Book Club

KIAT Book Club: Classrooms That Work Ch. 11

Well folks, we’ve come to the last chapter in Classrooms That Work. This is a short chapter which talks about important things teachers should focus on outside of classroom instruction and set up. They speak of these as “things worth fighting for”, and indeed they are.

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Integrating food programs for students is something spoken about (and something I, and every other teacher I know agree with) as being important to student success. Indeed, in the district I work for, most schools in low-income areas have a breakfast and/or lunch program in place, but many others are in need of this. Lots of students in more affluent areas often come to school without food and it’s something all schools need to address as proper nutrition is fundamental for student success as well as long-term health. Indeed, it’s not fair for teachers to have to purchase food for their students, we all want to ensure our kids are eating but everyone knows teachers aren’t rolling in cash either!

Additionally, I really recognized just how lucky I am to be teaching at the school I am with the people I do; many of the suggestions the book makes to better classrooms have already been integrated at my school.

Indeed, I do work in a specialized program so even in my district, we are one of the few with these benefits, but it is still nice to see that these things are being recognized as being beneficial for kids. For example, small class sizes are mentioned (this one is, of course, a no-brainer for anyone in or out of the education system, but requires a lot more government support).

Further, year-round schooling is discussed, and as someone who works at a year-round school, all I can say is IT IS THE BEST! We get a month off for sum mer instead of two, which is about all the time I really need. Then, we get extra time off throughout the year, which makes vacationing a lot easier (and a lot cheaper as we don’t need to go at peak times). Plus, the kids and staff have far fewer absences as they do not get run down as easily. Plus, kids do not as readily forget curriculum taught the previous year (three cheers for not having to spend the whole first month of school re-teaching math and language basics).

And with that, we’ve finished our last chapter of Classrooms That Work! If you’re interested in this book, here’s the link to it on Amazon. I haven’t decided what book I’ll read next, or if I’ll post about another one…. I’ll let you know!

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Book Club

KIAT Book Club: Classrooms That Work Chapters 8-10

I decided to lump chapters eight through ten together because they all illustrate how a typical day would run utilizing the strategies discussed in the book. Chapter eight focuses on a kindergarten classroom, chapter nine on a primary classroom, and chapter ten on an intermediate classroom.

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Instead of simply focusing on one of these chapters, I enjoyed reading and pulling out useful information from all of them. Because my students are all very diverse in their needs and skill levels, I found these to be helpful ideas in all three chapters. For example, most of them read at a kindergarten or lower level, but they have the maturity of children much older, so some kindergarten tips are useful when targeting their needs, but not when they are too “immature” to be appropriate; there’s little children hate more than being treated “like little kids”.

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I also appreciated reading how the timeline in a classroom utilizing these tips looks. Obviously, these have to be adjusted for different classrooms, but they’re still a good read for pulling ideas from and getting an idea about how other people have implemented them into their own classrooms. One chapter left! If you’re interested in purchasing the book, here’s the link to it on Amazon.

Book Club

KIAT Book Club: Classrooms That Work Ch. 7

Chapter seven talks about with how to specifically deal with struggling students in classrooms. It offers good insight into how to create activities and programs which target improving the skills of these students without drawing attention to their difficulties in class. Thus, they won’t feel targeted and their classmates won’t suspect they are receiving different treatment for any reason.

It touches back upon previous chapters and discusses how students need consistent practice in reading and writing in order to really succeed in the classroom. Then, it introduces new ways in which struggling students can receive extra support in these areas via practices you can incorporate both in and outside of the classroom.

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Some of the practices talked about are different types of easy reading groups and “open centres”. Personally, I already do both English Language Arts and Math centres almost every single day, so adding another daily centre would be a time suck. However, some of the chapter’s ideas for open centres are really great to incorporate into centres you’re already doing, or would be a good way to add “fun centres” (maybe once a week or once every two weeks) that touch upon skills generally found outside of ELA and Math (computer skills, fine motor tuning, researching, etc.).

Another very helpful tidbit the chapter talks about is finding a tutor for struggling students; a parent or aid in the classroom. For me, I found this helpful because our school has a lot of very talented educational assistants and I’m always looking for more ways in which I can use them to help the kids. This chapter listed a few different helpful ways to employ the use of tutors or, in my case, educational assistants or parent volunteers.

