Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Teach Like Yourself, Part 1

Welcome to our summer book study, Teach Like Yourself: How Authentic Teaching Transforms Our Students and Ourselves by Gravity Goldberg. I don't know about you, but I am fascinated, inspired, yet overwhelmed and discouraged by teachers on Instagram and Pinterest. You'd think I'd securely know myself, beginning my 34th year of teaching! This book is SUCH a great reminder to trust yourself, teach like yourself and the impact it will have on not only your teaching, but your students' learning!
We will "meet" every Wednesday in July. You can comment below on the blog or on my Facebook page. 
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Click HERE or on the image (book cover) below to order your own copy to join in this book study!
I was struck by the first page of the preface:
According to Education International (2017), 150,000 new teachers are trained each year, yet half of them quit with their first five years of teaching!  What?! Goldberg hypothesizes that "teachers nationwide are experiencing a profound loss of trust in themselves." There are a variety of reasons besides the effects of social media, such as stringent district policies or lack of engaging and appropriate materials or overemphasis on testing and accountability. A trusted friend and mentor of mine told me over 30 years ago to follow your gut instinct about what is best for kids. I still need to be reminded of this!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Are You an Untamed Teacher?

Summer. . . the few weeks in the year that teachers have the time to relax and catch up on reading! I'm super excited about the first book in our summer book series for teachers: Untamed by Glennon Doyle! 
Now I know we teach our kids to not judge a book by its cover, but LOOK at this cover!! It is GORGEOUS!  And the content is just as fabulous as the cover! What a thought-provoking and inspirational book to begin summer!
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Untamed is part memoir and part wake-up call. "We strive so mightily to be good: good partners, daughters, mothers, employees (teachers), and friends. We hope all this striving will make us feel alive. Instead, it leaves us feeling weary, stuck, overwhelmed, and underwhelmed." Wow. Can you relate? I know from the influence of social media (there was no such thing when I first started teaching in 1987) and fast forward to this year of distance learning, I often felt inadequate and overwhelmed!

Along with my We Teach So Hard podcast buddies, we discuss the book and Tracy of Wild Child's Mossy Oak Musings came up with these scrumptious recipes to go with each of Doyle's keys. This Watermelon Feta Salad is THE BEST to feel it all!! It has become a weekly staple for my family!

Friday, June 19, 2020

What Non-Black Teachers Need to Know

2020 will definitely be remembered as a turning point.  Not only marked by the COVID19 pandemic and quarantine, but by world-wide protests and marches in outrage to the treatment and murders of Black people. I've been relatively quiet on social media this past month, trying to process everything.  I can't stop thinking about Black Lives Matter; my heart hurts and I'm frustrated as a teacher, with wanting to "do and say the right thing". I've been reading books and articles like crazy, watching videos, following Black thought leaders on social media, and listening to podcasts to inform myself.
As a fourth generation  (yonsei) Japanese American, I often don't know where I fit in or how certain issues reflect my experience: I am not Black, I am not white. I try to discuss issues that come up in the news through reading picture books to my students and having discussions that are safe and child-appropriate. I have books in the classroom with diverse representation. We talk all the time about social justice and standing up for what is right. But I know there's more I should and can be doing, especially teaching in a school with mostly Non-Black students and Non-Black teaching colleagues.

Annie Sheehan wrote an opinion piece, stating, "White teachers make up an estimated 80% of the teaching force in the U.S. White students make up less than half of the population of elementary students in the country, according to 2018 Census data. This means many students will go through the early years of their education without encountering a teacher who mirrors their own racial identity and background. You can read her complete article HERE.

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!