and needed theme to showcase; the message of HOPE … when the news and social media seem hopeless, these books will inspire and give hope to your students (& to you!)
Research has shown that hopeful students are able to draw on memories of other successes when they face an obstacle. However, students who feel hopeless often don’t have these kinds of successful memories. This is why it’s vital for teachers to read books and share stories of other people—especially kids—who have overcome adversity to reach their goals.(This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means that Amazon sends me a little pocket change, at no cost to you, if you purchase through one of these links. This helps keep my site running and fund giveaways for you!)
Seeds of Freedom by Hester Bass is the true and inspiring story about the lesser-known chapter in American and African-American history during the Civil Rights era. Unlike the hatred and violence this era is often known for, the citizens of Huntsville, Alabama demonstrated creativity, courage, and cooperation. They worked together to integrate their city and schools in peace. This book gives hope during a seemingly hopeless time period and shows how racial discrimination, bullying, and unfairness can be faced successfully with perseverance and thinking outside the box. This book is also a timely read for Black History Month!
I want my students to think of hope not as a mindless pie-in-the-sky dream, but the feeling of empowerment, connected to growth mindset. I use the short stories from a book called Gutsy Girls by Tina Schwager and  Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Challenges: Overcoming Adversity Around the World by Garth Sundem. They are both books with short stories about real kids who have overcome adversity, bringing hope. I either use the stories as a read aloud during morning meeting and we create a chart listing attributes these kids exemplify (with specific examples from the text as evidence).

I’ve given copies of a few different stories from those same two books to groups of students to discover and identify traits of the particular individual they read about. They create a skit or interview of their selected person. Sometimes they want to create a short video. They are so motivated and excited to share these determined and hopeful stories!
There’s a wonderful book to incorporate poetry and art: Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, a picture book with the words from a poem by Maya Angelou. It’s illustrated by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. It just celebrated its 25th year in print! Maya Angelou's brave, defiant poem celebrates the courage within each of us, young and old. "From the scary thought of panthers in the park to the unsettling scene of a new classroom, fearsome images are summoned and dispelled by the power of faith in ourselves."

The pictures are bold and a little scary, but the words give humor and hope to the reader. There is a bibliography of Angelou's books and museum listings of Basquiat's works included.
Be sure to listen to episode 69 of We Teach So Hard, our monthly themed book talk! Click HERE or on the image below to listen! Then be sure to visit Tracy, Deann, and Retta's blogs for MORE books on hope!
Bringing Hope in Times of Angst // Tried & True Teaching Tools
Hope is a 4-Letter Word // Socrates Lantern
 Finding Hope // Rainbow City Learning

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Speaking Up for Justice

Along with honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this week is our union's one year "strikeversary". What a perfect time to reflect and teach our students to stand up for what is right.
January 2019 was one of THE rainiest winters in years. I live in Southern California, land of perpetual sun and beautiful skies. When it even begins to turn a tad bit cold (time to wear a sweatshirt) and sprinkle a little, we avoid going outside and people forget how to drive. THAT is why the commitment and support during this strike was incredible. It was POURING rain, yet teachers, school staff, parents, students, and even the general public showed up day after day to picket and march with us. . . over 60,000 strong. There was such energy, unity, and strength in the crowd. It brought our staff closer; we're usually so busy at school, that we wave a quick hello. During the strike, we were together 6 hours a day for 6 days. I am blessed to teach with such a dedicated, passionate and fabulous staff! Our collective voices proved that we were willing to speak up for justice and do whatever it took to fight for better conditions for our students. It was fabulous for our students to see their teachers standing up to make a difference!
In the bottom left photo above, is one of my former students. She was a student in my first grade class during our 9-day strike in 1989. I fought for her and my other students and for better working conditions. She grew up, became a teacher and this time we walked the line as fellow educators! (Yes, I feel old. . .)

