Wednesday, July 23, 2014

3 Word Weekends

Every Monday, I have my kids share what they did with all of us by playing the HIGH, LOW game. Students choose ONE HIGH and ONE LOW from the past weekend to share. If a student feels that they did not have a low then they do not need to share one, however, if they feel they did not have a high, I encourage them to think of SOMETHING that they can think of (sometimes their partners help them find it)Once they have figured out their high and low, they turn to their partner and share, then we choose a couple to share out to the whole class.  
I have found a couple positives to this system 
1) It allows me quick assessment of students situations and lives outside of the classroom (sometimes there are bigger things going on that we don't know about)  
2) Students get the chance to share their weekends under 5 minutes 
3) It allows for empathy and excitement for fellow students, and in some cases the teacher. I have even had students (and myself actually once this year) break down during this quick time in the morning based off of divorce, death, etc. and, while some may shrink from this happening in the classroom, it allows all of us to become what we are - a family. Watching students hugging each other, sharing when that has happened to them as well, getting each other tissues, high fiving for a basket ball winning score, questions about a new puppy, and sharing stories means that there is more than just academic learning going on in my classroom. It has become a favorite in our room - Woe to the teacher to forgets HIGH LOW Monday morning! (ha!) 
Another thing I really like about it, being a fifth grade teacher, when my middle schoolers come back to visit/grab a piece of candy all I have to say is "HIGH LOW?" and they share a little about their new lives with me :0)

Sometimes I like to change it up a little bit though so this week we did "Three Word Weekends". They had to share three words (no more, no less) that summed up their weekends. Then they shared their sticky note with the three words with their partners. If they had summarized and chosen their words well, their partner should be able to infer what happened - this was a little difficult for some kids but is a great review for summary!
Do you do anything fun for the kids to sum up their weekend? 

Determining Importance through Music

One way to help determine the main idea is to look at the evidence that the author is giving us. We have been working a lot on how readers need to justify their responses and the details they deem as important. Today, I shared that it isn't some sort of guessing game between the author and reader. It is more of a treasure hunt to pick up the clues/support that the author "drops" for us as to what the Main Idea is.
We recognized that the most important details always support the main idea and that when these match we are able to clearly understand the text.
Once again, Tanny brings this concept to life in an out-of-the-box way through listening to music. I shared with the kids Dolly Parton's beautiful biosong "Coat of Many Colors". I shared with the kids that we can often find out the topic/main idea from the Title. We inferred that the topic was probably going to be A Coat. We also inferred that the Main Idea would have something to do with a coat, but would go much deeper.
Then, I gave them the mission of hunting for the evidence that our author, Dolly, left for us throughout the song that helps us find the Main Idea.
I had the kids listen to the song through once just reading the lyrics so they were familiar with the song. The second time, I challenged them to underline/circle the lines, stanzas, or phrases that they felt were IMPORTANT (noodles) to understanding the Main Idea.

They did SUCH an amazing job of being able to pick out what the main idea was based off of their text evidence. We agreed that, while to topic was A coat that her mother made her, the main idea was that Money does not buy happiness and that you don't have to have money to rich in life (especially those things that money just can't buy - love, family, comfort, security, etc.)

I also shared different evidence sentence stems to help guide them in their response to the text.
We talked about how it is very difficult to express your opinion and point of view about ANYTHING really without providing valid evidence to back it up. I think it is important to always remind students of those things that apply to things outside of the subject (this applies to math, science, social studies, etc) AND out side of the classroom (including conversations with others, proving a point, standing up for yourself or someone else, sharing an opinion, offering a suggestion, etc.)

Weekly Student Reflection

A major focus of mine this year is trying to give my kids multiple opportunities throughout the day, week, month to reflect on their learning in many different ways. One way that I have been having students reflect, for the past couple of years, on a weekly basis is by having them fill in their STAR reflection sheet (a fabulous creation made by my all-talented-and-wise mentor teacher!). On this sheet they are to fill in something (usually our learning goal) that they learned that week for each subject. This is my "weekend homework" along with reading and must be signed by a parent. I have found that parents REALLY seem to appreciate this small, but consistent, glimpse into what their child is learning on a weekly basis. Many of them respond that their child explained their learning in depth to them with it as well or will write their child something they learned from them or want to share that connects with our learning in the classroom! Parents often leave notes to their kids, which I find neat too since it allows them to reaffirm their child's learning and show them they are proud of their accomplishments. It also helps the kids separate their learning and identify where the skills they learned fits since our learning is very thematic and subjects can get muddled. 
I put this out for morning work on Friday mornings. I encourage them to use what they remember, the learning goals written in their thoughtful log notebook, friends knowledge, and the anchor charts around the room to help them reflect on their learning from the week.
Something new that I added to it this year was having them really internalize the actual SKILL that was learned and focus less on the activity that got them there. 
For example, A student may put "We practiced division" under the math heading. This is an action that they did this week, however, I'm now asking students to add to this and break it down to show the Skill/Focused Objective that goes with that. "We practiced dividing 2 digit numbers by 4 digit numbers, I learned that you want to use an educated guess when deciding how many times the divisor can go into the divined."  
                                            Non- Example                                         
"We learned about the Explorers"
 "We learned the five reasons why the early explorers came to the New World, they included gold, a water route to Asia, spreading of Christianity, new lands/products, and adventure."
What do you do to help your kids reflect on the learning that happened through the week, month, day? 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

