Sunday, October 22, 2017

Is Someone Missing from Your Conferences?



What Do the Kids Think of Conferences?

Think about this scenario.  You're nine years old. You are well aware of how you are doing in school. You know multiplication is driving you crazy, but you work on it now and then. The last book you read was kind of hard. You're worried. Conference time is almost here, and you have no idea what your teacher is going to tell your parents. Will they be mad? Will you be in trouble. Then the big day arrives, your mom walks into the room to talk to your teacher while you sit outside the room worrying. What is going on?

I know  that's what goes on in the head of most kids during conference time, because I've asked them how they feel about it. The overall comment is that they are really worried when parents walk into talk to teachers. "They're talking about me!" one child said, "and I don't know what they're saying!"
My next question to students is to ask if they would like to be part of the conference, in the room and taking part in what is going on. To a child they almost yell, "YES!"  That's when I knew I had to change how I did conferences. I just didn't know how to go about it. I didn't want a disaster on my hands!

As Luck Would Have it:

Luckily for me, I was in the same study group as a teacher new to my school, named Vicky, who moved from Oregon.  She told us that her old school did student-led conferences in every grade level, kindergarten through fifth grade. To prove its effectiveness, Vicky gathered her fourth graders, prepared them for the student-led conference, and let them practice for it by allowing our study group to watch how it was done. One of the teachers stood in for the parent. My jaw dropped. This was exactly what I was looking for!

 Every teacher in my study group, including the kindergarten teacher, tried student-led conferences that fall. It was amazing! Parents loved it, kids loved it, and best of all, the behavior we wanted to see changed, really changed. It changed not for a day, or a week, but permanently. Why?

To prepare for the conference students look through their own papers and choose the ones they want to share. Then they write why they think this work shows both their strengths, and those things they need to work on. They also comment about how they have improved over time. They fill out forms about each subject, behavior, and goals to work on. Then they practice the conference with their peers. At the conference I take their goal, include input from parents, and write a goal on a contract. Then we include in the goal exactly HOW the student will meet that goal. That's the key! When they sign it (and their parents, and I sign it too) I explain that they are making an important promise, and not to sign it, if they don't think they will actually do it. They all sign!

Results?

    I sent home a form for parents to fill out about their feelings concerning this type of conference. They loved it! I asked my students if they would like to do this kind of conference again in the spring. To a child, they all gave an enthusiastic "Yes!" Why? It was that hated time sitting outside the door wondering what was being said about them. This included my hardest working, best behaved children. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed just plain crazy to keep kids out of the process. After all, if we want them to change, shouldn't they be part of the process? Would I want my principal to talk to my husband about me, and how I was doing, while I waited outside the door. Certainly not! Why should kids be put through that?

 The successes I have seen with student-led conferences are many, but one child in particular stands out. I'll just call him Sam. Sam was a very, very intelligent learning disabled child who struggled every day to read. Now, in third grade, he was sure he would never learn to read. He didn't think he was smart enough. I watched as he filled out his paperwork for the conference with a lump in my throat. He was negative about everything he did. Since he had just qualified for learning disability classes, I had everything I needed to show him how smart he really was. I told his mom what I would do during the conference, and she was more than on-board.

 After Sam shared his work, and described how poorly he did in everything, it was my turn.  I explained a bell curve and what would be seen in each quadrant. I asked him where he thought he would fall. He said he would be in the bottom quadrant. I went over again the qualities seen in people who fall in the third quadrant. After each quality, I asked him if that described him in any way. When he said , "no" his mom would remind him of something at home that showed exactly that quality. I showed him his IQ score (this is something I have never done, but he needed to know!). It was 134. It took a while, but when it finally sunk in that he actually fell into the gifted category, well, I wish I had a picture of his face. His mom told me that from that day forward his attitude about everything changed. We made a goal that he would read 20 minutes each night. It would be hard, but it would pay off. He followed his goal without fail, it did pay off. By the end of the year he had grown three grade levels in reading. Attitude is everything!

