Branding Your Classroom

Today's guest post is written by Tess and Christine, the duo from Crazy Cool Classroom. They're sharing a fun and unique idea about branding your classroom to make it more engaging and authentic for students.

Usually by mid-summer, I’m done. I itch for my classroom. I’ve watched all of the TV I can, I’ve read a couple of books, I started a new healthy lifestyle, I tried to meditate a couple of times – but I’m bored. I miss the magical pit of adventure and chaos that is my daily life during the school year. Sorry, regular society – you just don’t cut it. I’m ready to go back. I knew the other night it was time to give in and start letting my brain wrap itself around all of the possibilities for my upcoming year when, instead of sleeping at 2 AM, I was under the covers in my bed sleepily scrolling through anchor charts on Pinterest. So now – basically all I do is harvest ideas for next year, and I’m chock full of things that I can’t wait to make and try. I started asking myself a lot of questions about what I wanted, and that led me to questions about who my kids really are and what they are engaged in, entertained by, and compelled by in our world. One of the answers that attached itself to my mind and wouldn’t let go was the idea of BRANDING!

Today, our kids have been so expertly trained by a series of powerful cues reminding them of what to buy, what to like, who to be, et cetera. I have noticed how quickly they recognize and identify characters, logos, images, scenes, fonts, silhouettes, and other visual cues from the games they play, the TV shows they watch, and the products they are exposed to. I see how quickly these cues lead to shared understanding and expression of interest. I have seen child after child show me time and time again that they have been fully assimilated into this visually stimulating and information-driven world. So…what if I used branding in my classroom to make the content and connections in my class easily and instantaneously recognizable and thus – engage-able (is that a word?!?). What if my classroom – its expectations, its content, its energy – could all be drummed up into the consciousness of a child by attaching it to a series of interesting and engaging visual cues? I definitely want to try!

First, I had to think of a theme that would be fun, engaging, original, and malleable throughout the year. After searching for a while through different classroom clipart sets and other such things to inspire me, I decided upon monsters! You may be wondering why I chose monsters of all things. Well, first I saw them and loved them, and honestly, I was inspired by them…or rather my teacher-self was inspired by them. They make funny faces and have different expressive postures. They grin and scowl at different degrees and elicit many internal reactions within me. I wonder what they’re grinning or scowling at, I wonder which monsters are friends with which other monsters, I wonder where they are from and what their world is like, and I want to create a physical environment full of opportunities for my kids to be asking the same questions about them. I want them to use the exaggerated expressions to make inferences about the feelings and experiences that the monsters have. I want the monsters to be the starting places for great stories and explosions of imagination, and I want the monsters to represent a place within a place, my room within this school, where anything is possible.

Branding Classroom with Monsters
The monster set that I used, and centered this entire idea around, is very simple and is just a set of 16 funny-looking little guys…or gals. In addition to the simple set of characters that I would use, I also decided to incorporate color blocking of the different parts of my classroom to contrast with the black and white monsters. Each and every bulletin board that I make this year will incorporate the monsters and all of my classroom materials, from labels to exit tickets to name tags: All of them will have monster accents. This will be a challenge for me creatively and professionally, as I am also looking to find other ways to weave my little monsters into my daily classroom culture…for instance: I teach SpEd, as well as English Language Arts, and I work with children that face a myriad of cognitive, emotional and social challenges combined with the harsh realities of living in an impoverished urban setting. This often requires that I find safe ways for them to be able to express how they feel and move forward from that place each day. One monster-related idea I had recently, which I think will be really helpful for my less expressive kids, is to make a gallery walk of the various monsters and have children then place themselves next to the monster that they feel represents how they feel today. For me, it’s perfect! The monsters are so overly expressive and exaggerated that they are both ridiculous and truthful at the same time – making them a less threatening way for children of all kinds and levels of expression to identify and share what is inside.

I can see how some may think that this is ridiculous and that it has no point – that maybe it’s just decorating, and it might not have so much of an impact, but for me the point of trying this is very tangible and real. Eventually, quite quickly I think, these little guys will automatically cue the minds of my children to think of my class, and when they think of my class they think of what they LEARN in my class - and how they FEEL in my class. Jogging synapses and visually connecting their academic memory recall to artistic representation is an idea that excites me, and I can’t wait to put it to practice. I also can’t wait to start to analyze the effects that this idea will have on my classroom culture and ultimately on my students – and to write about it on my blog, Crazy Cool Classroom. Please stop by and check out my journey this year with my monsters and my kids!

One last thought: I know not everyone relates to monsters or to bright bold colors – that’s just what works for me. As teachers the best and most productive way to truly connect to our children is to open ourselves up to them, to show them what inspires us, and to invite them into the world we have created for them openly and with love. We ask our students to take the setting of a story or the surroundings of a character and figure out what that means about the person who created it – or who lives within it. After walking through my door I want my kids to want the story of this upcoming year.

