Get the best out of your students with Literacy Task Lists!

Students working either independently or within a learning team have always been a large portion of my classroom environment. It frees me to work with small groups on skills or concepts that they may need a little more assistance in mastering. The majority of us call them ‘stations’ and have some type of management system to complete the stations. If managed efficiently, stations can be very valuable to the learning process.

During this past year, I changed from stations to a Literacy Tasks List. I felt I was limiting my students and myself with the structure of stations. In stations, students were moving from work area to work area every 10 or 15 minutes. I was always at a station in that procedure. Lastly, the idea of stations seemed very elementary. My students were one step away from middle school. Changes needed to be made.  I wanted to give my students a little more decision making ability, and I needed my groups to be flexible. I really didn’t need to work with ALL my students on something.

After a little research and planning, I created a Literacy Tasks List for students to use as a “To Do List”.  The tasks list included the weekly objectives, tasks that were required, and optional activities they could work on leisurely when they were done with all the required tasks. Each week or two, I would provide my students with a detailed overview of the tasks. Students would receive a copy of the Literacy Tasks List to check off the tasks as they completed them and use as a cover sheet for the required tasks.

With a few tweaks in the management, the Literacy Tasks List was the best change I made. My students loved the independence the list created for them. They had the ability to start on what they wanted. They also enjoyed being able to choose a partner or two, instead of being anchored to the students at their table.

With the tasks under way, I had the ability to call students to my table whenever I needed them. It could be just one or a small group of four. It enabled me to differentiate and really use the data I would receive from pretests to develop the use of the time I had. I found I could also take as much time as I needed with those groups.

My daily goal has always been to get the most and the best out of the time my students and I have in the hour we are together. If the management is in place, we have little to no distractions and we can get so much done. Changing to the Literacy Tasks List did just that. We were getting some really great discovery and growth. And that’s all a teacher can ask.

 

Not your ordinary super powers ;)

Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound. He is faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive. Dressed in his blue suit and hands akimbo, he is the proverbial super hero. He has saved the world from ultimate destruction a time or two. There is no doubt that we know that red caped man well.

Superman is cool. I don’t doubt it! He has some pretty amazing powers, but so does a teacher. Have we ever took a closer look at some on the more unique powers of an everyday superhero? Let’s just examine a few powers that will leave you in awe.

Multitask Speed Eating

I don’t know any other profession who can make 75 copies, grade tests, and eat a sandwich simultaneously. I’m just naming a few. Ask any teacher. There is way more going on in that span of 30 minutes. Performing such skill requires daily conditioning and years to perfect. It requires a strong mind to hold a running list, amazing arm strength to carry tons of items in a single bound, and the speed of a cheetah to get it all done with limited time. To see such a feat being accomplished is truly a sight to behold.

Bladder Management

It’s going on hour three and the teacher has yet to use the bathroom. How does a person do that? It’s called training. Some of the best bladder managers have the ability to train the bladder to wait for unplanned breaks in the day. There are even some who don’t even realize he or she hasn’t used the bathroom ALL day! It’s not until the end of a very busy day that the bladder screams, “Hey, a little relief would be nice!”

Then there’s the speed factor. An educator has the ability to use the bathroom in under 30 seconds. Yes, that does include locking the door, clothing adjustments, and hand washing. The most skilled managers plan wardrobes around the speed factor. Wardrobe malfunctions cause delays. One has to be fast, so one can get back to class.

Eyes Everywhere/Hyper Hearing

Yep, she heard you say that ugly word even though everyone was talking. She also saw you throw your pencil across the room. But her back was turned? It’s the most powerful skill a teacher will use. Because one of the many responsibilities is to keep her students safe, it is a necessary power to see all and hear all. After it’s developed, a teacher can redirect an off-task student from ten feet away. A teacher can correct a mispronounced word for a student on the opposite end of the room as well as listen to the student who is reading right in front of her. The power can be used anywhere at anytime and can be a life saver. So when they say “she has eyes in the back of her head”, she just might. You never know!

Of course, there are so many more talents and powers an educator has that can define him or her as a superhero. It’s not your ordinary super powers. They may be a little quirky and unique, but you have to admit that some of these powers take great skill. The teacher may not wear a cape, but he or she can do some pretty amazing things. Just stand back and watch in wonder.

