December 26, 2017

Giving Up The Writing Program: What I'm Doing Instead

Throughout your teaching life, you will have moments of discovery-about who you are and what you truly believe as a teacher.  I've had a number of those through my career.  The first one was that I would switch from the traditional method of reading and become a more "Balanced" Literacy Instructor.  Not in the sense that is today's "Balanced" Literacy (Which is a farce-but that's another blog post!) Another was when I discovered that I was truly a great writing instructor-because I loved to write and I learned from the very best!  Karen Padgett-may your retired teacher time be the VERY BEST, wherever you are!  Yes, I learned from a very wise and knowledgable peer!  Not some crazy writing program that everyone hates-but REAL teaching!  REAL TEACHING!  

So, when I found myself saying this, I was completely SHOCKED- "I don't know how to teach writing anymore!"  Yes, I said that-because I didn't.  You see, I've been bogged down in writing programs-Lucy Calkins, Write Traits, Top Score, Making Meaning Writing-you name it, it's come my way.  In that moment I realized I needed to STOP THE MADNESS and go back to the Karen Padgett way of life-write every week with a purpose!  Just Write! (Oh, wait, that was ANOTHER program I tried!)  

Here's how this breaks down day by day:

On Monday you introduce the prompt and plan.  That's it.  The key to this method is in the simplicity of each day.  When students get overwhelmed, they don't produce the writing you expect.  That is what I have learned over the years of teaching writing-small chunks for small kids produced the best results.  And so does planning!  So many people skip this part but it is the KEY to excellent results.  It takes the ideas for writing from higher order thinking to the knowledge level.  (Read more about it here!)  So, planning is KEY!

Tuesday is modeling day for the teacher and writing day for the kids.  Again, I take this in small chunks.  I start with proposing a grabber, or introduction, statement.  Here is something to keep in mind-kids WILL copy you.  That's what modeling is-the opportunity to show a technique.  If they copy it, so what!  Really, I mean that!  They will eventually venture off into something different-I PROMISE!  What you are doing is loading their tool kits with ideas.  You just have to remember that your introduction statement is no different than a list of ideas you would put in a writer's notebook.  Once I get the introduction started, I form my three ideas and add those to my paragraph.  I finish with a strong closing-again, a modeling technique that allows kids to grow their tool kits.  Then, I give students the time to write their introduction-and that's it!  And, yes, I do this week after week!  

Wednesday arrives with a little more writing.  I will often model my opening of the second paragraph.  Then I continue to write while students write their second and, many times, third paragraphs.  This is where I should take a moment and talk about the end of each writing period.  Students are always sharing throughout this process, in the form of the last 5 minutes of the writing period.  During this time I provide specific feedback as to what students have done correct in their writing.  I also provide ways to boost their writing.  This is the specifics of paint a picture with your words, using figurative language, boosting strong verbs, and any other opportunities that present themselves.  I always phrase these things in positives, such as, "One way to strengthen your writing would be...".  This allows students the opportunity to change their writing and for others to apply this same idea.  Many times, I open the writing period with this same technique.  

Thursday arrives as a time to complete any of the remaining body of the essay.  Again, I start with a quick modeling of what I am working on within my own writing.  Do not underestimate this part!  The more we model writing, the better it is for students.  And, it actually improves our own writing!  If we can grow as writers, we can help students grow!  Depending on the process we are at in writing, I may even model my conclusion.  This is where it gets tricky.  You don't want to jump into the conclusion until you are sure that you have modeled it time and again.  But, if we are on a short week, or Friday is heavy, then I will model this process at this stage.  

And, finally, FRIDAY!  As I just said above, on Friday we work to complete the conclusion.  This should always include a restate of the topic, followed by a reminder of the information inside for an expository or informational and an opinion piece.  For narrative, you are looking for a wrap of the ideas, the solution, and a lesson learned.  Model, model, model these ideas!  In addition to this, it is very important for students to then edit their work.  They need to read it out loud to others and check for spelling and grammar throughout the week.  

I am actually super excited to be going back to this method and seeing what my students can do.  Yes, by the end of all of this we will be moving into how to add information from readings into our work to get ready for fourth grade! But, this is where we are going to go  from where we have been!  No more programs, no more jumping around with ideas or things that are taught.  Just modeling, embedding instruction in real learning, and letting kids learn how to REALLY write!  Here's where I'm starting!  

You can find this in my Teachers Pay Teachers store and it will soon be part of my January Writing Prompt Bundle!  I hope you join me in this simplification of writing program, because it WORKS!  Let me know what works for you!  I'd love to hear your ideas!  

Pin for later! 

December 20, 2017

New Year's STEM: Exploring SOUND Energy!

Happy New Year everyone, even if it is a little early!  Or, you may be joining me for a look at this STEM based off a duplicate product found in my store!  Either way, be prepared for some FUN with STEM and Sound Energy! 

In this STEM you will find the following steps:  Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, and Improve.  I have also included a chance to Reflect on this STEM though a quote provided to inspire deeper thinking about this activity.  It is important to know that while STEMS come with a variety of step models, each of these models cover the same principles within STEM.  The key is that students apply the principals of creativity and engineering.  Students should be developing systems and ideas based on what they see as the best form of applying their personal skills and the concept presented to them in the challenge at hand.  That means you are as hands off as possible.  The only thing I really did in this STEM was to manage supplies, cut the duct tape (because it is REALLY sticky), mark the results, and vacuum after the clean-up (More on how to avoid this from my lesson learned to come!)  So, here we go!

First, students were able to apply their understanding of sound energy from their schema from our lessons in class and from the video suggested in the product found here.  This is the ASK stage!

In the product, you will find an open note taking page and a guided notes page.  With my third graders I use the guided page.  I also let them watch the video once through without taking any notes.  Then, I stopped it at spots so they could write down what they learned because she talks REALLY fast!  You could always swap out this video with another, as the Powerpoint allows you to embed any video you choose (directions are included).

