Sunday, September 20, 2015

Are You Smart?

Last year, I dabbled with teaching my 4th graders about growth mindset.  We practiced adding the word "yet" to the end of most everything we said and by the end of the year, my students became quite good at it.  I've heard that some of them even carried this vocabulary on with them to 5th grade, which is awesome to hear.

This year, we are diving full force into growth mindset and it is very exciting!  As part of this, we are learning about the brain and how it works.  Learning about the brain and growth mindset must go hand in hand.  Students need to understand that the brain is constantly changing with each learning experience.  If they struggle with something, lots of practice can actually alter the structure of the brain until it is no longer a struggle.

Who would have thought that a bunch of 4th graders would be learning about things like neurons, synapses, malleability, and neuroplasticity -- and actually understand it well enough to be able to explain it to someone else!  I know that I wasn't learning about this when I was in 4th grade way-back-when....But I wish I would have.  It may have changed my life.

Last week, I gave my students a short survey to find out what they knew about the brain and learning, a sort of pre-assessment.  Their answers were astonishing and have given me much food for thought. There was one question that received the most answers and I wanted to share some responses with you:

Question:  Are you smart?
*   No, because my brain thinks slow.
*  No, because I am not good at math.
*  No, because every time I let info in, other info gets out.
*  I am smart only when it comes to reading.
*  Yes, I am smart and I believe others are too.  Everyone is smart at something!
*  Yes, I am smart and I am going to keep getting smarter and I am proud of that.

I hope you can see, as I quickly did, that there is plenty of room for growth mindset here.  These last two students demonstrated that they already have a growth mindset hard at work, and boy what a difference it makes!

Have you taught your students about growth mindset?  If so, I'd love to hear how it's going!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Links I Loved This Week {7-26-15}

Here are some of my favorite ideas, inspirations and thoughts from around the internet this week:

The always inspiring Ruth Ayres opens up her teaching treasure chest as she shares some amazing ideas to help support teachers of writing, as well as teachers who write.  I especially love the Lessons for Writers page!

Jon Gordon shares why we all need people in our life who help us stretch in this week's newsletter.
Who do you have in your life who can give you that extra push when you need it?

Loved Melanie's ideas for building my own Reader's Notebook to help me teach this skill to my students.

Mary from Teaching with a Mountain View has compiled a list of great back to school activities.  Who says going back to school can't be fun?

Kathleen Sokolowski shares a beautiful poem about how her career as a teacher chose her, not the other way around.  There are lots of us who can relate to her sentiments.

The Positive Writer shares the four people you must have in your writing life.  Honestly, I think this applies to life in general, not just our writing lives.

Thank you to Elisabeth Ellington at The Dirigible Plum for the inspiration of this weekly post!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Are AP Classes Worth It?

Both of my children are in high school and have taken or are currently taken Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

I used to not give AP classes much thought.  Now, they have become the bane of my existence.

Having watched my children go through several AP level classes and witnessed their struggles and celebrations, a few thoughts come to mind about AP classes:

1.  If students are being taught college level classes in high school, what skills are they missing out on from their high school level classes that they are not taking?  My own children have struggled with the writing portion of their AP classes.  They are expected to write at a higher level -- but no one has ever taught them how to do this.  These skills are taught in the high school level classes, which AP students miss.  How will this affect them when they get to college?  Are we creating a learning gap?

2.  Many teachers of AP classes expect the students to be able to perform at a college level -- but they are not college students.  Readiness is a huge factor.  We all know from our own students that some kids are just not "ready" for the material we present so it takes them longer until they understand.  This time can come at a high price.

3.  I wonder...when students get to college and pass out of entry level classes because of their AP scores, does this put them at a disadvantage in their higher level college courses?  For example, if a student passes out of Biology I and enters college at Biology II, do they struggle with Biology II at all?  If so, this could have a monetary consequence.

4.  Are AP courses the ultimate "teaching to the test?"  AP exams are given in the spring.  The entire year is spent preparing students for a passing score on the test.  After the exam is given, some teachers choose to essentially stop teaching for the year.  Movies are shown.  Games are played.  Parties are thrown.  Learning has stopped.

5.  Does AP credit actually help students graduate college earlier?

This past year, my son had an absolutely horrible experience in his AP Calculus class.  His teacher, who was in her final year before retirement, did very little teaching.  Students were left to pretty much learn Calculus on their own.  When my son was planning his schedule for next year, he wanted to take the next AP Calculus course.  However, with his teacher from this year retiring, the school found themselves without a teacher for that course.  Their solution -- hire back the retiring teacher to teach only that one AP Calculus course.