 

 

Coding… The New Problem Solving

Coding in the classroom seems to be at the forefront of what’s happening in the world of technology in education. I have read countless articles on the idea of learning how to code in elementary settings. After reading several articles, I do believe that we, as educators, need to seriously consider the ways that learning how to code can benefit our students and where it belongs in the classroom.

This idea of coding is a new frontier for many of us. It wasn’t until I assisted at our school district’s annual tech camp that all of my reading started to make complete sense. Within the week, I observed coding in the hands of students entering the sixth grade. What I witnessed was eye opening. My definition of coding completely changed. Coding was no longer just about creating software. Coding was about thinking with logic, thinking critically, and problem solving.

It all started with cup stacking and drawing arrows. A stack of cups and a packet of designs were given to the campers. They were asked to “write” code using only arrows that explained how to complete a chosen design. Their code and stack of cups were given to another camper to try. A simple task of stacking cups became a complex task of thinking through a process. I heard students discussing where a camper might have gone wrong in his or her “coding” and how to fix the code. It was a simple task, but one that had these kids curious and determined to make their code work correctly.

The cup stacking activity led to a website called Scratch. The campers only needed a short tutorial on the website before they were off making sprites dance or move. They embedded sounds and timing with Scratch’s program. Once again the coding was simple and well organized, but I found everyone engaged into creating something unique to show what they had learned.

It was on the second and third days of using Scratch that I realized the depth of how powerful learning to code can be for our students. In those days, the campers were asked to develop something and embed it themselves. On the final day, they explored games already created by others who use the website and they had to change a piece of the game. I slowly realized how much problem solving was going on in the room. I began imagining that this is what coders go through everyday in their jobs. I could see the development of code that didn’t work as they had hoped and having to find a solution. Needless to say, I had a whole new admiration for those who develop software.

I now understood how educators can approach the idea of coding within their classroom. In one week at camp, I witnessed true problem solving, critical thinking, and risk taking, to produce a final product. As a teacher, I want my students to take those risks and tackle any problems with just as much determination as I saw in these campers.

It leaves me with one question. Is coding the answer to get my students problem solving in other areas of their education? The answer might be yes, and one I am willing and excited to explore.

 

Rainy day recess — bring on the fun!

So what’s a teacher to do when it is pouring down rain outside and it is time for recess? There are schools across this nation who may be lucky enough to have some enclosed pavillion which enables the kiddos to get all that energy out. My school doesn’t have such structure. So my students and myself are left with only one option….the classroom!

So when the rain is pouring and the old man is snoring, what can you do? There are a few safe and effective ways students can release the energy and just play for a bit. I have a few things I rotate periodically so the natives don’t get restless,especially when rainy day one turns into rainy day three.

Quiet Ball

To play quiet ball, you’ll need a small soft ball. My preferred choice is the splash balls for pools. It’s like a small bean bag and really can’t damage things if it hits something.

The students begin the game by forming a circle on the perimeter of the room. A “judge” is picked to maintain order and determine whether a throw or catch is fair during the game. Of course, we use the random feature of ClassDojo to choose the judge. After the judge is picked, that child throws out the first pitch to a student in the circle.

The object of the game is to be the last man standing. To be the last man standing, you must adhere to a few rules.

  • All tosses must be underhand
  • You can not toss the ball to the person next to you. Must be somewhat across from you.
  • If you don’t catch the ball, you are out. However, the judge can determine whether the ball was catchable. If it was judge uncatchable, the thrower is then out.
  • Once there are four kids left, they take position in the four corners of the room and the game continues.
  • When there are only two players left, they position themselves across from each other and the game continues until someone is out.
  • Try to stay quiet! If you are too loud or yelling, the judge can eject you from the game.

Now I know the last bullet is extremely difficult when the game gets really exciting. I get really excited when it gets intense. You have to allow for some level of rumbling. You just want to prohibit those “outside voices” from taking over your hallway.