Once my students worked through the ASK stage, they moved to Imagine.  This is where students had to think about the Criteria and Constraints involved in this activity.  In other words, what the could and could not do.  These are established to keep students within a boundary so that they are not getting off task and wasting time going down bunny trails or even socializing.  In this STEM, one of the Criteria is that they must have different designs for each team member's noisemakers.  This was key, as one team got off target because, during create, they decided they liked another noisemaker better.  They all wanted it and headed down that bunny trail.  I was able to redirect back to the criteria to get those students back on their PLAN!

Yes, that's the next step, PLAN!  In Imagine, students are simply brainstorming all of the possibilities that they have.  This PLANning stage allows them to square up the actual plan they have.  In this case, this is where students developed a specific system to make noise and decided on what supplies they needed.  I supplied them with beans, rice, cereal, duct tape (needed but STICKY), paper towel rolls, gift wrap rolls (A parent brought them in!), paper plates, jingle bells, fabric, embroidery hoops, cups, tongue depressors, staplers, regular tape, and glue.  Then I opened my classroom cabinets to them with the understanding that it couldn't be anything that I needed back from them!  Many of these things were already in my room.  I did utilize parents for some of the things that needed to be purchased (beans, rice, cereal, jingle bells).  I gave them a good amount of time to plan.  They did a very good job of planning and knew what they needed when we moved onto CREATE!

CREATE is the time that they will actually BUILD their noisemaker.  I provide a half hour for this step.  This seems to be a fair amount of time for all groups to be able to be ready, based on the STEMS that I have completed so far.  This did not include the time I used to pass out supplies.  I did this pre-CREATE.  I had student team members come to a table area and pick up supplies such as the rice, beans, and cereal.  This is where I didn't think!  Before they started CREATE,  I should have laid down large pieces of bulletin board paper.  We had a little bit of a mess from kids not knowing how to pour the materials.  I was able to show them how to make paper funnels after I discovered that pouring didn't work so well.  I would definitely suggest this for your classroom before you begin!  I haven't vacuumed in years, as we have wood floors at home and I sweep!  It was an experience for sure!  Anyways, students went fully into CREATE mode and were able to complete this step within the half hour provided!

STEM, Noisemakers, Student-Led Learning 

Now it was time to test their systems!  Included in the product is a fun slide in the Powerpoint just for this!  It includes a website specifically designed for detecting sound levels in the classroom with a fun graphic-Bouncy Balls!  I used this and set the bouncy balls on the lowest amount available.  Then I explained we would use the large bouncy balls, as these are the hardest to move!  I also explained to students that they were not to make ANY noise with their voices (unless they made a horn type of noisemaker) because 1.  they could be helping another team win or 2.  they would be getting a false read on their noisemakers.  Then I stood at the board and marked the three highest bouncy balls that each team achieved!  This is how we judged the assigned group winners!

What we did next was even more fun, and this is also where we got into some serious science application!  I allowed kids to group randomly and we tried it again!  And we got totally weird results.  Weird in the fact that we were able to see how variables affect an experiment.  When students were randomly grouped, meaning they were with similar equipment made by other students, our data flatlined!  They were not able to create sound higher than the original groups of differently designed noise makers.  More importantly, they got a hands-on experience with variables!  I love that we could apply that science term and skill in this very minute!  Real life application!

Next, we headed to IMPROVE!  Students were able to look at all the different noisemakers and discuss and plan for even better noisemakers.  Also included in this was an opportunity to reflect.  IMPROVE doesn't always have to be about the STEM.  It should also be about how they could be better as students-with each other and within creating and growing.  Right now I'm getting a lot of "we worked good as a team" instead of those deeper reflections as a cooperative group.  That is going to be one of my goals as we get more and more into learning about how we work together in STEM and how this connects to us working as a team in other areas of our classroom.

I'm totally excited to add STEM to my growing knowledge of the Student-Led Classroom.  I can honestly say, I can see this being key in the development of how students lead in a classroom setting.  If you'd like to learn more about Student-Led Classrooms, jump over to my general post called Just the Place to Start.   Are you interested in checking out my growing STEM products?  Check them out over at my store, The Best Days!

More importantly, thanks for stopping by.  I'm super excited you did and would love to hear any feedback you have about STEM or this idea, in general.  I'm still learning and would love ideas, suggestions, and even improvement ideas you may have!

November 21, 2017

Gobbling up Some STEM Experiences!

One way to enjoy a holiday is through STEM activities.  I am just venturing into STEM and it seems like a perfect fit for Student-Led Learning.  While I was thinking about what to do with the two days before Thanksgiving, STEM came to mind!  Why not?!  The students' brains would not be able to do much, they would loose whatever learning we were doing over the long weekend, and, well, I would be just to tired to teach-period!  Also, I have viewed STEM as a fun adventure-up until creating and implementing one!  

I knew I wanted to think of my very own idea!  The way I learn how to create something new is by developing something from start to finish.  I have always been this way.  It allows my brain to cycle through a cycle.  I know that's a lot of cycles, but that is truly what it does.  Suddenly, the Turkey Hotline popped into my head and that's where I went-turkey thawing!  Yep, but HOW?!  How do I implement such a crazy thing for kids!  

Here's how it went down!  First, I shared the basic concept with my students. I designed the pages in the Holiday STEM:  Thaw a Turkey to be both printable pages and a PowerPoint presentation. 

Then they dove into the process.  I designed this with the idea that they would complete the activity in two days.  The first day, students worked through the Ask, Imagine, Plan, and Create stages.  This took very little time actually.  In less than an hour students had worked through these stages and created their thawing devices.  Here they are! 

So, where were the "turkeys"?  My school has a freezer in the office.  Once I got permission, I started the freezing process there.  Then, the second morning, I sent students to the "grocery store" to pick up the "turkeys"!  They all wanted to go!  Once the turkeys arrived, we took off the "wrapping" and got started!  

