Whole Brain Teaching

November 18, 2012 November 18, 2012
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I attended a professional development session last week titled:  “What you need to know for the first 6 weeks of school.”

One of the topics discussed was whole brain teaching.  This video that we saw really got me thinking about student engagement and effective teaching.  I still don’t know much about Whole Brain Teaching, but what I understand is that while you teach you utilize all of the different modalities – kinesthetic, verbal, auditory, etc. and you also do brain gym where you do exercises that has your arms and legs going across your body.

Whole Brain Teaching

So, the very next day I tried some of her techniques:  mirror, “class, yes!,” and “teach, ok!”

The chants worked out really well.  They need some fine tuning, but they helped to get and keep the students attention and also allowed them to talk about what they are learning in their own words which allows them to internalize what they are learning.

I haven’t implemented the smiley face frown face tally chart, but I am quickly seeing that it is necessary for the students to get feedback on how their engagement is going.

I am going to continue to utilize these strategies while teaching whole group because they help to keep students engaged and participating and interacting with the lesson and each other!

Technology in the Classroom

November 11, 2012 November 11, 2012
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Lately,  I have been thinking about technology and its place in the classroom.  Students come to school with varying amounts of experiences with technology, but I have found that students take to using technology with ease no matter their prior experience.

A few days ago, a speaker discussed the use of technology to build prior knowledge in the classroom.  For example, if the students are learning a topic in science that has a lot of new vocabulary, a teacher can pose a question to the group and have them research it through use of various technology sources; computers, ipads, etc.  Once they have researched and used the information they gained to answer the question, then the teacher can then go into the topic utilizing the new prior knowledge that the students have built themselves.

I really want to try this in my classroom, but I am worried about letting the students free roam the internet – which leads me to worry about the time it will take to set up safe internet sources for students to access.

This year, I have been utilizing technology more than I have in past years and I find that the students truly enjoy using it.  The only issue is that my second graders constantly run into difficulties with navigating the programs.  I run around from student to student, computer to computer to try to help them understand that if they just click around they will find what they are looking for.

Is there a way for students to become technology literate to a point where they can navigate technology independently?  Is there a way to have students freely use the internet to research?

Linear Learning Across Grade Levels

November 4, 2012 November 4, 2012
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The common core emphasizes the use of multiple literacies in the classroom to acquire skills that will allow them to become problem solvers and researchers.

In my classroom I have been trying to create problem solvers by giving them enough direction for each assignment and then allowing them to come up with their own unique way of creating a product.  Other times, I will give them choice on how to present information:  art/craft, video presentation, powerpoint presentation.

The difficulty comes when my second graders have not been exposed to certain technology and don’t know how to navigate it.  This means that I have to first do a lesson on how to use the technology and then for the next lessons where they are to use it on their own I have to help them troubleshoot any problems that may occur.

As second graders they tend to want to just ask me how to do it or to fix it instead of thinking on their own what they might do.  This in itself is a separate skill that must be taught.

My question is:  How do you teach students to think and problem solve for themselves when situations arise where they are not sure how to fix something or not sure what to do next?

These research, problem solving, and multiple literacies are carried on throughout all grade levels and I feel like they are most basic at my level so that eventually they are able to take the knowledge we have built in second grade to future grades.  It’s just difficult to want to use the technology when they have not had experience with it yet – so projects take a very long time to complete.

Is there some way to break it down so that we can learn the skills and technology and complete the project in a timely manner?


Communication and Behavior Management

October 28, 2012 October 28, 2012
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Lately, I have been reflecting upon and evaluating the importance of communication and behavior management with regards to implementing effective classroom instruction.

In “Classroom Management for Achieving Readers,”  the authors discuss their findings on research for behavior management that has taken place over the years.  They found that studies show that there are three key elements to effective classroom management systems:  the teacher being aware of everything going on in the room, multitasking and dealing with two or more issues at a time, and effective transition time.  Also important, they found, was having “well-paced, varied, and challenging lessons.”

In my experience, you can have the best laid out lesson in the world – and nothing will work out right if you don’t have an effective behavior management system in place.

This is one thing that I have struggled with and it feels as though everything is related to behavior management.  Learning about cultural awareness, diversity, discourses, critcal literacy, etc.  All of it depends upon and contributes to behavior management.

My question is – how do I put it all together?  I feel like my teaching is piecemeal in a way.  I have all of these ideas, theories, research, and findings in my mind and I feel as though I am stop – start – stop – start like someone learning how to drive stick.  How do I make everything flow?  There are so many unpredictable variables with teaching that it can be hard to keep up with in the middle of lessons.

Preparing to prepare for school

October 21, 2012 October 21, 2012
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Lately,  I have been really thinking about lesson planning.  I had an observation recently and I stressed and spent hours preparing for it – writing the lesson plan, making the manipulatives, cutting out the manipulatives, putting everything into individual baggies, planning for not one but multiple subjects, small group math centers, small group reading centers, and the list does go on and on.

