Wednesday, September 30, 2015

3 Easy Tips to Beat the Recess Blues

The importance our kids place on recess is fascinating. Students cluster like they're in a newsroom, reporting the critical events of the day such has who moved their clip to orange or which dessert their mom remembered to pack in their lunch (here's hoping it was sugar-free).  Older students organize complex games of basketball involving half-courts and sub-ins, and the primary students chase each other around the monkey bars. If it weren't for the screams and shrieks of delight, an observer might find recess to be... peaceful.

But for some of our sweet kiddos, recess just stinks. They hate the sun, they don't like to play basketball, or they've just moved from Northern Iowa and have no friends.  Those kids have what I like to call the Recess Blues. And for those kids, recess can seem like an endless stretch of time designed as torture.  So what can we do for them? How can we support our students who don't like the typical recess activities, don't have a way to enjoy them, or who have a hard time making friends?

I give you 3 easy tips to help your students beat the Recess Blues.

1. Set up "Playground Buddies"

Once, when I taught first grade, I had a brand-spanking new student who had never been to school before. Never. Not preschool, not Kinder. On the first day of school, I sent the children to recess. Out she happily went with the others. During that time, I popped into my neighbors class to see how her day was going. She told me that she had set up her new students with "playground buddies", which meant a veteran student would 'show them the ropes' on the playground and be a sure-bet for pairing up for play.  I gulped. Had I been as smart, I would have done the same. But I wasn't, and at that moment had visions of obliviously waving this student into the lion's den with an over-the-top grin, "See you next Thursday! Don't forget your jacket!"

Luckily, she was an outgoing gal. But that experience taught me that pairing up a kiddo is a powerful tool for a teacher! It's got to be some kind of intense pressure out there as a new kid. Finding a friend. Asking for their hand in play. Kind of like asking someone to the prom, if you really think about it. Stressful! So take the pressure off and pair them up so they can play monkey in the middle with someone other than them self.

2. Teach some old-school games

Red rover, red rover. Let all the 80s kids come over! You and me, we know a lot of awesome games. Awesome games that our students are clueless about because those games don't involve pixels.  Red rover, cat's cradle, jump rope songs, Steal the Bacon, TV Tag - these were the games of yesteryear, and they are seriously awesome games. They get kids running like crazy and playing together! I love these games for three reasons. One, most kids don't know how to play, so you have to teach them yourself, which means they start out on a level playing field in terms of skill. Two, they are almost limitless in terms of players, so even the kids who weren't interested at first, but later become interested because they are so enthralled by the joyous laughter of their peers, can join in on the fly. And three, the rules are simple, which means they are easy to follow and they make it easy for kids to negotiate when conflict arises.

Oh, and four. You get to play it yourself when you teach them, and therefore can skip the gym.

3. Put them to work

Sometimes, a kiddo who is dreading recess won't say anything to you directly. But after watching them wander around the yard, day after day, drifting from hopscotch to four square you'll realize who they are. Those kids are the perfect "very important helpers".

You know those extremely important "papers" you've been meaning to take to the office? That time-sensitive note you "need" to deliver to the other teacher on the other side of the field? Why yes, child, you are the perfect person to help me with these incredibly important tasks that must be done immediately -- and during recess.

Of course the kicker is that these tasks may or may not exist, and they may or may not actually be important. So put on your best Judy Garland face and sell it.  Feeling useful is powerful for a child who is bored or in need of a recess activity, especially when it's something you're selling as extremely important! And what's better is that you'll get to build a relationship with that kiddo. When you're setting up your important 'job', it's a great time to do a little chatting about their interests, friends, and life. And when they've completed their important mission, they'll just love how gracious you are and how you are so appreciative for their efforts. "And you even gave up your own time to help little old me!"

Of course you couldn't run those errands yourself anyway. Your feet hurt because you already played Red Rover. Twice.

What are your best ideas for helping kiddos beat the Recess Blues? I'd love to hear about them!

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Evolution of Sparkle: Goodbye

By now it's pretty obvious that my blog has had a remodel. Like, a super gigantic remodel! I really hope you like it! I'll be making some minor tweaks over the next week and celebrating with a full launch next weekend. Stay tuned!