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Cards and Board Games

My two boys have outgrown most of the board games we once played together. Instead of tossing them or looking for a good home, I brought them to my classroom. You might think Candy Land and Shoots & Ladders would be untouched by 5th graders. It’s just the opposite! They love those games. I also have decks of UNO and SKIP BO cards they can choose. I have to say there is just something magical about seeing my students spread out on the floor and engrossed in a game.

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Go Old School

Sometimes you just have to go back to your days in elementary school.

  • Heads Up Seven Up
  • Whole Group Hangman
  • Simon Says … of course with classroom modification due to space.

I am a strong believer in recess! I’m not talking a 5 minute brain break. I’m talking a full 15 to 20 minutes of time to just be a kid. We as the adults have a luxury of walking away from work when our brain is about to explode. For me to be at my best, I have to leave the thinking at the desk for a good amount of time and focus on something else for a while. I am much more productive and clear headed when I return to my desk. Our students are no different! It takes a lot of energy and brain power to learn. Just like us, they have to step away before their brains ignite into flame.

Little moments that have a big impact on your well-being

Once upon a time, I lived in a bubble of discontent. There was always something that would steal my “happy”. It could be a student’s behavior, curriculum woes, or even losing my favorite grading pen. When I look back on it now, I see how completely exhausting it was to be that unsatisfied with my world around me. I’m sure I was exhausting those around me as well. I was just clueless to how far I dove into this pit of despair.

And then it happened.

I can remember the day and hour so vividly. I was sitting among a few of my students during a mini lesson. One particularly challenging young man laughed at a humourous comment made by another young man. We all laughed at his comment, but the sound of his particular laughter was unlike anything that I had heard from him. It was the type of innocent child laughter one might hear from a child watching a Disney movie. I could only stare in amazement because I finally saw the little boy and not the rough around the edges kid who left trouble in his wake.

That evening, I went home and shared the moment with my husband. Through tears, I explained how it affected me and how wonderful it felt to have that small moment. The next day, I found myself looking for little moments. I wanted to see the moments I was missing by being constantly frazzled by deadlines, paperwork, and the non stop routine that being a teacher can bring to a day. I found three things that day. Three small moments that brought me a little happiness. The next day, I did the same thing and found a few more small moments. It continued day after day until I found myself finding five things during my day.

Each and every day I make it a practice to silently review the five things that have brought me some bit of happiness. Occasionally, I share them with others either by talking about them or posting them on my Facebook page. Not everyday ends in sunshine and rainbows. And I still get frustrated a time or two at curriculum changes or the lack of parental support. It just comes with the territory of the field we have chosen.

It’s a challenge not to become overwhelmed with the demands of both work and home. Ruts occur. Burnout can rear it’s ugly head. However, there is true joy in teaching. If we examine the day close enough, we can find things that make us completely thrilled to be a teacher. It starts with one thing. Only one small moment can become five things in no time. All we have to do as educators is observe. I mean really observe our surrounding. It’ll change your outlook.

 

Safe and reliable tools for student research projects!

As an fifth grade ELA teacher, one of the major assignments in my class each year is a research project. Research projects are a great way to introduce students to the discussion of reliable sources and primary versus secondary resources. One of my greatest concerns with any research project is the autonomy I am providing my fifth graders as they search the Internet for sources, images, and facts. Even with the strongest of filters, things can slip through the hands of an educator quickly. However, I have found technology that helps manage such searches, creating a much safer environment.

Here’s a small list of safe and effective tools for your upcoming research projects.

1. Turn on the Safe Search in Chrome.All bias thoughts aside, Chrome is my preferred browser. All the computers in my classroom have Chrome as the default browser. Chrome enables me to use a Safe Search feature with a simple on/off option. To lock your Safe Search, you simply log into your Google account and lock.

2. Provide students with reliable search engines. Since I strive to provide technology-rich projects, I want to provide students with the proper tools. One of those tools are reliable and safe search engines. There are several out there on the Internet, but my favorites are Kidtopia and KidRex. Both of these search engines are Google driven and loved by my fifth graders!

3. Use Pinterest as a research hub. To use Pinterest in my classroom, I set up a gmail and Pinterest account just for student use. Students can browse the selected pieces and collaborate on a group board. With the use of these accounts, students are provided with a mini-lesson on digital ethics. They are forewarned of the loss of internet privileges which are spelled out in their Computer Users Contract provided by our district. I have never had an incident where major consequences had to be enforced. In my opinion, my students are choosing to respect the integrity of their work environment because I am giving them the tools they love to use outside of the classroom.

