Monday, July 6, 2015

How to Build Meaningful Student-Led Discussion

Creepy crawly spiders! Heights! The dark! These are some common top fears to name a few, and if you're anything like me, heck, you're not too fond of any of those three. But do you know what the number one fear is? The one that outweighs all others? Glossophobia. (Cue the eery music) Dun, da, dun! Now before we get all panicked and shriek in horror, what exactly is this dreadful phobia? In layman's terms--the fear of public speaking. Even if you don't personally suffer from glossophobia, you probably have experienced some type of symptoms like a racing heart, sweaty palms, dry mouth, or some type of mild anxiety before speaking in front of others. So how do we get better at communicating in a group setting, and how do we prepare our students, even at a young age, to do this?

Like other academic skills, how to participate in a discussion is something that needs to be taught explicitly.

When I was early in my teaching career, whole class discussion typically consisted of me asking the questions while my students provided the answers. Sure, the questions were good, and by good, I mean the kinds of questions that were open-ended and required critical thinking. But still, I was the one that was doing all the leading. I was doing all the asking. I was doing all the steering. I was the driver if you will.

Now instead imagine a classroom where the students are the ones in the driver's seat. The students are the ones asking the questions AND providing the answers. The students are the ones steering the discussion. Over my years of teaching, I have learned (and am still learning!) to "release control," and recently, I envisioned a classroom where student-led discussion was the norm.

Thus, began my quest of how to make this happen. If I wanted my students to truly lead the discussion in my classroom, then I would need to give them the skills and tools to be able to do this.

This is where gradual release comes into play. Gradual release is the process in which you basically pass the baton slowly from teacher to student as students gain independence with a particular skill or concept. Here's how it works.

1) You teach the skill directly. This involves direct instruction and modeling.
2) You involve students in the process while you still support. This is often referred to as guided instruction. For example, for a math lesson involving the steps of solving a story problem, you now do a few story problems "together."
3) You give students independent practice time with the skill while you provide feedback, both affirming and adjusting (i.e. "I see you drew a picture to help you solve the problem, great job choosing a strategy. Let's double check your addition in the tens place...") .
4) You wrap up the lesson by clearing up misconceptions, going over answers from independent work, and perhaps informally assessing students through say an exit ticket or cold calling with popsicle sticks.

In sum, you go from "me" to "we" to "you." So I thought, why couldn't this process be used for teaching student-led discussion? Using the idea of gradual release, I broke down teaching student-led discussion into the six steps below:
The outline above involves starting in baby steps. First, introduce students to discussion stems. It is best to only start with a few at a time as well as to choose more concrete stems to begin with like, "I have a question..." or "I agree/disagree with..." first. These stems give students the language they need to jump into the discussion both in the format of asking a question as well as replying with a comment or relevant thought. I have designed 16 meaningful discussion stem posters for students to refer to.
The posters come in three different sizes, one perfect for hanging up on your classroom walls, one perfect to put on a ring and use for a small group, and one perfect for students to use as their individual resource.
Second, have students begin with less-academic, more fun topics vs. essential questions that require critical thinking. The goal here is that students can initially focus mostly on their communication skills vs. having to delve into deep thinking. Of course, once students have had ample practice learning the process of student-led discussion, then by all means dive head first into critical thinking guided by your academic units!  For teaching student-led discussion with juicy yet "easy" topics that hook students' interest, I created 20 discussion starters to use.
Third, give students time to write down their thinking and plan out what they are going to say about the topic rather than making them think and speak on the spot. I created some planning templates that can be used for any topic or essential question so that they can be used for meaty academic topics too. (P.S. They are editable so that I can type in my topic or essential question and make as many copies as I need!! Whoopee!!)
Fourth, set clear expectations before you start the student-led discussion such as what respectful listening looks like. Teach, model, and have students model these expectations so that you are setting students up for success.
Fifth, give students a goal as to how many times to speak and over time, increase it. For example, for the very first practice, you might say something like, "Today, everyone needs to speak at least one time. You may participate by asking a question, making a comment, or responding to someone else's comment. If you want to participate more than one time in the discussion, you may." Here's a rubric that can help students self-monitor and self-evaluate their communication skills.
Sixth, the very first time students practice student-led discussion, participate as the teacher as needed, calling on students who may need some encouragement. Over time, you will participate less and less until not at all! I made some recording sheets as an assessment tool to give students feedback, celebrate sutdents' successes, and support students in making growth in their communication skills. They come in different forms where I can record specific discussion stems students used or just in general whether students asked a question or made a comment. I also made them different sizes--one for whole class, one for small group. (PPS These are editable too so that student names can be typed directly on the sheet!)
The key to this whole process is baby steps. You want students to feel safe, encouraged, and confident, and the way to do this is to give students the tools they need up front and then release them slowly towards independence.

