December 9, 2015

Santa's Force and Motion Workshop!


    Oh my, I thought it would be a hit, but not like this!  My students LOVE this unit!  I mean, LOVE!  The want more and more, and the excitement is right there!  So, let's take a look at what Santa's Force and Motion Workshop is all about!  (If you are joining me as I go along, I will be posting as we complete each lesson!)

     I will tell you, I sent out a Sign-Up Genius to ask for supply donations.  If you are lucky enough to have parents that like to donate, this is the way to go.  Here is what my list was:
                 Mini Marshmallows (3 bags)
                 Sand Paper-Rough Grain (3 pieces)
                 Straws (36)
                 Square Gift Boxes (5 total for my groups)
                 Glass Ornaments (7, just in case!)
                 Ball of String
                 9 oz. Plastic Cups (40)
                 Buffalo Snow/ Batting
                 Tissue Paper
                 Wrapping Paper

     The first experiment we conducted is "The Poles Know".  First, use STRING!  I had yarn at first and it did not work well.  The yarn has too much flexibility.  It will allow the magnet to be pulled up to the magnets.  Anyways, I simply tied the yarn STRING to the paperclips and taped the magnets to the ruler. (Next year I will be getting a longer piece of thin wood or even a jazzed up piece of cardboard that allows more space between the books!)  
Once we got started, I showed the kids how the paperclips would dangle down and we discussed gravity.  Just with this discussion they were excited!  Well, then I pulled the first paperclip up-and it didn't work!  We talked about the flexibility in the yarn and we adjusted, but I just couldn't get it to hang freely.  So, I suggested the second.  With a little adjusting, I got it to hang freely!  They were totally amazed!  I was amazed!  I have tried experiments before and they were complete failures.  I know all the variables could cause failure, but we got it!  The other paperclips just stuck!  It didn't matter, the kids totally got the idea!  Then, I explained the science behind it!  It was awesome!  So, I highly recommend this experiment!  I give it an A!  
      But, don't stop there!  This is where I wish I had an Elf on the Shelf!  After school I was able to round up some STRING! OH MY WORD!  

Not only are those paperclips free-flying, but with a good amount of space too!  The looks on their faces this morning!  It would have made an awesome Elf on the Shelf moment!  "Look, I fixed your Science Experiment!"  The best part, the kids still won't let me take the experiment down!  The students that sit there insist on sitting somewhere else so everyone can keep their eye on what is going on!  That elevated this experiment to an A+!  
 (I like how the string is flying free too!)

Activity #2

November 29, 2015

Cyber Sale 2015!

Don't forget the Cyber Sale at TPT Monday and Tuesday!  It's a great time to pick up some really great stuff!  I have some holiday and winter themed items that would be great to pick up during the sale!  These include:

And so much more!  While you are there, be sure to check out my Verbs Winter Freebies too!  They were a hit last year, so check them out this year!!  

Happy Cyber Sale and SMILE (Sale code to enter!)

November 5, 2015

The "Response" to Behavior Choices

You have heard about the path and the principles, now let’s get down to the nitty gritty!  Today I finally will hit LESSONS in the Responsive Classroom.  Before I begin, I do want to share one more story about trust.  I will never forget a few years ago, during a teacher inservice I was at, where we were discussing work ethic of students based around behavioral choices.  I mentioned trust.  One of the teacher’s responded, “Trust?  I can’t TRUST my students to do anything!”  This teacher was at the very same type of school I was.  Yet, she couldn’t TRUST them.  In fact, it was even the way it was said.  It was a foreign concept to this teacher.  So, I write with a purpose.  Have you examined the trust you have for students, for families, for ideas, and more, in your class?  Is this the place you should start with?  For it is this very trust that leads to the lessons I’m about to present.  Without it, it is but a lesson…

            The very first day I start with this truth, “I do not have a behavior system.  There are no red, green, and blue charts.  There are no clips to move.  There is you.  You must monitor yourself and follow our rules.  I believe every one of you can do this.  No matter what, I believe in you.”  And, honestly, that’s about it for the first day.  There are so many things to cover that I let this very idea sink into their heads.  Their faces are precious.  You can see “What?!” on all of their faces.  For many of them, this is the first time someone has been this brave with them.  I’ve seen this face from 1st Grade to 5th grade.  Every single one, “What!?”  And, we move on! 