I expressed my frustrations and concerns to the school principal.  Why would the school hire back a teacher who was so terrible that she made the entire school year miserable for her students and their families?  The principal's response:  "Because she has demonstrated that she can get students to pass the AP exam at a level that puts us above the state's average."


Am I totally missing the boat here?  Are you a high school AP teacher who could share some insight with me?  Is this problem just exclusive to my own children's high school?  As we look toward courses for next year, I am inclined to tell my kids to pass on the AP classes.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Do We See EVERY Student?

This morning I was reading through my email and came across a message from one of my favorite bloggers, Permile Ripp.

Pernille's blog posts are always thought provoking.  She often says exactly what I am thinking, but am unable to put into words.

Today's post is about those students in our class whom we don't necessarily "see."  You know the ones.  The students who are probably self-motivated, well-behaved, and/or high achieving.  They don't cause trouble, get their work done, and don't demand much of your time.  They raise their hands, participate often, and could possible teach themselves if you would let them.

So I started thinking...Who are these students in my class?  What are their stories? What do they need from me that they are not getting?  Do they know I care about them?

Pernille has challenged her readers to see EVERY student in our classroom this week.  I am taking that challenge because I need to, because my students need me to -- every one of them.

I don't ever want there to be a day when any of my students look back at their time with me and felt like they were invisible.

Because every student matters.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Is AR Killing the Love of Reading?

Over the past year, I have really taken it upon myself to immerse myself in the world of children's literature.  I believe that in order to be the best reading teacher, I must know what's available and be able to make personal recommendations to my young readers.

I have come to this conclusion by learning from people like Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer), blogs like Nerdy Book Club, conferences like All Write, and through various chats on Twitter.

We all know that to become a good reader, children must read.  A lot.  Like, really, really a lot.  Look at the top readers in your classroom.  What do they do?  They read a lot.  Now look at your lowest readers.  What aren't they doing?  Reading.

Our goal as teachers should be to teach our students to become passionate about their reading lives, to be so excited about a book that they just can't help but talk about it in hopes of getting others to love it as much.  That's what I do as a reader.  As soon as I finish a book, I have the perfect student reader in mind for it.  The next day, I go into class, find that student, and say, "Have I got a book for you!"

In my school district, like many school districts, Accelerated Reader is a program we use to monitor students' reading.  In case you aren't familiar with AR, students read a book in their assigned level then take a quiz on the book to test their comprehension.  Each book is assigned a point level and when students finish a quiz, they earn points.  Their goal is to earn a certain number of points each quarter.

At first, I loved AR.  It was a way that I could do a quick check of my student's reading ability and the amount of reading they did.

However, now I feel this love affair is ending.

After taking on this mission to immerse myself in children's lit, I am beginning to see the shortcomings of programs like AR.

My students are looking at books for the point value they offer, not for the ideas and stories they contain inside.  Let me say that again -- students are equating books with points, not with the love of reading.

The quizzes that students take after finishing a book are very surface level.  After taking enough of these quizzes, my students have figured out what they need to remember about a book in order to pass the quiz.  There is no deeper level thinking required by the quiz.

Many of the newer titles that get released take awhile to make their way into the AR quiz system.  I have actually been told by students that they couldn't read a book I was recommending because there wasn't a quiz they could take at the end.


All of my thinking came to a blowing point this past week when one of my students revealed to me in a reading conference that he felt like he needed to abandon a book.  This is one of my students who has worked so hard to improve as a reader and has made amazing gains.

I asked him why he wanted to abandon his book.  Wasn't he enjoying it?

He said he loved the book, but he was worried that he wouldn't pass the AR quiz.  You see, the book was slightly above his level and he was concerned that he wouldn't remember the minute details that the quiz would surely ask.

I asked him if he would keep reading the book if I didn't require him to take the quiz.

"Really?" he asked.  "I can do that?"  His eyebrows shot up and a smile spread across his face.

Yes, you can.

I want my students to become lifelong readers.  Readers who are excited about reading.  Who take chances and try new things in their reading.  I make lots of books available in my classroom, and I want my students to feel like they can read any one of them just "because."