While I'm still working behind the scenes, I thought I'd spend a little time sharing with you why this change came to be.  Because it's official: I'm saying good bye to Second Grade Sparkle.

Why? Well, ever since I moved from second grade to sixth grade (and had an extremely premature baby), there have been a lot of changes in my life.  It's taken me a while to get my head back on -- anyone who has switched grade levels or become a mom knows the chaos that follows big changes like that.  Keeping your head above water when changes happen isn't always easy. In fact, it's really quite a challenge! Add to that the emotional stress of having a baby who can't be in daycare because of a compromised immune system, and a cocktail of therapy appointments each week, a principal change, a very busy husband, and living in a state without ANY of your own family... I had a really hard time feeling, well... sparkly.

Don't get me wrong, sixth grade does sparkle! But not in the same way a sweet second grade classroom does. Happy, bouncing, second grade heads running out to the playground, their cute questions, and their innocence - that sparkles. Teaching kids to read - that sparkles! It is one of the most amazing experiences a teacher can have. Second grade has got to be one of the absolute best grades to teach.  It really does sparkle!

But recently, living in this sixth grade world, I just didn't feel authentic with that word being in my blog name. After all, I chose that word in 2011!

So, I spent a lot of time thinking about what did feel authentic.  What do I want my blog to be about? What should it look like? What feel do I want my friends and readers to have when you come for a visit? It took a bit of stewing, but here it is!

I decided I want you to feel like you're popping into my classroom after school, or like I'm buzzing through to say 'hi' on my way to recess duty. I want you read posts that remind you of those moments you have with teacher friends, where they conversation starts like, "I just had the BEST idea!" I want you to feel like we're going on a Starbucks run before heading back to work to finish our report cards. I want to share funny stories from the classroom, small triumphs and discoveries, challenges and insights, and of course, some amazing classroom ideas. 

I want you to feel like you teach with me -- like I'm your neighbor next door.  And I hope you'll share here too, leaving a comment when you come. 

Because even though it's new and different, I think that's even better than sparkle.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

on the Science of Teaching

There's a lot said about the art of teaching. The right brain. The feeling. The music and theatre behind it. Ask anyone who's been in the classroom for some time, and they'll tell you about the instinct and the art, the symphony in the little moments.

It's all true.

But there is another side of teaching that is equally important to the art of it.  One that begs to be given the recognition it deserves:

The science of teaching.

Before you make assumptions and click on that open Amazon tab up there, thinking 'Oh great, another post on data', let me explain.

What I'm talking about isn't the exclusive idea of data, although yes, that's important too. Any teacher in 2015 knows all about the value of assessment and data (provided it is the right of of assessment that leads to the right kind of data. But that's another post entirely).

I'm talking about the scientific method -- the scientific process of teaching and learning, where teachers essentially test their hypothesis and later come to a revelation regarding it.  Teaching well involves this process and sadly, it's a school of thought that I fear is beginning to wither.  I don't mean to say that this process involves scientific testing on students, at the expense of their learning.  What I am describing is the inner thought process of a skilled teacher who uses information to test themself, to test their ideas about what comes next in the learning progression of their class.

Let me tell you the experience I had in my classroom where I really began to see this.

You might know that I've recently moved to teach sixth grade. One of the biggest challenges of teaching sixth grade is the new emphasis on argument writing. It's a messy thing, writing arguments well. 

Before I began teaching this, I spent some time researching what the general consensus was about arguments. Collegiate level ideas, high school ideas, middle school ideas. I researched steadfastly. I wanted to have a clear picture of what it was I was asking my students to do.

Once we began, though, and my students turned in pieces of assignments and papers, I began to develop different expectations.  I began to realize at times that perhaps, the lesson I initially taught led the students in the right general direction, but it didn't quite get them where I wanted them to go.  Yes, they were making progress and they were writing well. But the subtleties that I instinctively knew I wanted to see, they were missing.

Something about a paper didn't feel right. Or I realized that the way I presented something was worded incorrectly, and yielded something different. At one point for me, after a lesson on adding evidence, my students were adding so many quotes that they weren't actually arguing anything! It was terrible! Or I'd teach a lesson, and get something back from a student that was beyond what I wanted, which gave me a new idea.