There are many websites and teaching techniques that will ensure safety and reliability when it comes to using technology in the classroom. As technology continues to be a part of my students’ lives, I am forever researching better ways to use these tools in the classroom!

Time to drop email and start instant messaging with parents!

An integral piece of my success each year is developing strong communication with parents. There are various methods in which I attempt to keep my students’ parents informed. Parents can visit my classroom page on my school’s website to find out what topics are being covered, what tests are coming up, and what events our classroom might be participating in during any given week. I update my page weekly or even daily if required.

At the beginning of the school year, I emphasize that emails are the quickest form of communication for me. Although I would love to return their phone calls, it can be almost impossible due to the fact that the nearest phone is in the teachers’ lounge. I ensure parents that I can respond to their questions and concerns much quicker by email. However, a shift has occurred in my communication strategy. A new and exciting tool has opened up an even better line of communication: ClassDojo Messenger.

ClassDojo Messenger has become one of the best ways to get instant information to parents and receive instant feedback as well. Although my first time sending messages were due to student misbehavior, I was thrilled with the results as responses began pouring in from the parents of those few students who were involved. I informed the parents of the incident at 8:30am and by 9:15am I had either a response or an indication that my message was read.

Since then I have found a number of ways to use ClassDojo Messenger to assist my communication with parents. I’ve also noticed that the parents are using it more often as well. With the app notifying me that I have a message, I am able to answer those immediate questions at anytime. I wouldn’t normally see those questions on my email until the morning. If it were a question about homework or an event happening the next day, my response would have been too late.

So far, I’ve used ClassDojo Messenger to:

  • Remind parents of end of year procedures.
  • Provide a Field Trip checklist of things the students need.
  • Congratulate a student (via the parent) on his or her test grade.
  • Thank the parents for a great year and wish them a relaxing and safe summer.
  • Provide a little positive reinforcement for one or two challenges among my students.

I am surely looking forward to expanding the use of ClassDojo Messenger this school year. I also plan to check in on my students during the summer and send some loving messages to my former students. I’m excited to open a greater dialogue with parents through ClassDojo Messenger and see all the benefits associated with increased parent communication.

Using ClassDojo for more than just behavior!

Have you ever thought about using ClassDojo for data tracking needs besides behavior? As educators, we are continually collecting data on our students. No matter what grade-level you teach or how many classes you have any given day, ClassDojo can assist in collecting, storing, and producing customized data without the need for a spreadsheet or paper. You just need to think outside the box!

In my own little fifth-grade world, I use ClassDojo to gather a multitude of data. ClassDojo allows me to create as many classes and behaviors as I’d like, so I can keep track of so many different types of data points. For example, I track our students’ work habits. I track whether students complete an assignment for ELA, math, science, and social studies. If a student does not complete the assignment, he or she receives a negative point for the specific subject area. Students can also receive a negative point if they are unprepared for class. This really comes in handy when quantifying subjective data such as “work habits”, which appears as a grade on students’ quarterly report cards. At the end of each quarter I enter the date range of the quarter within the “Customized Report” and instantly have a number of missed assignments for each of my 97 students. This number is then translated into an O, S, or N based on a grading scale pre-determined by our administrators. The data truly makes my job of submitting these types of grades much easier.

Another great use of my ClassDojo account has been tracking my Junior Beta members’ service hours and meeting attendance. Just as I do with work habits, I create categories for meetings and projects we are completing. Members receive points for attending monthly meetings and completing service projects. This replaces hunting for sign-in sheets or begging for Beta folders to monitor student participation. By the end of the year I have collected a useful report of students’ individual hours and have guaranteed proof of hours earned. Once again, this omits the loss of documents and playing the guessing game on which member may have gained his or her hours in order to receive an award at the end of each year.

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The amount of data that can be collected through ClassDojo is endless. I have already started a list of spreadsheets I will be converting to ClassDojo next school year. This list includes the large amount of signed paperwork students must submit each year prior to school starting, fees collected, forms returned, etc.