After all, how many of us book lovers take a quiz when we finish a book?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Growth Mindset: How the Packers' Loss Turned into Our Win

I sat and watched in disbelief as the game ended...

My beloved Green Bay Packers had just blown a 12 point lead to lose the final playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks.  Whereas I had already started planning the green and gold appetizers I would serve at my Super Bowl party, I was now it total...utter...shock.

How did this happen?

According to NBC Sports, the statistics were definitely in the Packers' favor to win when they were ahead.  The Seahawks only stood a 1.8% chance of coming back from the 12 point deficit with 10 minutes left in the game to beat the Packers and earn their trip to the Super Bowl.


That's IT.

Returning to school the next day, my good friend Bridget and I were talking about the game and she asked, "How can we turn this loss into a learning moment for our students?"  Surely, our young southeastern Wisconsin students would be majorly bummed that the Packers blew it.

This got me thinking.

This past year, I have been learning a lot about growth mindset and implementing it in my classroom. I have written about how a growth mindset has helped us in math and how the word "YET" is now a part of our daily classroom vocabulary.  The Packers' loss -- or rather, the Seahawks victory -- was a perfect way to talk about growth mindset.

When my 4th graders arrived and we we had our "Thirty Second Share" about our weekends, I took the time to address the football game.

I asked my students how many of them thought the Packers were going to win.  Almost every hand went up.

Then I shared the statistic with them.  I explained (in very 4th grade words) what probability was and that some experts had predicted that the Seahawks only stood a l.8% chance of coming back and winning the game.  To make it even more concrete, I explained that that was like less than two pennies out of a dollar.


"But they did it," I said.  "The Seahawks worked hard and put forth a great effort and won the game.  They didn't care if they only stood a 1.8% chance of winning.  They just did what they had to do and the rest took care of itself."

Then I asked students to think about someone in the room who they felt was an awesome reader.  You know the ones -- they always have a book in their hands,  talk about books, seek out new books, actually read during silent reading time. How do we think they became that way?

It wasn't by sitting back and doing nothing.

Sure, maybe they were born with some talent, but if they didn't nurture it with effort, nothing would come of it. What about someone in our classroom who is good at math?  Did math just come easy to them?  Nope, they put in a lot of hard work and effort to get to where they are today.

I then asked my students to think of something in school that is giving them some trouble and to consider the amount of effort they were making in that area.  Were they able to see that maybe, just maybe, they were having trouble because they weren't putting in their best effort? That a little extra effort could be the difference between success and staying the same? Between being that awesome reader and one who just gets by? Between understanding fractions and failing at them?

So the word "EFFORT" has now joined the word "YET" as a regular part of our classroom vocabulary.  It's right there, on the front board, as a constant reminder of what's important to help us learn.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Bringing the Fur Trade to Life with Book Bartering

This past week, we have been studying the Fur Trade in Wisconsin in our social studies class.  Our text is pretty dry and I felt like my kiddos weren't really catching on to how important the fur trade was in changing the lives of the Native Americans who lived here so long ago.

I wanted them to experience one of the premises of the fur trade -- bartering.  The act of trading items of value for something else.

We did this through a Book Barter.  Any of my students who wanted to participate brought in books from home that they had read and no longer wanted.  (I told them to get their parents' permission first.)

Before our bartering session, we talked about how much value certain books had to us. Sometimes, we had to give more to get less.

I had brought in a copy of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself book to demonstrate.  When my students saw my book, almost everyone instantly wanted it.  Some students offered me five of their books in return for my one.  (I ended up making a one-to-one trade for a Titanic book that I really wanted.)

My students then went about their bartering and traded books.  As this was happening, I saw looks of contemplation as students considered trades and heard squeals of delight in getting a much wanted book.  When we were through, almost every student walked away with a new-to-them book to read.

 We then brought this back to our study of the fur trade.  How had the Native Americans and explorers given up the things they had for something that had more value for them?

 With the Book Barter, my students had a better grasp of the Fur Trade...and also got some fun new books out of the deal!

How do you bring learning to life in your classroom?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bringing More Peace to Our School

Every Tuesday, my 4th graders get together with our 2nd grade buddy class for some buddy time to read together or to complete a project.  This is a fun time for the students to get to know each other and for my 4th graders to mentor the younger kids.

This past week, we used our buddy time to talk about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the concept of peace.  Unfortunately, for a lot of kids these days, peace is not something that is a part of their everyday lives. More and more kids are struggling through poverty, violence, and loneliness than ever before.