PROS and CONS of Thematic Teaching

As a kid, my sister and I were home schooled by my very talented and creative mother. Her style was always thematic and we utilized a fabulous curriculum Learning Adventures that integrated all subjects around the theme of HISTORY. 

Top this with the fact that my father is a high school history teacher mother was a high school home economics, English teacher and a current high school ESL teacher and you can understand why I A) LOVE history B) Teach by nature very thematically integrated. 

In 2010, I landed my ultimate dream job - teaching fifth grade language arts and social studies for those who don't know, that means Early American History, you know, Indians and the Revolution! It obviously fits right into my upbringing and teaching style which ROCKS! 

This brings me to my post: PROS and CONS of Thematic Teaching. A lot of educator groups have discouraged thematic teaching because of a multitude of reasons, and some of you probably still will even after my attempted persuasive post, however, when looking at my list possibly biased *wink* I feel very strongly that it is more positive in my classroom than negative. 
  1. Students can apply skills from one subject to another subject 
  2. Helps students see relationships between concepts 
  3. Increases student interest and time engaged in learning 
  4. Draws connections from the real world 
  5. Gives students LOTS of research practice 
  6. Makes for well rounded students 
  7. Expands assessments options 
  8. Allows for the integration of literacy within all subjects 
  9. Student learning centered - not just teacher 
  10. Saves time - multiple standards and subjects are taught together
  11. Creates a community of learning - common goal/focus  
  12. Integrates technology smoothly and consistently in the classroom 
  13. Creates a love of research
  14. Classroom culture of questions, wonderings, exploration 
  15. Allows for "back burner" subjects social studies and science to become the very fabric of classroom learning
  1. Subjects lose their identity (math time, science time, etc.) 
  2. Some students could lose interest in the theme - less motivation to participate 
  3. Student missing a day misses a major connection
  4. Finding enough resources for research 
  5. Research takes A LOT of class time 
  6. MORE WORK for the teacher - no pre-made basal program
  7. Missing out on content outside of the theme (not standard based content but just life experience content) 
Because the theme fabric I chose is Early American History, my units are based off of the different historical sections. Here are pictures and few ideas for how to integrate thematically using social studies. 
Native Americans 
*Read and Write Myths/Legends 
*Create Native American Art 
*Hands on Artifact learning and inquiry 
*Map the different environmental regions and study their habitats 
*Compare and Contrast tribes/environments/adaptations 
*Study Narrative Fiction and Traditional Literature 
Europeans Explorers 
*Research Explorers 
*Compare and Contrast Eastern and Western beliefs 
*Study Poetry 
Triangular/Slave Trade 
*Analyze different points of view (Africa, European, Native American) 
*Study Economics 
*Infer slaves responses through diary entries 
*Write persuasively about slavery 
*Study Mysteries 
13 Colonies 
*Create a colonial magazine using text structure paragraphs 

*Research a colony or colonial region 
*Study what life was like (Clothing, childhood, jobs, religion, etc.) 
*Create Tea paper
*Research colonial clothing and dress up!  
*Simulate a colonial town 
*Compare and contrast the colonies and/or regions 
*Study Historical Fiction 
Road to the Revolution 
 *Causes and Effects of the Revolution 
*Summarize major events (Boston Tea Party, Boston Massacre, etc.) 
*Analyze different points of view (Patriots vs. Loyalist) 
*Write persuasively as a patriot or loyalist
*Tea Bag science experiments 
*Battle statistics math graphing 
*Text Structure study 
*Simulate King George Taxing the Colonists 
*Memorize famous revolutionary quotes/Beginning of the Declaration
*Study biographies 
*Research an important Revolutionary War character 
United States Government  
*Simulate how a bill becomes a law 
*Candy bar elections 
*Memorize the preamble to the Constitution 
*Write persuasively about a public issue 
*Study Non-Fiction/Informational 
*Research the different branches of government
*Create a mobile 
*Use hand motions to learn different types of government  
*Look at and research current events 

Do any of you teach thematically? Do you have any tricks that you use to help you organize and plan your units?
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