Friday, August 28, 2015

I've Lost Control! Now What?

It started out like any regular day, then BAM! Classroom control is lost somewhere in the netherlands. All it took was one loud yell, that crazy surprise, or that group of kids in the corner throwing paper airplanes. The result is the same. Everyone is talking, kids get up to go see what's going a headache yet?  I do!

What I discovered in those periods of wishing I could be at the ocean somewhere, was that there are ways to get them back. In fact, some of these strategies helped keep those incidents from happening in the first place! Below are some of the strategies I have used and that worked great for me and my third graders. They are golden in my book! Most are ways to keep problems from happening in the first place.

What to do?

1.  Establish a clap, or signal that means face me, feet on the floor, mouths closed. This has to be done before the problem happens of course, but it is really effective. I clapped out the tune of "shave and a haircut" and the kids responded with the clapped " two bits". It's one of those things that's almost impossible not to respond to.  I've also done counting down from ten, and at zero all students must be sitting face forward, mouths closed etc. It's  one that must be practiced before you use it. Practice is the key here. Practice any and all signals you plan to use a number of times, then do it occasionally just to make sure they do it perfectly. When they don't do it perfectly, I redo it again until it is done right.

2. Time activities. Students tend to work a little harder when they are under a time crunch.

3. Use soothing music while students work individually. I was amazed at the difference this one little strategy made. I used it in the morning as they came in and started morning work, and during the day.

4. When you notice you are loosing the group during a lesson, choose one student who is doing a great job or gives a good answer, and do a cheer for them. Cheers are WONDERFUL classroom management. Kids get to be active for a brief amount of time, cheers give a boost to all involved and they are fun. Once the cheer is over, you have them back!  Here are ten good ones with a video to show you how each is done  Classroom Cheers

5.  Videotape your lesson. Kids are on their best behavior when they are being recorded. Just tell them that you are videotaping the lesson, so that you can look closely at it and make improvements for next year. I have to admit that sometimes I'd just have the camera out, and not tape anything at all. After you've videod them a couple of times, just having the camera out is enough to elicit good behavior.

6. Take pictures of your kids during work time. Occasionally you could use some for your website, or print for a special bulletin board, but mostly just take a picture here and there. It's amazing that it works so well, but it does.

7. Turn the lights low during a work period. For some reason it relaxes kids and they work more quietly.

8. Never raise your voice or yell at students. It only makes them talk/yell louder. Plus it gives them a "story" to tell their friends about how they made their teacher "lose it".  The best strategy is to lower your voice even more. Stay cool, calm and collected...even if you aren't. Remember the old saying, "Never let them see you sweat."

9. Proximity control. If you see a potential problem (kids talking behind books, silliness going on) just take a walk in that direction while you continue teaching. Once you get there ask one of the kids who are misbehaving a question about the lesson. I've done this LOTS of times, and usually by the time I get to the problem, they have noticed me coming and settled down. Asking the question tells them you expect them to follow along and know the answer. I don't make a big deal if they don't know the answer, I just ask "does anyone else think they know the answer?"  You get control without losing a beat.

10. Always treat even the worst offenders with the upmost of respect. You never know what they are facing at home. When it was needed I took a student into the hall, asked him/her to sit on the floor as I sat in front of them. I started the conversation with, "So, what's going on?" I always end with a handshake and a "I know you will do great!" and sent them back into the room. Respect gets problem students on your side. They know you aren't "out to get them", and only want the best for them.

11. This goes with proximity control....move around the room as a matter of your teaching style. If students know you could end up by their desk in the next minute or two, they won't start that conversation with their friend next door in the first place.

12. Make sure you have shared your expectations with the class. They need to know what you expect. Remember that kids need time to talk together in groups, we're all social after all. If given the opportunity to work in groups, have a time to talk to friends etc. they will be quieter when you need them to be.

13. Don't transition to a new activity until every student understands what they need to do. After giving directions I ask students to retell what they will do in the correct order. Knowing they will have the chance to respond, they listen more closely.

14. At the end of the day/lesson ask students to write one thing they learned on a sticky note and put it in a particular place on the board. Don't do it all the time, but now and again. It's like Pavlov's dogs (remember the experiment?) reinforcement is stronger if it is not done consistently. If kids think they may have to write about the lesson, they will listen better.

15. If you have a student who has really set your hair on fire, I have found that asking them to call their parent and explain what they have done and how they can improve is pretty powerful. I have never done it more than two or three times a year, so it has to be something serious. I ask the student to think about how they will explain the problem they are having, and one way they plan to improve. I listen (of course) so he/she knows the tale must be truthful. After the student has talked I get on the phone and say how proud I am of their child for owning up to the problem and finding a way to make things better. I thank them for their time and hang up. Believe me it works, and parents are pretty darned impressed. That's so much better than sending a nasty note home about behavior, or holding a conference in which the parent may get defensive. With the phone call he/she hears the problem from their child (no denying it happened) and the solution. Over and out.

