Sunday, September 3, 2017

Reflection Questions to Start the Year

Today I had the wonderful opportunity to listen to Principal Kafele deliver a Back-to-School Message -YOUR Power is in YOUR Attitude.

Due to technical difficulties we actually got a two hour pep talk, actually a motivational kick in the pants to get this year started. I can't tell you how much this man motivates me.  He is a great speaker, but beyond that his passion for education just oozes out of him and it is so authentic that you can't be an educator and not be inspired.

He asked us to reflect on 5 powerful questions.  I will share them here and start to answer them.  I say start because this is going to take time to develop. However, I don't think it is something I can put off for  someday when I have the perfect answers, because this is what will shape me as a teacher.  And every single day I am in front of my students is critical and I must be prepared.

  1. Are my students at an advantage because I am their teacher?
    This question is more of a mantra I’ve got to start convincing myself of.  You cannot expect greatness out of your students if you don’t believe you are great.  I’ve had a not so hot track record with my test scores that I constantly allow to bring my self confidence down, but I have to remember that even though the test scores are important they can’t be the only indicator of success.  I know from students that I’ve taught in the past that I am making a difference and giving them confidence in their abilities and teaching them to strive for greatness.  To that end my mantra is this:
    My students are at an advantage because as their teacher I believe in them and I believe in my ability to mold them into exceptional learners.
  2. Why do I teach, anyway?
    This may not sound polished and worded correctly, but I do feel this is accurate.  I feel that I allowed doors to be closed because I thought I wasn’t a good math student.  I once took a mathematical aptitude test at the Chubb Institute and they were shocked by my high score.  I was too and didn’t believe it or pursue the opportunity to get into the tech field in the late 90’s which could have really changed my life. This makes me passionate about helping students avoid this same mistake.

    I teach because I want to be the person in a young person’s life who shows them that they have a choice in their future.  That there are doors that can open and close, and to guide them to decide that they will not have any of those doors close so that they can peruse their greatness, especially if they don’t know yet what that might be.
  3. How badly do you want to see your students succeed? What will be the evidence?  How much time will you devote?
    This is my 7th year as a teacher, I still have the same drive and determination as I had the first year.  The only reason I can think of for this is because I truly want my kids to soar. Its not about me being a great teacher, it's about seeing students reach their greatness.
    I will do whatever it takes to make sure my students succeed.  Success means that they master the content that they are required to and also to become lifelong learners themselves.
  4. Where will my students be ten years from now as a result of having me as their teacher.
    Principal Kafele stresses that the ten years is just an arbitrary number, and we have to think about the impact we are making on students futures.  I am lucky enough to be connected with a few of my former students on social media and it brings me such joy to see them soaring.  It is my hope that the majority of my students have successful lives.

    In ten years from now, my students will be first year college students.  It is my goal that my students develop the mindset that they can grow their brains and do anything they set their mind to do.  Not only will they go on to college but they will not need remedial classes because they learned the value of hard work and perseverance.
  5. Do my students see in me who and what they can become?
    I love how Principal Kafele explains that you can be a role model to anyone in front of you, it doesn’t matter if you are a different race or gender.  I will strive to be that role model to my students. I think the most important thing is to be authentic. Kids can sniff out fakes like nobody's business!

I can't stress enough what an impact Principal Kafele made on me today with his Facebook Live message. I really urge anyone who reads this to look him up on Facebook and listen to these recordings.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My Data Wall

I've never been a fan of the data walls that show where students fall individually in three levels, above level, on level and below level.
However, I have created a data wall for my third graders as a visual motivator on the whole class level.  They love it and so do I!

I have two classes of third graders so I kind of put them in a challenge to push each other.  I haven't promised them any prizes for winning, but they know as a whole 3rd grade they are working to get to and stay in the green area,
Since my school uses benchmark testing every six weeks, I've used the standards they are working on for this upcoming benchmark.
I've also indicated on here the attempts.  So last week they were only around 25% and 30% on 3.NF.A.1 and with a little more work this week they knocked it out of the park getting all the way up to the 80% range!  They were so excited and noticed their growth.
I can't believe what difference a little thing like this is making.  It is giving them a new purpose to work hard and try their best.  I also notice them glancing over to the chart when I tell them the objective for the day and they see the CC standard listed.
I can't wait to see how they do on their benchmark test in February!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Can I tell you about a game that both I and my students love?

