During our first Reading Workshop unit of the school year, my students and I have been focusing on three important comprehension strategies. To make the learning "stick," I have been using simple visuals that convey the meaning of each strategy in an engaging, user-friendly way.
This week I am sharing with you the visual that brings to life our first strategy, envisioning. For children to understand what they read, they need to be able to see "the movie in their mind" clearly. As teachers, we want to encourage children to picture the story so well that they actually feel like a character in the book.
Using Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as an example, this visual provides a nice introduction to these concepts. The popcorn image located at the top right further reinforces the idea of "watching a movie" as we read. Visuals #2 and #3 are coming soon.
In my previous post I mentioned that one of my primary instructional goals for this school year involves increasing the amount of "active learning" that occurs in my classroom. One strategy that has become an early favorite with my students was inspired by well-known presenter Jean Blaydes, and we use it during our 10-15 minute "word work" sessions that conclude our Reading Workshop a few days a week. In the past my students would frequently sit on the rug during word work and gain practice with a variety of spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and grammar concepts by correcting sentences that I would show on the board. Kids would work independently to copy the sentences onto their individual dry erase boards and correct the mistakes. We would then come together as a group to go over the correct answers.
This year's approach features a few significant changes. First, instead of having my students copy the sentences, I type the sentences and distribute a sheet to each child. We use transparent "sleeves" that envelop the whiteboards so that when the kids make the corrections with the markers, the actual sheets inside the sleeves stay clean, and I can re-use the sheets in future years. Because the kids are only making the corrections instead of copying entire sentences, we can proceed through each sentence much faster and accomplish more word work in less time.
Second, instead of working alone, every child now has a partner, and the pairs begin each sentence in a standing position. Before the kids sit down to make the corrections together, they "move through" the sentence by acting out specific movements that correspond to the types of changes they need to make. For example, as they read the sentence aloud, the kids spin in a circle every time they encounter a misspelled word. When we correct misspellings on the paper, we circle the word and write the correct version above the circle. So, the spinning corresponds to the circling they do on the paper. At the conclusion of this post, you will find some other examples of the movements we make for different types of corrections. Please e-mail me via this site if you'd like to know moves we make for other types of corrections, or, better yet, simply create your own with your students.
Once the kids have moved through the sentence, they sit down and make the corrections with the markers. After a couple minutes, we go over the answers together as a class. Incorporating movement has added tremendous energy and engagement to our word work, and the kids are paying greater attention to detail than they did under our more sedentary approach. In addition, working with partners allows the kids to help one another more easily and provides an important sense of belonging. In short, the kids are learning more, bonding more, and displaying greater enthusiasm with this active approach. As I mentioned in my book Rock It: Transform Classroom Learning with Movement, Songs, and Stories, movement has the potential to turn potentially dry academic lessons into engaging, multi-modal experiences that kids will remember for a long time. If you use other active learning approaches in your classroom, please contact me. I'd love to share them.
• To show that we need to indent, we do a skier jump from left to right.
• To change a lower case letter to a capital, we duck down to the ground and then rise up and extend our arms (as if doing the wave).
• To change a capital letter to lower case, we start with our arms extended above our heads and duck down to the ground.
As this new school year begins, my two main instructional goals are 1) to increase the use of visuals to aid student understanding of important concepts and 2) to incorporate movement into the classroom as frequently as possible as a catalyst for learning.
This week I am happy to share with you a helpful visual that connects to both of these goals. Exercise powerfully impacts focus, memory, and overall cognitive functioning. In addition, research has shown that exercise actually grows new brain cells. One well-known author has even referred to exercise as "miracle grow for the brain." As teachers, we want children to know and understand the benefits that exercise offers.
In future posts I will share specific ways that we can build more movement into the school day to take advantage of these incredible benefits. I invite you to contact me if you would like to share any effective active learning strategies that you use in your classroom.
I'd like to share with you a new teaching visual I created that you can discuss with your students.
I refer to this image as the "Tug-of-War" visual because it is common for children to have two goals in mind while they are working, and these goals sometimes conflict. First, they want to do a great job. Second, they want to get done.
Throughout the year, I emphasize to my students that quality is always the most important priority, and we need to be willing to take our time, focus on the task at hand, and put forth our very best effort if we wish to be successful in school and in life.
I have discussed this "tug-of-war" concept with my class for a couple years, and the idea of two little people wrestling in their minds resonates with children. I'm excited to have this visual to aid student understanding of the points I'm trying to convey, and I hope you find it useful.
I'm starting to become a bit more active on Pinterest, and I just created a board that contains a series of visuals I use in my classroom to help my students gain a stronger understanding of measurement concepts found in the Common Core Math Standards. I use these visuals in conjunction with a set of engaging story problems so that children are learning about measurement in a real-life context. You can find my Pinterest board at: www.pinterest.com/stevereifman/ or by clicking here.
I also just made the measurement story problems available as an inexpensive item on my TeachersPayTeachers page. You can find the item at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Browse/Search:Steve+Reifman or by clicking here.
In celebration of the San Antonio Spurs victory in the 2014 NBA Finals, I am sharing a short biography of future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan. This humble superstar from the Virgin Islands is both a top athlete and a wonderful role model for children. The biography is taken from my e-book 2-Minute Biographies For Kids, which you can find on amazon. Because of the biography's "riddle format," you can read it aloud to your child, stop right before the final sentence, and see if your child can identify the featured individual.
