We Play To Win!

As the school year starts winding down, so too can our spirits plummet with the ever-growing deadlines and the unavoidable, state testing! If you feel burdened right now, you are in good company–insert bummed out face emoji. There is so much pressure for you to perform, for your students to test well and show growth, and for you, TEACHER, to maintain high-interest level, engaging teaching.  And if we are feeling pressure, chances are high our students are, too.

So what do you love that is G rated?  How can you use it in the classroom to keep everyone energized, especially you, TEACHER? 

I love baseball! More than baseball, I love the KC Royals!  I grew up watching George Brett play at Kauffman Stadium, and now I watch my team on my MLB package (it’s always my favorite Mother’s Day gift)!  Spring Training, Opening Day, practice drills, coaching, All Stars; these themes go perfectly with gearing up for state tests, setting goals, reviewing weak areas, gaining confidence, and building team spirit.  It blows the doors wide open for academic and social emotional learning in an environment full of fun! Yes, FUN! Just because it’s the most serious part of the year does not mean we should all be walking around with slumped shoulders! We need to combat this with FUN!  

 

Don’t get me wrong, fun doesn’t mean fluff, but creating a new little world inside of your regular classroom can help make the challenges feel less challenging and more…joyous? Yes! Joyous! I turned my classroom into a baseball diamond.  I borrowed bases from my colleague in Physical Education, and turned the tables around in more of a baseball diamond shape.  I modified the rules of baseball so that none of my students would be sitting without practice.  I call my games “Decimal Baseball” when reviewing decimal place value, multiplication, and division.  I am calling my language arts session “Comprehension Catch!” I made up a chant! I yell, “We play” and the students yell back, “To Win!” Then I yell, “We win!” and they respond, “When we grow!” We practice till it’s perfect! Students who have mastered the skills we are practicing become the pitchers & base coaches. I have a student who is the umpire, making sure everyone is “safe” or “out!” Another student leads cheers!  Every batter gets three chances, and I’m there to help the struggling students.  Even my most shy students are excited for their turn to bat. We have a space reserved for players “on deck” so the game keeps going.  Students have a practice page or dry erase board to show work.  The energy is high, and I’m losing my voice from cheering!

The students are divided into two teams, the Unicorns and Ninjas–they made up the names.  I wear my Bo Jackson KC Royals jersey, my KC Royals hat and a whistle.  I know I’m in Texas Rangers territory (the other teachers always remind me of this), but my love for the Royals can’t be squelched because I no longer live in Missouri.  Students now call me “Coach Mac” and when they try to quit or sass me, they drop and give me 20! This creates laughter! While a batter is working on a problem, or the pitcher is thinking of a question, we do the wave, special claps, or cheers.  All the things I learned as a kid playing softball.  I’m not especially creative or rich, but these moments are priceless.  Oh, there is a scoreboard, and there is a roster!    

Everyone has a number and nickname. Some parents dropped off concession items in the way of chips and water bottles. My students are out of their seats!  They’re cheering for each other! They’re asking for help. And many times, I’m just the facilitator aka “Coach”.

It’s been a fun first week with my “All STAARS” (in Texas, the state test is called “STAAR”), and I’m looking forward to next week, too.  We even call our state test the “All STAAR Championship” and our goal is to show growth! We don’t talk about passing or failing. Our competition is our last year’s selves and we want to show how much we’ve grown this past year.  I’m teaching my kids to learn to change their mindset so they don’t dread what’s coming next.

How can you make this last stretch of school the greatest yet? Doesn’t that sound better than just surviving the last two to three months?  If we feel energized and positive, we give our students a hope that they can be confident and happy even while facing the testing giant. I didn’t spend any money on changing my environment. Everything I’m using I already had, so don’t let a paycheck hold you back!!  And I’ve never been super artsy/creative, so that’s why it’s my passion that leads the way for the magic.  I’m more in tune with my students.  Through written reflections this past month, I learned what they were hoping to have these last eleven weeks of school, and I’m doing my best to make as many of those things happen.  

I would love to hear how other educators are thriving in the hardest part of the home stretch!  Please share your ideas because we can really help each other!

Hope Creator: Service Learning is for Every Learner

 

It’s not just about volunteering and it’s not just community service, but Service learning has a place for both of these concepts and more.  Service learning has a place in all classrooms, and the best part is service learning is for every level of learner, every learning style, and for any dream imaginable. Today at a We Day celebration, for the first time in North Texas, I was reminded of how powerful service learning is for our youth.  