We all know that time is always and forever against us.  My question is, HOW can I implement all of the wonderful teaching strategies I have learned into every day life in the classroom?

I tried to bring the community into my classroom for a project we were doing and those friends were not able to because of various reasons.  So even when I do try these things, it seems as though there are so many factors working against great teaching.

Time, money, equipment, cooperation, involvement, etc.

How does one overcome all of these obstacles in order to deliver highly engaging, highly effective teaching?

Is there a way to somehow simplify the process – if my mindset is what needs to change – how exactly should I be thinking about teaching?  Sometimes I know it’s a simple turn of phrase, sometimes it’s a simple act, sometimes it’s simply listening to students talk and express their thoughts.  Other times, however, I feel bogged down by the amount of preparation required to deliver unique, engaging, effective instruction.

In the Skerrett and Bomer article, they discussed how students have literacies outside of those taught in school.  How do I figure out what their specific literacies are and how to incorporate them in the classroom in a manageable way?


Helping students become critically literate readers

October 15, 2012 October 15, 2012
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After reading Aukerman’s article “Why Do You Say Yes to Pedro, but Not to Me?” Toward a Critical Literacy of Dialogic Engagement, I have come to realize that I have not been helping students become critically literate readers.

I have noticed that I focus a lot of attention to the mechanics of reading and the comprehension skills we all teach:  summarizing, main idea, inferring, retelling, etc.  There is a deeper element to my teaching that is both powerful….and missing.

This element can be taught through thoughtful selection of texts and activities.  I can teach the main idea while focusing on deeper aspects of the text and allowing students to examine the text in a more thoughtful way.  This will allow me to teach life skills, character development, and help students have a critical mindset in conjunction with academic skills.

Critical literacy is teaching children to think for themselves, to examine the gray areas of the world around them, to gather information and make their own informed judgements about things they interact with in their daily lives.

In my classroom I feel as though I have done a poor job teaching students how to be critically literate.  To understand that not everything they see or hear is correct.  To view topics, people, problems, and situations from multiple perspectives.

The article suggests that teachers should promote critical literacy through “dialogic engagement.”  Aukerman’s example of second graders discussing a question one student had about the book reminded me of my classroom in a way.  However, instead of seeing them discuss the book in a thoughtful way, I would see that type of discussion as off topic because they were not discussing the skill we were learning.

I now see the importance of allowing students to freely engage with the text in a variety of ways, to form their own judgements about text and to discuss their thoughts with others with the goal of refining their opinions, interacting with others, and engaging with the text.


Student talk

October 8, 2012 October 8, 2012
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Something I am struggling with in my class is having students talk with each other about topics we are discussing.  I find that even when I model how to buddy talk and we practice how to buddy talk, they never seem to stay on topic for more than a minute or two.

I realize the importance of talk in the classroom and I understand that as the teacher I should be the facilitator of this talk.  I have noticed that when I teach I will try to keep things moving and squash discussion on topics if they are not completely directly related to what we are talking about and if they last longer than 30 seconds.  My fear is that if I let them share for longer than 30 seconds than I will lose the other student’s attention.

I have also noticed that while I teach I will say things like ‘great job’ and ‘you got it’ instead of trying to probe further into their thinking and allowing them to verbalize their thoughts.  Practicing metacognition is an important skill to obtain, yet I find that it is difficult to find time to allow such one on one talk with me.  It is difficult for second graders to practice metacognition without proper prompting through questioning.

So then I try to formulate questions that allow them to think deeply and discuss with a partner for a few minutes.  I want students to be independent enough to discuss topics on their own and I am wondering how to prepare second graders to do so?

Fluency and Comprehension

September 30, 2012 September 30, 2012
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As a teacher, we have a fluency assessment that we must give students three times a year to measure how accurately they can read text in one minute.  We also measure their pace and intonation.  Based on this score, we decide whether they need to practice fluency phrases and sight words to build their word recognition.

What I have noticed is that having students practice fluency phrases and sight words does not always translate to reading whole texts fluently.  I have also noticed that some students who are labeled as fluent can not comprehend grade level text.

In “She’s My Best Reader; She Just Can’t Comprehend:  Studying the Relationship between Fluency and Comprehension” Applegate, Applegate, and Modla stated “our data suggests that for many of the students in our sample, the freed-up resources that result from automaticity and fluency do not necessarily or automatically flow toward comprehension.”

Through reading this article I have gained an understanding that factual, text-based questions do not indicate a high level of comprehension.  In my own classroom, I will begin to be more careful of the questions I ask about text so that students will have a chance to open up their critical thinking skills.  The trouble I run into frequently is the blank stares after I ask a difficult question that they are not sure how to answer.

I definitely model the skill, have graphic organizers, and try to facilitate group and buddy discussion on topics.