There were some interesting designs for SURE!  This group actually defrosted their turkey in 45 minutes.  This equaled an uncookable turkey!  Yep-they better have a different plan! 

This group finished in about two hours.  Out of nowhere their turkey exited the ice!  Yep-uncookable!  

These two groups didn't make it but their turkeys thawed within 15 minutes of "time".  We talked about how they would have a dinner, but they would have unhappy guests because the meal would be late!  

And this teams took an additional hour to thaw!  They would have very unhappy guests, because their turkey would not have been able to be cooked!  

Overall, they had an AWESOME time with this STEM.  We had just finished learning about states of matter and freezing points, so that is all they had to go with scientifically.  Our next unit is energy, including heat energy and insulators.  We will finish right before the Holiday Break!  Guess what we will be trying again!  Yep!  Students completed the  Imagine stage at the end of our STEM.  I am keeping their papers and will give them back with their new found knowledge and give it a go again!  I can't wait to see what they come up with!  

You can grab the Holiday Stem: Thaw a Turkey in my store, The Best Days.  I'd love for you to try it out!  And, feel free to share what kinds of STEM have you tried in your classroom.  I'd love to hear all about it!  Leave a note in the comments and have an AWESOME Thanksgiving!  

August 4, 2017

Student-Led Learning: Classroom Design and Open Seating

Have you heard of Open Seating?  I hadn't and my first reaction was that it was just another name for Flexible Seating.  Was I surprised when I read that it was not!  Was I even more surprised when I decided it was just right for me!

Open seating, classroom design, student-led learning, student centered, classroom climate

I was tooling around the Net when I happened upon THIS ARTICLE from Scholastic.  The idea intrigued me, but, to be honest, I thought htis lady was NUTS!  Letting kids pick their own seats!  Well, the more my Professional Learning Community discussed this, the more it seemed to fit into the Student-Led Learning model.  We wisely began to look closer at this model and we decided to incorporate one more idea into this.  REFLECTION!  If kids really thought about what worked for them in seating, if kids really thought about location and issues with others around them, could they actually do this?  Could we trust them with this wisdom!  So, we made a decision!  We are trying it out!

With this came the idea that came the fact that students needed a way to be guided and to reflect upon the seats they were in.  Open Seating Posters and Reflection was built upon that idea.  Here is a little video explaining how I set up my classroom and how Open Seating will be used.  Sorry about the VERY quick change over! I'm still learning video!  

July 18, 2017

Student-Led Learning: What Does the Research Say?

competency-based pathways, classroom climate, student-led research, research,

"Ugh," I just have to say it, "UGH!" This is probably the hardest blog post I've ever written. Can I say, I really do love research. This is a picture of most of my collection of professional books. (Finally in one space!  Some, truly, are still at school-about 20 more!  Yep, I have a problem!)  

I've read most of these from the front to the back! Some are new and I'm working my way through.  So, I'm very familiar with research.  The UGH of this post is finding research about the actual practices of Student-Led Learning.  With that being said, we are going to start off this little look with...John Hattie!  

You have to give this man kudos! It isn't rocket science to take all the best research and find out what it says, together, in one place!  If you haven't heard of Hattie, this is exactly what he did.  Gather it up, synthesize it, and spit it out so teachers know what is best. Yet, we, as teachers, have barely heard of him!  Now, I have to admit, I don't have the most up to date book either, but fact is fact, there are some key points to Student-Led Learning that are targeted in his synthesis of studies.  They parallel claims made by the author's of Fearless Learners.  Let's take a look, shall we!

(Please note:  I have not taken these claims word for word from the text.  I have synthesized myself and put their ideas into my own words!)

Claim #1:  Students understand and can explain the mastery of standards.

Hattie:  Self-Report of Grades 1.44 (High Impact)
This is the highest impact on learning in Hattie's book.  It DOES NOT mean that kids are explaining their grades.  What it means is that students have views of themselves and how they learn. The level of achievement they believe they have directly impacts what they do.  Student-Led Learning allows students to feel successful, makes them aware of what they have mastered, and builds their self-belief systems.  I believe that this directly impacts their ability to walk into another grade level believing they are better, stronger students, even if it isn't a student-led classroom!  

Claim #2:  Students master materials instead of working through units at a teacher paced learning outcome.  

Hattie:  Mastery Learning 0.58 (High Impact)
This claim states that if students are provided with clear explanations of what it means to master the material, they will learn with more success.  This one comes with some tie-ins.  There include cooperation with classmates, classroom climate, lots of feedback, corrections of mistakes, and using diagnostic formative tests.  Interestingly enough, these are all claims made by the author's of Fearless Learners!  The little I have done with student-led learning also points to this being a valid claim!  SCORE!

Claim #3:  Students improve verbalization of skill understanding and self-question in the classroom.  

Hattie:  Self-Verbalization and Self-Questioning 0.64 (High Impact)
In one study that Hattie read, self-verbalization was among the highest returns in student strategies!  This is key in task oriented skills, such as writing and mathematics!  Awesome!  And, as far as questioning goes, it shows that the return for students is biggest in the lower ability and special education students in the study! Win/Win!!!  

Claim #4:  The teacher/student relationship grows and is key to the learning in the classroom.  

Hattie:  Teacher-Student Relationships 0.72 (High Impact)
Both authors in the text specifically discuss how much their relationships with their students change.  From my experiences with this type of learning, I have to agree.  Their needs and feelings become a core part of the classroom, creating a key community of learners that support each other without the teacher's interventions. They thrive.  According to Hattie's work, this is called a person-centered teacher.  This person-centered teacher builds a classroom of respect that allows for fewer resistant behaviors and higher achievement is the outcome! Who knew!  The key to all of this-the teacher needs to facilitate students' development within the classroom through empathizing with the students and providing feedback to self-assess, feel safe, and learn to understand other students in the classroom as well!  I'd call that a Student-Led Classroom for sure!  