First of all they love it because they think they can be loud and obnoxious (which they can) while playing it...they can.

I love it because they have to complete a boring review worksheet, but then check and confirm the answers with their "team" and if they don't agree they have to explain and convince the other person why they are right!

Ok, here is ZAP!

Split the students up into two teams.  Have them complete a worksheet ideally with the number of questions as you have students.  I have 18 students and had them do a 12 question worksheet so had to make a few questions up at the end.  Today it actually got really good and suspenseful!

Basically you are going to alternate between the two teams to answer the questions.  The nice thing is that before you start you let them collaborate. This way they all have the correct answer and if you are monitoring while they collaborate you are making sure they explain why instead of just forcing the answer on the other person.

Now when you call on a student it must be quiet the student you call must give the answer, when they get it correct (which they should since they collaborated) they pull a stick from the ZAP jar.  The sticks are EVERYTHING in this game and range from +2, to -20, ZAP! which brings you back to 0, ZAP the other team! and 10 second dance party.
It is freaking awesome on so many levels!
First of all they are completing a boring review worksheet and confirming their answers and making sure like their life depends on it that they have it right.
Then for the game, since the sticks are so wacky it means that the "smart" group isn't always going to win.
Finally similar to above, since it is so random, the kids love it!!

I totally use this for test review, since I tell them to take their papers home to study, this way I know they have the right answers.

Like I said today was the perfect example of ZAP!  One team was up 28 points the other had -14 and the negative team ended up winning with a ZAP and a few other sticks.

Another benefit is I teach 3rd grade, they are already learning a context for negative numbers!!!!  My -14 team was wishing for a zap to bring them to zero...  Gotta love it!!!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Day 13-Thoughts Have Power

Even though I consider myself a positive person and very optimistic, when I reflect on my work I usually focus on the negative.  Not in a negative way, but in a "how can I fix this" way.  I feel like that is very important to do in order to improve, but I'm also realizing that I spend too much time focusing on what is going wrong.  I need to also look at what is going right and try to learn from and build on that.  
Image result for thoughts are things

So as I look back at this week these are the things that are going well and I hope to build on:

1. I am getting more comfortable with the centers!  My students have learned the procedure for transitioning to the next group and they are getting better at it each time.  I have them switch on a count of 3, at 1 they all stand up and push in their chairs. On 2 the back row comes to the front of the room and stands in front of the first group.  On 3 they all go to the seats behind them.  It has a good flow. 
For now I am keeping the activities simple, but I'm working really hard to make sure they are meaningful and not just busy work. These are Learning Stations, not just Doing Stations.  I am working on building students understanding that the work they do here is their opportunity to play with the new concepts and develop their own meanings.  

2. I feel like my lessons are becoming more effective using the resources and methods I've been accumulating over the years.   For example, I've started pulling the concept development ideas from EngageNY which I think work very well, but also using Whole Brain Teaching to teach vocabulary.  I also like how the Whole Brain Teaching management techniques fit with the Teach Like a Champion strategies, such as 100% and No Opt out.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Day 9/10-"Centers"

I tried the reworked version of my centers and found that it still needs a little tweaking, but it is definitely headed in the right direction.

The baskets worked great!  I had all of the supplies including printed directions in each basket.  I assigned a Captain and a Supply Manager for each group. My Captains kept everyone focused on the task and kept track of time.  The Supply Manager distributed the supplies out of the basket, read the directions and collected everything at the end of the time limit.  I feel like they did a good job with their roles so that is staying.

I did change the desk set up though, I had three groups of six which I really liked, but 1. it was hard to get them in position, and 2. this is a very chatty group of students and although I'm working on getting that under control, I think its too many together.  Right now they are paired up in rows and I have three groups, I had  the middle pair split up and one will move to the right and the other will move left.  So it will look like this:

xxx     xxx
xxx     xxx
xxx     xxx
I  still had 3 activities but I made two baskets instead of one.  Also, instead of the basket moving, I had the students move in order to give them a little leg stretch during this long block.  This worked really well even on the first try!