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This chapter was a valuable one for me, even in a classroom where basically all of my students are struggling, so I imagine it will be even more beneficial for teachers in “regular” classrooms who are trying to find ways to keep kids from falling behind without singling them out.

Book Club

KIAT Book Club: Classrooms That Work Ch. 3

In the last two chapters of Classrooms That Work, we’ve discussed what doesn’t work and strategies to garner kids’ enthusiasm for reading. This chapter discusses comprehension and how to teach students to actually think about what they’re reading.

Everyone thinks you should read this book!
Everyone thinks you should read this book!

Sure enough, I see very often that kids have had phonics drilled into them and know letter sounds, but have no idea what they’re reading. They’re under the impression that reading is just sounding out words and saying them properly; they’re unsure of what else it entails because no one has really told them.

This chapter was a great read for me because it was absolutely full of different activities to do with large or small groups that engage kids in active reading.

The beginning of our latest chapter!
The beginning of our latest chapter!

I have a basic set of ideas and activities to do with kids for reading activities, but many of these were things I had never heard before, or put creative spins on activities I was already utilizing. For example, there’s an excellent beach ball activity which can be used after reading in which a beach ball is thrown from student to student which has broad questions (which will work for most stories) for them to answer.

The Beach Ball Game
The Beach Ball Game

I also often struggle with guided reading. Currently, my students are at such different levels that many of them need to read in a group of only one or two. Even with centres every morning, I wish I had more one-on-one time with them. An excellent solution is the “Three Ring Circus” for reading, which could easily be added in two or three times a week for a bit of extra guided reading time.

The Three Ring Circus reading activity
The Three Ring Circus reading activity

I am truly finding this book to be one of the most helpful I’ve read. It’s full of ideas that are new to me (perhaps because they’re innovative, perhaps because I have a secondary background, perhaps both) and I highly, highly recommend it to all teachers. Here’s the link on Amazon if you’d like more information about it.

Book Club

KIAT Book Club: Classrooms That Work Ch. 2

Chapter Two in Classrooms That Work is all about reading and writing. Titled Reading and Writing Real “Things”, one of the first sentences which struck me was:

“[c]hildren who are successful at becoming literate view reading and writing as authentic activities from which they get information and pleasure, and by which they communicate with others.”

An excellent chunk of text!
An excellent chunk of text!

I believe this corresponds to, essentially, all subject matter. If we as people, not even as students, do not find a topic useful, interesting, or meaningful, we will almost always, inevitably, be unsuccessful in it. People who do not feel passionate about their work perform much poorer than their eager counterparts. Thus, the question which arises in this context is a simple one, but one that can be difficult to answer: how can we make reading and writing engaging for students?

The book touches again upon high involvement homes versus low involvement homes which, the vast majority of time, brings into play the socioeconomic disparities in our classrooms. I first read this chapter on a relatively long airplane ride in which I was bouncing back and forth between various books, television shows, and cellphone games to keep my easily distracted mind from boredom. I had just finished the chapter in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point in which he discusses the phenomenon of teen smoking and that, when most smoking adults look back on their first memories of smoking, they see it as sophisticated.

Perhaps it was because I had literally just put that book down when I picked this one up, but Classrooms That Work discusses that many students come from homes in which they are exposed to huge libraries and parents and siblings which read and write constantly; they see the usefulness and enjoyability of reading. I immediately thought of my childhood; indeed I never saw smoking as sophisticated, I saw reading, writing, talking, and creating as sophisticated. How can we garner this idea of sophistication in children who may not be exposed to such things. Who see being adult as smoking, drinking, watching TV, eating junk food, and staying up until whenever they want (just a few examples)? It obviously needs to be done in the classroom.

The authors give us some great examples of how to turn our classrooms into models of homes in which literate children are raised. Our classrooms allow students an assortment of books to choose from, allows them to share what they’ve read, and allows them to go through the basic steps of learning how to write. This book is excellent because it actually provides a plethora of useful and logical ideas which are easy to incorporate into classrooms and teaching.

A great example from the book!
A great example from the book!