And that's how it went. Lesson after lesson. Feedback, revision, conferencing, a-ha moment for me, new lesson. I'd collect a stack of papers and read them through. I'd get a general sense of where the ships were heading, then I'd plan a lesson to try and wrangle some that were astray. Each time, my writers grew, but more importantly, I deepened my own understanding of what it was I wanted. We learned together.

Is it wrong that I didn't know exactly what the result would be when I began? That I didn't know what the precise outcome would be after every single lesson? No. It is not. My point is that this kind of teaching, this kind of responsive teaching, though it may appear confusing and disorganized on the surface, is it not.  Some call this the art, but really it is very scientific. And it is not wrong. Looking at a breakdown of the scientific method illustrates this idea.

Ask a Question: Good teachers look at their students work and they think about the topic they will be teaching. They ask, What do my students need? Where do they need to go from here? What are my next steps? How will those next steps get them closer to the final steps? Skilled teachers are constantly asking these kinds of questions.

Do Background Research: Looking at student work is terrific background research. Teachers look at what their students can do and what they can't, and they gather more information about it.  They look at other anchor work that represents what it is they are striving to reach. They look on reputable sites to teach themselves. They talk to trusted colleagues.

Construct Hypothesis: Based on the question and the research, teachers formulate their hypothesis. A hypothesis in the classroom might sound something like this: "I think my students need a lesson on analyzing evidence and not just piling quotes into their paragraphs.  They need to take out every piece of evidence from their paper to see that they are overusing quotes." Once you've constructed this hypothesis, you don't know that doing this lesson will achieve the exact result you're after. You're hoping it will, but you don't know for sure.

Plan and Test Experiment: The experiment is for the teacher. Planning a lesson to execute how to deal with the hypothesis is important, and the actual lesson is where you test it out. No, you're not 'experimenting' on the students. You're experimenting with your hypothesis - whether your hypothesis will hold up, whether your next step got the result you thought it might.

Analyze Results: Once the lesson is over, you can look at the student work and think about whether your hypothesis was right. Did your lesson get the students where you thought it would? Did taking out all the quotes build awareness in these writers? For example, do they now, in their revised or new papers, have a better balance of evidence and ideas?

If yes, then you've been successful.  If no, then it's time to go through the process again. That lesson wasn't quite right.

And it starts all over. 

But sadly, I fear there's becoming a stigma regarding this way of teaching. That in an effort to feel successful and achieve *proficiency*, we have taken this process out of teaching.  We've made things so straightforward that the scientific method isn't behind what we're doing.

In this age of stated objectives and standards on the board, I wonder why teachers aren't being trusted to formulate their own hypotheses based on their expertise, and carry out the next steps that their experience and the student work suggests. I wonder if we are oversimplifying the learning experience and taking away the discovery from teaching well, from learning well.

Is it true that a clear objective is important? Yes, just as it's important that a scientist knows exactly what hypothesis is being tested.

But teaching is also messy. It's a messy science. Sometimes you add too much of something, and the pot boils over. Sometimes you heat the beaker too quickly, and it cracks.  But that's a good thing. Each time you learn, each time you grow.  And when you learn, they learn.

And isn't that the point?

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Time is right: Teachers are the problem.

The recent Time Magazine cover about Silicon Valley "Millionaires" solving the education woes of the 21st century has gone viral, and for most people in education, the nasty term 'viral' is owning up to its name.

One quick Google search will reveal a myriad of responses to Time's latest teacher tenure slam. (Which, to be fair, is much less provocative than its cover suggests).

Regardless, the coals are burning hot on the issue: Teacher tenure is a problem because bad teachers can't be fired. 

And you are right, Time Magazine. That's a huge problem.

Only it's not for the reason you think it is. 

Google news reports nearly twenty-five thousand results to the search 'Time Magazine Teacher Tenure'. Twenty. Five. Thousand.  Many are responses to the recent article, but others are responses to the articles of yesteryear on the same general topic.  Title after title, article after article: New York Educators Respond to TIME's Cover, Randi Weingarten Responds to TIME's Cover.  It is everywhere.