It was the conference setting, the support of his teacher and his mom, plus the conference format to talk together and set a goal that changed his life. Without seeing what he really thought about his abilities, and the format to address his concerns in an authentic way, I shiver at what would have become of him.  By the way, the last I head of Sam, he was in medical school.

Will I ever do conferences any other way? Not on your life!


Responces from parents were overwhelmingly positive! In fact, I found out my parents were singing the praises of student led conferences to other parents. One key is, I always build in a short time for students to wait in the hall while their parents do something really nice for them. they write a short note on how proud of them they are, and the note goes on the student's desk for them to see the next day. BUT the real reason is to give parents the opportunity to talk privately with me about anything they don't want to discuss in front of the child. Parents want (and need) that time.

Would you like to see what a student-led conference looks like? The first video is of a fourth grader, the second video is of a kindergartener. Yup, they can do it too!  , and the last video is a look at how a second grader conducts her conference.  Click on the videos below:











If you would like to read about the thoughts behind student-led conferences click on the links below:

Student-Led Conferences-A Growing Trend

This link concerns middle school kids, but is so true of every age!
When Students Lead Parent-Teacher Conferences

If you are interested in a resource I have created to help teachers conduct student-led conferences, check out:
The Student-Led Conference Handbook

Would you like LOTS of great ideas and freebies? Check out my Pinterest page at:

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Teaching Kids How to Create a Believable Villain


Kids love to read about villains! Voldemort from Harry Potter, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, Ursula from the Little Mermaid, Scar from the Lion King and so many more! So, why do kids have such a hard time creating villains for their own stories? They can be the most fun to put into stories, they are the delicious ingredient that makes a story really pull us in, and care about what is going on in the story. 

So, how can teachers help students build a villain for their story that is believable? It's like making soup.

Ingredients for "Villain Soup"

1.  Give a backstory for the villain. What event or events in his past turned him evil?  This doesn't have to be pages and pages of backstory. Often a short paragraph or even a sentence or two does the trick. I'm thinking of Morgana, Ursala's sister in The Little Mermaid. There were only a couple of short statements (and nasty looks) about the fact that Morgana could never be as good as Ursula in her mother's eyes. It made her wild with jealousy.  In other words, give the villain a personality.

To practice this: Show a picture of an interesting person to your students. Ask them to get into groups of two to three and make up a back story for the person. Share with the class. A great pinterest page to use for this is:

2.  Give the villain a good point or two.  No one is pure evil (except in monster stories). In fact, the villain sees herself as justified. Villains who are pure evil become boring and can bring a story down. Think about giving the situation from the villain's point of view. This helps the reader understand the villain better. For example, the villain loves his cat. After all, no one is a villain in their own eyes. Villains see themselves as justified. 

To practice this: Make a list of as many villains from books and movies on the board as possible.  Ask students to list something about each villain that was good. If they can't think of anything, ask students to make up a stuation in which the villain did something good. For example, fed and petted his cat. 

3. Use vivid description when writing about the villain. How does he walk? Does she have any odd small habits?  How does he smell? What does her hair look like? Are there any unusual marks on his face? Is he deceitful, jealous, vengeful, proud?  

To practice this: Find pictures of interesting people (Internet, Pinterest, magazines). Have as many pictures as you have students. Assign a picture to each student, but make sure no one else knows who has which picture. Ask students to write a very descriptive paragraph about the person in their picture. The use of colorful adjectives is most valuable for this. Next collect the descriptive paragraphs, shuffle them, and redistribute one to each student. Their task is to read the paragraph and find the picture that the description goes with.  To get the pictures (see the pinterest pages I have included here) I click on the picture I want, this takes me to the "save" page. I take a screen shot of the picture, and put it on my desktop. I then move all of the pictures I want to hand out to students in a word or PowerPoint document. I can size them as I choose.  Then print. It works best to laminate them so they last a few years.  Some pinterest pages I especially like to look through are: Disney Villains   Disney Characters   You can also google "Pinterest Villain Images" and get a number of good pictures, however you have to be careful as some are inappropriate. That's why I like to make my own set of pictures. 