            In the next few days, we cover a variety of topics all within Morning Meeting.  As I stated in the previous post, I only conduct a team building activity within the meeting setting.  It is very important kids sit in a circle during this time.  They can see each other and that creates an equal opportunity for all students.  No one feels left out when a circle is made.  (I did have an autistic student who preferred to sit slightly outside the circle.  Remember to be sensitive to a child’s particular need.  This was one that made him more comfortable and that matters!)  These team building activities allow kids to be serious, to be silly, to dance, and to sing within a very short activity.  This builds trust among students.  There is something transforming when that student who won’t interact does their first little dance and everyone cheers them on.  There is something wonderful when a serious child shares a funny nickname for a name game.  There is power in these moments that you shouldn’t overlook.  It unlocks the culture of a classroom.  It builds responsiveness and eagerness that becomes a force of it’s own.  They begin to crave this time together and it is worth the 5 to 10 minutes every day. It is the backbone activity to everything that you will do, all year. 

            We then move on to bigger things.   It is key within this community to build a classroom pledge or rules together.  I build a classroom pledge.  It usually contains procedures that the kids suggest are important in our class and school.  This year’s has some repeats, but the kids built it.  They also sign the pledge and we say it each day.  It binds us together. 

             There are many lessons you can include to build community, but my favorites are always   During the first few weeks, we build on citizenship ideas such as trust, cooperation, and simple procedures that must be clearly defined.  Here’s an example.  This is one of the few charts I don’t actually make with my kids.  It was just a good chart!  Voice Choice is something that came out of a problem with one of my classes one year.  I have used it ever since.  We go through the lesson in a number of days at the beginning of they year.  Then, from there on, we have a common understanding of the expectations.  This happened today; so let’s go through it step by step from the kids themselves.

1.  Identify the problem.  This week, my kids have been WHACKED out!  No matter what we are doing, they are crazy!  Yesterday I decided it was time to have a class meeting to discuss what was going on.  I can identify the need for a meeting or the kids can.  I haven’t had many kids asked, but they have occasionally. 

2.  Circle up!  I pulled the chart stand over (I move mine around) and then we sat together in a circle.

3.  State the problem.  I use it for the title of the chart where I will record the information we share in the meeting.

4.  Let them talk!  I let them think, pair, and then they share.  I listen when they talk.  See that bubble on the side.  That was not shared.  I overheard that!  I asked the student to share at the end.  I also code the chart.  The large arrow is to indicate a future lesson to clarify rules on helping others.  I didn’t know until this meeting that kids were struggling with helping each other and being off task.  This came out of the lesson.  Look for discoveries!  We talked about all 3 points on this chart separately. 

5.  Record everything!  I try to record in their words.  If I need to, I do adjust them to the positive.  I record my information with my name by it.  That way students know what my thinking is compared to theirs.   We talk about where it matches so that we are on the same page.  Everything works together to create a mutual language and understanding.  No one walks away wondering.  It is clear because it is THEIR thoughts.  You wouldn’t believe the amount of heads that shook yes when the group brought up Halloween being a major problem for them!  

And, the caveman comment was a student’s.  This really stuck with them after he said it!  What about the brain shuts down comment!  They really do understand what they are doing to themselves and how their thinking is broken down by their behavior! 

6.  Give them a chance to come up with solutions!  

They can!  That list is theirs!  I added the “Saying no is ok” and “Self-reflect”.  The rest is their thinking!  I tied their response into our yoga routine.  We are working on controlling our bodies during that time using our mind.  I connected it back to using it to avoid distraction.  Notice there are no consequences.  That doesn’t mean we didn’t talk about it.  They are now aware that if the behavior persists, they will write a note home to their parents.  I have them write their own notes.  That makes them take ownership with the problem and creates an honest exchange between them and their parents.  This is what I envision when I think of discipline in a student lead classroom, the two sides of that idea. 

