Monday, May 25, 2015

Active Learning Essentials

One of my goals for my classroom is that my students would be engaged in active learning as much as possible.  This means that they get to move, they get to talk (hopefully about reading and writing rather than about what they've been watching on Youtube lately), they interact with the material we are learning in lots of different ways.  The struggle I found this year in incorporating this is a lot of my ideas for active learning require stuff.  Like, stuff I have to buy.  And, every teacher knows that  our active-learning-stuff-budget is zero.  Of course, I had to shell out some money from my own pocket, but this year I was also able to receive a grant for $300 that helped so much. As the year comes to a close (eleven days and counting!) I have been reflecting on the resources that get the most use in my classroom.  If you are lucky enough to have a budget (I'm applying for your school!) or you are able to get a grant, or even if you have to spend some personal money (crazy that teachers are expected to do this) and you are looking to buy some materials that can enhance your classroom here are the things that I have found can get you the most bang for your buck. These are the items I've bought that I use ALL THE TIME.

Sticky Notes
My students have joked that I must have stock in Post-Its, or that I am single-handedly keeping them in business.

Uses:  Post questions on the board and have students answer on sticky notes and stick them near the question.  I've also done a variation with quotes related to the theme of a novel we were about to read which students then had to respond to on sticky's.  We've used them for taking notes while reading a novel.  My kids had to do five sticky notes a chapter and stick them straight onto the page they were written about.  I've used them for sorting and brainstorming.  For example, each student had to write down what came to mind when they thought about poetry on Index cards (one word per index card).  Then, they had to sort them into categories as a table-group and use sticky notes to label the categories.

Index cards
They aren't just for college students!

Uses:  you can have your kids create cards for studying vocabulary or key terms.  My students love quizzing each other and seeing how many words they can get right.  Again, I've used them for sorting.  Anytime you have kids list, group, and label doing this with index cards and sticky notes makes it more tactile than just writing it on a piece of paper.  I've also used them for Give-one Get-one.  When we learned about foreshadowing, flashback, and suspense they had to write down an example of each one that they'd seen in a movie or TV show or read in a book on a different index card.  Then,  I had them walk around the room and trade each of their cards with someone else and talk about their examples.

Paper bags
Whenever I pull out one of these bags a student asks if I brought them lunch.  The middle school sense of humor never fails.

Uses:  put a photo or object in there related to a story you are about to read.  Have students move from bag to bag looking/feeling inside and making predictions about what the story will be about.  Put pictures or words in a bag that you want students to sort into categories with a partner.  One I've used quite a bit is putting strips of paper in a paper bag and having students draw one out.  I've give them key terms and their definitions and had them walk around the room and try to find the person with their match (i.e. one person has the term one person has that term's definition).  I've used different examples of figurative language and had them move to a spot in the room labelled with a type of figurative language (one table says "Metaphors," several students have examples of metaphors and walk to this table, one table says "Similes" etc.).  I've also used this strategy for random selection of groups or partners.  Or to give them something to act out.  For example, I gave each student a strip of paper with a different type of conflict (man vs. man, man vs. nature etc.) and then they had to walk around and find their groups and create a skit in their groups that showed an example of their type of conflict.

Butcher Paper
Luckily, my school provides this in abundance so I didn't have to pay for this one.

Uses:  Post around the room with questions on each large piece of butcher paper.  Students have to walk around and answer the questions on the butcher paper.  Put a big piece at each tablegroup and have students work on something collaboratively.  For example:  Students had a poem in the middle of the butcher paper and had to draw imagery they saw in the poem and write down examples of sound elements (onomatopoeia, alliteration, rhyme etc.) all around the poem on the butcher paper.  This way, students can all work on their contributions at the same time and see their peers ideas to help them.  Butcher paper is also good for creating anchor charts on the cheap.

Individual Whiteboards
Warning... Do not spend all the money to buy pre-made ones.  Get yourself down to Lowes or The Home Depot.  Buy a large piece of what looks like a whiteboard (I can't remember what it's called) and have them cut it into one by ones.  Then, buy whiteboard markers in bulk and hotglue little fuzzballs to the top to act as erasers.