Thank you for reading, and please check out our freebie gift for readers.
Entering our ninth year of teaching together in Brooklyn, NY, we are two dedicated and out-of-the box thinkers always looking to bring new and exciting ideas into our classrooms. Tess, who makes all of our products, teaches 6th grade Math, as well as Physical Education and Health to 6th, 7th and 8th graders.  Christine, our writer, is certified in Middle Childhood Special Education and lead teaches 6th grade E.L.A. 

How to Teach Equality and Diversity in Your Classroom

Please welcome Maren of Malimo Mode to the blog today! She's sharing tips on teaching equality and diversity in your classroom, which is so important in today's schools.
How to Teach Equality and Diversity in Your Classroom
When I think back back to when I was a child, the classrooms I was in always seemed to be homogeneous. Being born in the mid-80’s, divorce was not common in my area. It happened but not nearly as often as today. When I turned nine, my parents filed for their own divorce. It was a tough process, and even though we all came out of it as happier people, it changed me. We went from being mom, dad, sister, brother – to single mom and two kids, sometimes visiting their dad. Since then our family has grown and now includes my mother, stepfather, stepsister, father, stepmother, sister, brother, half-brother, half-sister, two cats, and a dog.

After my parents’ divorce, I was always aware that my family was not one of the classic, nuclear families. Whenever I saw the nuclear family represented in textbooks in school, in movies, or out and about, I felt different. Surely, I thought, I couldn’t be the only one?

Being part of a society that labels something you are as abnormal or unusual creates alienation. How could I go about teaching that “normal” is whatever you are? It’s what we all are.

Twenty-one years have passed since my parents were divorced, and my awareness of diversity is as strong as ever. Becoming a teacher triggered another level of my awareness, because the reality of my students’ lives did not match the textbook materials we had. For example, the classrooms in Norway are increasingly multicultural. Looking out on my classroom, where the minority comes from nuclear families, the textbook illustration clashed with the real world. One of my middle school students, dark skinned and with divorced parents, said, “Wait, who actually has a family like this?”
Furthermore, when I grew up, divorce was abnormal, and now we have family compositions that are even more diverse. Children today have divorced parents, single parents, gay parents, multi-racial parents, step-parents, deceased parents, adopted siblings, and so much more. That does not even include their extended families. Teaching children that today’s norm is a nuclear family simply does not feel right.

I decided to make one small contribution in the name of diversity and equality, and since then I have taught the subject through my Family & Friends Unit.

Family and Friends Packet
I made a list of key elements for teaching the theme:
  • Introduce diverse people and families and do it with a neutral and equally positive tone
  • Use a variety of literature that portrays diverse people and families
  • Have discussion groups in various sizes
  • Use letter books or diaries so students can have a private outlet
  • Take the students seriously in their thought processes and questions
  • Ensure that the learning climate is positive and that sharing feels safe
In essence my Family & Friends Unit is all about a fictional 9-year-old boy named Jack. Through Jack we have explored different family compositions, friends that have struggled with illness, losses, and more, such as his transgender aunt and the general life of his family. The most important part when it comes to teaching these topics, however, is discussion and reflection. The students need time to not only ask questions but also to find them. Sometimes, not all questions may be answered right there and then but once they have surfaced the thought process has started. Keep in mind not all questions can be answered by someone other than themselves.

Family and Friends Unit
Sometimes there have been immediate results, when students have had some profound comments. I always take the comments seriously and let the kids talk freely about their thoughts. At times, this needs to be in private. Private can mean in a notebook, in a small group, or even one-on-one with me. One way to have private conversations with the kids (without the pressure of being on the spot) is a letter book. I start by asking them about their thoughts, some open questions. They answer, and we go from there. An 11-year-old girl wrote this in her letter book before the summer holiday:

My mom says something’s bad with my cousin because she loves both boys and girls. I know she’s just a regular cousin. I hope she finds a boyfriend girlfriend a lovefriend and maybe they can have a baby or a dog.”

When working on this topic, I don’t angle it to say “what if this was you?” I want to teach acceptance of others and through that finding acceptance for yourself and what you need to be happy.

The most powerful event that followed working with this theme was with a group of young teenagers. Coming from a small, rural area, being different is hard. We had worked with the unit for a while, and in the fourth week one of the boys had something to say during group discussion. He calmly explained that up until this point he had been scared to let on “who he was,” because slurs and comments had been normal. Somewhere along our process, the atmosphere changed enough for him to come out. It took my all to stay calm on the outside, because inside I was cheering, sobbing and doing summersaults while waiting to see the reactions. A few seconds felt like lifetimes. He was met with smiles and one single comment: “Don’t worry about it.”

I learned something that day. All the math skills, literacy skills, science skills, and other skills are important. They will give you tools to help you navigate toward success in education, career, and life. But the most important life skills aren’t found in those categories. Teaching compassion, empathy, caring, respect, diversity, and equality is vastly more important. We want to educate good people – as well as good workers.