Educators and parents alike have been called to arms. And they are ready to fight. TIME is right. TIME is wrong. Teachers are good. Teachers are bad. Teachers shouldn't have tenure; no one else does. Teachers work hard. Teachers should have due process.




And that, my friends, is the problem.

It shouldn't be about teachers at all.

Because what we should be talking about is the kids. The students. The human beings in the classroom that get neither tenure nor merit pay.

Any good educator knows that when evaluating anything in the classroom, the only place to start is the kids. Talking to students gives insight about their thinking.  Asking them questions provides information about what and how well they're learning.  After all, when excellent teachers reflect on their practice, what do they do? They look at student work and student writing, and they talk to the children about what they know.  Because "No learning takes place without the learner." (Perrenoud, 1998).  In the world of teaching, learners rule.

Time-tested, research-based practices such as Responsive Classroom emphasize the importance of a teacher recognizing student's value as a human being in order to increase achievement and positive classroom culture.  Focus? The students.

Never mind the research that has concluded time and time again that the testing culture, in an effort to hold teachers accountable, has not only failed to achieve what was intended but in many cases, had a negative effect of students.

In 2001, the United Nations defined the goal of education as being 'to empower the child by developing his or her own skills, learning and other capacities, human dignity, self-esteem and self-confidence." Again, it's all about the child.

And yet, the child isn't what anyone is talking about this week.

How can we possibly make positive changes in education when all of our conversations leave out the most important part?

We can't.

If we are to ever make real change, we need to stay focused on what really matters. Doing anything else is like steering a ship through a storm and only watching the helm.

So, you're right, Time Magazine. Teacher tenure is the problem. Bad teachers are the problem. But not for the reason you think.

The reason those issues are the problem is that for every article, and rebuttal, and argument, and breath spent on this hot button, political issue, there is one less article being written about the one thing, the only thing, that does matter:

The kids.
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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Teaching is the crappiest job in the universe.

Can we all just take a minute and peel ourselves away from the end of summer psychosis and admit to one very cold, hard reality? Teaching is, literally, the crappiest job in the universe. Like, pee your pants a little when you pick up a dropped nickel and spill coffee on your brand new, winter white, overpriced, Anthropologie, cashmere sweater crappy.

I know. That's a terrible analogy because what teacher shops at Anthropologie for anything other than a 2oz candle? No teacher.  Which is another great reason why teaching is the crappiest job in the universe.

Exhibit A: These handwritten cards are about as lame as it gets.  I mean, please. The "best" teacher ever? Can someone say, "over-exaggeration"? I mean, truly. Ever. As in, as there ever was. What other job exists where job performance feedback from customers involves two choices: A swift see ya & goodbye, or a note making an outlandish, hyperbolic claim? How is anyone supposed to work like that? You're not.  Quit teaching and find something else that doesn't confuse the psyche.

Exhibit B: These shoes look like they spent a few months in the Cheetah exhibit at the zoo.  Torn and tattered and totally rendered useless, no human sole (pun intended) shall ever bear thier adornment again.  How does a job involving coloring impart so much physical damage to the feet?  And what is the reason behind the total injustice of wearing the formally cloud-like, comfort capsules? There is none. None at all. Jimmy Choo-Who? Not unless you want to claim bankruptcy by Mid-January.

Exhibit C: Enough already with the duties.  I'm sick of going outside and spending all that wasted time in the fresh air and sunshine. Hello, skin cancer! Nice to meet you every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 10:05-10:25! What is wrong with a basic cubicle that protects you from the sun and human contact? Nothing.

  Exhibit D: New 'coworkers' every 11.8 months = a pain in it.  Just when you've gotten the team dynamics completely functional... everyone quits and you're left with a whole new crew of brand new team members who have no idea what they're doing.  "Where's the bathroom?" They ask. "Do you have any pets?" "Do you like Starbucks?" "What's your favorite color?" Oh, pu-lease.  You missed the train by a whole summer, and now I need to completely start over -- and by the way, it's not really that cute at all when you *feign* joyous excitement at the science experiment you've "never done before" or when your force your little face to light up when you finally "get" something. Whatever.  Crap, crap.

Are you with me, or are you with me? Teaching sucks.  

