Sunday, May 24, 2020

Tried & True Tools for Managing Distance Learning

Some of you are in the home stretch of finishing your school year. Others of you still have a few more weeks (like me!) We were all thrown into distance learning and I am so impressed by how quickly teachers adapted and pulled together. Now that we've had time to try out various online platforms, programs, and tools, I have some reflections and recommendations.
First of all,  I am SO thankful for the many teachers who know more than me and their willingness to share their expertise!  There is no reason to reinvent the wheel! Here are some tried & true tools that have saved my time and sanity:
Allison at Future in Fourth is SO creative! She created an editable Online Class Goals chart using Bitmojis. The biggest timesaver is adding the Bitmoji Chrome extension. You can copy & paste as you work on your laptop now! You can check out the chart  HERE. She is always so generous in sharing her amazing ideas! Check out her Instagram & stories! I used to share my screen with these goals as students entered our Zoom meetings. This helped to set the tone with gentle reminders for online behaviors. (Now that we're 10 weeks in, I don't have to use this as often. . . but if we start the new school year this fall online, this will be so helpful again!)
How to film and record lessons: my friend, Kristen at Easy Teaching Tools has a GREAT tutorial on Screen-Cast-o-Matic. Check it out HERE. It is an easy way to make a quick tutorial to share. Since I kept getting the same questions, "Where is _____? How do I check ____?"  I made a short video for my parents and students on how to navigate Google Classroom, which has mostly eliminated the questions. Also using screencasting, I was able to turn my social studies powerpoints into videos with me talking to my students, pausing to discuss specific points, just like I would if we were in class together.

However, I discovered that many of my kids were playing the videos but not truly focusing or retaining information. (I discovered this as we played review games at the end of each week, and it was as if they had never heard of the information! Ugh. . . arrow to the teacher's heart!) So then I discovered EdPuzzle. Oh my goodness, this changed my life! With EdPuzzle, you use a video of your choice: it can be one of your own (in my case, the video lessons I made with Screen-Cast-o-Matic) or you can even upload videos from YouTube! Then you create stopping points in the video for students to answer questions (multiple choice or short answer). You can also insert additional links to videos or articles.  EdPpuzzle reinforces student accountability: it allows teachers to check if students are watching the assigned videos, how many times they're watching each section, and if they're understanding the content. This has been a game changer!!
The video stops at each point you've set and they cannot go on until they've answered the question. They can rewatch sections multiple times. (On the teacher end, you can see how long it took students to view and answer or if there were certain tricky sections for the whole class. This has been great for reteaching!) 
If you insert multiple choice or true/false questions, EdPuzzle grades it for you! You can also add short answer questions that you can assign points. Somehow thinking an assignment is "for a grade", students tend to take it more seriously.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Tried & True Tips for Distance Learning

It's been five weeks since we've been quarantined and it has taken me this long to even try to organize my thoughts (& life!) Well, still working on the life part. . . How are you all doing? Despite teaching 30+ years, I feel like a brand-new teacher again, attempting to get a handle on "distance learning", "remote learning", whatever you want to call it: learning without physically being with my students!
Here are 5 quick tips that have helped me:
It's okay if your at-home classroom doesn't look like those amazing IG teachers' classroom set-ups. It's okay if you don't know all the latest technology.  It's okay if you're not able to cover all the material you would have covered, if you were still in school. Your family, personal life, and mental well-being come FIRST.  Two of my three daughters live with us, plus my elderly parents, so there are 6 of us here. Together. All the time. I've taken over the dining room during the day with my books, laptop, chart paper, resources. My husband took down the artwork and put up a whiteboard for me. I have to make sure during Zoom meetings, that my laptop camera is not angled at all the boxes and books stacked in the corner. And every evening, I clear the dining room table of all my stuff so we can have dinner together. It's not ideal but we're making it work.  Give yourself grace. We're all doing the best we can.

 Since we are all at home, it's too easy to fall into summer mode; staying in our pajamas, not showering. But I felt like a slug and had a hard time concentrating. So now I get up & put on clothes and start my day with a devotional then yoga. If you haven't discovered Yoga with Adriene yet, you need to check her out! She has yoga practices of varying lengths and difficulty, plus she's real and funny! THEN I'm ready to tackle school. Currently, I have live 1-hour Zoom sessions with my class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  We begin with Morning Meeting and greeting each other, just like we would at school. There's always a topic to share from reading their latest poem to sharing their STEAM challenge product or just checking in with how everyone is feeling. Next we do our math warm-up then usually a read aloud. On Tuesdays we have a live yoga Zoom session with our yoga teacher (parent). Thursdays is computer lab. This week I'm also starting small groups once a week for writing or math mini-lessons and we decided Fridays will be review game day via Kahoot. I've also started having guest teachers: last week we had a live art class, this week a guest author will be teaching writer's workshop, and a couple more parents have volunteered to teach a at-home cooking class and an art class. Utilize your parents and friends! Keeping a schedule has made it much easier for me to plan, as well as my kids can anticipate when we'll be together. Parent feedback has been very positive!
 Sharing a STEAM challenge: make an instrument.

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.
Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to
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.