My one message for fellow teachers, parents, and especially my students is this:

Although diverse, everyone is equal. Equality entails that everyone should be able to live the life that makes them happy. As family, friends, and community members, we have to facilitate the possibility of other people’s happiness through acceptance, support, and love!

Maren is a 30-something English-Norwegian social science and math teacher in Norway. She is also a TpT author and blogger. Maren enjoys activities like photography, hiking, traveling, and knitting. You can view her blog at Malimo Mode.

Got a Minute, Two, or Five?

Gail Hennessey is our guest blogger today. She's sharing great ideas for time-fillers at the middle school level. Keep those kiddos working until the bell rings!
Classroom Bell Ringer Activities
A new school year is beginning. My advice: Always have kids on task! Checking homework in the beginning of class or doing clerical stuff? Finish your lesson with a few minutes to spare? What to do? Giving them free time to read or start homework during these gaps in teaching time is NOT something I'd encourage. Most students see this as an opportunity to begin to chat. My belief is that it's very important to keep kids on task. Learning should be a continuous process. Always have a few  activities to use either in the beginning or at the end of class. Here are some suggestions for a “Got a Minute” folder  that can be fun and keep the learning going!
  1. Bell Ringers: You can use the news for Bell Ringers. There is always something in the news that could be used as a few minute read/opinion exercise. Here are two examples of recent news stories for which a Got a Minute; two or three stories could be used.
Bell Ringer Activities
  • Elephants to be phased out of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus: Elephants have long been part of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, but things will be changing by 2018. It's been announced that elephants will be phased out of the circus acts. Many people have been arguing that these animals should not be used for entertainment. The treatment of these creatures has also been an issue. The decision was in response to these concerns. Elephants, which are very intelligent, have been part of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus for 145 years. As the elephants are retired from the show, they will live out the rest of their lives at the Elephant Conservation Center, owned by the circus.
    • What do you think?
      • Other animals will still be used in the circus shows. Should all animals be banned? Why or why not?
      • Sea World also has been asked to stop using the killer whale. Should they do so? Why or why not?
      • Why do you think the circus is "phasing the elephants out" but will still have them perform until 2018?
    • Extension activity:
      • Write a paragraph trying to persuade someone that circus acts and Sea World should not use animals (or marine life). Write a paragraph stating why such animals should have no place in a circus act or marine show.
  • Bill for not attending a birthday party: You're invited to a birthday party and accept the invitation to attend. Sounds like a fun day of going to a ski area and doing lots and lots of tubing and having something to eat. When the day of the party arrives, your parents decided you won't be attending, as they have other plans for the day. A few days later, you have a note to bring home from school from the host of the party. Inside is a bill for about $25, the cost of the ski party. The parents of the birthday child say that all guests were told that if they accepted and didn't show up, the fee would still need to be paid, so the parents felt that "no-shows" should have to pay the expense. The 5-year-old boy's parents were very upset about receiving the bill in such a way and said they didn't plan to pay it.
    • What do you think?
      • Should the parents of the boy who didn't show up have to pay the bill?
      • Should the parents have called the boy's parents instead of sending a note home in the boy's backpack?
      • How would you settle this dispute?
I regularly update a Bell Ringer activity using topics in the news at my website for teachers, http://www.gailhennessey.com.

2. Picture This: Another activity, if you have a few minutes, is to show a photograph and have students respond to it. Here are a couple of examples:
Picture This Activity for Got a Minute, Two, or Five?
  • Writing Prompt: Pretend you are this statue of fairly tale writer Hans Christian Andersen, found in Copenhagen, Denmark. What do you see as you sit there? What are you thinking about? Write in complete sentence form.
  • Writing Prompt: Pretend you are throwing a penny into the Grand Canyon for good luck. What would you wish to have? Why? Write in complete sentence form.
Grand Canyon Writing Activity
Note: Photograph credit to Gail Hennessey
  • Writing Prompt:The footprints of a Theropod can be seen at the North Dinosaur Open Space Park, in Morrison, CO. Where was the dinosaur going? What did it see?  Write in complete sentence form.
Theropod Dinosaur Footprint
Note: Photograph credit to Gail Hennessey
3. Geography Activities

  • Geography Safaris: Have atlases or a world map, and have kids go on Geography Safaris. I have these posted on my website, or you can go to Education World for printable versions.
    • Each of the short safaris have the answers; all start with a particular letter. Pair up students and have them get used to looking at maps to find the answers!
Geography Safaris
4. Write A-Z:  I actually made this activity into a contest for extra credit. It was quite popular, especially as a review before a test on all important terms covered. How I did this was that students listed the letters of the alphabet on a piece of paper (vertically).