7.  Practice the language.  Today I heard myself say, “Are you working in the solution zone?”  "What solution should you use in that moment?”  Make sure you are choosing a solution instead of a self-control issue. “  I also noticed that as I practiced this language, so did the kids.  The other thing that happened is I began to see the patterns of behavior from the children that may be triggering the problem.  Now I can focus on those patterns and work with those children to change the situation.  This may be through discussion or through the process of informing parents.  But the pattern emerged, where as before, it was just a mess everywhere! 

8.  Go over the chart!  I will spend a number of days simply re-going over the chart.  It may happen more than once a day.  The chart is there for all future issues of loss of control also.  Our Teacher’s Job/Student Job chart was referred to at least 4 times today.  

The look on their faces is always the same.  The common language and expectations puts the situation into perspective and eliminates the hemming and hawing that normally takes place about an issue.  It also binds them together as a one-thinker unit.  If new students arrive, the other students take them through the charts and information to build background.  They know where to look and what to do without me having to tell them, because we are a community who thinks alike and has clear understanding together. 

I repeat these steps with many topics, many times a school year.  Yes, it takes time.  Today’s activity took a half hour.  But it was the best half hour I have used in a long time!

Now, here are some oldies but goodies that came from the Logical Consequences behavior plan from my old school.  It even has the professor that came to visit us on the bottom!  I also included a list of some of my basic lessons that I may or may not do with my class, depending on their needs.  This includes one of my favorite charts I make every year, “What to do When I’m Finished!” 

I hope this helps you to see why the Responsive  Classroom is a great program to look at to help build a classroom community!  I can testify completely that it is the “response” of the students that makes this program so worth it!

November 2, 2015

Trust in the Responsive Classroom

            Last year I tried something crazy!  Even when I did it, I knew it wouldn’t work.  I convinced myself I was being a good teammate, because it was the same behavior plan  the majority of my team used.  I put up a behavior chart.  And, for the first month of school, it was TERRIBLE!  I was totally frustrated and couldn’t figure out why! It finally hit me, hard, one day.  I was managing every child’s behavior while they were free to behave any way they liked.  When I moved their clip, it was my choice, not their understanding of a behavioral problem.  If they moved it, it was the same thing.  They REALLY didn’t care.  There were no consequences, after all.  The District I work in removed using recess as a consequence (which I believe is a good decision overall) and, being little guys, they really didn’t understand that by Friday, at centers, there would be a consequence.  By then, they didn’t care either.  It was a rough start until I realized what was the real problem-there was no reason to behave because there was no trust!  Yep, no trust!  You can’t trust one another if there is no reason to do so.  You are just a bunch of people in a room, working for one thing, completion of tasks.  That’s it.  Even with team building activities, what was there? No trust!   It took just days to establish, but it was worth everything we had to do in those first few days.  I will not make that mistake again.  And, with the Responsive Classroom, I won’t have too!

            As I mentioned yesterday, I began reading every newsletter that came to my classroom.  I did not adopt everything, but I did adopt a number of things from their program.  And, I look at it a little differently than their overarching principles do.  So, here we go.

To be successful academically and socially, children need to learn a set of social and emotional skills that include cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control. 