Picture books about real-life heroes are such an inspiration! I especially love sharing the stories of children who are not too young to make a difference!
(This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means that Amazon sends me a little pocket change, at no cost to you, if you purchase through one of these links. This helps keep my site running and fund giveaways for you!)
Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport uses parts of  MLK's own speeches as the narrative for this beautiful picture book.
Did you know that children also played a role during the Civil Rights Movement? In Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson tells the true story in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama. Thousands of African American children volunteered to march for their civil rights after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. They protested the laws that kept black people separate from white people. Facing fear, hate, and danger, these children used their voices to change the world.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Showing Our Love

Love. It seems like such a timely theme to showcase… a new decade! What better way is there to begin 2020 than by showing love, kindness and compassion for each other. Just think, if we all did one kind thing for each other, imagine what a wonderful world this would be.
(This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means that Amazon sends me a little pocket change, at no cost to you, if you purchase through one of these links. This helps keep my site running and fund giveaways for you!)
Hair for Mama by Kelly A. Tinkham is a sweet and heartwarming picture book about the power of love between child and mother.  Eight-year-old Marcus claims that hair is important to the Carter family, especially Mama's crown of hair. It’s family picture time for the Carters, but Mama does not want to be in the photo this year because she has lost all of her beautiful hair due to chemotherapy treatments for her cancer. She is sad and doesn’t want to be remembered without hair.  Marcus comes up with a plan to find her some hair and make her better. Even though the plan doesn’t work in quite the way Marcus expects, he comes to understand that “hair is nice to have, but not as nice as me having Mama and Mama having me.” The warm and inviting watercolor illustrations will bring comfort and hope to readers and children will relate to Marcus' desire to do things for a family member out of pure love.
BEFORE reading the book, brainstorm, What is love? Many kids initially think of love as mushy, boyfriend-girlfriend romantic love in movies; lol.  Hair for Mama is a great springboard to revisit this initial discussion.  Have students list and categorize types of love: love for our family, love for our pets, love of nature, love for our friends, etc. This will naturally lead into conversations about caring for others and how to show love toward them.
My class (& fabulous student teacher!! Shout out to Ms. Bellman!!) came up with the brilliant idea of showing love and caring for other staff members around our school. They wrote the following poem together (and my student teacher insisted they not type it using cute fonts or else the recipients would know that it was from our class; LOL!!) 
We discussed how giving "junk" laying around the house is not showing love (think of donating expired canned goods for a food drive!). Showing true caring is getting to know a person; discovering details about their interests and likes. Students brainstormed a list of staff members they wanted to show appreciation for such as our nurse, counselor, PE coach, custodians, secretaries. They came up with a list of questions they wanted to know about each person: favorite snacks, hobbies, color, etc. Next, pairs of students were to subtly engage in conversations with a particular staff member as they "ran into them", then record their findings in our Positive Pranks notebook we kept in our room. Oh my goodness, I have never seen my kids so excited! Once they knew enough about their staff member, they would assemble a gift bag with goodies and attach the poem to the bag. Students brought in items to donate: cute pencils, hand lotion, Starbucks gift cards, fancy bandaids, books, lanyards, granola bars, bottled water, mugs, colorful office supplies. Over several weeks, at random times, students would knock on a door then run away to watch the recipient read the note and take the bag inside. Other times they left the bag on the desk or in their office. (Think ding dong ditch or "You've been Boo'd" surprises at Halloween) Since only a couple of students at a time could deliver the gifts, one of them would attempt to film the pranking on an iPod then the class would watch it. They loved these James Bond-type stealth moves!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Importance of Character

Happy New Year! January is the perfect time to incorporate goal setting; both academic and character development. This is a quick round-up of some not-to-miss books, ideas, and activities to teach your students about character.
Bullying. It has become such a buzz word that is often casually thrown around. Picture books are the perfect way to elicit conversations and to teach students how to stand up for others. Click HERE to read about ideas to teach anti-bullying.

"This is too hard!" "I don't get it!" What makes certain people easily give up when encountering a challenge, while others persevere, determined to solve problems and succeed? Years ago, the buzzword in education was GRIT.  Click HERE to read about teaching perseverance
HONESTY. What a timely topic, especially in light of our current times! Once again, picture books to the rescue to teach theme and character traits! Click HERE to read about teaching honesty.

Character education is more important now than ever! Check out these other free ideas for your upper elementary students and let us do the planning for you!

The Importance of Character // Tried & True Teaching Tools

Classroom Kindness Challenge // The Stellar Teacher Company