4.  The villain must have a goal. What is the villain after?  This may not be apparent in the story right away, but the writer should know exactly what the villain is after. This will help the writer carry the story along. 

To practice this: Choose a fairy tale villain and write a six to eight block cartoon describing, from the villain's point of view,  what his goal is. For example, the wolf from the Three Little Pigs may tell why it is important to get pigs for the pig stew he is making for his friends. To get a number of choices for panel paper to use with students go to: Printable Comic Book Paper

Before Students begin their story, another fun activity is to make a wanted poster of their villain. By doing this they must think about what the villain looks like, describe what he or she has done, and include why the villain is wanted. 


Villains are SO much fun to create! I hope you and your students find these ideas useful!

Hey! Take a look at a resource specifically designed for your grade level to help you evaluate and document your students' progress:



For TONS of freeebies and ideas be sure to follow me on Pinterest at: https://www.pinterest.com/janbernard10/

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

End the Messy Desk Dilemma!


The morning of the first day of school, every student desk is neat and tidy. Every crayon where it  belongs, every pencil in its place. Ahhhh, Heaven.  Two hours later half of the desks look like a tornado struck them. I was pulling my hair out. I looked, and used, many different techniques to help students organize their desks. After all, how could they ever find their math book if it was at the bottom of an overflowing pile of....well, junk. Nothing worked for longer than a day, if that. Then I discovered the "Desk Dragon" solution.  Wow!  What a difference!! It's very simple for grades 1-4. I'll get into older grades in a minute.

The first step is to find or purchase the coolest ink stamp you can find.  I like this one from Amazon



I have to admit, I have a HUGE preference for dragons. I have also used a fairy stamp and called her the desk fairy. What stamp you use doesn't really matter. Just make sure it's cute and something kids would like.

So, What's next?


1.  On the morning you are to begin your Desk Dragon program, tell students to take ten minutes to make their desk as clean as possible. Something special is going to happen for students who have a neat and tidy desk.

2. Once time is up, check each desk for tidiness.  Be picky, especially this first time. For any student that has a satisfactory desk, put a sticky note (the square kind) on their desk and stamp it with the dragon (fairy, bear, whatever) stamp. Once you have finished, tell students that if they have a dragon stamp, that earns them one M & M.  You can use anything as a small reward. M & Ms are cheap and as long as they get only one you escape sugar highs. If you don't want to use food, you could also allow students who get a stamp to take off their shoes for one hour (or for the afternoon).  Kids LOVE going without shoes! At this point (the first time only) I give those who did not have a clean desk another opportunity to clean it up. If you have students that have a difficult time knowing what "clean desk" means, allow them to see a few desks that have earned the dragon stamp. 

3. Tell students that at least once a week the Desk Dragon will be visiting, and only clean desks will earn the stamp. 

4.  Later in the week, before students arrive, check desks and leave a stamp on those that are clean. Keep a list of the students who get a stamp for M&M time after students arrive. Don't allow students to try a second time. The object is to help students get to the point that they keep a clean desk consistently. Allow the Desk Dragon to visit at least once a week. I usually say something  before the dragon arrives like, "Hmmmm, it's been a few days since the Desk Dragon was about. You might want to be ready." That usually initiates a flurry of activity.

Ok! I know someone is freaking out about giving candy for this. I don't like giving it out either, but I make an exception for clean desks. Helping students become organized is vital to their success in school. Once kids learn how to keep desks clean, it speads to keeping assignment organized and so on.  We all have to start somewhere. Besides, like I said, messy desks drive me nuts. 

What about older students?


For older students, do it less often, but offer a "no homework night" card, or any other privilege your kids like.  