Claim #5:  Students are able to meet goals they set for themselves.  

Hattie:  Goals 0.67 (High Impact)
According to the author's of Fearless Learners, goal setting is found throughout the student's day, week, month, and year in a student-led classroom.  This comes from the schedule they build each day for the next and all the way through each academic task and activity that they do.  Hattie's research says that they provide the link between the past and the future.  This is most valuable when students and teachers set challenging rather that "do your best" goals!  The most important thing in goal setting is the difficulty of the goal.  It directly connects to the performance of the person who sets that goal!  The student-led classroom is full of goal setting opportunities, making it, yet again, a classroom reaching for success simply by the make-up of design!  

And, there you have it in a Hattie nut-shell!  Oh, there's a lot more out there, and I'm reading up on a few more great research moments.  I think that's where the UGH really lies. This one was easy to locate and understand, which is what makes Hattie's books even nicer.  I look forward to sharing more information with you as I research deeper into this.  I can't promise that any time soon, because I'm finding some really meaty stuff!  Anyways, let me know what your thoughts are about this research and your experiences with the Student-Led Classroom!

July 13, 2017

Where Can I Find More Information on Student-Led Learning!

student centered learning, classroom climate, students as leaders, student centered resources

We are always looking for great resources as teachers, but I've found that discovering Student-Led Learning resources are not that easy.  I've found tons of information on Pinterest about Student-Led Conferences, but very little on Student-Led Learning.  However, I've found some excellent sources!  Here's a round-up of some great sources out there!  

The Student Centered Learning Podcasts

These podcasts share the stories and ideas found in a variety of learning ranges.  They are easy to listen to and provide personal experiences within the Student-Led classroom settings!  Follow them on Facebook as well!  

Models of Excellence

This amazing site provides great exemplars from REAL students who have gone through the Student-Led Classroom model!  This site is a MUST to save and come back to often!  


I have a number of great articles about Student-Centered Learning at Edutopia! Be sure to check it out, including this great article, A Case for Student-Centered Learning!

Personalized Learning Toolkit  

There are some AWESOME materials on this site to get started mentally thinking about the transition!  It is WONDERFUL!!  

EWA:  Student Centered Learning

This is an amazing site full of articles to get you going on your journey!  

And, finally, 
Students at the Center Hub

This is, literally, a HUB of EVERYTHING you need! There are articles, tool-kits, inservice materials, places to connect, and more! Fabulous!

And for more about my journey with Student-Led Learning, you can check out my overview of posts at 

student centered learning, student centered learning sources, student-led learning sources, student-led learning research,

Be sure to stop by and check out more posts as I share my experiences with Student-Led Learning!  Take a moment to leave a comment of any great sites you find or sharing your experiences too!  I'd love to hear from you!  

July 11, 2017

Student-Led Learning: Celebrate Good Times, Come On!!

Student Centered, classroom climate, classroom design, students as leaders, celebrate learning, fearless learners

You may be joining me for the first time or you may be joining me by following along in this series of posts about Fearless Learners, but I welcome you all to the CELEBRATION!  Yes, that's Step 6 in the books we've been enjoying this summer-Celebrate!  It's time!

Sutton and Westberry have done it again in this chapter!  There is no way you can't get through this text without knowing, deep down inside, that you can do this thing, this Student-Led Learning thing!  You feel grounded and passionate and READY even with so much to think about and/or prepare!  That is something to celebrate!!

But, be prepared!  You will meet resistance and get "those" looks!  It happened to me at a recent inservice.  I just mentioned the Student-Led Learning model at my last inservice to my table teachers and two things happened.  The younger teacher turned to her computer and started looking at the dieting website she was exploring and the older, almost retired teacher rolled her eyes.  This was NOT the first time in these four days this exact thing happened with the two of them!  The whole premise of the inservice SCREAMED Student-Led Learning and each time one, if not both, said, "My students could NEVER do that!" Why, you ask-they were from Title 1 schools!   Yet, research shared in Make Just One Change by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana points to something else!  You see, I'm making a connection here that Student-Led Learning falls into the category of creating divergent thinkers!  It IS the ability to generate a wide range of ideas, options, hypotheses, and possibilities!  It is the combination of convergent thinking and metacognition!  It is all of this and more!  So, what do they say about the students that these teachers were speaking of?  Here's what they found, "Divergent thinking is almost always seen as a gift rather than an acquired and developed skill.  But this view is far from the truth:  divergent thinking is a distinct form of higher-order thinking that can be taught to all ages and all students....low academic performance showed an ability to learn divergent thinking and gained greater self-confidence in their overall abilities the more they practiced."  Let's celebrate THAT!  Stop thinking that your students CAN'T and let's celebrate that research says THEY CAN!  Give this model a try-it may very well surprise you and your students!  

And, with that, I am a little perplexed right now as to HOW I'm going to celebrate successes.  I have to say, this has always been my weak spot.  I always give high-fives, etc. as students learn, but it is important within the class for students to celebrate each other.  So, my first week I'm going to practice what I've read and let some control go over all the steps in this process.  I am going to recruit the help of my students to develop a plan for this.  It is leaving me with a pit feeling in my stomach, but it's my first big step into what I can't see.  And, yet, I know I will be celebrating the awe of seeing my new third graders make decisions that will impact us for the whole school year! After all, it is their class, not just mine!  

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment with your successes or even your fears about this process!  It's going to be an awesome journey this school year, so stop back by!  I'm not even ready to end this this summer, so expect more posts as ideas and new knowledge found comes my way! 

July 6, 2017

Student-Led Learning: Failure IS an Option!

Interesting, isn't it?  To think of failure as an option-because, as Sutton and Westberry point out, it IS going to happen!  Welcome to Step 5-Failure!  