I hope you find these tips useful, if you have one that is surefire for you, please add it below!

Why Oral Reading Matters

"You have to hear it before you can speak it, and you have to speak it before you can read it. Reading  happens through the ear." Wow! Jim Trelease (the read-aloud guru) has said that a child's listening level doesn't catch up to their reading level until about eighth grade. That "gap" is the magic space we teachers have to inspire readers, introduce new vocabulary and show them that there is REALLY great stuff out there to read!

I found this particularly true of my third grade students when the Harry Potter books came out. The first book was much too hard for many of my students, but once I read it aloud in class many better readers could hardly wait to dive in and read it for themselves. Those who were struggling set it as their goal and they really worked to be able to read it for themselves. How? I told them the only way to become a better reader was to read more. And they did!

Why read aloud? 

1. Students can wade into complicated subjects and have experiences beyond their years. Oral reading gives students the opportunity for discussions, not with only the teacher, but with each other. In fact, they learn life lessons. 

2.  Reading aloud is a terrific way to introduce students to new subjects within the content areas. For example, if you are studying the Civil War, try Give Me Wings: How a Choir of Former Slaves Took on the World by Kathy Lowing. The list is enless. 

3. Research shows that reading aloud with older readers actually increases scores on standardized tests. The Commission on Reading said, "the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success is reading aloud to children." Talk about a way to meet the Common Core! This is it!

4. Reading aloud introduces students to books they would never have thought about reading, genres they didn't know were interesting, and authors they can grow to love.

5. Reading aloud increases a student's desire to read independently.

6. When teachers read aloud they demonstrate fluency. Using voices when reading makes the story real, and when a difficult word is encountered the teacher can demonstrate how she determins the meaning from the text. 

7. Oral reading helps the writing process. If you want good writers in your classroom, read good books to them.

8. Its enjoyable. My students' favorite time of the day was after lunch when we all sat down together to hear the next installment of our shared book.

Below are some great lists of books to read aloud to students, I hope you find the perfect one to read next! Enjoy!!

Read-Aloud America  (for books k-12)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Unlocking Fractions!

Mysterious! That's how a lot of kids see fractions, but with a few helpful tips fractions can be much easier to learn! Why is it SO important for kids to REALLY understand fractions? A long-term study of 4,276 students in the United States and Britain compared student scores on math tests at about age ten, and again at 16. What they discovered was (and this is a little scary) A student's understanding of fractions in the fifth grade predicts performance in all high-school math classes. That's enough to give any teacher the heebie jeebies! What it also means is that we all have to do a better job making sure all of our kids "get" fractions! To see more about this study click here.

1. Start with food!

Learning about fractions has to be visual, so starting with food is a sure-fire way to grab EVERYONE'S attention. To open my fractions unit each year with third graders, I brought in two giant cookies. I divided the kids in half and each half got a cookie. Each child got to make one cut (or part of a cut, depending on class size). First we cut it in half and looked at the fraction that showed 1/2.  Then cut it smaller and smaller and looked at what happened with the fractions. Kids were amazed to see that the denominator got larger but the pieces got smaller. We discussed why that happened, and to my amazement, it really "stuck". The larger denominator/smaller piece is always tricky in kids' minds....but not when food is involved!

2.  Draw pictures!

All through the fractions unit the teacher needs to draw pictures, kids need to draw pictures and if the principal comes in have her draw one too. I like drawing pictures on the board, because parts can be erased to ask new questions. Pictures are especially important when you teach equivalent fractions. You don't have to be an artist, a circle or rectangle will do. I've read that fraction bars and number lines are easier than circles for children to use in dividing up fractions. I think circles are good to begin with, but when fractions get bigger I have to agree than bars and lines seem to work better.

3. Get tactile!

Manipulatives aren't just for younger students. Older students needs them just as much, and even more since they are dealing with more complex problems. There's just something about that tactile experience of moving pieces around that helps concepts become better understood in the brain. Fraction bars are wonderful to use with kids and also allow students to line them up one under another to do some comparisons. If your school doesn't have fraction strips you can print some here.  If you print them on cardstock they last longer. If you have students who are just learning about fractions (2nd and 3rd grades you might really like the 7 tactile and kinesthetic fraction games here.

If you would like some great videos on teaching fractions you can't do much better than the Teaching Channel. Check this one out!

If you are looking for an already-done unit for fractions (sounds like a time saver to me and 96 pages) check out this pdf here.  I didn't make this one, but it's a goodie and FREE! A few page samples are below:

I hope these ideas are helpful! If you have any of your own, be sure to add them in the comments section!