To see this "How to Teach Meaningful Student-Led Discussion Pack" in detail, click on the image below!
With the resources in this pack, your students certainly will not suffer from glossophobia as you create a safe and welcoming environment where students lead the discussion as your norm. Now as calming other fears like spiders... Good luck! :)
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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Starfish Story--Show a Teacher Some Love

As we celebrate all educators out there today for Teacher Appreciation Week, I am reminded of my favorite story that reenergizes me on one of THOSE DAYS. You know what I am talking about. The type of day where Murphy's law is just a little too on point--anything that can go wrong, does. It starts first thing in the morning when you spill your coffee down the front of you. Peachy. A little bit in a tizz, you head to the copy room only to discover that yes, not one but BOTH copy machines are down--one is giving you that incessant angry beeping sound while the other one displays the message blinking at no less than 13 different locations on the copier cuing you to open up every single door and compartment to play the loved-by-all game of "Find the Jammed Paper!" Unamused, you decide to send all copies of your morning work to the computer printer (even though you know this is frowned upon), but alas! The printer is out of toner. Fine, the kids will have to survive on this semi-educational (and I use semi- generously here) worksheet preprinted in case you should have a sub. Now, you will have to replace that too. Oh well. Following your own teacher advice when your students need some anger management guidance, you take three deep breaths, tell yourself "I got this!" and put on your smiling face to greet your kiddos at the door. Within the first 10 minutes of arrival, a bowl of cereal and milk has been spilled by Hannah all over Jeremiah's homework, Billy gets a bloody nose, Marcus can't find his beloved green pen, Ashonna is in tears because of loosing her star bracelet on the walk to school, Justin needs to call home because he forgot his field trip permission slip that was due yesterday, Michael is itchy from several mosquito bites, Caroline has already "asked 3 before me" and has been waiting now patentiently calling out your name at 20 second intervals for the past several mintues... HOW HAVE ALL THESE THINGS HAPPENED AND IT IS ONLY 8:15?!!!! AND WHY AM I YELLING?!!

By the time you get home, all you want to do is curl up in the fetal position, but life has other plans for you like cooking dinner, driving your own kids to their swim meet, folding the laundry that has been sitting in the basket for two, three, four, or truthfully FIVE days now. Is it possible it is just getting more and more wrinkly by the second?? On days like one of those days, we sometimes feel like we can't do it all. We think about all of the things that went wrong and wonder, "What difference am I making?" I have been there before many a time where I am my worst critic, and and this is when the Starfish Story comes to the rescue for me. If you haven't heard it before, here's how it goes:

The Starfish Story
Original Story by: Loren Eisley

One day a man was walking along the beach, when he noticed a boy hurriedly picking up and gently throwing things into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, "Young man, what are you doing?"

The boy replied, "Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them back, they'll die."

The man laughed to himself and said, "Don't you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can't make any difference!"

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, "I made a difference to that one."

I made a difference to THAT one. That last line is so powerful, it gets me every time. As teachers, we all have moments where we feel discouraged, frustrated, or just downright cranky. But we have to remember, even on the most hectic of days, we ARE making a difference to our students. Even when it seems like not all students are listening or not all students are not behaving, understanding the lesson, you fill in the blank here... We are making a difference to that one student. That impact is powerful. It is meaningful. It needs to be celebrated.

Now that I am a bit sniffly after typing up the Starfish Story (for the record, I am the type of person who cries at sentimental commercials, so this is really just my daily fix of sniffly-ness), let's move on to some excitement.

All teachers out there, you deserve to be celebrated! If there is something that has been on your wishlist for a while, today is the day to get it! TeachersPayTeachers is having a huge sale for Teacher Appreciation Week. You can save up to 28% when you use the promo code: ThankYou. Click on the picture to head to TPT.

Here's to you all educators out there. You truly are making a difference. Even on one of those days, you are making a difference to that one student.
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Monday, May 4, 2015

Teacher Appreciation Sale

That's right folks, it's teacher appreciation week! My building kicked off the morning with a scrumptious homemade pancake breakfast. Plus, surprise! Teachers get to wear jeans ALL WEEK long! It's all about the small stuff, am I right? I can't wait to throw on a pair of jeans AGAIN tomorrow to wear to work.

TeachersPayTeachers is showing some teacher love this week too by throwing a big sale Tuesday, May 5th and Wednesday, May 6th. Save up to 28% off using the promocode: ThankYou. Click on the pic below to head to TPT.