As I shared last time, I did try a similar ideas many moons ago. What I can't remember are the failures.  Honestly, I can tell you the how I did it, I can tell you the why I did it, I can even tell you about the specific moment I realized that remediation was instant!  A very bright young man came up to me with his paper.  Students were allowed (and still are in my room-and in Sutton and Westberry's class) to self-check papers.  I pull my pages out of the teacher's student edition and I create a key.  Students go to the assigned area and check their work with an approved grading tool (a red or blue grading instrument-instrument so no one asks if a colored pencil is ok, a crayon is ok, etc.).  There can be no more than 3 kids at the paper at once.  I label the word problems they do with Mrs. Santello so I check those for accuracy and understanding.  This is the system I've used now for all these years-whether I've taught whole group or small group, it was something I never gave up! Anyways, back to young man...

This fine young man came up to me and had many incorrect problems.  We stood together while I checked his work very quickly to see how he mismanaged the algorithm.  I discovered the problem, quickly showed him again right there, and sent him on his way to redo.  In that moment I got it! I didn't have to create some extra grouping the next day!  I didn't have to do an additional reteach page!  All he had to do was have feedback right away!  And he got it!  He was able to prove it on a number of problems I gave him.  This moment has stuck with me for about 14 years now!  This is the power of the model!  

So, how does this show failure-it took me a few good months to figure out that whole system I just told you about, just as it did for Sutton and Westberry!  Their many failures led to successes FOR THEM!  They are clear to point out that there is no perfect model, just the cycle of trying something and failure within it to try again!  This is a chance for us, as adults, to model perseverance for our students!  They do give a few good tips along the way, too, so that you don't make some major snafus they did!  One HUGE point-be preplanned a few units ahead if you are targeting math, just in case!  But, again, they consistently point out the fact that you must never give up because our students deserve better!  

Are you ready to take the plunge?  I totally am!  I'm super excited and I've preplanned a number of my math units!  It just so happens that my district rearranged our Science this year, so I'm ahead of the game there too!  Here are some of the products I will be using to get the Student-Led Learning model going in Science!  These are fun to use and, theScientist Craftivity will allow students their first taste of becoming a leader in learning in the Science block!  

Read the post HERE

Again, I think the key takeaway from this chapter is to expect failure and model perseverance!  What a great way to be a role model for the very students we want to embrace and grow in our classroom!  I'd love to hear what you have to share or your experiences along the way!  Be sure to share them in the comments to help us all grow and learn together! 

July 3, 2017

Student-Led Learning: Connect with EVERYONE!

Everyone wants a connection... a spark wants to ignite anything it can to continue to burn.  With Student-Led Learning, it is the same thing.  Fearless Learner's authors Sutton and Westberry are quick to point this out in Step 4: Connect!  

As I read this step, I happened to be attending an inservice where we learned an AWESOME technique by Dr. Larry Chew!  Honestly, it is a BRILLIANT method of learning and requires specific student interaction, one that allows for trust in a student centered classroom.  We also focused on the 5 E's, which fit perfectly into Dr. Chew's technique.  To me, it was a no brainer to put this into the lesson we were required to write with other teachers for other teachers in the inservice and the district itself.  If you put together the requirements of the inservice into your output to prove you were there-YOU WIN!  Yet, neither one of the teachers I was working with would consider including this technique at first.  One clearly stated, "I know the kind of kid I work with and they could NEVER do that!"  "They could NEVER do that, or you couldn't lead them to do that!" was what I thought-because that's what it really comes down to!  WE decide how our classrooms are run.  WE decide how much of "ME" we put out there and how much of "YOU" we allow!  And this is exactly what the authors point out.  We must be prepared, as we examine this model for the reality of having other teachers be negative and judgmental about what we are doing.  We must be prepared, and proactive, in helping administrators understand.  It starts with us.  Gather a friend or two to walk this journey with you!  You will need them.  Although I am writing this blog solo, I am working with three other teachers at my school and one other teacher from another school.  The five of us set up our own social media page where we can share and discuss beyond the school day because we all know there is no time.  We are working to build a community where there is "safety" in numbers!  Find your tribe at your school and try it out!  

In addition to connecting with professionals, I can agree wholeheartedly with the authors on the relationships you will build with students and parents.  I love the idea they share of connecting with parents through a set of promises (see page 141) and I plan to develop that in my Back-to-School Brochure.  Build that team work into your connection with them.  It is going to be key!  And the students!  Be prepared to know them like you never have before!  When I have used this model in the past in math, I knew the ins and outs of every kid.  I could look at their work and know what steps they were missing.  I knew strengths and weaknesses and holes!  I could remediate on the spot-literally-and never have a student miss a beat!  From the highest student to the lowest student-I knew them all-and, more importantly, they knew me, could come with a question for me, could trust me AND their other classmates.  It was wonderful, and I'm so looking forward to that again.  Plus, both authors point out-and I can back up-that their test scores rose!  I can clearly remember my two ESE students scores when they came back the first year I used a similar model to this one in my classroom.  They had both gone up a whole level-and it was the second year I had them!  So, the only thing that changed (little did I realize then) was that they were involved in a student-led learning model!  

So, I stand with Sutton and Westberry and call to you to FIND YOUR TRIBE, build those relationships with parents, and get ready for the best relationship with your students you have ever had!  Let me know what you think in the comments section or leave any tips or ideas you have!  I'd love to hear them!

June 30, 2017

Student-Led Learning-Go for It!

Welcome back!  If you're here for the first time, welcome!  I am on an experience where I'm Inservicing Myself during my summer break on Student-Led Learning.  I have been moving along by reading an amazing book called Fearless Learners by Christy Sutton and Kristin Westberry!  Be sure to check out some of my other posts!  

