Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

50 is Nifty! Come Celebrate With Me!

It's a nifty fifty celebration and you're cordially invited! We Teach So Hard, my podcast group, is celebrating our 50th podcast episode. We've put together a giveaway in honor of you, our listeners and readers. 

It's an easy peasy kind of giveaway (you don't have to follow 50 million people to enter). There are three ways for you to enter.

Click the giveaway graphic below and …
1. Write one reason you love teaching in the comments of the Facebook post the graphic below directs you to.
2. Tag a teacher friend or two in a separate comment.
3. OR...visit our podcast on iTunes and drop us a comment and rating. You can do that HERE.

Each action you take counts as an entry. The raffle drawing will be help in a Facebook live video on Monday, August 26, at 7:00 p.m. You could win everything pictured in this graphic! What are you waiting for? You deserve it because you teach so hard!

Math Games: Observing Your Students Makes Back-To-School A Breeze

I was in the toy aisle at Target the other day and spied a giant set of dominoes. It was a thing of beauty to behold. I was instantly transported back a gazillion years to my grandma's kitchen table. We sat hunched over the domino tiles. Her left hand cupped her never-empty coffee cup. There was a small plate of windmill cookies off to the side. She used her index finger to sweep up my cookie crumbs while I labored over my next move. My grandma and me, we were fierce domino players. 

Because she was a fourth grade teacher, when my grandma taught you how to play a game, you learned strategy. It was discussed and developed. I learned to visualize several moves ahead. I learned patterns of play. I learned what tiles were best to hold back until the end and which tiles were best to play first.

To this day, I adore playing games because of my Grandma Eller. As a classroom teacher, they are one of my favorite ways to teach concepts, strategy, collaboration, and problem-solving skills.  At the start of a new school year, math games are my absolute favorite way to get to know my new students. 

When I use math games at the very beginning of the school year, I make sure that they are skill review. I don't want to use games that teach new concepts because I want to watch my students interacting independently. If I have to step in to reteach new math concepts, I can't observe. I want to be able to see how Andrew interacts with others when he's losing. I want to know how Bella handles mistakes, or how Tom behaves when he trounces Emily. I also want to see who has a hard time with reviewing concepts. This is a tip off for me that someone may need some remediation.

I have a wheelie stool that I scoot around on the first couple weeks of school as I watch my students play math games. I make sure I visit each group. Students will find me if they need help with concepts, but when they come to me to settle disagreements during game play, I tell them they must solve the problems themselves. This gives me a lot of information about their abilities to collaborate and negotiate. I also look for the helpers. These are students who will try to help a partner who is stuck mathematically, even though it's a competitive situation. 

As I'm scooting around, I carry a pencil and clipboard with an observation sheet attached. I watch, listen and record what I see on my observation pages. I've developed this sheet after years of teaching and find that it helps me hone in on my students who will need some social skills, discourse, or mathematical boosting. After each game play session, I plan lessons to address some of what I saw.  This continues throughout the first month of school, until my students' skills have improved. 

If you'd like my observational pages, be sure to subscribe (via email) to this blog! At the beginning of every month, I send my subscribers updates and a free goodie.  The observational pages are September's freebie!

Game play will always be one of my favorite ways to teach concepts and review expectations for collaboration and discourse. But it is also my favorite because I'm transported back to the taste of almond windmill cookies and the click of domino tiles...and my grandma's laughter, warm and loving. 
If you're looking for classroom games, take a look below. There are a couple of freebies in the line up, too. Simply click on the graphic. Enjoy!                   

This month, I've linked up with some fabulous teachers for Teacher Talk. There are some great back-to-school classroom ideas here! Check them out below!
You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

4 Books About Belonging For Your Back-to-School Read Alouds

I still remember it. The memory can still knot my throat up in a tight little ball of hurt. I was in second grade in a split 2/3 classroom. I was the only girl in second grade so all of my girl friends were third graders. Her name was Christine. She had blonde hair and blue eyes and a flock of followers that only a third grade girl who learns her leadership powers early could command. 

She marched up and down the aisles of the classroom before school had officially started and handed a pink sparkly envelope to each of the girls. I waited eagerly for her to pass my desk. 

I watched her pass each envelope, one to Lisa, another to Laura, the next one to Brooke,  until there weren't anymore left. 

I remember nothing more about that week. The moment of realization that I was not included and the aftermath when I had to listen to every girl recount every sugary, annoying detail is what has stuck with me for 42 years.  

It was the first time I felt invisible.

'That was the best pool party ever!'
'I'm so glad you guys had fun!' says Madison. Everybody did except Brian. He wasn't invited.

That is one of the reasons why The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig appeals to me. I think most of my students will probably "get it," because after 27 years of teaching, I've realized that everyone can tell you a story about not belonging, about exclusion.

Only Brian is left, still waiting and hoping.