       This, to me, is trust!  Until they can trust me, our classroom environment and the other students in the room, are just like any other class.  We work hard to establish a morning routine.  We complete a Morning Meeting team building activity each day.  I do not do a Morning Message.  With today’s demands, there just isn’t time.  That makes the team building activity even more important.  I do many activities where they must TALK with one another.  That’s more important than having fun doing the activities.  If you want a class to bond, they have to get to know one another, they have to trust one another with important things.  This starts with talking.  And I’m included.  I act as a member of the team.  I rotate around to groups.  I share the same things that they are sharing.  They get to know the simple me.  We practice how to shake hands, how to use eye contact, how to LISTEN!  Oh, another great one!  How can a child trust you if you don’t LISTEN!  I’ve even taught them that if I’m typing and they need me, that I will give them a signal so that I focus on what they need to say as soon as I’m done typing.  What they have to say MATTERS!  Some of the greatest ideas in class come from them!  They have really great ideas that are worth the extra moment to listen to.  Then they build trust in you-and CREATIVE THINKING!  There is so much wrapped up in this one principle that I could go on and on and on!  But it MATTERS!  Stop, listen, and build trust!  It goes hand in hand to a successful classroom experience! And, I think, I pretty much covered these principles too:

Knowing the children we teach—individually, culturally, and developmentally—is as important as knowing the content we teach.

Great cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.

Here are two more principles to examine. 

The social and emotional curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.

How children learn is as important as what they learn.

        I spend a lot of time working on building the social and emotional behaviors I expect in my classroom.  This taps into the “how” as well.  I REALLY think that, as educators, we give kids too much credit for knowing what we expect from them.  They come in the door, we say, “Here’s the rules.” We expect them to remember and use them because they are similar to last year.   Then we can’t figure out why they can’t just follow our expectation when we haven’t really taught them correctly.  Stop, just stop, and recognize the reality of this.  They don’t know you, or your expectations, even if they are similar to last year. You may want something very different than their teacher did last year, even if you are in the same building.  We all have our little differences.  You have to communicate them in the first few weeks of the school year.  That’s why their book The First Six Weeks of School is another great product.  I had forgotten I had this one, too!  An example of how my teaching a procedure is a little different than “regular” is I share non-examples.  With glue, I cover a number of things.  We talk about putting dots on the corners and through the middle.  We talk about carefully putting the paper on the page, how it should fit into its location.   Then we talk about what NOT to do with glue.  I cover the “glue hand” and the “glue pencil holder”.   I share how students have done this in the past.  Then I discuss the natural consequences of FORGETTING that the glue is there.  Of the materials that can get stuck and gluey.  The reality of the glue hand and how adults get upset because it lacks self-control. We have fun with it, but I have covered a number of key details-what happens when someone decides to use their glue incorrectly and the natural consequences found within.  I can honestly say it has been years since I’ve had a gluing outbreak.  I’m pretty sure it is this simple “extra” in my procedure discussions that has kept the outbreaks away, since it has happened in a number of other rooms.  I do this with all supplies, so that when I remind them of how to use the supplies correctly, we all have the same background knowledge.  No questions, it’s been presented!

         But there’s another key point here to look at.  Students don’t know what you expect in the next moment ANY TIME OF THE YEAR!  We have done this school year before.  We have told kids over and over. However, it was a different set of kids.  We have to always remember that it is the first time they have heard it.  Even if they have been told yesterday, today is a new day. Until they internalize that routine, or that expectation, and you have exposed them to it over and over again, you can’t be upset with them.  This is the hardest point.  I get frustrated.  I have my moments.  But I come back to this, over and over.  They are 7, they just heard it, they are learning, and it’s my job to remember that!  When adults manage their self-control, it matters!  Lasting change begins with me.  And it’s another principle of the Responsive Classroom.

How we, the adults at school, work together is as important as our individual competence: Lasting change begins with the adult community.

Knowing the families of the children we teach is as important as knowing the children we teach.

            This came naturally in my discovery of what makes a classroom community work.  It suddenly became obvious that I couldn’t just put it out there that my students mattered.  I had to make their whole family matter!  They became a part of my community, not just for parties and for celebrations, but in everything.  Their mom and dad, brothers and sister, all mattered to our community.  When siblings arrive, they are just as important as their brother or sister that sits in my class each day.  This has made such a difference in my classroom.  Yes, they get into things.  Yes, they get everyone wound up. But they matter.  I know what their favorite shows are. I know what they like.  Because it makes my students feel special.  When they talk about their family, I listen.  I ask questions to show that their families and culture matter.  This is not just for the kids.  I went out of my way this year to specifically ask about a student’s cultural celebration.  Why?  I wanted to know so that I gained understanding of the culture itself.  It will make me a better teacher, a better person, and a better citizen of America.  I conduct at home projects that help my students share their family life and to understand it themselves.  These are not projects on a topic of interest. These are projects about THEM! Subject matter can come later!  I have to know them first! 