Today, we are looking at Step 3:  Let's Go!  Both Sutton and Westberry share a number of personal stories about their beginnings, what kids said and did on those first days.  There were some amazing stories and successes within the text, which all pointed to the following-CHARACTER QUALITIES!  Student-led learning is not all about just learning about school work, it is also about developing students who can problem solve and think about others.  I'm being brief here because I would like to back up a little and give you some background and ideas of my own to share.  

In 2003, I started doing something with my students that I can now clearly see was student-led learning.  I was above the curve and now realize I could have made a million dollars if only...Now, I say that laughing, but, it is a reality.  In 2003, I started doing student-centered math, today known as Guided Math.  It was so amazing to see 5th graders rocking their own learning.  What happened to stop me from making a million-other teachers!  You see, after seeing the following student-led characteristic, not only myself, but a fellow teacher, saw the HUGE impact it was having.  Students took risks, students helped each other, students were remediated immediately, student test scores went up, and students were leading their learning in many of the same exact ways both Sutton and Westberry are sharing.  I can tell you 100% this works, especially in math!  So, with the encouragement of that teaching friend,  I presented at a district level inservice to...crickets.  No reaction, no support, in fact, the opposite.  I was told by primary teachers there was NO WAY they were going to teach math more than once a lesson!  I was told there was NO WAY they would use manipulatives in small group!  I was told by intermediate teachers there was NO WAY they could just let their students work on pages they already knew and move ahead!  NO WAY!  So, I closed my door and did it-and, then,-stopped!  High stakes testing got higher, Common Core math craziness stepped in, and I stopped!  Poof-million dollars gone (and now went to someone else!  HA!)  

What I do know is that all of the character qualities discussed in Let's Go can and will develop as I step back into this mode of learning.  That's where I'm starting again-math!  So, I have a few pics to share and a product or two also!  

What my student's rubric page will look like at the beginning of the year. 

How my students will chart their work across time (Ignore the red.  That's work I have to do!)

First, I will say that I've decided not to use the terms found in Fearless Learners for my classroom. They use scales as the term that they use with students.  I have always called what they call "scales" as rubrics.   I will not be able to retrain my brain to call them anything but rubrics!  

I've also decided to call the guiding page a Unit Overview.  Again, this is what my district calls our teaching tool, so I feel that it is implanted enough in my head to call it that.  Needless to say, you can call these tools what you would like.  There is no "set" terms to go by, because, we are all different!  Here is one of the things I've whipped up for sale over at my store:  

This product is a simple way to keep your kids on track to develop a game.  11 different game boards are in this product with or without cards to match the board!  Print and Go-all you need to do is put them in files for easy student access!  

As I learn more and more, my brain keeps going to the possibilities of this model!  Let me know what you think about this model and the possibilities in your room!  I'd love to hear!

June 27, 2017

Student-Led Learning: It's All Gonna Be Just Fine!

student-led classroom, student designed, teacher facilitator, book study, design in the classroom, classroom climate, teacher as facilitator, student as leader

I opened my Facebook before starting this post to a friend who shared a photo of their kids doing yoga.  She had just woken up and walked out of her bedroom and, there they were, in tree pose and then Dogward Down.  She didn't initiate that, they just did it.  She said, "It's all gonna be just fine ya'all!"  It brought me to this part of the chapter in Fearless Learners that I just read!  

It's all gonna be just fine ya'all!  Just fine!  

If you haven't been following me along in the last few posts I've made (and one over at Conversations From The Classroom), I've been sharing some moments where I've practiced the idea of a Student-led classroom.  I picked up the book Fearless Learners off of Amazon because it was the clearest path I could find in book form to accomplish this very idea-and I'm so glad I did!  I had so many questions swirling after reading the opening that I now feel more grounded in my thoughts after reading Step 2: Design.  Let's take a quick look, shall we?

I love that fact that Sutton and Westberry are honest about what they are doing. They will never hide from you that fact that you will mess-up and that you will have some failures.  In fact, they tell you as you read to expect them and then grow from them-both the students and the teachers themselves.  This is a key component in this journey, because it will look different for everyone!  

They also pose this question from a 2006 TED talk by Sir Ken Roninson.  "HOW are we defining and measuring the student's mastery of a given topic?  Are we fostering a love of learning, of exploring, of problem-solving in real-life applications?"  Honestly, this encompasses the entire chapter on design-there it is, right there!  Sutton and Westberry encourage you to live in this spot when you are designing without ever saying this directly.  And, even more importantly, they point to how you should hand this to the students themselves.  And that's where it all starts.  Students in their classrooms design their own schedules each day.  They provide an example of a third grade classroom that also designs their day!  It can be done!  Once students design their day, they follow a scale.  I would akin this to a rubric.  They point out that their scales are made WITH THE STUDENTS!  I enjoyed a sample where they actually put model question into the scale so that students could visualize what they MUST be able to do from the standards.  This is another key component.  The students KNOW the standards, are able to explain the standards, are able to DEFEND how they know they've mastered it!  Having seen this with my own students, I can tell you-they CAN do this!  I've just never done this on this scale!  

Students also know when they are assessment ready!  Within this system comes the topic of time and assessment ready!  Kids are well aware of when they are because they are taking their time! "What!!", you say!  Sutton and Westberry point out a key component here.  This would happen in a regular classroom anyways!  You would assess and then remediate.  Why not give the time at the front, where it matters!  Imagine that one-we'd actually be teaching again!  

Over and over, across the text, you will see every argument you may have for Student-led learning shot down!  These ladies know their stuff!  They provide the cautions, the ideas, and the space (it is set up like a journal) to read and reflect about the realities of the Student-led Classroom in your life-and how to design to meet your needs.  I will say, some of this looks very traditional based in an untraditional layout, so there is some comfort in your world if you think you have to drop everything and jump right in.  They will tell you they are not textbook dependent, but they do use them within their model of learning-just in a totally different way!  So, here's a little glance at my first "scale" for my math block.  Take a peek and let me know what you think!  I'll be back with more in a few days!