It’s time to think outside the “paper” box you collect each year and save yourself a lot of work!

First year teachers! Set a strong foundation for the road ahead

Congratulations, you made it! You now have your own classroom! You will probably spend the better part of your summer thinking about your classroom setup and decor. You are likely to purchase your first planning book and other teacher supplies. Even after 14 years in the classroom, I must admit I still feel giddy thinking about new supplies and classroom decoration ideas.

Your first year as a teacher will be both exciting and overwhelming. It will also be the best adventure you will take in your professional journey. As you embark on this endeavor you will want to examine and develop five basic “maps” to set you in a successful direction:

  1. Establish a support system: Whether it be colleagues within your grade level or a veteran on campus, these people will be your lifeline. One uniquely inspiring aspect about this profession is the willingness to share and mentor. Veteran teachers have all been in your position at some point in time and can ease confusion or unknowns for you.
  2. Ask a lot of questions: As educators, we are always reminding our students to ask questions, but we need to ask questions as well! You will need to know your school’s policies and procedures, school-wide behavior plan, schedules, and much more. I have taught in three different schools, each with a unique way of handling day-to-day tasks, so try not to assume too much!
  3. Developing a solid behavior management plan: Once you have established whether your school has a behavior plan, examine what your role is. Explore whether colleagues in your grade-level have specific procedures for handling encouragement and discipline. Hopefully teachers at your school are already using ClassDojo and you can jump on board. If not, there is no reason for you not to use ClassDojo for your own classroom. You might be the catalyst for change. Speaking from experience, it can happen.
  4. Establish strong classroom procedures: There should be a well-defined procedure in place for just about every classroom activity. This will save you an incredible amount of time that can be wasted during transitions. Your school might have procedures that all teachers must implement. If not, mentor teachers can help you develop procedures and there are plenty of ideas online. Whatever procedures you choose, put them in place immediately. Practice often with your students and maintain consistency. Both you and your students will be glad you did.
  5. Plan for more than you need: I develop detailed plans for the first three days. We practice procedures, go over the behavior management plan, gather materials, and perform icebreakers. I give a presentation about myself and students give “brown bag” presentations about themselves. We develop personal goals, class goals and set expectations. It’s always smart to plan far too many games and brain breaks just in case particular tasks take less time than anticipated.

Remember that you are setting the foundation for not only your first year, but for years to come. The goal is to establish who you are as an educator. Your methods and structures may change as you find what works or don’t work in your classroom, but your foundation will remain the same. Solid foundations support solid learning.

Give teachers a student perspective on ClassDojo!

A middle school colleague and I recently were given the opportunity to present for our district’s summer tech class series. Of course we jumped at the chance to show the benefits of using ClassDojo. Generally when we present, we outline the basics and define new features. However, we realized that this presentation could move in a different direction. This class was held in a tech lab, allowing us to give our audience a more engaging, hands-on lesson. We planned on going over account setup, adding classes, and working with custom behaviors. We created a class list for teachers to use during the presentation. Needless to say, we were thrilled to be giving this presentation.

While planning, my colleague suggested we develop a class using our participants as the students. It was a brilliant way to model how we use ClassDojo in our classrooms, giving the attendees a student perspective on the product. This was a great opportunity for teachers to experience the excitement of seeing their avatar for the first time, or hearing the sing-song of receiving a positive point. We even purchased a couple of gift cards for the “student” who had the most points at the end of the class.

During the presentation, we secretly gave these “students” Dojo points as they asked questions or had insight on how ClassDojo could be used in their classrooms. When the time came to go live and show our attendees what we had been doing, their reaction was just what we had hoped. Just like our real students, they commented on each others avatars and how many points they had. This gave us an opportunity to discuss how their reactions were very similar to what they will find among their students. After our little experiment, we were able to show the teachers not only how useful ClassDojo can be in their classroom, but how exciting and positive it can be for their students.

We then gave them the freedom to explore ClassDojo. We walked among our participants to answer questions and give them one-on-one assistance. It was a wonderful to help them work with ClassDojo rather than just showing the app for a change.

In the end, this presentation was the best thing we could have done — we gave these teachers an authentic experience with ClassDojo. It reminded me that seeing is believing — but then again, doing is even better!