When I was a younger teacher, I used service learning as a way to draw in even the toughest student, as it makes learning relevant for everyone, but as testing has become a dominant, driving force in the public school classroom, I have put it on the back-burner.  I have been a slave to a curriculum that doesn’t have a heart for my students, but today, a renewed promise to put service learning into practice took over!

Service learning is a natural way to let students take what they are learning and use it in a real world way to help the community for the greater good. Its message is for any age, and you don’t have to wait until you grow up to be a leader, or inventor, or innovator, or advocate! Teachers become facilitators as a student or student group takes their knowledge and develops a plan.  Teachers help as students research and put their plan into action, retrieve data/information, and then reflect on their mission. How can they improve? The teacher helps her students reflect on all the areas of success, failure, and needed improvement. Didn’t work like they thought it would? That’s fine, what did they learn along the way? After this in depth reflection, the students decide how they will demonstrate their learning to the public.  They can make a youtube video, tweet it out, write a report,create a presentation of pictures using Google Slides, or do a live showing. It’s all up to them! These are the steps to service learning and it may sound a lot like Project Based Learning (PBL) plus a heart for the community. The absolute best part is that students become teachers and true learning takes place!

Can you see all the ways that students can utilize this type of learning? Can you see how someone who thinks school sucks might actually want to get involved if it was something they were passionate about? Students won’t feel like they aren’t learning anything useful, on the contrary, they are learning something that will help them, and others, for the rest of their lives! The We Day program displayed all sorts of service learning, from girls who made a product to raise money to help an African village have a clean water well, a boy who wanted everyone to have affordable hearing aides, a girl who was bullied online as the “ugliest woman alive” and is now an anti-cyber bully advocate, to a young man who was born with a disease that took his legs, but not his spirit as he demonstrated to the whole world what a person can do even when the doctors labeled him as a human with no quality of life.  These young people defied limitations and have made the world a better place. That’s service learning, ya’ll.

So why can’t that be our mission, Educators? Why not put the information drilling away and let our learners take the lead?  They know what needs to be done. They need our wisdom to guide them, and I know it sounds cheesy, but I truly believe together we can make our village a better one.  And maybe not just our village, but our world…the limitations are gone with service learning.

The best part of being an educator is being able to equip our youth with opportunities to put their knowledge into practice in a way that helps others.  I’m a fifth grade teacher and I’ve seen kids put together a program to help new students fit in, a program to help students with hot tempers cool off in a safe place, brochures about Halloween, Fire, and Tornado safety be taught to younger students, and I’m pretty sure there’s so much more these young people can do.  And if my fifth graders can do awesome things, think about what all levels of learners can do with what they are learning! Isn’t this why we became teachers? I know it certainly wasn’t my goal to teach to a test year after year.

If you feel like service learning is something you want to implement, like creating hope for your students to share is even more important than book knowledge, I hope you’ll start on this journey.  It all falls in line with the Growth Mindset of social emotional learning, so don’t let the mistakes along the way stop you from your mission. Learn from them! Go for it! Your students will love you for it.  We’re getting down to the last few months of school, so help your students put their knowledge into practice in a way that helps their own community. I promise that the impact they make for others, and the impact that in turn has on their lives, is priceless.

 

Are you already a service learning facilitator? What tips would you share?  What projects have your students created?

 

Thinking this sounds like something you want to dive into? What are your fears? How could we support you?

 

Being a teacher means we have the power to be Hope Creators for this present generation, the We Generation, or Gen We. Let’s join together to help our World Changers!

Teaching Self-Reflection

The early 2000s were good to me as I began my teaching career.  It was a service-learning or gifted program training, or probably both, that taught me the importance of teaching our students to be reflective about their own learning.  Teaching our students to self-reflect, and giving them time during class to practice this skill, helps them examine their learning experiences and internalize them. There are many people who naturally self-reflect, I am one of them, and so the idea of teaching our students to do this, opened my eyes to the fact that some people need to be introduced to this concept.  Just because I naturally self-reflect doesn’t mean that I am better than someone who doesn’t come by it like me. In fact, it’s like other areas of learning, for instance math concepts, that some people are naturally more inclined to be successful in than others. It’s our duty to share our strengths so others can learn and let it help them, too. Otherwise, we’d have few people in this world who knew Algebra…can I get an “Amen!”

As a professional, self-reflection helps me identify the strengths and weaknesses of my lessons.  It gives me a healthy way to examine my lesson delivery and improve or dump, as needed. It helps me examine others’ way of teaching and if I learn something from them, I can add it to my repertoire.  When I meet with my administrator, I find it empowering to look at areas of needed growth as a learning experience, I can accept critical feedback so much better and put it into practice as necessary. In fact, examining your own practices shows your employer you are coachable…and none of us is perfect, but having coachable people on your team goes such a long way!  