June 23, 2017

Student-Led Learning: Just the Place to Start

Welcome to The Best Days Blog! If it is your first time visiting, I'm glad you're here!  If you read my blog regularly, I love that you have come back to read it again!  I am SUPER excited to share with you my continual search for the Student-Led Classroom in the form of best practices and ideas that work for me and everyone!  I'm calling this Just the Place to Start because it is going to be a place where you can read and discover from past, present, and future blog posts based on my experiences in the Student-Led Classroom!  It will be, literally, a list that grows and changes so that you will have most of my posts in one place on this subject.  I'm just going to claim right now that "most" will be right.  You know how busy we get, so, be sure to follow me here on my blog so you get all the latest posts!  So, here we go! 

Fearless Learners Book Study

Fearless Learners   Grab a copy and join in the fun!  
Fearless Learners: Student-Led Learning with a Little Fear Added In!    
Student-Led Learning:  It's All Gonna' be Just Fine 
Student-Led Learning:  Go For It
Student-Led Learning:  Connect with EVERYONE!  
Student-Led Learning:  Failure IS an Option!  
Student-Led Learning:  Celebrate Good Time, Come On! 

Student-Led Learning Series:  

Where Can I Find More Information?
What Does the Research Say?
Classroom Design and Open Seating

Other Student-Led Musings:

Chew on This:  Student Inquiry with Dr. Larry Chew
Project Based Learning:  Shedding a Light on Area and Perimeter
Change Your Homework Collection Forever
Author's Point of View:  A Video Presentation 
Author's Point of View:  How we REALLY Learned the Style of Multiple Choice Questions
Author's Point of View:  Independently!  

That's a lot!  And there will be plenty more as I move into this model in my classrooms more and more!  I can't wait to share even more with you, so check back often!  Also, feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts, ideas, and experiences!  Let's learn together, so comment below! 

June 19, 2017

Chew on This: Student Inquiry with Dr. Larry Chew

Bonus round has begun!!  As I have shared, I'm on a quest to discover more and more about student-led Learning!  Today was an excellent discovery and it was FREE!  Awhile back my district had sign-ups for a free summer institute in science!  I jumped right in and I was accepted for the class!  Little did I know it would align perfectly with my goals for the year and that I would get to hear a great speaker too-Dr. Larry Chew!  

Dr. Chew's background was an aerospace professor who now presents nation wide!  How does an aerospace professor go from teaching college students complex engineering principles to reaching the hearts of teachers-it started with fear!  Fear that he was unable to prepare his own children for real life.  He was a great professor who's tests scores just didn't line up to prove that.  Instead of staying at "Oh well!" he went on the path to discover why!  Through this, he discovered that background knowledge and exploration were missing in his classroom!  So, he worked to develop an answer, and discovered inquiry based discussions that put the student in the role of discussion guider and questioner!  

This method is brilliant!  Purely brilliant!  It builds both background knowledge through exploration and student based discussions, allowing students to figure it out!  Let's face it, he's right when he shares that 2/3 of the student in our classrooms can't tell us the why.  But the reality is, no one is out there teaching us how to get them to be able to do it!  Chew points to the fact that it is up to us, the teachers, to get out of the way and allow the kids to do it, with a carefully planned classroom environment and the training needed to ask the questions themselves.  And, it's super easy!

I say "super easy" right now.  He explains that it will take lots of time and practice, and MANIPULATION!  That's right, he says that we must become master manipulators-to teach students how to go in the right direction with questioning and how to get them to "discover" the answer for themselves.  So, let's dive in!

First, it starts with the benchmarks.  If you don't know the benchmarks, you are dead in the water!  Plus, you do have to know the science or concept you are going to present.  He can, literally, in minutes provide a basic lesson idea.  He did it, multiple times, with multiple subjects!  From the benchmark, you develop a content statement-the thing kids are to take away, to remember, to LEARN from the whole lesson!  Next, find a quick activity that will take all of 5-7 minutes of time!  And, you are ready!  

Next, you present your students with the benchmark or whatever else you are required to do in less than 5 minutes.  DO NOT share the content statement!  Complete the activity and, then, have them write on a whiteboard (one per table in teams of 3) whatever your learning goal might bring.  The experiment we did is we wrote words to describe what we saw in the experiment.  Then he asked us to divide them into two columns.  Easy right.  What we DIDN'T see is Dr. Chew checking white boards for a key word-physical!  This is where the manipulation on the teacher's part is taking place. He is targeting 2 or 3 table groups (never students-tables!) to call on who have the right words and ideas as the start of the conversation!  And, what a conversation!  

Here's how it works! The process is called Add, Ask, and Challenge/Comment!  Dr. Chew modeled this over and over.  He asks the first question and chooses one of those 2-3 students who had the right concept, your concept statement goal, on their white board!  Simple right.  Here's where it gets good!  Dr. Chew then only calls on student names.  The student called on MUST ask a question of the TABLE (once someone talks, it goes to the next table member).  Once that is answered, the next student called on MUST CHALLENGE or  COMMENT  on what was said.  And it keeps going like this.  If a table doesn't know, it is up to the tables around them to help out and keep the conversation going.  You do this for about 10 minutes, without teacher input.  You can plant questions and you can thank someone who is misdirecting a comment, but you don't fix anything, even misconceptions.  But you listen carefully and take note of what you do need to fix when time is up!  Yep, and it is all kid based. Sounds too easy right!  Even Dr. Chew says we are working to hard at that perfect classroom.  If it messes up, refocus and try again.  If a table isn't involved, maybe tomorrow they will be!  It just takes time and practice!  

So, what happens when it is over?  Then it is teaching time. You present what you need to present, fix misconceptions, and focus them completely on the content statement!  You have manipulated them into believing they figured it out on their own!  BRILLIANT!  