Uses:  You can use them for a quick check for understanding, to review a concept from yesterday, in identifying things, for vocabulary.   I put an example of figurative language on the board, students write down the type of figurative language on their whiteboard.  You can also have them sketch something on the whiteboard, or even do a quick response to a question if you don't want to collect their responses.  In order to hold them accountable in this case, after having them answer the questions have them share out in their table-group using Up Share Down (everybody stands up, once you have shared something you can sit down) or by choosing a person at random that will share with the whole class.

Talking chips
These can come in the form of marbles, rocks, pennies, actual poker chips or whatever you can find.  Mine were a bag of marbley things that I got from the dollar store.  I think pennies would be fun, because you could give them two and call it, "Put your two cents in," but I'm pathetically punny like that.

Uses:  I used these during Literature Circles and at other times when my students were discussing a novel we were reading.  Talking chips come in handy anytime you want your students to discuss something and you want to make sure everybody participates.  How they work is you give every student a certain number of chips (I usually do two or three) and every time a student adds something to the conversation they put their talking chip down.  When a student runs out of talking chips, they cannot talk until everyone at the table has used all of their talking chips.

What do you use to keep your students actively engaged?  Are there any items I should add to my list?  Do you have any other cool strategies I can steal to use with these materials?

P.S. If you noticed that my images look pretty generic and low-quality, surprise they are just downloaded from google images.  It is the end of the year.  Thinking about photographing and uploading pictures of my own stuff made me want to rip my hair out.  So, this was the best my end-of-the-year teacher brain could do.  Sorry, not sorry.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

You Can't Let God Down.

I was singing (in the shower, cause where else do you sing?) a few Relient K lyrics.  Back when I was an angsty teenager, Relient K was my jam.  "I so hate consequences, cause I know that I let you down, and I don't want to deal with that."  The most painful part was the, "I know that I've let you down."  It was all most too much to bear thinking that I had let God down.  That's when God broke through and told me this simple but sweet truth, "You can't let God down."  He's not let down when I mess up because he knew what he was getting into.  When he called us, he knew we were broken.  He remembers we were once dust.  That's not to say that when we mess up God doesn't notice, or even that he doesn't care.  It's just that he's not feeling hurt by what we've done.  He's not disappointed.  He's not thinking, "I had higher hopes for you than this, and you really let me down."  God is outside of time.  He already knows our past, present, and our future.  Yes, even our future screw-ups.  Therefore, it is impossible for him to be let down by us.  He already knows what's going to happen.  He knows we are going to make--let's face it--tons of mistakes.  Yet he still calls us.  I believe that what he is thinking when we do wrong or miss right opportunities is more along the lines of, "Let's become even more beautiful," or "I have something better for you."  It is so freeing to know that I can't mess up God's plan.  He is not phased by my weakness.  His will is bigger than my struggles.  There's nothing I can do to make him give up on me.  I hope that you too will find freedom in knowing that, no matter what you do, you can't let God down.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

When in Vegas

One of the best things about being teachers is...we get Spring Break!  And the children.  Yeah, the children.  Anywho, Philip and I like to getaway together during Spring Break.  It's the perfect time for vacation because A.  it's less crowded than summer.  B.  You get lots of "off-season" discounts.  C.  it helps us make it through that last, long stretch of school before summer break.  Our first trip was to Leavenworth.  Our second, was to Lake Chelan.  This year, actually having moneties due to actually having professional jobs, we were able to go a little bigger.  We went to Las Vegas for Spring Break!  We had a blast!  Being in Vegas made me feel free to make some bolder choices with my wardrobe.  Here's what I wore.  (P.S. I took most of these on my ipad, because I don't have a smart phone and it was easy and convenient.  Therefore they are not great quality.  Focus on the clothes, people).

What are you wearing lately?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Doing Zumba Helped Me Understand My Students

Let's talk about how I felt doing Zumba--awkward, gangly, uncool, the exact opposite of sexy.  It was so hard for me!

 I'm a fairly coordinated person.  As a child, I did a type of dance called "clogging,"  so I have some sort of dance-ish background.  I'm athletic.  I'm a fast learner.  I can't understand why I find Zumba so challenging.

This feeling of intense struggle while trying while trying to accomplish a skill isn't one that I'm very familiar with.  Academics have always come fairly easily to me--I credit my mom who read to me in the womb.  I tend to pick up sports without too much difficulty.  I even have some musical ability (I mastered both the bucket drum and the oboe in school).  But ask me to copy a Zumba instructor as she fluidly moves parts of her body I didn't know were mobile, simultaneously does some fancy footwork, swings her arms with the suave of an ocean wave and you may as well have asked me to turn mud into oatmeal.

