August 23, 2016

How to Boost Inference Skills!

How do you boost inference skills?  Two words-Chris VanAllsburg!  Oh yes!  A HUGE dose of Chris VanAllsburg!  Here's how!

First, explore who this author is.  Many of us know him, but we don't!  Sure, he's The Polar Express, Jumanji, and Zathera.  But he is SO much more!  He is a supreme artist.  If you look at his work carefully, you will see that his quality is amazing.  I prefer his black line work myself.  His shading and detail are incredible.  Next, look at it even closer.  He hides things in his work.  There are reoccurring patterns of pictures and imagery.  One of these is his "nephew" dog! That cute little dog is in every book he has created!  

Next, there are the stories.  Oh, the stories!  These stories will make students think!  VanAllsburg doesn’t provide all the answers.  No, he is going to give hints and pieces that give the students a chance to think it through, to dig deeper into their own thinking and understanding.  It is REAL practice each time they hear the story, or pick it up on their own afterwards. 

It is important that you don’t just attack these stories in a haphazard way. There has to be a plan.  Students need the opportunity to build their inference skills when presented with his stories.  Let’s take a look at how they can build this skill within this practice of listening and inferring.

First, start with the most familiar books.  The Polar Express, even when it is not Christmas time, brings the students to a familiar place.  They are comfortable yet surprised by some of the differences with the movie and the book.  This leads to good conversations in class.  Move onto Jumanji and Zathura, since students may have seen those movies as well.  And, this becomes a fascinating set of tales for them.  It also begins to press into inference, as they must use their understanding in a different way.  They inferencing process can be charted and discussed at this point.  There is a serious transfer of characters at the end of Jumanji that goes into Zathura.  Students will use their inferencing skills to start this story.  They will then apply their former knowledge to infer events in Zathura.  Building this slowly creates a growth mindset because you don’t overload them with the serious books yet to come. 

Next, we head into the medium inferential thinking books that he has written.  The Garden of Abdul Gasazi is an example of this.  Most of the story is a nice tale of a boy who doesn’t follow directions and the results of that decision.  Then, BAM, just like that, kids have to make a serious inference that isn’t a huge risk.  They take it, they have success, and they are ready for more!  The Wreck of the Zephyr, Ben’s Dream, The Wretched Stone, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and Probuditi are good to read in this stage.  Success for growth in inference, repeated practice, and a growing love of his work all come out of this continued practice. 

In the final stage of practice I introduce them to the heavy stuff.  This is where you have to work carefully, because these stories can overload the kids if you are not careful.  I start with The Witches Broom.  There are some things in this story that students must connect through inference.  When they do, they are amazed at the depth of their thinking!  I follow this with the Sweetest Fig.  This one is a little harder and raises many questions for the students.  Run with it and work together through the tale.  The end is so worth it!  And, again, success!  Next comes my favorite, A Bad Day at Riverbend!  OH MY GOODNESS!  Do NOT, I repeat, Do NOT let them see any pages ahead in this tale.  Inference, inference, inference is used on every single page!  And, be sure to read it with a western twang!  This is truly the most amazing of all his books!  All of this will prepare them for The Stranger.  This one is really hard for my students, since we live in Florida.  It takes lots of inferencing and, frequently, after discovery, I reread it to them so that they can find the clues and truly enjoy the story with the deeper understanding it takes. 

I know that I haven’t talked about a single activity to do with these books.  That’s because I don’t do them!  I don’t overload the process with writing activities and recording information.  I can totally gather information from faces and group talks.  I’m not looking for perfection or continual growth.  I want to have this skill impact them through the simple joy of hearing, thinking, and team discussion.  I have been reading and completing this unit for over 15 years and I can honestly say, it works!  One of the true errors of this post is that I’m recording this information now.  I won’t do this unit until at least January!  By then they will be ready. 

I do finish this unit with a graffiti wall activity.  This is an awesome way for kids to record their favorite parts of the story, their inferences, or a picture that will stay with them from each title.  The end product wasn’t fancy, but it was full of great thinking and creativity on their parts. 

How do you teach inference?  I’d love more ideas for great authors and activities to build my students’ skills! 