This afternoon, our external instructional coach came in and I got some really good feedback.  She said I was on the right track and gave me some things to tweak. Especially the type of work I should be having the students do.  I am super excited to try it out tomorrow.

Another observation I've made is that this group of students, while they are challenging as far as their behavior goes, they have already demonstrated some great math talk and reasoning!  I can't wait to start actually blogging about their math soon!!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Day 7/8-1st Full Week Done!

First let me say, I survived the first full moon of the year!  If there is one thing that I have learned during my time as a teacher, it is that students are definitely more challenging on a full moon.  That doesn't have to be a negative thought either, and its not just them, I believe I have to watch my own behaviors during this time as well.  I try to be more soothing and calm and not get them too hyped up.

I have learned soooo much this week and I am excited about that!
I attempted to introduce "centers" and conferencing with students.  This is something I have struggled with forever and I am more determined then ever to get it right this year.  I now have a 120 minute math block in the morning and about 95 minutes in the afternoon.  There is no reason this can't work!
Lets just say this was a great learning opportunity for me.  Especially since our wonderful RTI specialist, who I just respect so much and adore was in the class with me.  She gave me some really great suggestions and helped me make a plan for next week!
What I learned and how I'm changing it and concerns:
Not enough structure!  Since I have 18 students and set my desks up in three rows of pairs, after the mini lesson, I will have the pairs of students turn their desks and face each other. This will create 3 "groups" of 6 students.  I will have 3 activities planned with all of the supplies in a basket.  I will designate a captain for each group, that person will keep the group focused and on task.  Each group will have a supply manager who will be responsible for distributing and collecting supplies from and to the basket.  There will also be a messenger who, if the group is having a problem or question and cannot figure it out themselves, the messenger will be the only one who can ask me the question.
Concerns:  I'm pretty sure I know my high, middle and low groups already, but I know there is not a perfect 6 of each.  Something I plan to do is pull 4 students at a time to my back table.  So I will also have to take that into consideration, would I want all lows together and when I pull my 4 only 2 are left?  Still a lot of learning for me to do and I think I won't be able to know for sure until I try it.

WBT is going well and still a lot for me to learn here too.  Of course in my mind I expect instant perfection and I'm not there yet, but that is OK.  In the first week I have seen more than one student who has the tendency to be off task and disruptive, self correct and work really hard to get a "line" on my tracker sheet to earn a star.  That is success in my book!  Here is the other thing I noticed this week.  I've raised my voice once or twice and said some negative things (Do you want to lose recess?  If you can't follow the rules you are not welcome in my classroom-things like that) and some of the support teachers have done the same.  The students respond to that really well AT THE TIME, but then go right back to the behaviors we do not want.  On the other hand, I've already seen as mentioned before, behaviors being changed from the positive reinforcements even when I'm not actively talking about it.  I'm not sure I'm explaining that correctly.  Anyway, I plan this week to really focus on and call out all of the good behavior I see and less focus on the misbehavior.  I won't let the misbehavior off the hook, they have already learned my stink eye and I will stand by students who are talking out or not focused, I will still wait for 100% and things like that, but I will go out of my way to make a big deal over students who are doing the right thing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Day 6 The Super Improver Team

I introduced my Super Improver Team board today and I think it went over pretty well.  I did not hand out the goal cards today, I don't think they need them yet.
Here was the board from the first day of school until yesterday:
And today they walked in to this:
I explained that the SI Team is like a video game where the object is to "level up".  The way you level up is by improving things like your behavior or academics.  It can be anything that needs improving!  As I observe students doing things better than they were, I will praise them and mark a line on my chart.  Each time I mark a line I am making a star.  When they have a complete start I put an actual star sticker on their card, 10 stars and its time to level up.  I showed them that I had already printed their names on every single color so that they knew I expected them to level up.
It felt really good to be on the lookout to catch students following the rules who normally didn't and a lot of students got 2-3 lines today towards their stars.  It helped with redirecting unwanted behavior too, there were a few students who I simply asked if they wanted to earn some lines and they instantly changed their behavior.  I am hoping I can get  a few of them on the yellow level by tomorrow to get them excited.  The hardest part about this for me is the students who are really great anyway!  Its hard to not want to just give them stars for being "good." I think I will conference with those students to see if there are any goals they would like to strive for that we can monitor on the SI Team.