ExampleEgyptians
A. afterlife, Africa
B.
C. canopic jar
You could write multiple terms. When you regroup, you review the words. If another group has a word (e.g. Nile River) your group wrote, it has to be crossed out. If you have a different word, you each get 2 points. If you have a term for a letter that no one else has, you get 5 points. Oh, and the words must be something mentioned in the unit of study!

5. Grid Activity:  Have pairs of students try and find a response for each of the letters. (You don’t have to go alphabetically.) Great activity to utilize reference materials.
Mountains      Famous Scientist    World Capital      Island       Bodies of Water
A         
H                                                                               Hawaii
C                          Madame Curie                                                      Caspian Sea
D
M
T
G Greenland                                                                                    Gulf of Mexico

6. Three Things I Learned Today:  If you ever watch Morning Joe on MSNBC, I like how at the end of the show, each of the people state something they learned that day. Write a note and specifically write in complete sentence form, three things you learned from the lesson today. Encourage the students to share with their parents, grandparents, whomever. Maybe offer extra credit if an adult signs that the information was shared!

7. Color Games: If you have a few minutes, have students work on my color games to test knowledge about things that are a certain color or have the color in the world.  Great for small group activity. I have a Purple, a Red, a Green, a Blue, a Yellow, and an Orange Game.
The Orange Game by Gail Hennessey
8. Write a paragraph and have students proofread to correct the statement. For example: I like to use news stories.  

  • Here is an example:
    • A Zookeeper at the London Zoo has stepped in to help a bady sloth. The baby sloths mom were unable to car for its so the zookeeper came to it’s rescue. Named Edward Scissorhands, because it will grew up to four inches claws. The zookeeper got a teddy bare from the gift shop to help the tiny tot develops its climbed muscles. Rope climbing couplings, called carabiners, was attached to the teddy bare and it was hung from a tree branch about six inches of the ground. That’s so if Edward felled, he won’t get hurt. The sloth is a very slow moveing animal, native to the forests of south America. They move so slowly, that moss can actually grew on them.
  • Revised Version:
    • A zookeeper at the London Zoo has stepped in to help a baby sloth. The baby sloth’s  mom was unable to care for it, so the zookeeper came to its rescue. It was named Edward Scissorhands, because it will grow up to four-inch claws. The zookeeper got a teddy bear from the gift shop to help the tiny tot develop its climbing muscles. Rope climbing couplings, called carabiners, were attached to the teddy bear, and it was hung from a tree branch about six inches off the ground. That’s so if Edward fell, he wouldn't get hurt. The sloth is a very slow moving animal, native to the forests of South America. They move so slowly that moss can actually grow on them! 
You may wish to have something that pertains to the subject you are teaching.

9. Another activity to have in your “Got A Minute, Two or Five?” folder could be a vocabulary words of the day or a quote of the day. Have students place the vocabulary word in a sentence or write a sentence explaining what they think the quote means.
Here are several of my favorite quotes:
  • “Life is NOT a spectator sport!” (Dick’s Sporting Goods) 
  • “Remember, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)
  • "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (and women…) to do nothing.” (Edmund Burke) 
Actually, all the “Got a Minute, Two or Five?” suggestions I have listed, could also be used for a substitute folder as well.
Have a wonderful school year!
Thanks to Minds in Bloom’s Rachel Lynette for giving me this opportunity as a guest blogger! Very much appreciated. 
Gail Hennessey
BIO: Gail taught for 33 1/2 years, all but two years in 6th grade, and is the author of 34 books for teachers/kids. Her newest book of biographical plays on people in ancient history comes out this year (Social Studies School Service). She also has a series of Purple Turtle books for young readers. Click here for titles. Connect with Gail using the links below:
Gail on TeachersPayTeachers