Seriously, kids love this! Just make sure that for the students who truly have a difficult time even knowing where to start when cleaning their desk, that they either have help from your class neatnics the first few times, or even take a picture of their desk when it's neat and tidy and attach it somewhere inside the desk to help that student see what is expected. For this kind of student, I usually have a desk cleaning time, and give him/her some help. I then make sure the Desk Dragon visits as soon as possible, so this child can feel that good feeling when they get a stamp too. 

Follow me on Pinterest for TONS of freebies and great teaching ideas!




Sunday, May 14, 2017

How to Keep Your Sanity Until the Last Day of School!

End of School? Sanity questionable?


Testing is over, the weather urges kids to come outside, and we still have to make it a few more days until school is over. That can all lead to chaos in any classroom. Success lies in careful planning, putting lots of fun into lessons packed with content, and enjoying these last days with this years's kids. So....How?  Below are a BUNCH of ideas, posts, Websites and even a resource to help make these last days as much fun for you, as they will be for the kids!  Enjoy! Summer is coming!


1. To work on writing skills, and have a bulletin board done for next year, ask students to write a letter to the new third (second, fourth, fifth) graders. Ask them to include in their letter what the new students will learn in that grade, what they liked the best, and even give new students tips on their new teacher. Kids love to do this, and the results are wonderful!  Not only that, they really do help next years new students know a little bit about what is coming. Stress to students that their writing must be clear and free of spelling errors. They will be posted on the bulletin board (or outside the door) and must be easily read. This is a good one to use for the last writing sample! Just make a copy of the letter, and include in each student's writing folder.

2.  Coffee-House Jam.  Explain to students that in the 1960's people would go to coffee houses to drink coffee and read/listen to poetry. Ask students to write two or three types of poetry that you have studied this year. Then ask them to choose their favorite. Group desks in tables of four desks each, cover with fadless paper, and prepare to serve iced tea.  Put a stool at the front of the room and get a spotlight to shine on the stool (Could be just a lamp). Turn the lights down low or off (other than the lamp) and invite students to read their poem. Discuss that at coffee houses patrons would snap their fingers after a reading to show their approval.  

3.  Pocketful of Sunshine...This is taken from TeachHub and is a terrific rememberance of the year.
Give each student enough index cards for each student in the class. If there are 20 students, each student will get 20 index cards. Next pass out small brown lunch bags. Students first decorate the bag with fun things they remember from the school year. Next pass out a list of all students in the class. Ask each student to write one nice thing they remember about each classmate on the index cards. As they write each card, they can cross off the name of their list. Then allow students to pass out their cards to all students in the class. This helps students look for something good in everyone, even students they don't particularly get along with. Don't forget to add a bag for yourself! 

4. Need some help getting those desks clean? Just put a little shaving cream on each child's desk and they rub, and rub (make pictures, giggle) until the shaving cream disappears. Just set up rules beforehand about keeping the shaving cream ON the desk. 

5. How about those other cleaning chores? Write all of the jobs you need done (make sure there is enough for each child) on index cards and put in a bag. Then allow students to pull out their clean-up job out of the bag. Play "Yakety Yak" while they work "Take out the paper and the trash, or you don't get no spending cash!"  

6. Another way (see idea number 3) to give positive feedback to each other is to go back to back! With a safety pin attach a large index card to each child's back. Then kids go around and write nice comments on each other's back about positive memories they have about each other from the year. Stress the importance of positive comments. It gives each student a special thing to take home, and read over the summer. Yes, they read it numerous times! 

7. Write thank you notes to the support personal in your school. You can ask the class to write one note a day to the secretary, janitor, food service workers, librarian and even the principal. They'll love a bundle of letters thanking them for their help. They are just the people who often don't get thanked nearly enough. 

Great Websites with lots of great ideas:





To get loads of great ideas, freebies and goodies follow my Pinterest page at: 

https://www.pinterest.com/janbernard10/



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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tap into the Power of Literature Circles!