So show a teacher who has made a difference in your life some love this week! And if YOU yourself are a teacher, pamper yourself a bit. Maybe put that stack of papers needing grading to the side and do something that renews you like going for a walk, reading a book, playing a game with your kids, whatever you love outside of teaching. You deserve it!
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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Reading Flipables

Today as I was walking down the hallway on my way back from the copy room, I heard giggles and laughter coming from a third grade classroom. Intrigued, I had to peek in and see what all the commotion was about. I peered in. Did I see indoor recess in the works due to the rainy day that lasted allllll day long? No. How about a silly brain break or quick energizing game? No. Instead, I witnessed students sitting on the carpet completely locked in and engaged on what the teacher was saying. And just WHAT was the teacher talking about you may ask? MATH!! The students were absolutely mesmerized. I couldn't help but listen in too. I was caught up in the higher-level math talk that was happening between the teacher and students, but I was caught up in something else too. The fun! Who says learning can't be FUN and RIGOROUS??

Following this line of thinking, I have been doing lots of work this year around the combination of rigor and making learning fun. We know that in order to achieve mastery of a particular skill, students need repeated practice. And some skills require lots and lots and LOTS of repeated practice such as math facts or vocabulary development for instance. (I still remember as a third grader myself my 7s times tables were the ones that got me, I had to practice those babies probably a ZILLION times!) As teachers, we also know that some students require extra practice in comparison to others to learn certain skills. Thus, I have been looking at ways to provide that practice in ways that are meaningful and fun because in an ideal classroom, both should go hand-in-hand.

One skill that I have recently focused on for my "infusion of fun" if you will is summarizing. Summarizing is a reading comprehension skill that my second graders work on and develop literally all year long. This is a massive skill that quite simply takes hours, days, months, yes YEARS of practice. And so began my journey to find and create resources to make this repeated practice both rigorous and fun. Here are some things I found along my way...

"Follow the Yellow Brick Road", Retelling Rope, Sticky Note SummariesRoll & RetellFive Finger Retell Glove, Summarizing Foldables to name a few. (P.S. If you haven't noticed yet, click on each one to be taken directly to the resource!)

Inspired by all this fun out there, I have made an entire PACK OF FUN devoted to building reading comprehension skills that require repeated practice. The skills I focused on were: describing fictional story elements, supporting a main idea with details, using text evidence to identify character traits, asking and answering questions while reading, summarizing, developing vocabulary, confirming and adjusting predictions, making connections, and text analysis (specifically through the context of literature circles and book reports). I designed flipables for each skill perfect for student usage during whole group instruction, independently during reading workshop, in a small group with other students, or as part of an interactive notebook.

Here is an up-close and personal look at each flipable!

The story elements flipable has students describe and sketch a picture of each key fictional story element (characters, setting, problem, and solution).
The main idea and details flipable does just what it says--students determine the main idea and supporting details.
The character traits flipable has students use text evidence to determine character traits. The last page includes a menu of positive and negative character traits for students to chose from.
The asking and answering questions flipable has students use each key question word (Who, What, Where, When, Why, How) as a stem to formulate a question. Then, while reading, they answer it. To amp up the fun even more, have students complete just the asking portion of their flipable and then exchange with a peer or several to answer each other's questions.
The summarizing flipable walks students through the prompting words (Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then) with clarifying questions to then write a summary paragraph.
The vocabulary development flipable can be used for any subject beyond reading (science, social studies, math!) to help students build a deep understanding of specific content words. Students write the word, identify the part of speech, write a definition, use the word in a sentence, create a list of synonyms and antonyms, and draw a picture.
The making predictions flipable has students make predictions while reading and then confirm or adjust those predictions as they keep reading.
The making connections flipable has students make text to self, text to text, and text to world connections while they read.
The literature circle flipable guides students through text analysis through the specific jobs of word wonderer, clever connector, literary luminary, amazing artist, and discussion director. The description of the job is written at the top of each page for quick reference.
The book report flipable has students describe the main character (both physically and internally with character traits), identify the setting, write a plot summary, determine the theme, design a book cover, and explore their personal thoughts by writing about their favorite part of the book as well as writing a recommendation.
I can't wait to unfold (no pun intended!) the fun when I introduce these to my students! 
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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Everyday Heroes: An Opinion Writing Unit

"Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound! Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!" Launching spider webs from your fingertips to scale a skyscraper in seconds, diving through the clouds to rescue a damsel in distress, or fighting crime under the disguise of night is just a normal day in the life of a superhero from the comic books. But you do not need to have SUPERhuman strength, SUPERnatural abilities, or even a fancy SUPERhero costume to be a hero. In fact, a hero can look a lot like someone you know very well, maybe even a person you see everyday. Moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, doctors, firefighters, veterinarians, teachers, and police officers are some of our everyday heroes just to name a few. Ultimately, being a hero is less about what you look like on the outside and more about the heroic choices you make and quality of character you have. My most recent opinion writing unit is designed to have students explore just that.
This writing unit can be steered in a number of different ways. You may choose to have students write about a specific person they know if their life (such as their mom, sibling, grandfather), a famous person or hero from history (such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Cesar Chavez), or an everyday hero based on job (surgeon, soldier, coach). Depending on the direction you want your students to take, you may even have them gather research should you want them to write about a historical hero. Once you have the direction you want to take narrowed down, it's time to get students brainstorming about what defines a hero.

Then, comes the fun part! I am SO EXCITED about this opinion writing graphic organizer! It is a foldable made to look like a cootie catcher (remember playing with those back in the day??). This OREO (O-Opinion, R-Reasons, E-Evidence, O-Opinion Restated) foldable comes with this everyday heroes unit but can be used with ANY OPINION WRITING UNIT!
How it works is that students write their topic and opinion on the front of the foldable. Then, each flap lifts up for students to write a reason with detailed evidence to support their opinion. FUN and RIGOROUS, the best combination, am I right?!

Students use the OREO graphic organizer to write their rough draft. Once drafts are written, there is a series of checklists for students to use during the revising and editing process. This pack comes with rubrics too to grade final copy papers and provide specific feedback!
There are two anchor paper included in this pack as well to use as your own while you model each step of the writing process. One is designed with lower grades in mind, the other is a multi-paragraph paper with upper grades in mind. You can refer to these anchor papers as examples of what a quality piece of opinion writing looks.
To access this unit at my store on TPT, click on the picture below!
To be a hero, you don't need to shoot sticky webs to climb buildings like Spiderman. You don't need to be able to fly through the sky as fast as a rocket like Superman. And you don't need to conceal your identity with a mask while stopping villains in their tracks like Batman. (Although admittedly, all of those things would be pretty cool) All you need is SUPER quality of character like having incredible heart, determination, and selflessness. Take a close look. You too just might have a SUPER hero living under your very own roof!
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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Teachers are Heroes Sale!

What's your super power??? TPT tomorrow is holding a jumbo sale to celebrate teachers and their daily acts of heroism! Everything at my store will be 20% off, and if you type in the promo code HEROES, save 28%. If there is anything on your wish list, tomorrow is the day to go for it!

Click on the picture below to go to TPT!

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

My Animal Research Project

Sometimes as a teacher, it can be overwhelming to plan a research-based writing project. We know that gathering research, taking notes, and then organizing those notes in categories are skills that need to be explicitly taught to our students on top of the writing process, but how??? Well, I am soooo excited to show you THE RESEARCH NOTEBOOK! You are going to LOVE it! This little pocket notebook will teach your students how to gather research in an organized way! When I used the research notebook to teach an animal research-based writing project to my third graders, it became my favorite writing unit that I taught all year!  I was astounded at the high-level writing my students produced at the end. Check out the research notebook in use in the picture below!
So here's how it works! Basically, you create pockets out of paper that fit the size of an index card perfectly, and each pocket has a specific topic that students should focus on as they delve into their research. For my animal research project, I broke the research notebook into 6 different categories: Habitat, Food & Diet, Physical Features, Life Cycle, Fun Facts, and Sources. These categories seemed to give a "lens" each day for students to view their informational text through, and this focus allowed them to read with a purpose of locating specific information. 

I finally was able to take some time to put this research notebook as well as many other resources together in an informative writing unit for others to use.
In this writing unit, there are detailed day to day lesson plans, student printables, anchor papers for you to use as the teacher, and rubrics. Here is how the unit is broken down:

FIRST, you follow the lesson plans for the research portion of the project and print out those necessary materials.
SECOND, you choose beforehand whether you will have your students write a multi-paragraph research paper OR a nonfiction book. You then use the corresponding lesson plans and print out those necessary materials based on your selection.
THIRD, you can grade your students writing project using the rubrics provided. There are also generic rubrics included so that you can use this pack to teach research-based writing and create a paper or book on ANY TOPIC you desire in the future!
This versatility is found in the research notebook and nonfiction book template as well. You can use the template to build a nonfiction book about any subject!!
This is what the nonfiction book looks like when it is finished!
Here is a look at all 12 pages included.
To access this product at my TPT store, click on the picture below!
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