      So, how does this all really come together?  Time, practice, and TRUST!  I cannot stress this enough.  When trust is an underlying theme, why have a behavior chart.  Why have a system of treats to know how a student is doing?  When trust is built upon valuing students and their families, a system is in place. One where a child can believe in themselves and their behavioral choices.  They can self -monitor and self-assess when necessary.  They can get themselves to use self-control because they have learned that they are valued.  Believing in a student, no matter where they have come or where they are going, goes a long way.  It is the foundation of the trust that runs my classroom.  It is the RESPONSE in the Responsive Classroom! 

      I do know I did not get to my lessons yet!  I will go into more details as to how lessons are conducted and how a classroom meeting looks!  They are easy, but important elements of keeping the RESPONSE in your class alive!

November 1, 2015

Why I Don't Use Behavior Charts

          I am the era of Assertive Discipline.  That is all we learned.  Our college professors pointed to success after success. Write your student’s name on the board.  That’s a warning.  Check their name.  That needs a consequence-usually recess minutes.  Then add checks-each with varying consequences from recess time all the way up to visit the principal.  Sound familiar?  We haven’t stepped very far away from this with those “lovely” behavior charts that people have created-and I made the mistake last year of trying again-that hang in our classroom.  Even while using it, years ago, I knew there was “something” wrong.  What about all those kids who were doing right, each and every day.  Why was I ignoring their positive behavior?  So, I tried something.  I put up this great baseball diamond.  Kids could move around the bases and hit a Home Run!  Others could strike out, and go to the office.  Sounds even more familiar, doesn’t it!  But just like the “positive” points on today’s behavior charts, it didn’t work for me.  I could see students needed more.  And, at the time, so did my administration at my school site.

            That was when we were introduced to “Logical Consequences”.  This was a research project out of the University of Florida.  We invited the program director to come and visit our school.  She trained us in this idea, and, I must say, I REALLY liked it.  It made sense.  If a child forgot his homework, the consequences were he had to use playtime to make up the task.  If he made a mess in the classroom, she had to stay back at a fun time to clean it up. If they caused a problem in the lunchroom, they cleaned the lunchroom.  If they caused continual problems, they spent the time in the Timeout Room. Included in this was the fact that students could not return to the classroom when they caused a disruption in the room.  This varied from an hour up to a number of days.  It actually was great, and came with a variety of behavioral lessons, including on that you will see below-The Teacher’s Job and The Student’s Job clearly outlined. 

            When this fell apart, due to issues with the Timeout Room, I was still searching.  That’s when it came, literally, to my teacher mail box-The Responsive Teacher Newsletter!  Here is a sample of a VERY old newsletter-probably very similar to, or maybe even was, the one that entered my mailbox!  It totally changed my ENTIRE outlook on how students should behave.  To be honest, it is not for everyone.  There are no charts, no prize box, and nothing but trust that is established through a variety of structured activities that are conducted by the teacher to build a classroom culture unlike other rooms!  So, for a teacher’s budget, it is VERY cost effective!  In fact, at this point, I only have two professional books that I have from them-The Morning Meeting Book and 99 Morning Meeting Activities. 

            So, take a little bit to think this over and I’ll be back with more information about The Responsive Classroom!  I’ll share some of my successes, some of the lessons that I teach my children, and I’ll share what trust looks like in my classroom.  The response is always amazing and it stretches beyond our classroom-into all areas of the school we visit! 

Find  Part 2 Here:  Trust in the Responsive Classroom