Have you ever thought:
I can't do literature circles! They eat up too much time!
Literature circles are just too loud!
I wouldn't know where to start!

Yes, literature circles do take time, and it isn't a quiet classroom activity. That said, everything about literature circles taps into how people (especially kids) learn.  Here are just a few things literature circle do to help students comprehend text better. 

How Do Literature Circles Help Students tap Into Skills?


1.  Literature circles put the fun into reading. Humans are social beings, and the opportunity to talk comes naturally (a little too naturally for most!).  Literature circles takes this human need, and uses it to promote learning. If it's fun, kids will do it gladly!!

2. Literature circles give a framework for student centered inquiry.  Students take turns doing one of five jobs (tasks) in the group. This group of tasks model the strategies students need to learn and internalize as they read material on their own. 

3.  Through cooperative learning, literature circles help students make sense of the text. Students can begin to rely on each other for finding ideas in the text that they may have otherwise missed. Literature circles help kids learn how to use each other as a resource, and ultimately become independent learners.  Students in a literature circle have an opportunity to participate in the conversation. Because it is a small group, and not the entire class, some of the stress of speaking out is taken away for shy students. 

4.  Students can make their own choices about their learning. Groups can choose their own book to read within a group of two to three books selected by the teacher. As students become more proficient in the process, many teachers may want to allow groups to choose their own book from all available. Students also choose the questions that will be discussed by the group after reading. This helps guide students' reading as they go through the text.  At the beginning of the Literature Circle process, brainstorm with the class a list of questions that are appropriate for each genre of book. Copy this list and provide to students. Be sure to advise students that ALL questions cannot be asked, so choose the ones they feel are most important for the particular book.
      Choices are important! If students have some choice in the matter, it leads to greater engagement and higher motivation. This is particularly important for struggling or reluctant readers. 

Where Do I Start?

(Note-putting students into groups: At the beginning of the process I suggest teachers group students, however as time goes on, and students are more proficient at the process, teachers will find that students love the process even more when they can choose their own group. I have to say that many teachers just jump right in, and allow students to make all of the choices right away. I'm reluctant to do that, as I feel gradual release leads to greater success.)

a.  Introduce students to the concept of literature circles by explaining that literature circles are groups of people who read the same book, then meet to discuss what they have read. Explain that each group decides upon their own book (I strongly suggest teachers choose two different titles for each group to vote on. If given too many choices at the start, it's a bit overwhelming). They then decide upon a group of questions that will be discussed about the text when they meet. Make sure each student has a list of these questions. 

b. Introduce the rolls (or tasks) used in literature circles. This is the key. By using the rolls in Literature Circles, students begin to internalize the steps readers use to make sense of the text. You may call them different names, but the job should be the same. Allowing students to choose their task is helpful. I don't allow student to choose the same task twice in a row. If there is a conflict over tasks (they tend to like the drawing task) just do "rock, paper, scissors" as the deciding factor.

1.  Discussion Leader: This person asks questions about the text that was read. If he or she decides to throw in questions not previously decided upon, that is fine.

2.  Investigator: This person selects sections in the text that support answers. It is a good idea to stress to students that not every answer must be supported, but most should be. This is a big job.

3.  Summarizer: This person writes a short summary of the day's reading after the discussion is completed.

4.  The connector helps the group connect the ideas they have read about to the outside world, and to other books that have been read.

5.  The Word Wizard looks up unfamiliar or important words in the text. He or she find the definitions to the words and reports back to the group. Only one or two words need to be looked up, or the word wizard will miss the entire discussion.

6. The Illustrator: This student can do a sketch, diagram, flow chart or a cartoon to show somethingfrom the day's reading.


What Do Teachers Do During Literature Circles?

1. Go from group to group listening, taking notes and monitoring the ability of students to contribute to the discussion. This can be part of a daily assessment.