There is also the closing activities-practice the content statement 3 times silently and then tell your team member-each taking a turn!  And that's IT!  Simple, easy, and BRILLIANT!  Check out more over at, Dr. Chew's homepage!  Be sure to check out the handouts and more!  

Personally, I can't wait to try out this method in my classroom.  It allows students more control, it allows me to teach with the students in mind, it provides more hands on in Science (but it can be used in any subject), and fit perfectly with my philosophy and where I'm headed!  

Let me know what you think in the comments section!  Can't wait to hear what you have to say!  

June 7, 2017

Project Based Learning: Shedding the Light on Area and Perimeter

This year's testing anxiety, both in students and teachers, is OVER!  Thankfully!!  However, so is my math book!  Yes, I know! Years ago, a math book was viewed as a holy grail in teaching.  It was, literally believed, that if you finished your math book there was something wrong with you!  You went too fast or taught too little!  Your students didn't master the  material!  Because, honestly, that's what math was all about-mastery!  In our high stakes testing systems, it is now about production line work!  Get it done-faster, incomplete, and without mastery-or your test scores will suffer!  Many times, we do our quick little "project" based questions at the end of the chapter and call it a day!   They "really" shed a light on what kids know, right!  (I can hear you laughing now!)

So, with the dilemma of no more 3rd grade math to teach and a number of weeks still at hand, I set forth on a quest to really "see" what my kids really knew about area and perimeter with this gem-Build a Park Project!

Let's start with what I really thought shall we!

Misconception #1:  
This will only take a week!

I figured the kids would whip out the required elements and the poster, and poof-done!  Now, the reality is, I was a little bit crazy when I thought this!  I've done tons of project based learning.  I know better!  But for some reason I was totally wrong about this one.  I had safely given them 5 days to plan and 5 days to "build".  I quickly realized that the planning was the deeper problem in this activity.  This leads to misconception #2.

Misconception #2:  
My students know how to use the formulas for area and perimeter!

HA!! Now I can laugh at that!  From my brightest to my struggler, they were just counting.  Over and over again, just counting!  We had completed lessons, we had used the formula.  It didn't matter-JUST COUNTING!!  This was quickly evident when none of them KNEW the formulas, even though we had just finished the chapter about a week before!  JUST COUNTING!  This was eye opening!  When we assume from a chapter that they get it, we are doing just that, assuming!  Our biggest struggle came with perimeter.  They could quickly adapt to the area formula-length x width- but the perimeter was a whole different thing!  They relied so much on counting that they didn't even know what numbers to add!  Yep, major misconception on both of our parts!

You can see the planning stage here.  This is where counting took place, from their rough ideas. This led to many problems in calculating using the formulas.  

Misconception #3:  
Required elements are required, right!

I have completed projects with my students that had required elements.  They were successful at that!  In math-it was like a whole new idea!  I had kids creating things with ZERO required elements.  Once I started checking here and there, it was like a lightbulb went off!  I had one student who had to scrap her whole project because they didn't understand that the list I went over and specifically said they needed was, well, required! So, this was another eye opening thing for me!
I worked with this student to adjust some "required" elements because they clearly knew the math on paper but just "missed" the idea of what "required" meant. 

Misconception #4:  
"Doing" the math will be easy.

When you are looking at basic adding and multiplying, you would assume that these are easier skills that students can complete.  However, this is a crossing over of skills, making it more complex.  This means that divergent thinking had to mix with convergent thinking (a concept I am currently reading about in a book called Make Just One Change.)  This cross over meant many easy mistakes being made.  Could they pull the numbers they need and then make them equal to what they "THINK" the area or perimeter was.  They wanted to draw squares instead of use lengths and widths in their drawing.  That meant skipped squares or unequal rows and columns.  That equaled FRUSTRATION!  Nothing that couldn't be solved, but they just couldn't "see" how the error in their drawing made the error on the math page.  Very enlightening I must say!
This shows that this student did not connect the area formula of 6 x 5 = 30 to how it should be correctly modeled.  

Misconception #5
 Presenting an idea will be easy with the R.A.F.T. method, after all, that's what it is for! 

If you have never heard of the R.A.F.T. method,  you are missing out.  This easy to use writing strategy is a fun way to motivate students to write.  The have a R. role, A. audience description, F. format  for a topic to be written as, and T. the topic to be written about.  I motivated them with this idea:

Yet, I got everything from a minute of sharing which sounded blah to a full fledge sales pitch.  The R.A.F.T. did motivate them, but I did not give enough information for all kids to really get it!  So, I got wise. While kids were sharing projects, I jotted a few great ideas I heard and, with that in mind, created a guiding document to help the students next time!  Here are some of the great ideas I heard from their presentations:
        *Share the name of your park (obvious, yet missed by many)
            *Include the theme of your park and why it is that theme
            *Share important locations and how they can be enjoyed by "guests"
            *Include a reason to invest in your park-what are the best qualities?
            *What is the price range to invest in your park?  (This is a great practice in place value and
              the value of land, etc.

This was one of the projects that had a full sales pitch as well!  

That about wraps these misconceptions up!  It was truly an enlightening thing to do.  The BEST moment of this entire experience was when my true math struggler made a HUGE connection between the formula and the shape, something this student had missed all along, even when counting. This student had that sudden light bulb moment where they literally went "OHHH!" when writing out the perimeter formula!  This child also scored the best they have ever scored on anything in math because other qualities emerged.  Their ability to give a good presentation, the detail they put into the project that others did not, the pure success this child felt all became a key component in the end result.  It truly reminded me of the reason why we must be do projects in math-and it will spur me on to find more!  

So, here it is!  

As you can see, this project is fun and informative for both the student and the teacher.  And, you get everything you need to complete this project and assess their work.  It really is an amazing project that I am so glad that I completed with my students and hope that you will complete with yours!  Let me know what you think by adding a comment too!