 Even though taking a Zumba class brought up all kinds of insecurities, I'm glad I did it.  Why?  One simple reason:  it helped me to relate to my students.  In the district where I currently work there are a lot of struggling students.  There is a high population of English Language Learners and Special Education students.  Many children in my classroom come from language-deficient backgrounds.  Learning to read and write is difficult for them.

During Zumba, I felt frustrated.  I was trying so hard and I still wasn't getting it.  It seemed unnatural, foreign to me.  I wanted to stop.  Zumba doesn't really interest me, and I'm not good at it.  What if I was somehow required to take Zumba?  I would probably start to resent going.  Now, I can't imagine if someone was constantly nagging me to keep going, to practice at home.  Or accused me of being lazy because I didn't want to keep trying to get better at Zumba.

That's when I made the connection from how I felt doing Zumba, to how my students feel doing English Language Arts.  After one of my big, don't-you-want-to -give-everything-your-best-effort-pep-talks, a student said something heartbreaking, "Why try when you never succeed."  I am sure that he meant it.  He is a Special Education student.  He rarely turns any work in.  I knew there had to be a deeper reason for that kind of behavior, but I just couldn't relate to that!  I want to do my best in everything that I do.  But admittedly, most things come pretty easily to me.  Doing something that felt so unnatural gave me empathy for my struggling learners.  If I continuously tried at Zumba and never felt like I was making any progress, I wouldn't want to keep giving it my best effort either.

It gives me a new perspective.  What would I need in order to keep practicing Zumba and grow in it? I would need lots of you-can-do-its and I-believe-in-yous.  I would need to know that it was okay to fail, and that I didn't need to do it perfectly.  I would need to not feel compared to the others around me to whom Zumba seems to be second-nature.  I would need reminders of the benefits of doing Zumba.  I would need an overall atmosphere of a striving not for excellence, but for progress, for having fun, for doing the best that we can and that being good enough.

I suppose that these are the same things that my struggling readers need.  They definitely don't need to be met with anger or frustration at their mistakes.  They don't need an attitude of "you're just not trying hard enough."   My students need grace.  They need constant reminders that it's okay to be where they are.  That they are doing well.  That they are improving.  That I am proud of them.  That all their hard work will be worth it in the end.

As much as I hated Zumba, it gave me a gift:  the gift of knowing what it feels like to really struggle with something.  And I am a better teacher for it.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Reading Nook Round Two

We are renters.  We move around a bit.  We haven't put down roots just yet.    One of the things that's fun about this is that every time we get a new place I get a fresh start on home decorating.  The best thing about decorating our place this time around is we actually have money!  Hooray for jobs!

Up until now I've just been making do with what we had.  A couch that had been handed down three times before it came to us.  Used dishes and silverware.  The nice things that our generous wedding guests gave us.  Now that both Philip and I have professional jobs we've been slowing replacing some of these things.  It's so fun to upgrade!  I like pretty things!

Back two apartments ago I decided I wanted a reading nook.  But we couldn't afford to buy...anything.  So I used what I could find that we had on-hand including a butterfly chair from my high school bedroom, a canopy that we couldn't get to stay above our bed, and some Christmas lights.  I had some good times in that chair.  It was fun to pull the canopy around my face and read or spend time with God.  Our friends lovingly named it "The Jesus Chair."

This year we moved into a Triplex (like a duplex, but with three).  Something about it feels so much homier than an apartment, but it's still in apartment-price-range--score!  Plus, we have tons of extra space including a spare bedroom.  We decided to use this space as a guest room, and a place where we could refuge for a little alone time.  The corner by the window was the perfect place for a reading nook.

Here is my second chance at creating a reading nook.

I love this chair from Pier One Imports.  It was a bit of a splurge, but IT'S SO FLUFFY!  I made the pennant banners.  The lamp and side table are from Ross.  The suitcase, whiteboard, and letter 'A' (this blog post brought to you by the letter 'A') came from something called "The Piper Barn Show," a local event where you can get antiques and handmade goodies.  We use the whiteboard to write down things we are currently praying for.  I could see also using it as a welcome sign when we have guests stay in this room.

I love using this space to get away with Jesus, or just curl up with a good book.  I'm still working on the rest of the room, but having this vignette finished makes me feel so much better.

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