Though well-known as a basketball player, this athlete began competing as a swimmer following the lead of his two older sisters. By the age of 13, he set records in his hometown of St. Croix in both the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle and was thought to be a solid contender for the 1992 Virgin Island Olympic Swimming Team.
On April 24, 1990, his mother Ione passed away from cancer, one day before he turned 14. He stopped swimming at this time because he didn’t believe it made sense for him to continue. Swimming had been such an important part of his relationship with his mother that when she passed away, he lost his motivation for it.
A short time later, he took up basketball with the help of his brother-in-law and made the freshman team at his high school. He was clumsy, yet patient and eager to learn. He continued to progress as a basketball player throughout high school, but he only received his scholarship to Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina after a former Wake Forest player saw him in action and recommended him to Demon Deacon Head Coach Dave Odom.
At Wake Forest his success on the court was due as much to his intelligence, work ethic, and thoughtful approach to the game as it was to his physical talents. He was always a dedicated student. In fact, at age 8 he was so capable that he skipped a grade in school. “I love to think. I just love the inner workings of the mind,” he once said. Coach Odom said he was the best listener he ever coached and felt that the player’s mental approach and regular studying of game tapes were responsible for much of his improvement. This was a player, according to Odom, “who used his brain as much as his body.”
In only his second season he led Wake Forest to victory over North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference Title game. As a sophomore, he was the National Defensive Player of the Year, First-team All-ACC, and on the All-ACC Tournament team. Jerry West, then the General Manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, said that he was the best player in college basketball, and many experts thought he should give up his final two years of college to turn pro. The Golden State Warriors General Manager openly said that he would have taken this player with the first overall pick in the draft. Because he enjoyed college life and his studies, he decided to forego millions of dollars to stay in school. He also stayed because before his mother died, she asked him to promise he would go to college and get a good education. It was a promise he took seriously. Both of his parents were very committed to education.
Following an even more impressive junior year, again everyone wondered if he would leave early for the draft. The temptation of the money and the risk of injury made it so that very few top players stayed in school all four years. All he said was, “I’m not going anywhere.” According to author Sean Adams, “He had made it clear that he intended to finish college and get a degree before moving on to the NBA, and that wasn’t up for debate. His reasons were the same they’d been all along.”
In 1997, the San Antonio Spurs selected him with the first pick of the NBA Draft. He became an instant star as the league’s Rookie of the Year. He is the first player in league history to make an All-NBA Team and All-Defensive Team in each of first 13 seasons. He won the NBA MVP award twice, was named to an All-NBA First Team 9 times, played in 14 All-Star games, and led the Spurs to 5 NBA Titles. His name...is Tim Duncan.
Here are some of the blueprints my 4th graders made during our 3-week Dream House Project. The students began by creating a two-dimensional floor plan on a 38 x 24 square grid. They then calculated the area of each room, determined flooring costs, and transferred the floor plan onto this larger blueprint paper. On this paper, the kids measured the angles in their gardens, swimming pools, courts, and walking paths/dirt bike trails. Finally, everyone colored in the various parts of their property.
A 4th grade student of mine recently wrote this paragraph as part of her Writing Workshop fiction story about a girl who showed poor judgment and then faced the consequences once her parents found out what she did. When I first read the paragraph, I was reminded how wonderful it is to work with children who fall in love with reading and make books an important part of their lives. Kids who read for significant amounts of time outside of school advance to higher levels of text that feature complex sentence structure. Over time, enthusiastic readers such as this child will begin to experiment with this type of sentence structure in their own writing. They will experiment with sentences of different lengths, include parenthetical phrases, and purposefully incorporate sentence fragments that add power and drama to their writing. If you have any noteworthy examples of quality student writing that you'd like to share, please feel free to send it along.
"Make It, Take It" is a teaching strategy I use during word work and other frequently conducted whole-class activities that have the potential to become monotonous after a while. I adapted this idea from the realm of playground basketball. In organized games at the professional and amateur levels, when a team scores a basket, the other team then gets the ball. Playground games, however, sometimes follow the policy of "make it, take it," in which the team that scores a basket maintains possession of the ball.
One day, when my students were practicing their editing skills by correcting sentences that I put on the board, the "make it, take it" idea popped into my head, and I decided to try it out, not expecting much of a reaction. After explaining the concept to the class, I was shocked when tons of kids raised their hands to answer the next question as if I was asking who wanted free ice cream.
The way it works is that when a student answers a question correctly, (s)he gets to answer the next one. If a child makes a mistake, I choose a different student for the next question. Initially, I was worried that the kids might have bruised feelings if they missed a question and didn't get the chance to answer the next one, but this never became an issue.
Many times, when a new idea is introduced, everyone is excited about it, but then the novelty soon wears off and enthusiasm wanes. After many months, this hasn't yet happened with "make it, take it." Perhaps it's because I have many athletes in my class, and they appreciate any connection to the sports world. Or, maybe the kids like having the chance to earn another chance to participate, and they enjoy their moment in the spotlight. Either way, making this minor change to how I call on students during whole-class learning activities has led to greater engagement, better attention to detail, and improved performance. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
Here is a mission statement I recently found at a local restaurant called "The Counter." When I first saw it, I knew I wanted to add it to the collection of mission statements I share with my students at the beginning of each school year when we begin writing our class mission statement. Not only is the hamburger shape an attention-getter, but also the statement itself contains some powerful messages that apply to classroom life, such as "create something special," "creative construction," and "life should be about experiences." If you find any strong mission statement examples in your travels, please let me know.