Teaching children to self-reflect can be a little difficult at first.  When we think about it from our adult minds and have a picture of what it should look like, we are often disappointed.  This is a natural reaction at the beginning of this reflective journey. As we teach our children to examine their thoughts, both positive and negative, we need to keep in mind that this kind of honesty is not as natural for them when they’ve been in trouble for voicing their thoughts in previous grades.  Some have never been asked what their thoughts are and have no idea where to even begin in this journey. They may know their multiplication and division facts, but do they know, have they learned, that the thoughts in their minds are just as valuable? Maybe even more valuable? Most have not, until they meet us, those educators who are trying to show our students that their minds are amazing and they are worthy humans.  

Here are some ideas that can help you help your students to self-reflect, and it’s never too late to start this journey!  Remember that we adults are learning and growing in our teaching practices, too!

  1. Model what you expect.  You can use an academic response frame with a word bank, and you can even use discussion about an experience to develop your bank, together.  
  2. Socratic Seminars are a great way to start reflecting.  Reflect on something that isn’t personal, so they can get used to the process of examining without feeling afraid of what others might think. Teach them that everyone has something valuable to share, and that listening to others is as important as sharing their own perspectives.  
  3. Disagree amicably, and if you are an AVID school, they have wonderful resources on this subject!  Teaching students it’s okay and natural to have disagreements, but to respond with respect, is a skill that gets us ready for our college and career paths, and helps us learn from others (which is even more important).  
  4. Switch up the types of reflections.  I use discussion and written work to reflect, and many times both.  After discussion, students can reflect using a quick write on a post-it note (an AVID skill that helps even our budding writers as non-threatening).  I also like to use a four-square method, where students divide their whole paper into four squares. Top two squares are dedicated to title and illustration of subject matter being reflected upon, and bottom two squares address learning prior to event and what they learned after said event. Questions they now have can also be part of their written reflections.
  5. Acknowledge your students’ thoughts!  Praise them for their honesty and growth!  Address questionable areas of confusion and bask in their social emotional learning as well as academic progress.  Our students have so much to say, and listening to them encourages them to keep sharing and teaches us how to grow in our profession, too.

Most of us teachers make it a priority to have high expectations, as we should.  But keep in mind that our students will grow in this area, and self-reflection is a higher order skill.  If we are too critical of our students at the beginning, we could lose them for the rest of the year because our influence is great in their lives.  It was a colleague outside of my class who was amazed at the honesty being shared by my students that helped me see this and get past initial disappointment. In my experience, the growth in the area of self-reflection, is something that takes time and will flourish when done regularly.  

Do you self-reflect naturally? Do you regularly use reflection as a tool in your class? What are your questions or things you’ve learned along the way?  Please share with all of us

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Ready, Set, STAAR!

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Following a recipe can build confidence! 

In Texas, the state assessment is called STAAR.  What is it called in your state? I bet even though the names are different, the acronyms mean something similar!  You know, something about readiness and skills and such…. In this post, I want to give some advice to parents who want to help their kids do well on state testing.

  1. Relax!  You chill and help your kids chill.  Reassure them they will be your wonderful child no matter the outcome of one test.  All you hope for them is to do their best and hopefully it will show all the growth they have made in one year!  That’s it! Their brains and hearts are so much more valuable than one test could ever measure.
  2. Play Yahtzee!  Teach problem solving naturally!  Yahtzee is a fun way to help your child practice and reinforce addition skills, ratios, and problem solving. If you don’t already have a game night at home, watch what happens when you suggest one.  Your children will be ready to put down their screens and play with the person they love most!
  3. Read books and watch movies together!  Talk about themes, plots, and lessons the characters learned. Compare to other books or movies.  Analyze how many points out of ten you’d rate it! Write a review together and post it on Facebook or Twitter and start a conversation.
  4. Cook up a meal! Follow a recipe!  Take a picture and enjoy helping your child to trust their instincts, follow instructions, and build confidence.  Help them learn that even if the cookies were burnt, the dough still tasted heavenly and then start over. That’s what life is really all about; enjoying the ride and finding the sweet spot.

After more than a decade of proctoring these tests, I believe that exposure, experience, and conversation is the best thing we can do and give to help our children succeed in life and kick these state tests’ butts!  The beauty is that this kind of “studying” has the potential to grow the relationship between you and your child along the way, and when challenging times come, they are more than prepared to face them with you on their side!