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.
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.
I'm writing this post about an hour before my University of Virginia Cavaliers take the court for their opening game in this year's NCAA basketball tournament. This has been a dream season for the Cavs, and their incredibly successful regular season pretty much come out of nowhere. In fact, the team only started receiving national attention about a month or two ago after flying under the radar for most of the season. I caught my first glimpse of the team a few weeks ago when we were hosting highly-rated Syracuse and pulled off an impressive upset win. As I watched the action, I was taken aback when the announcer mentioned the name of UVA's first-year guard, London Perrantes.
London was a student in my third grade class ten years ago in Santa Monica, CA, and I was thrilled to discover that he had made it to the highest level of college basketball. I was even more excited that he was playing for my alma mater. Small world.
I was so impressed with London's poise and leadership that I wanted to contact him. After searching for him on Twitter, I actually found his father and sent him a message congratulating him on his son's terrific first year. He immediately responded by thanking me for encouraging his son to be a leader and nurturing the leadership potential I saw in him at the time.
This wonderful exchange of messages reminded me that teachers encourage children in a variety of ways all the time. We don't, however, always get to see the results of these efforts. We may, for example, have encouraged a struggling 4th grader to take school more seriously, yet have no idea that the same child became an A-student in high school. We plant seeds. That's what we do. Sometimes we see them grow into something special; other times we don't. In this case I was fortunate to see a former student blossom in a very public forum, and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to be a small contributing factor to that success.
My main point with this post is to encourage you to keep planting seeds with your students. Encourage them to be leaders, readers, writers, musicians, and painters. These efforts pay off. We may not always be able to observe the fruits of our labor, and that can be frustrating at times, but the effort is worth it. Be on the lookout for the positive traits and aptitudes your students show and find the time to acknowledge these assets privately. When enough people provide enough support and encouragement to children, great things can happen.
I recently read a fantastic book that I think has particular relevance for teachers, and I wanted to pass along this recommendation. Chip and Dan Heath's Made to Stick starts with the idea that every day people all over the world are trying to communicate their ideas to others and have them be remembered. These messages, for example, may be advertisements that companies send to consumers, corporate strategy that executives send to their employees, or lessons that teachers and parents present to children.
The authors make the point that some messages tend to "stick" with their audience while others don't. Subway's advertising campaign involving Jared, for example, resonated with the American public while its "7 Under 6" campaign was far less successful. To explain why some messages stick and others don't, the Heaths present six criteria of "stickiness." Specifically, they offer six qualities that messengers can use to make their messages more likely to be remembered and acted upon.
These qualities are: 1) simplicity, 2) unexpectedness, 3) concreteness, 4) credibility, 5) emotional, and 6) stories. Since reading this book, I have made an effort to incorporate these six qualities into my teaching, and the early results have been promising. In fact, the book inspired the "31st Student" idea that I recently shared with you. I'm also working on some new "sticky" classroom ideas that I hope to share with you in the near future.
In short, the book is a terrific read full of interesting examples that can serve as a catalyst for educators who are looking to add their impact to their instruction. You can find the book on amazon.
Every Friday as part of our morning routine, my students and I review the class mission statement we created during the first week of the school year. Because the document is a few paragraphs long, we read and discuss only a small part of it each week. This past Friday morning, we talked about the sentence: "We don’t pay attention only to our work, we also pay attention to everyone’s feelings."
As I was listening to the children share their ideas, examples, and interpretations with the rest of the group, something occurred to me, and I volunteered my thought at the conclusion of the activity. I told everyone that unlike people who go to work each day in their individual offices or cubicles and function independently for most or all of the day, we arrive in a classroom where we are constantly in the presence of other people.
Of course, this situation presents its share of challenges, but it also presents its share of opportunities. I emphasized that every day every one of us has a wonderful chance to make someone else's day better. Maybe we try to cheer up a friend who's having a rough start to his day. Maybe we offer assistance to a neighbor who is struggling with today's math work. Maybe we share part of our lunch with someone who left theirs at home. Regardless of the specific gesture we make, the point is that we consistently look out for one another and strive to contribute to the betterment of the group.
Discussions such as these have a powerful team-building effect and start our day on a positive note. They remind students of the potential we each have to impact the learning of others and also highlight the fact that even though succeeding academically is important, what's more important is that everyone feels comfortable in class, enjoys the learning process, and knows that others care about them.
On Super Bowl Sunday, I shared a teaching tip inspired by the Seattle Seahawks' "12th Man" concept. In a nutshell, the fans in Seattle are so loud, have such a powerful presence in the stadium, and give the team such a formidable home-field advantage that it's almost as if the Seahawks have an extra player on the field - a 12th man.
I first saw the potential of applying the "12th Man" concept to the classroom a few weeks back while my 30 students were studying fractions. I wanted to call the children's attention to the fact that learning how to find a common denominator was an incredibly important skill to master because it would enable them to add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators, find equivalent fractions, and make comparisons. In short, I wanted to make a big deal out of finding a common denominator.
Very dramatically, I announced that this skill is so important and will have such a powerful presence in our room in the coming weeks that it's almost as if (you guessed it) we have a 31st student among us. After hearing of the "12th Man" in Seattle, the kids immediately loved the idea of having a 31st student in our classroom and loved the connection between an academic concept and a real-life example from the world of sports. For the rest of our fractions study, every time we returned to the skill of finding a common denominator, the kids paid extra close attention to what I was teaching, and their proficiency with the skill was impressive.
That's what I was going for with the "31st Student" concept. I wanted a novel way to give special attention to one concept so that children would form an emotional connection with that concept and appreciate its significance. And that's what happened. I knew that finding a common denominator, though, would eventually run its course as a featured idea, and the novelty would wear off. So this past week, as the kids began to publish their California History Research Projects, I introduced our second "31st student" - professional publishing. At the time I announced our new "31st student," I also unveiled a special surprise - our new class flag modeled after the one hanging in Seattle during home games. Every day this past week, when it was time to begin our Writing Workshop period, we would wave the flag, and I would call their attention to the various aspects of professional publishing that I wanted everyone to remember throughout the week.
Once again, the novelty and sheer fun associated with the "31st Student" concept raised the level of attention that the kids paid to their publishing, and their books look absolutely beautiful. Once this project is behind us, I will search for our next "31st Student" and continue doing so for the remainder of the school year. Because this idea is so flexible, I can make our "31st Student" an academic concept, a habit of character, or any other valuable idea I want to emphasize, and I can keep the idea going for as long as we need before shifting to the next. I will also solicit ideas from the kids. Consider adding a "31st Student" flag or poster to your classroom if you're looking for a fun, simple way to highlight the importance of a single idea.