August 16, 2016

Back to School Fun With a Student-Centered Approach!

I have been back to school for a whole week now and it has been great!  I am teaching third grade this year, but didn’t have to change rooms (and that’s a huge praise!)  But that also meant creating a whole new opening of a school year!  New projects, new ideas, and keeping some oldies but goodies going as well.  I’m joining up with the Grace-Filled Classroom to share all about our ideas for Back to School.  So, let’s take a look!

Student-Led Learning

When new directives come down the pike, I tend to be the one that says, “Fine, you want this, I’ll give it to you full force!”  Crazy, I know, but I guess that’s the way I protest!  That is what is happening with Student-Led Expectations!  If I could figure out a way to make every standard applicable, you better believe I’d do it.  But that really is unrealistic.  But I was thinking, what about our classroom expectations?  That’s doable!  So, I had to apply that to third grades, who were readily able and efficient at communicating school and classroom expectations.  After a little bit of brainstorming, I came up with I Know My School’s Expectations. Now, I have plenty of new students to the school, but that doesn’t matter.  By third grade they can pretty much tell you the rules and procedures for anyplace in a school building.  The one specific to our school I had all the old students do.  Otherwise, they were required to brainstorm all of the things they could think of that apply to that location in the school building, the rules and procedures that made them tick.  Then, after brainstorming, we gathered together so that the students could share those expectations.  This was true buy-in.  It took minimal amount of time, and, it was student generated.  It empowered my students with a voice on the first day, but was not overbearing and overwhelming. Get them for FREE here!  

 I did fancy them up, but all are hanging in our classroom to refer to whenever we need too!

Student-Led Learning Again!

Another way I plan on having a Student-Led classroom is to have the students record the standard in their notebook so that we can actually track what we are learning.  I saw this on Pinterest and thought, “What a great way to do standards!”  Yes, I could have spent a ton of time creating these, they could be fancy, but what did that do for my students last year?  NOTHING!  So, today we started our first standard in our notebooks, and on my focus wall!  

Why not, let’s give it a try!  Students will be referring to this standard, and others as we go, instead of me pointing out to them what they need to learn.  This instantly helped me to also think about projects to prove their learning.  One of the ways students in 3rd grade in Florida can be promoted is through Portfolio Assessment.  What if I actually started to have them KEEP portfolios of their successes.  This will also help me to have great resources for Student Led Conferences!  This is a new thought pattern that is coming out this very instant!  How cool is that!  Something else to begin planning for! 

Can I just tell you that for a second year in a row that I totally LOVE this for opening day!  The students get to explore the areas of our classroom by getting up, getting moving, and recording their thoughts!   I still highly recommend this product, although it is no longer free. It also provides that opportunity for students to have that control of learning instead of the teacher!  Another great way to include the students as leaders!  

Getting to Know My Super Friend

You can find this activity at First Grade Wow!  If you teach primary, her blog has AMAZING resources, including Soaring with Superheroes, for FREE!   This was a wonderful activity from that unit that we completed on the second day of school.  I had purchased the bracelets at The Dollar Tree and each child cut out their name from the alphabet page.  Then they met up with a friend and shared details about themselves with each letter of their name.  We switched a number of times and had a wonderful time completing the task! Well worth downloading and using!!  Thanks First Grade Wow! (And I used it in 3rd grade!)

Golden Year Starts with Golden Things

And, to finish off my awesome week, I had an AWESOME moment!  One of my former student’s father is an Olympian and a medal winner in swimming.  He couldn’t find his daughter’s new class and I begged off on him to come in and share super fast with my class!  And he said YES!!  When he pulled these babies out, I just had to touch one!  The next thing I knew is he dropped them down with a clank, and then lifted them to my neck and put them on!  Be still my HEART!  As a former swimmer myself, this was like a dream come true!  To feel what it is like to have these medals around my neck.  It took my breath away-and I hugged him!!  It was FABULOUS!  What a great moment to start a great school year! 

Let’s hear what is happening in your class to start out the school year!  May it be as golden and blessed with great things as mine.

(Here's a little something about my student's Olympic dad!)