The Invisible Boy is about a boy named Brian who gets very little attention at school. His teacher is busy managing the larger-than-life behaviors of other students, his peers pick the best players for recess games, and when both teams have equal numbers of players, Brian is left out. 

Outside of school, his classmates attend a pool party, but Brian isn't invited. Everything changes for Brian when Justin arrives at school. Justin's character acts as a mediator for Brian and his peers. Because of Justin's inclusiveness, Brian's classmates realize his value and importance. In the end, Brian is included. 

This year, I plan to use this book as one of my early read alouds. I have four learning activities in mind to help us crystallize our thinking about belonging and inclusiveness.

The first thinking activity is a visible thinking routine called Step Inside. The Step Inside thinking routine structures students’ thinking and deepens their understanding about a person/thing. It focuses on perspective and asks kids to hypothesize using three core questions: 
 1. What can the person or thing perceive? 
 2. What might the person or thing know about or believe? 
              3. What might the person or thing care about?
We'll be discussing these questions together, and then I'll ask my students to do some writing as if they were Brian...I'll be asking them to step inside his shoes.

There are some fabulous discussion questions in the back of the book. They're meaty questions that require students to connect to the characters. I'll be taking some of these questions and writing them in the center of a chalk talk board.  During chalk talk, students stay at a question board for a determined amount of time, and the activity is done in complete silence. They share their thinking, circle responses they find interesting from other people, write a question or comment on someone else's response or draw lines from their own responses to their classmates' responses if they see connections. When the timer goes off, students rotate to the next chalk talk board. This continues until students have been at all boards. After, we view the boards together and discuss them. 

The third activity I want to do with the book involves the illustrations and photography. The illustrations of The Invisible Boy are beautiful and vibrant. One noticeable thing about Brian is that he's the only character in black and white. However, as his status with his classmates changes, as he become visible to them, he gradually gains color, until he's fully colored by the end of the book.

My students will take two photos of themselves, a black and white version and a colored version. While viewing the black and white version, they'll write about a time when they felt invisible. For the colored version, they'll write about how it feels to "belong." These will be displayed in our classroom.

The fourth and final thing we'll do to end our book study is to create a list of ways we can help others to feel belonging. This list will be displayed throughout the school year and revisited periodically.

It's not just about sparkly pink birthday invitations anymore. As teachers, we can't help but turn on the nightly news and have the breath sucked out of our bodies as we see the heavy cost of "not belonging." Human beings need connection to survive. There are stacks upon stacks of research supporting our fundamental need for connection and belonging. 

It starts with us, doesn't it? 

As a member of the We Teach So Hard podcast group, I'm excited to tell you about our monthly themed book talks. The second week of every month, we'll be introducing a new literature theme with book recommendations, ideas for using the books with your students, and resources. Be sure to tune in and subscribe. Click the picture below to listen!

Keep reading below for three more fantastic belonging-themed picture books recommended by Kathie, Retta & Deann to support your back-to-school lessons. 

Interested in reading more about visible thinking routines? I write about them a great deal because they've changed my teaching life in dramatic ways. If interested, you can read more about that adventure here.

Or, check out this resource:

Ex-Husbands, Control & Windmills: A Teacher's New Year Musings

I can only control myself, my actions, my work ethic, and my attitude.
                                                                                       -Ali Krieger

My ex-husband had a theory about teachers. He believed that we like to be in control. "You're large and in charge kind of people," he'd remind me when we'd talk about my work situations and colleagues. Or better yet, "Don't talk to me like I'm one of your students!"  when we debated one of my opinions about our life together. Looking back, we can laugh together about these conversations, but I think he might have been right about our need to control our environments, our students, and our teaching practices. 

I was thinking about him today as I organized some teaching materials. I stood in front of my desk with my hands on my hips and caught my reflection in the window. What I saw made me giggle. I definitely looked like an in-charge control freak. 

My goal for this school year is to let go of the things I can't control. So often, we teachers expend our energies fighting foes we have no hope of conquering. Like Don Quixote charging windmills, we wring our hands over our school district or state's policies. We focus on what our students are lacking, or fixate on staff lounge conversations. We compare our failings and successes to those of our colleagues. It's true that we can hope to have some influence over policies or laws. We can try to address our students' home lives, and we can engage in collegial conversations. But at the end of the day, when our efforts aren't impactful, we have a choice. We can continue to charge the windmill or we can focus on what we can control.

This year, I'm going to be focusing on my what's in my circle of control. I think I'll feel happier. I think I'll feel less stressed. And, I think I'll do my job better. 

Looking for a way to decompress this year? You might enjoy these resources.

We Teach So Hard is a podcast just for teachers. Each week, three teaching friends and I tackle classroom topics, talk about kid lit, laugh, cry and rage a little. Give us a listen in the car on your way to work! Click the picture to listen.

If you're looking for a little simplicity in your life, this challenge is just for you. I revisit it at the start of every school year. Click the picture to read more about it.