Implementing Giant Graphs

Today's guest blogger is Angie of Teaching with Class. Angie has taught in a wide variety of grades and currently teaches at the college level. She's here today to share her insight on using giant graphs in the classroom!
Implementing Giant Graphs
Implementing Giant Graphs
In my fourth grade classroom, on Fridays, I like doing my math block a little differently. My favorite things to do during this time are whole group or small group math activities, with something other than what we typically do during math time. I came up with the idea of giant graphs as something to do on one of these Friday math times. I find that most of the time, students know how to look at a graph and see which bar is higher than the other or some other simple comprehension piece, but they don't know how to construct a graph from the beginning or know which type of graph is best to use in different circumstances.
Why Use Giant Graphs
Graphics from I Teach, What's Your Super Power
Implementing giant graphs in your classroom is a way for students to understand the full workings of graphs - what types to use, how to choose a graph scale, add labels, and then construct the graph. In addition, students get to do all of the data collection themselves so that the graph actually has some meaning for them, rather than just giving them a set of numbers that they don't know anything about. Beyond the math, giant graphs are collaborative, and the students work together as a whole group to construct each graph. This means they have to know how to communicate with each other in order for the project to be successful.
Samples of Giant Graphs
Giant graphs, minus labels, made from masking tape, sticky notes, and 8 1/2 x 11 paper. 
Probably my favorite part, though, is that it is teacher-guided - but not teacher-led. The teacher's role is to help students think about certain parts of the graphing process and help them be successful, but not to tell them what to do. This even includes not telling them which type of graph to make. Allowing students to figure out some of these things for themselves (even if they are unsuccessful on the first attempt) allows them to gain a deeper understanding of how graphs work and how to be successful in a group situation.
Giant Graph Supplies
Making the graph grid takes a little time, but after it's made, it can be used for a number of weeks. You'll need a fairly large space so that the students can walk around the grid. If you don't have a large space in your classroom, think outside the box and use the field, hallway, or playground space. Take some 8 1/2" x 11" paper and lay out the edges of a grid on the floor. I do 7' x 10', but you can do whatever size works for your space. Then take some masking tape (you'll need around 2 rolls) and tape out a grid. Spacing out the paper helps so that you do not need to measure anything. I found that making the grid only takes 15 minutes or so. If you want to, you could also have your students make the graph grid.
Making Giant Graphs
There are many topics you can use to create the graphs. Once you have constructed a few graphs, you may have the students choose their own topics to graph. The best topics would go with things that you're already doing in the classroom so that the data is meaningful to the students. Here are some possibilities:
  • favorite hot lunch
  • types of transportation to and from school
  • days with/without precipitation
  • number of siblings
Have students collect data on whatever topic is chosen. You can use some data sheets like the one below. 
Sample Data Collection Sheets for Giant Graphs
Then students will use the data to decide what type of graph they should make. This is helpful if you've gone over the types of graphs first. Remember to let them work collaboratively. After they decide on a graph choice, have them come up with a scale, title, and labels for the graph. Cut a sheet of paper in half or use sticky notes for this. 
Students can construct a graph using 8 1/2" x 11" paper (bar graphs), sticky notes and masking tape (line graphs), or they can cut out shapes from paper (pictographs). 
After the graph is finished, hold a class discussion about the graph and have them do a quick assessment page like the one shown below. 
Formative Assessment of Giant Graphs
This extra discussion and wrap-up time is what will really help deepen the learning of your students and help them truly understand the benefits of graphing data. 
Now you're ready to begin using giant graphs in your classroom. To help you with the process, you can go here to purchase the data sheets, comprehension sheets, and graphing posters found in my giant graphs product. 
Angie Campanello
Angie CampanelloAngie Campanello has taught everything from first grade to eighth grade and now teaches online university classes to Education students. She lives near Seattle, Washington with her husband and enjoys reading and spending time on their ski boat. To visit her blog, click here. To see her TpT store, click here

Reading Skills Review the Easy Way!

So, a few months ago I was thinking about making an ELA skills review product. Something with a several different skills on one page, but when I asked my Facebook followers what they thought about the idea, a bunch of them basically said, "Well that's a swell idea, but what we really need is reading skills practice."

I am all about making what teachers need, so I went to work. I wanted to create a product that would be super easy to use - basically print and go, but would also provide rigorous, Common Core aligned practice, and be fun for the students too. The resulting product is Text Time.

The first thing you need to know about Text Time is that I wrote all the passages and I am a published author of over 100 nonfiction books for children. I have written for Harcourt, Rosen, Thomson-Gale, Evan-Moor and several others. You can see my books on Amazon here.  The passages in Text-Time are no different from those I would write for any of these publishers. They are well-sequenced, grade appropriate, interesting.

If you look at the image below, you will notice a few things about the passages:

  • It's all on one page - super easy! 
  • The passages are written at two different reading levels. The passage on top is easier and is marked with a single diamond in the bottom left, while the one on the bottom is more challenging and is marked with two diamonds. 
  • The questions are the same for both reading levels. This means that you can discuss the questions as a group, even if you have students using different levels. 
  • The skills addressed are listed in small print below the passage. Those skills are also part of the table of contents for easy reference.


There are 60 passages (120 altogether since there are two versions of each).  They are a mix of curriculum based topics and high-interest topics. They are organized in cycles of six:

  1. Informational Text (nonfiction)
  2. Literature (fiction)
  3. Informational Text with a picture such as a chart, table, map, diagram, or illustration
  4. Literature 
  5. Informational Text
  6. Poetry 
So the split is:  1/2 Informational Text,  1/3 Literature, and 1/6 Poetry.

The skills address most of the RI and RL Common Core Standards and include: reading for details, main idea, summarizing, inference, predicting, genre setting/character/plot, theme, context clues/vocabulary, figurative language, author’s style, author’s purpose, point of view, mood/tone, text structure, comparing and contrasting, interpreting an illustration (map, chart, diagram, table, or photo), analysis, and evaluation. 
In addition, there are five paired passages that can be used together to compare and contrast. For example there is an informational text passage about the Pony Express. The next passage is a fictional dialogue written in first person between a boy and his older brother, who is a Pony Express rider. Three printables are included to use with the paired passages. 