2. Help students monitor their own learning by giving them a premade form (or discuss) the following questions:  What are the most important ideas you learned about in today's reading? How well did each member contribute to the group within their assigned roll? What did you think was the best part of today's Literature Circle? Is there some way you think today's group could have gone better?

How does this all work? MODEL, MODEL, MODEL!

The first and second literacy circle sessions should be for demonstration purposes only. Choose six "guinna pigs" for each group and use a book all students are familiar with. Go through the process as the class watches. Since it is a book that has already been read (such as a read-aloud) all students can get the idea. As students run into difficulties, model how questions are asked, words are looked up and so on. During the modeling process, the teacher will actually preform many of the tasks, or talk students through the process. It is vital that students know exactly what is expected. I like to ask a student in the model group to act out in some way. Then we discuss with the group and class how to deal with a student who is not doing his/her job, or who is disruptive. Before beginning the process, have ideas ready for students to use. The key is to have students prepared, know the perimeters of the activity, and be ready to learn. Take the time needed to prepare students, and you will never teach without literature circles! They work!!


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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Solar System Resources


My Kids ALWAYS loved the solar system unit! I'm sure yours do too! It isn't just enough to read out of the book, they need hands-on activities to understand the tremendous distances in space, and games and videos to grab their attention and never let it go!! This is one unit that can ignite not only an interest for a lifetime, but a career in science as well! I hope you and your students enjoy the great resources below.

1.  ProTeacher Directory
This is a great place to come for ideas and activities to inspire kids. Ideas for planet advertisements, planet postcards, moon phases and more.


2.  Scholastic
https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/collections/teaching-content/solar-system/
There are great lesson ideas here of course...it's Scholastic). Some are based on books, some are activities without a specific book.

3.  More Scholastic!
http://www2.scholastic.com/teachers/unit/solar-system-everything-you-need
This site is FULL!  Get study jams, activities for reading and writing, and much, much more!


For center time, or group work don't miss these great out space games and activities!

NASA Space Place
Lots of great games that come straight from the source....NASA!

Interactive Sites for Education
13 Terrific games/sites!!


I've saved the best for last!!  The one thing that is really hard for kids to understand about space is the tremendous distances involved. I've done this activity with my third graders and they are absolutely amazed. We did it in a long hall, and to get to Pluto, we had to go right out the back door. This is my most favorite space activity...kids don't forget it either!! I didn't write it, by the way. It comes from Family Astro.


Hope you and your students enjoy these fun resources.

Follow me on Pinterest for TONS of other free ideas and resources:





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Monday, January 23, 2017

Force and Motion



The one science area that seems to give teachers the heebie jeebies is physical science! It doesn't have to be that way. There are so many great hands-on lessons, activities and games out there that will make not only learning more fun, but teaching too! Have a look at the great resources below, and take a deep breath. That force and motion unit could just become one of your favorites!!


1.  LOTS of lessons...You don't have to reinvent the wheel!

Great lessons (complete) from Utah

                                                           Science-3rd Grade

                                      


If you need lessons, PowerPoints and so much more check out:

                                               http://science.lotsoflessons.com/motion.html

                                      


From Idaho Public Television:

                             http://idahoptv.org/sciencetrek/topics/force_and_motion/links.cfm

                                         



2.  Need some hands-on activities? Check these out!


This is a fun one called 19 Fun Ideas and Resources for Force and Motion




These StudyJams are activities on simple machines, gravity, inertia, acceleration and more!



If you want great hands-on activities for your classroom, you can't do better than Steve Spangler!!




3.  Games make learning fun! Add these to centers, or for early finishers!


20 games here!

                                  http://interactivesites.weebly.com/physics-and-motion.html



Great games on pushes and pulls, friction, gravity, magnetism and more.




This is a fun one called "Forces at the Unfair"



I hope these links help you with your unit! If you have other ideas to add, please add them below!

Be sure and follow me on Pinterest at: https://www.pinterest.com/janbernard10/


Need a Force and Motion resource? check out:
or