My question is:  how do I go about facilitating higher level thinking in my second grade students?

Writing in the primary grades: creating social interactions

September 26, 2012 September 26, 2012
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After reading Under Construction:  Voice and Identity Development in Writing Workshop by Marva Cappello, I have come to analyze my own writing workshop practices.  I suddenly realized that the writing that my students participate in does not allow them for direct communication with other people.  I, of course, stress that writing is important because it allows us to communicate with others all over the world through a variety of forms:  e-mail, letters, novels, essays, magazines, newspapers, etc.  However, my students have not been given a chance to actively engage in these different types of writing, nor have they been given a chance to witness the impact of their writing on others.

Sometimes, as a teacher (especially as a second grade teacher), we focus so much on helping students learn how to read and how to understand and apply mathematical concepts, we only end up focusing on the mechanics of writing.  I have come to realize the importance of sharing and communicating through writing.  Establishing writing as a social practice, not just one of personal use, is imperative for students to truly understand the purpose of writing.  I think some students might have trouble with writing because they do not see that their writing is for others to view not just to put down their thoughts on paper.

Writing is a form of personal expression and a window into our lives.  I have trouble helping my second grade students truly engage in writing – most of the time they view writing in a negative light.  I want to help my students see writing as something that can be exciting, fun, and rewarding.  I want my students to see that writing allows us to reflect upon our own thinking, our lives, and the world around us.  Writing allows us to get our opinions and thoughts out into the world in a way that would not be possible without a pen and paper.

Doing what is best, a personal approach to teaching students of “disability.”

September 26, 2012 September 26, 2012
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At the first of the year, teachers often visit each others classes and have a “who’s who” discussion of the students that came from their class.  This gives the new teacher information about the students’ academic abilities, personality, and “disabilities” so that before the student even enters the room, the teacher has some sort of idea about who they are, where they came from, and what their place will be in the classroom setting.  Will the student be an over achiever? Will the student be a behavioral concern?  Will the student be shy?  While gaining information about students is one of a teachers top priorities, the type of information received can be skewed.

In a classroom, a teacher will find a variety of extremely diverse children that are connected by common threads but are nevertheless very different.  After 2 years of teaching, in my third year I am beginning to see the web of connections in and between my students and myself as well as the variables outside of them that affect who they are.  This has led me to analyze the affect that labels have on students – classifying and sorting students into various categories based on their mental disabilities and their physical disabilities.  Notice how I have termed them “disabilities,” instead of “abilities.”  It is the culture of school to term students as having “disabilities,” and I have come to understand that the sentiment behind this is to be helpful.  After all, teachers are teachers because they want to help others grow and gain knowledge so as to improve the lives of others and allow them to have the life they want to have.  But if we look at the affect that labeling creates, we will see that it has more of a negative connotation.

When a teacher tells a students’ new teacher about his/her behavioral issues or his/her academic standing, all the new teacher sees when that student walks into the room is this image that has been implanted in their head based on another person’s judgement.  The intentions behind this are usually good natured; teachers want to help other teachers understand the student and to alert them of things they need to address quickly so as to help the student get what they need in school.  The issue comes when the sole focus is the students “disability” or “ability.”
In the article The Cultural Work of Learning Disabilities, McDermott, Goldman, and Varenne pose that a student with a label such as LD, ELL, ADD, economically disadvantaged, at risk, etc, have behaviors that are “quite normal…their actions make sense as responses to the environments provided by adults…and the same behavior can be found in most classrooms around the country.  The labels are not so much facts about specific children as they are mirrors to what happens in classrooms run by the survival-of-the-show-off-smartest logic of American education.”  Just because a behavior isn’t as common, why does that mean it is not “normal?”  The behavior could be a response to the environments they have been surrounded by, or could be derived from their birth.  Either way, what I have interpreted from McDermott, Goldman, and Varenne is that labeling is derived from the social/cultural competitive nature of society and does little to benefit the student.  I have heard teachers say that if they don’t have a label, they will not get what they need in terms of extra support.  My question is, why must a student be labeled in order to receive the help they need to be successful?  Why can’t a need be identified, proper assessments made, and help given?  The end.  No labels, no judgement, no putting students in deficit categories.

What happens with labeling is you are so focused on the label, that you miss the child.  For example, when you shine light through a prism and a rainbow appears, focusing on the label would be like focusing on only one of the colors, making it bolder and stronger than any of the others.  In reality, the colors reflected are of equal amount.  A student is not made up of one characteristic, whether they are “able” or “disable,” students have many facets and it is important for teachers to get to know all of them and utilize them to engage the student in learning opportunities.  A teachers job is to help students be successful and to teach them how to lead productive and healthy lives.  When we label students, we are showing them and the rest of society that they are not able to perform as adequately compared to other students.  I can’t think of anything positive that comes from this stigma.