Here is part of the table of contents so you can see the variety of passages.


Want to try it before you buy it? The free preview on the TpT product page includes 6 full-sized passages that you can download and use with your students! 

I am also planning to make seasonal sets of Text Time, so there is more reading skills goodness ahead!



Thanks so much for reading! If you already own Text Time, what do you think? If you are thinking about it, are there any questions I can answer for you? 

Happy Teaching,



Growing Strong Relationships with Your Students

Growing Strong Relationships with Your Students
Hey y'all! I am Jacqueline from The Little Ladybug Shop in Houston, Texas. I am so honored and blessed to be invited to write a post for Ms. Rachel Lynette! I have always adored her, and today I feel such joy!

So, as we all are heading Back to School this time of year, we have millions of things on our minds. Right? Things ranging from setting up our classrooms to making sure we have enough school supplies to meet our students' needs. Some of the most important thoughts, such as, "Growing Relationships with Our Students," slip our minds. It's not because we don't care (we are teachers, so we care a lot}; it's because we assume we will get there.

I have noticed through my 10+ years in education that these relationships are extremely important. They are the foundation to all the learning that occurs in the classroom. No matter how much you truly pour your heart into the perfect classroom and perfect lessons, it won't matter if YOU don't build those strong relationships with EVERY child.

Today, I wanted to share some tools that I have used and that have worked for me. I know some of these may not work for everyone, and I know we ALL LOVE and CARE for our students tremendously or we wouldn't do what we do. This job is far more rewarding than those paychecks we receive. The memories and LOVE we share are our blessings as teachers! I will try to remember that when I am feeling a little burnt out come April/May! (giggle)
Growing Strong Relationship with Your Students
Tip #1: WELCOME
On the first day of school, always welcome your students into your classroom. You should portray an inviting environment. I would stand near the front of the door ready to greet with a high five, a hug, or just a pat on the back. Sometimes a kid or two would sneak in and I wouldn't spot them, but they knew the rule...they had to come over and say, "Good morning," or "Hello," before we got started.

These welcoming gestures help the students feel like they belong. Understandably, there are times when we as teachers are unable to greet each and every student individually, but when you are physically able to be there, BE THERE! Imagine walking into a friend's house for the first time, and they don't welcome you. How do you feel? I truly believe this is something that should occur in every classroom. Don't you see how being inviting is helping build that relationship?

Growing Strong Relationship with Your Students
 Tip #2: GET TO KNOW YOUR STUDENTS
Tip #2 is getting to know your students. I know many teachers pass out those lovely Back to School packets, and we plan on reading every detail that kids want to share with us! However, isn't it much better to talk to them and get to know each of them personally? I had 45-48 students, and I knew it would take me a bit longer to get to know each and every one. 

I set a goal, though. My goal was to learn one important thing about each and every child within the first week of school. Luckily, my school district assesses academics second week. I always use this time to gain important insight into not only their academic abilities but also their personalities. I ask them personal questions, trying to make connections with them. It was fun, because that made them feel comfortable, and then we built that connection.

Growing Strong Relationship with Your Students
 Tip #3: CONNECTIONS
Tagging along behind Tip #2 is making connections with your students. I would listen to them. I could tell you one thing about each and every child I have taught over the last 10 years, and that is all because of the connections we built. I would not only listen to them, but I would genuinely show interest in what they told me. I laugh at their funny stories and show sorrow during their moments of sadness. 

You have to remember, you are part of their life throughout this important year of school! It is a gift to have these students trust you, and therefore, you must cherish it. I loved when a parent would email me and tell me how their child talked about me all night at dinner. The parents knew they were in good hands. It made me realize, "Wow... It's working." We are all connected! This is such a simple tip, but a good lasting one.

Growing Strong Relationship with Your Students
 Tip #4: PROTECT
This tip is very important. As teachers we have our moments where we feel our world is crumbling and our lessons are not working. And then the kiddo that likes to ACT silly does it right as your principal walks in to do an observation on you. Oh my! It's like they have a radar that beckons them to come into your room on the worst day ever!

It would be EASY to lose it, to yell at the kid and embarrass him/her in front of everyone. Right? But NO. You are the adult. As hard as it is sometimes, we must step aside and remember they are kids. Sometimes they don't understand the teacher's perspective on the situation. So it is best to speak to each child privately and PROTECT his/her feelings. Many times students act up because of other issues, and you embarrassing them will not help or fix anything! Protect them, and they will see it. Their behavior will change through time. When you show respect to them, you earn their respect! It's funny, but it works. My favorite thing someone once told me is, "To earn respect and love, you must show it first." So, as a teacher I follow this rule. My GOLDEN RULE!