We wanted our kids to know that even if the world around them may not be always peaceful, they could still do something to bring more peace into their lives.  They had the power to do that.

We talked about how the dove is a symbol for peace and passed out a dove template that we had copied onto white cardstock.  (You can find the template here.) We asked the buddy pairs to talk
about ways they could bring more peace into the world and to write it on their dove.  They then colored the doves, made wings (accordian folded a piece of color paper) and we hung strings from the doves.

The Peace Doves now have a home in the hallways outside our classrooms.  As students and adults walk by, they can read our students ideas for ways to bring more peace into the world.

Standing underneath the doves, it is hard to not feel peaceful.

How do you celebrate Dr. King and peace in your classroom?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Positive Thinking Thursday {1-15-15}

It's Thursday, which means its' time for Positive Thinking Thursday.  Thanks for visiting!

In my 4th grade classroom, we have been working on developing a growth mindset -- the idea that mistakes are OK, we learn by trying, and even if we don't 'have it' yet, we will! My students have been super awesome with this so when I saw this quote, I knew it was perfect for this week's Positive Thought:
As an added bonus this week, I'd like to share a short video that was shared with me on a Twitter chat earlier this week.  The topic was using our time to do those things that are most important to us.  If you have about 3 minutes, I hope you will watch:

Wishing you an amazing day!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Positive Thinking Thursday {1-08-15}

Welcome to this week's Positive Thinking Thursday.  I hope you are having a great week back.
I saw this clip on Twitter and knew it just had to be shared:

As teachers, we are entrusted with a tremendous gift every day.  Isn't this what it's all about?

Have a wonderful day! Stay warm!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Connect With My Class for World Read Aloud Day

Wednesday, March 4th is World Read Aloud Day, a day to celebrate the importance of sharing stories and reading around the world.
This day also happens to fall during Read Across America Week and that's exactly what my 4th grade classroom would like to do!

We are looking for other classrooms around the country -- and around the world -- who would would like to connect with us some time during the week of March 2-6, 2015 to share a read aloud.  Any grade is fine.

If you are interested, please fill out this short form and I will be in touch!  (Once we settle on a time/day, we can figure out the details of how we can make this work -- Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangout, etc.)

For more information about World Read Aloud Day, you can visit the LitWorld website where you can also find classroom kits and ideas for participating.

Hoping to read with you soon!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Why I Spent My Winter Break Reading

The second week of winter break is coming to an end.  I am a bit sad, but looking forward to going back into my classroom to share my winter break experiences with my students.

These past two weeks, I had lots of adventures.

I visited Victorian England and hung out with two Irish orphans.  I spent time with a deaf child who learned that her deafness could be her superpower. I explored 1920's New York city with another child who went on a quest to discover where he came from.

I didn't leave home to do any of this.

I didn't warp back in time.

What I did do, was READ.  A lot....

Why did I spend my winter break reading middle grade fiction, you wonder?

1.  I want my students to know that I wouldn't ask them to do anything that I wouldn't do myself.  I asked them to read over break, so I did the same.

2.  To be able to recommend books to students, I have to know books.  To know books, I have to read them.  I began to recognize how important this was when I read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller two summers ago. (If you haven't read The Book Whisperer...what are you waiting for???)

3.  I want to be a reading role model for my students.   I want my students to know me as a reader and to know what I think about the books I've read.

4.  I've found an amazing network of teacher readers on Twitter and daily posts from the Nerdy Book Club. The tweets that have been going out about the #bookaday challenge and the Nerdy Book Awards have helped me stay connected and informed about the best in children's literature and what I need to read next.  They even inspired me to purchase this shirt:

6.  My TBR (To Be Read) pile of books was about to topple over....I had to start making the pile get shorter.  :)

I consider my time reading during break well spent.  On Monday, I will begin to share the tales of my reading adventures with my students.

I already have a student reader in mind for each of the books I read over break.

I can't wait....

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Positive Thinking Thursday {1-01-15}

Happy New Year!!  Welcome to the dawn of 2015...It's going to be a great year!  Thank you for stopping by today for Positive Thinking Thursday.  I think it's a great way to start your year off right!
I saw this on Twitter and thought it was SO appropriate for this first Positive Thinking Thursday of the year:

Have a wonderful day and a blessed 2015!  I'm looking forward to learning with you in the new year.