Book Club

KIAT Book Club: Differentiation in Practice Ch. 2

Well friends, we’ve reached our second chapter in Carol Ann Tomlinson and Caroline Cunningham Eidson’s Differentiation in Practice.

The first chapter led us through a Language Arts ABC book unit. This chapter focuses on Science and a unit titled What Plants Need. This is nice for me because my fourth grade curriculum has a final unit all about plant growth and changes. Additionally, I have a first unit all about waste, life cycles, and decomposers, etc.

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Beginning this chapter, I was very excited as I find differentiating math and english more straightforward to differentiate as I can always create new centres to focus on students’ varying needs and skills. In social studies and science, I find this more difficult to do.

Much of the differentiation in this chapter has to do with kids working independently or in partners, depending on their varying ability, which I like because it’s easy to implement.

I also liked all of the individual lesson plan ideas as they were fun and hands-on, which I believe is exactly what science should be.

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Another great thing I found from this chapter was having “anchor activities” for kids who have finished their work early. In my classroom, I have some students who finish very quickly and others who are much slower. It’s nice to have unit activities for them to do rather than just having them read a book or work in their “fun duo tangs”.

Overall, I found this chapter to be a very informative and helpful one. Differentiation in Science has been a struggle for me and I do believe this will help a great deal in my plant growth unit as well as other units which a lot of the strategies would work well in.

If you’re interested in the book, here’s the like to it on Amazon. Stay tuned for chapter three!

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Book Club, Curriculum, Elementary

KIAT Book Club: Differentiation in Practice Ch.1

Hello everyone! We finished up Classrooms That Work a couple weeks back and I’ve been so sad without a book for book club! It’s left a bit of a void in my life, so I’ve picked a new one! It’s another from my school’s old library and I think it’s going to be a very helpful one for myself and a lot of other teachers as well.

And the book is … (drumroll, please) … Differentiation in Practice by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Caroline Cunningham Eidson.

The book in question
The book in question

Each chapter in the book focuses on a different unit plan which is differentiated to meet student needs. I like this, not just because I get a chance to read through and potentially implement a new unit, but because I can also pull out different tips and tricks to practice more differentiation in the lessons and units I’ve already planned.

Our first chapter in the book is titled “All About the ABCs: A Language Arts Unit on the Alphabet”. Indeed, it’s a good chapter to begin with as so many kids, whether they come from families who do not read with them, are English Language Learners, have learning disabilities, have cognitive delays, etc. need to receive differentiated instruction in English Language Arts.

Chapter one!
Chapter one!

I find the unit itself is geared toward division one students, so those thriving at a higher grade level could need further differentiation to make the unit more challenging and/or more interesting, but for me, where my students are technically in division two, but all are working in different areas within division one, it’s a great way to have the entire class working on the “same” unit at their own working level.

Further, this chapter discusses the use of learning centres, which I use daily in my classroom for both math and language arts. Indeed, it’s difficult to differentiate without the use of centres and I recommend them all the way through elementary (I know most teachers these days are doing centres into the alter years, but too often, many are stopping them by fourth and fifth grade).

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The “teacher reflection” discusses ways in which she organized the centres so that students at different levels could still use the same materials indifferent ways. Obviously, I LOVE this because it cuts down teacher time/money in buying and/or making supplies for centres. We’re already pressed for time as it is, there’s no need to burden us further!

The unit itself is one I definitely would like to utilize in my own classroom. Indeed, it has students at various levels learning letter sounds, creating words, and writing sentences. Plus, they get to make and share their own book, which tends to be the most fun part of the writing process!

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If you’re interested in the book, here is the link to it on Amazon! Stay tuned for chapter two!

Art, Elementary

Let’s Pretend It’s Spring

I am not a winter person. Every winter I forget just how cold and dark it is and how much I wait for (and countdown to) Spring. So today I’m going to post about a Spring craft I did last year with my kids to try to brighten my own mood, and maybe someone else’s too!

Right before Parent Teacher interviews last year, I realized my current bulletin board was looking rough and I needed something new to put in its place, so I needed a quick and easy craft for the students to make. I settled on a simple painted branch with tissue paper flowers craft.

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I gave all the kids blue paper so that their branch would looks as though it were against the sky and, to keep the classroom clean and orderly, I had them all sketch their ideas out and then take turns (two at a time) to paint their branches.

After their branches were painted, they got to choose their coloured paper, cut out their pieces, then return to their desks to glue on their tissue using the back of their pencils (they wrapped the tissue around the pencil, dipped it lightly into glue, then stuck it to their painting).

The branches turned out really cute and very colourful! They immediately brightened my classroom (and posting them today is indeed brightening my day!).

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Plus, my new bulletin board was up by the end of the day and looked hella cute for PT interviews the following night! Plus, isn’t the caption adorable, I love making the text for my bulletin boards even more than I love making the crafts!

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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!

Curriculum, Elementary

Teaching Roald Dahl’s “The Witches”

What’s everyone’s favourite Roald Dahl book? It’s hard, I know, because they’re all perfection on a page. I’ve spent years reading and re-reading and teaching all of his novels and short stories and have finally decided that “The Witches” is my favourite. It’s especially fun to teach and read aloud just to do the voice of the Grand High Witch!

The Witches

Teaching at a school in which none of my students are able to read at grade level and many have comprehension and memory issues, I had to be creative about teaching my favourite Dahl novel. I didn’t want to skip teaching it in favour of something simpler because I feel like it’s a disservice to students who would otherwise love the story, to not get to learn it because of their learning struggles.

Overall, all of my students enjoy and understand the story; I just need to be create about assessment and activities for the book. I decided to create an activity book to anchor my class through the novel and then add various activities throughout.

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I’ll read each chapter of the novel to my class and have them follow along in their own books (very, very few are able to follow along, but I still insist on this as they know many sight words which can help them follow along and catch other common words as well). After each chapter, I have all students draw a quick picture to help them remember what happened in the chapter, which I use as comprehension assessment later (I’ll have a mini interview with them about what has happened in the novel and they get to use the drawings from their activity book as a guide).

The book also has chapter questions, some are basic comprehension questions, but mostly I want to have the students think deeper about what we’re reading so I like to include a lot of “how would you feel if…” or “what do you think will happen next…” type of questions. I’ll also try to mix in more aspects of curriculum, such as having them think of adjectives to describe various characters or having them compare and contrast.

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I like to also include other activities outside of the activity book to get students away from basic pen and paper, in-desk activities. I’ll have them act out scenes, or play hangman games to try to stump their classmates, or make The Witches-themed art projects. As with all of my activities in all of my units in all of my subjects, the thing I most want to accomplish is student enjoyment and passion about learning; it’s just all about making sure they’re learning and that I’m finding creative ways to assess along the way!

If you’re interested in my Witches activity book, you can find it here in my Teachers Pay Teachers  store. I also have a similar Matilda activity book, which you can find here if you’re so inclined. Happy teaching!