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go set up my room.

After all, I'm the best teacher... ever.
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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Oh Baby! It's the June Mystery Box!

It is that time again! Our June semi-mystery box is ready to set sail! The summer season has officially arrived and we are celebrating with some nautical awesomeness. Can I get an "Aye Aye, Captain?"

I know what you're thinking, there is nothing we could give you that could top the satisfaction of spending months away from your gnarly underaged crew! 

That is where you are wrong our friends, think about how your summer could improve if you only had this AWESOME new beach bag from Ooh Baby Designs??

No beach time in your near future? No worries! This bag would also be great for hauling your library books, your rock collection, or your WWE wrestling belt.

Our grand prize winner will receive the bag pictured above from Ooh Baby Designs, AND a MYSTERY box full of summer time goodies, AND . . . a shopping spree in each of our stores. 

Click on any certificate below to visit their TPT store ands scope out your potential choices!

We will also be giving terrific prizes to TWO runner ups! Two lucky teacher friends will receive the digital products pictured below in their digital inbox!

Last month's GRAND prize winner won a $200 Tieks gift card! We also gave away two $100 gift cards! 

To see what was included in previous prizes click, here, here, here, here

Simply complete three easy steps to enter the June Mystery Box Giveaway!

1. Follow
2. Comment
3. Rafflecopter

This month's comment question:

Feel free to copy and paste your answer to this month's question in the comment section on each blog. There is no need to retype every time. Please follow each blog while you are hopping through.

While your clicking through the rafflecopter, be sure to "Like" this month's sponsor, Ooh Baby Designs, on facebook!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

We apologize to our friends from around the globe, but this contest is for US residents only, please.

Nautical graphics in this post were purchased from Little Llama Shoppe. Teacher clipart images in this post were designed by Melonheadz Illustrating.

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

April Mystery Box - It's a BIG one!

Happy SPRING, friends! This month is a very exciting month for us Mystery Box gals. We've joined forces with two more our favorite bloggy buddies just in time for some Mystery Box 2014 fun.

And speaking of fun, are you as ready for summer as we are?

We're in the home stretch now friends -- and to celebrate we've got a Mystery Box that will knock your *socks* off (Pun intended).

And if we may say so ourselves, this month's Mystery Box is fabulous!

So very fabulous, in fact, that we can't quite keep this box a total mystery.

But we promise (cross our hearts) that you'll love it just the same.

Yes, loves! You saw that right! This month's Mystery Box features the amazing and fabulous Tieks!
Can you even believe it? We know you can't. But it's true! 
Our Mystery Box grand prize winner will be the lucky
recipient of our...


April Mystery Box!

Inside the grand prize Mystery Box, you'll be excited to find...

Wha what?? Yes friends!! A $200 gift card to spend at Tieks on that pair of ballet flats you've been thinking obsessing about for months!

(We promise to include a couple of other great teacher things, too, which *will* remain a mystery.  Because that's how we roll.)

But there's more to it than an incredibly fabulous teacher-coveted pair of shoes!

Click any certificate below to visit their TpT Store.


****But wait!!****

This month we will have TWO runner ups! Yes, friends. That's right!

Each runner up will win...

Yes!! We're giving away TWO more Tieks gift cards -- each for $100!

You're thinking, "Are you kidding us?"


We never kid about shoes.

That means there are a total of THREE Tieks gift cards ripe for the picking!

And of course, each runner up also wins a totally fabulous product bundle, like always!
$7 gift cert.
Last month's box

The lucky winner selected a year's subscription to Reading A-Z and a year's subscription to Vocabulary A-Z, as well as $10 in digital goodies from each of our bloggers.

When her box came in the mail, this is what was inside...

A happy, happy plate that just sings Spring from the tree tops!!
A matching spreader...
Black, white & pink damask bag with a matching coin pouch....

Are *you* ready for a chance to win in three easy steps? US residents only please.

                                  1. Follow
                                  2. Comment
                                  3. Rafflecopter



So here's your monthly question...

(Besides everywhere!)

Feel free to copy and paste your answer to the question above in the comment section on each blog. There is no need to retype every time. Please follow each blog while you are hopping through. 

     1  34

Ready to enter?


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