It talks a lot about how to show children that reading is enjoyable and necessary for them to learn new things, thus driving their desire to learn how to do it. I am finding myself drawn to the ideas proposed the further and further I get (and I’m only on chapter 2). I highly, highly recommend this book for some excellent examples; particularly if you’re a new teacher or if you have a challenging classroom composition.

If you’re interested in the book, here’s the link to it on Amazon. Happy reading!

Book Club

KIAT Book Club: Classrooms That Work Ch. 1

We recently underwent a huge remodel of our school library and had to get rid of bunch of resources that were being under-utilized. It was bittersweet as our library no longer has some excellent books, but teachers also got to take their pick of what they wanted to keep for themselves and I made out like a bandit. One of the books I scored was actually a double of one I had signed out and intended to read through before our redesign (what luck, now I get to write all over it and call it my own!). The book in question: Classrooms That Work by Patricia M. Cunningham and Richard L. Allington.

Classrooms That Work - what we're all aiming for!
Classrooms That Work – what we’re all aiming for!

Right in the title, the text boasts that all students in these “classrooms that work” can read and write. This immediately grabbed me as I work with kids who have come from regular classrooms and have struggled. They cannot read and write and it’s my job at our congregated school to find strategies to help them succeed. It’s difficult and oftentimes daunting, but it’s outrageously rewarding and can be done. Extra tips from teachers with many more years under their belts? Yes, I’ll take it!

The first chapter is titled The Problem and Some Failed Solutions and starts us out by discussing how our classrooms began failing our students. It talks a lot about phonics and how classrooms fail, not because they’re using bad techniques, but because they’re relying too heavily on one or two methods or because these methods work better in theory than they do in practice. The kids who don’t respond to these methods are left behind, especially if they also have low support at home.

The start of the very first chapter...
The start of the very first chapter…

Also discussed heavily is retention and the negative effects repeating a grade have on children. We attempt to use it as a solution for a child who is behind, but it is not viable for the long term, as they tend to fall behind once again in later grades. The belief that they are “dumb” will set up a barrier between students and their success and retention will only intensify this.

Indeed, classrooms that utilize multiple approaches to reading and writing will be the most effective as they will target the majority of students’ various strengths and weaknesses. The problem which arises here is how to actually organize a classroom that properly and effectively utilizes various methods. That is where our chapter ends; we’ve discussed what doesn’t work and in the next chapters they’re going to be discussing what does.

If you’re interested in buying the book, here’s the link on Amazon. Mine is the second edition, the one on Amazon is the 6th. Chapter two will be up in two weeks!

Art, Elementary

Tissue Paper Leaves

It’s September, so here in Calgary it’s already Fall and we’ve got about eight days until it’s Winter. Time to work on the Autumn themed crafts before they seem horribly misplaced with three feet of snow right outside. Hey, it’s also the beginning of the school year for the majority of teachers and students, so happy first day or two back!

One of my favourite crafts to make with my students are tissue paper leaves! They’re an easy concept, but need to be modelled thoroughly because the tissue and glue can get messy if kids aren’t following instructions. Further, I’m obviously a fan of how well this project aids in the development of fine motor skills.

Depending on the class’ skill level, I’ll either give them a large cut out of a leaf on brown, yellow, orange, or red paper, or I’ll have them draw a large leaf in a shape they like and cut it out themselves. This time around, I had the kids draw and cut their own leaves (some ended up looking like random splatters, but most resemble leaves).

This is, of course, the easiest part for the kids. Again, depending on their skill and focus level, I will either cut out pieces of tissue paper in various colours or I’ll have them cut out their own. This time, I cut out a huge amount of pieces, then students cut more if they needed more or if they wanted different colours or shapes.

We covered tables with plastic and poured white glue into egg cups so the kids could wrap tissue around the ends of their pencils, dip it lightly into the glue, and then attach them to their leaves.

I will admit that this art project took much longer than I thought it would; we had some glue issues, and some of the kids got restless (again, I’ll remind you how high the cases of ADHD are in my room). Thus, I now know for the future to really be careful and judge the make-up of the classroom before assigning something that could be daunting for some kids. I would perhaps make the leaves themselves smaller or give the students smaller pieces of paper to cut them out from.

Alas, at least our finished bulletin board looked awesome (bulletin boards are becoming my favourite part of school)!

We're falling in love with reading!
We’re falling in love with reading!