Growing Strong Relationship with Your Students
 Tip #5: FAMILY
You can ask each child or parent that I have ever taught, "Did Mrs. Ortiz love you?" Each one would say "YES!" I know they would, because I made sure they knew it! I told them we were a family, a team! We were going to be spending a lot of time together, learning and having fun, so we were a family. Yes, I would tell them there are times in your life when your family gets on your nerves, but at the end of the day, you LOVE them. The nice thing about families is when one family member has as a bad day, the rest of the family members give them a start over the next day. 

I think it is very important to let your students know you love them and care for them like they were your own kids. I am an elementary school teacher with 3 kids of my own, and I know at the end of the day, they want my hugs, my kisses, and my LOVE! Build that family within your classroom. It will be the best thing you ever did!

Here is a fun Back to School Flip Booklet that you can use to get to know your students. I love that it is a different and fun way to get to know them. You can click on the link to preview and purchase, if you would like. My goal as a teacher is to work smarter and make things easier; hopefully this tool does both for you.
Back to School Flip BookletBack to School Flip Booklet

Blessings to you on your adventures this school year! If you ever need any resources, feel free to contact me at: The Little Ladybug Shop.

Jacqueline Ortiz of The Little Ladybug Shop

Jacqueline Ortiz, M. Ed., lives in Houston, Texas with her husband, Andrew, and 3 kiddos {Jonah, Noah, and Helena-The Little Ladybug}.  She has 10 years of teaching experience in grades 2-5 in Language Arts, Reading, and Dyslexia. Jacqueline joined Teachers Pay Teachers this past January as a Teacher-Author. She works with students throughout the area that struggle in Reading, Writing, and Dyslexia. You can visit her on her blog: The Little Ladybug Shop.


Getting Started with Effective Math Talk in the Classroom

Welcome friends! Today’s guest post was contributed by Shametria L. Routt, The Routty Math Teacher, and is about implementing effective math talk in the classroom. This post includes tips and strategies to get you started, as well as, a variety of resources to use on your journey. Happy reading!
Getting Started with Effective Math Talk in the Classroom
Using mathematical discussions in the classroom is a powerful way to increase our students’ critical thinking and communication skills. However, what does effective math talk in the classroom look and sound like? This article explores ways to get your students thinking and communicating mathematically from the very first days of school. 

What Is Math Talk?
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) defines math talk as “the ways of representing, thinking, talking, and agreeing and disagreeing that teachers and students use to engage in [mathematical] tasks” (NCTM, 1991). Effective communication about mathematics is essential to help students develop the thinking, self-questioning, and explanation skills needed to master required skills and concepts.
Effective Math Talk Looks Like and Sounds Like Poster
Why Is It Important?
A successful mathematics program emphasizes communicating mathematically frequently in the classroom. In addition to NCTM’s standards, most state standards include competencies related to communicating effectively through mathematical language, justifying solutions, and evaluating the mathematical thinking of others.

What Does It Look and Sound Like?
The picture on the right illustrates the interaction between the teacher and students during effective math talk and demonstrates how knowledge is constructed through these interactions and exchanged with others. For a free download of my Looks Like/Sounds Like Poster, click here.
Math Talk Expectations Anchor Chart
Creating a Math Talk Community of Learners

In order for math talk to be successful, students must understand how to collaborate fairly and hold a respectful exchange of ideas. Before implementing math talk in the classroom, brainstorm a list of classroom norms for how community members will participate and behave during the discussion. (See the picture to the right for an example of some of the norms you may want to include.)

How to Implement Math Talk through Open-Strategy Sharing
As with any lesson, it is essential to create a plan for using math talk in the classroom. During open strategy sharing, students discuss how they solved a particular problem. The students listen and share their ideas. The teacher probes the students with questions related to how they determined the solution and why they chose a particular solution path. In addition, the teacher highlights a variety of strategies and emphasizes the similarities and differences among them.
Use the following steps to help implement math talk in the classroom:

* Before the Discussion
  • Define your goal- What do you hope to accomplish? Goals for math talk include wanting students to: listen and compare methods used to solve a problem, look for the most efficient way to solve a problem, generate explanations for why a particular solution works, or examine why one solution is correct and why another is not.
Back to School Problem Solving Pack to Emphasize Strategic Thinking
  • Choose a Problem- This depends on your goal. If you want to highlight a variety of strategies that can be used to solve a problem, choose a problem with multiple solution strategies. If you are examining why one solution is correct over another, choose a problem where students frequently make missteps in their solution strategy. Use my Back to School Math Problem Solving Pack to get you started! For a free download, click here.
  • Anticipate Student Responses- In order to create the best discussion opportunities, think about how students may respond to a particular problem and create a plan to address any misconceptions that may develop. In addition, if there is an obscure solution that you think may be missed, plant the seed with a student group or be prepared to introduce the strategy yourself. For example, you can say, “When I looked at this problem, I thought that I could solve the problem like this (show the strategy). How does this strategy compare to the others we used today?”
* During the Discussion
  • Monitor Student Responses- During this time, observe the interactions of the groups and make notes about their solution strategies. Also, note any observed areas of concern to address at a later time.
  • Select Students to Present- Based on your observations, determine which solution strategies to highlight that will best help you accomplish your goal. For example, if you want to emphasize a variety of strategies to solve a particular problem, select solutions that vary from one another.
  • Sequence Student Responses- Order the presentation of the solution strategies in a manner that will allow you to maximize the students’ learning experience. For example, beginning with the most widely used strategy and then moving to the more abstract strategies may draw students’ attention to new methods. Similarly, beginning with the more concrete strategies will give students the opportunity to move from a more concrete to abstract understanding.
Open-Ended Questions for Accountable Math Talk
  • Connect Student Responses- The most important aspect of using math talk in the classroom is the connections between solutions that you and the students make. In the beginning, students will need your support to make these connections. For example, if you sequence the presentations from less sophisticated to more sophisticated, you can have students discuss the similarities and differences between the solutions. You can also discuss efficiency. Which process is more efficient?
    • The “Open-ended Questions” chart to the right has a great list of questions both you and the students can use during math talk to make connections and analyze solution strategies. For a free download of my Open-ended Questions for Accountable Math Talk, click here.
    Math Talk Moves Poster
    • Use the “Math Talk Moves” poster above to teach students how to make connections and respond to others during math talk. The poster describes moves made by the student. The teacher should teach these moves and encourage their use during discussion. You may even want to have a “Move of the Day or Week” to highlight ways to connect student ideas. Additionally, you may want to include these in the students’ math notebooks or tape a copy to their desks to refer to during the discussion. Please note: Several resources describe “Turn and Talk” as a math talk move. Because I chose to focus my poster on student moves, I did not include it; however, it is a useful move to use during math talk so that students have another participant to share ideas with during large class discussions. From that point, they can choose a student move to keep the conversation going or choose one move for a class-wide share-out. For a free download of my Math Talk Moves poster, click here.
    • Participation is key! Sometimes it’s hard to get all students to participate because they’re afraid to take risks. One of the ways you can get your more reluctant students to take part in the conversation is through the use of hand signals, such as teaching students to use the American Sign Language symbol for Y (see picture) to indicate that they agree with someone else’s thinking. Once reluctant students see that they’re not alone, they may be willing to participate more.
American Sign Language Y
* After the Discussion

After reviewing the students’ solutions and listening to their presentations, use the information that you gathered to determine the next steps. The following activities will help extend and deepen the students’ understanding of the intended content and skills.
  • Look for Areas of Concern- Reviewing the solutions for common errors or misconceptions may provide material for a mini-lesson or content for an additional problem solving task at a later date.
  • Check for Reasonableness- It is essential that students develop the ability to verify their solutions and check them for reasonableness. After the discussion, you can ask each group to develop a method to check their strategy for reasonableness or choose a specific solution and ask students to determine a method to check for reasonableness. Be sure to have students share and compare their strategies.
  • Justify the Solution- In addition to being able to make sense of a solution, students should be able to explain why a specific solution strategy leads to the correct answer. For this activity, have students use pictures, numbers, and words to make sense of the solution and explain why it works.
  • Look for What Went Wrong- One of the most powerful activities for students is to examine their mistakes. Use one of the solution strategies that did not lead to the correct answer (if available) and explore where the solution went wrong. After determining the misstep, allow students an opportunity to complete the remainder of the solution strategy. If you don’t have an incorrect solution strategy to use, create one yourself and say, “What if someone had done (show the strategy)?” Then, allow the students to discuss the error(s).
Implementing and planning regular math talk sessions will support the development of strong communication skills and deepen the students’ ability to reason and think critically about the intended math content and skills.

Resources

Books: There are several resources that can provide additional structures and methods for implementing effective math talk in the classroom. Check out the following resources for more insight:
Pinterest Board: There are many great resources for all grade levels on Pinterest. Click here to check out my Math Talk Pinterest board.

A Little Bit about Today’s Guest Blogger
Shametria Routty of The Routty Math Teacher
Shametria is a newlywed and has been a Texas educator for 13 years. She’s currently a Teacher Mentor for first- and second-year teachers and is working toward a Doctoral degree in Mathematics Education. She is also a blogger (emerging anyway) and teacher-author for all things math! Check out her Routty Math Teacher Blog and Teachers Pay Teachers Store for some additional teaching tidbits and freebies!

Credits

Books and Web Resources
Kazemi, E. & Hintz, A. (2014). Intentional talk: How to structure and lead productive mathematical discussions. Stenhouse Publishers: Portland, Maine.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1991). Professional standards for teaching mathematics. Retrieved from http://www.nctm.org/standards/content.aspx?id=26628
Smith, M. S. & Stein, M. K. (2011). Five practices for orchestrating productive mathematics discussions. Corwin: Reston, Virginia.

Clipart

Teaching Resources

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