Thursday, July 2, 2015

Differentiating Word Problems: An Easy Solution

Oh happy day, friends! Today I want to share a simple but oh-so-awesome tidbit I learned from Catherine Kuhns at the SDE Reading, Writing, Math, and More conference in Orlando. A few weeks ago I wrote about how amazing this session was, and I am really excited to bump-up my math assessment with some of the simple ideas Catherine shared. Today, I'm sharing about a ridiculously  simple, but WOW strategy for differentiating word problems...leaving blanks!
Catherine shared one of her favorite ways to give her students choice in formative assessments is to trade out the numbers in a word problem and replace them with blanks. Then you, as the teacher, have two options - 
(1) Student Choice: allow students to choose the numbers that go in the blank. This offers 2 assessments in one. First, students have to know to choose the 'right' numbers to make the problem workable, and then, they have to have the skills to actually solve the problem. 
(2) Teacher Choice: leaving blanks allows you to choose different numbers for different students. For friends who aren't ready for choice or as you're just introducing a concept, you might offer 3 sets of numbers on the board. From there you can let students choose their own set or 'randomly' assign certain numbers to groups of students.
Below is a part/part/whole word problem. When I used this word problem in my classroom, I included numbers (I actually made this same problem with 3 different sets of numbers). I copied the right number of each number set and then, I placed the different levels (below, at, above) in colored folders for math centers). Students pull the problems out during Math by Myself and wrote about it in their math notebooks....it was A LOT of work. Worth it? Yes, because all my friends need a challenge...but still. Yesterday, I went back and replaced the numbers with blanks. Using this problem with blanks, allows me to see if my friends truly understand the idea of part, part, whole and if they can figure out numbers to make it workable.
The beauty of leaving blanks is that students will naturally choose numbers that they can work with. Some students might choose a 1-digit and a 2-digit number (possible 66 and 11), or some students might choose a 3-digit and a 2-digit number (possibly 175 and 15). Maybe a student chooses numbers that require a remainder; what will they do with the 'extra' books? All 3 of these situations tell us something about the students and their understanding of division.
Now, giving blanks is a lot of freedom, so you may want to add 'conditions' for the numbers students choose. For this fraction-based word problem, you might tell students "Your fractions should have different/same denominators." or "The play equipment can take up no more than half of the space." Adding conditions can scaffold students who are thinking - "Where do I start?" and challenge students who are thinking "I choose 1/4 and 1/4 and will be done. Boom!" 
I know this sounds like a *really* simple idea, but think of its power. Giving students the choice (even if it is choice within a certain set of numbers) allows students to be more invested in the work and it teaches students to push themselves. For friends, who chronically choose numbers they're not ready for yet, it's a great time to reflect with them on how much they've grown and encourage them to keep working hard. For friends who chronically choose too easy numbers, it's the perfect time to have a conversation about Growth Mindset and choosing the challenging. 

Will procedures for choosing number have to be practiced and taught, absolutely...BUT do I think it is worth it? Without a doubt. Now, is choice always appropriate, no definitely not...but when possible - why not? Even in 1st grade, I have tremendous confidence in my students and know they continually rise to meet challenges. 

So, friends - what is your reaction? Do you allow students to choose their own numbers when working with word problems? What are your hesitations? How could you make this work in your classroom? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Building Independence with the Daily 5 Book, Chapter 3

Building independence is the most critical part of setting-up Daily 5 in our classrooms. Without independence, we would never be able to pull small groups, confer with students, or assess growth. There would be off-task children, there would talking and off-task behavior, and most importantly, there would be no reading and writing taking place. As we're building independence, my 1st graders hear me ask (over and over) - "If we do __________, will that make us better readers and writers?" This is our driving question.
In Chapter 3, the Sisters give us a 10 Step Plan for helping students build independence. (You can check out Chapter 1 - Daily 5 Edition 1 vs. Edition 2 here and Chapter 2 - Our Core Beliefs here.) We being by identifying what it to be taught, we often do this through an I-Chart. There is a teacher side and a student side. Then, we model, model, model. We choose students to model how to read, how not to read, and then, how to read again. From reading upside down to zooming through books, we model EVERYTHING!
After we've modeled the correct and incorrect behaviors and reviewed our I-Chart, we're ready to begin. For the first few times, students aren't ready to grab their book bins and go. So, this is how we roll - 
(1) I assign book bins and students grab them in groups of 3-4. (At the beginning of the year, I've placed 6-7 books of different levels and interest areas for students to enjoy. After I've assessed their reading level, students start choosing their own books.)
(2) Students place their book bins on their desks and then, sit on the carpet.
(3) Continue until all students have their bins.
(4) Talk about just-right places to read in the room. Most of the time, my 1st graders prefer small corners or places. There is safety in these places, so I tend to choose these places for them - corners, chairs facing the wall, behind doors, cubbies.
(5) I pick spots for our first day only. I found this process is way overwhelming (and takes a TON of time), and my group this year could handle picking their own spots. My group this year may need to be placed for a while...we'll see.
(6) Once students know their spots, I bring them back to the carpet.
(7) I call girls/boys to grab their book bins off their desks and then, go to their spots. We begin building stamina!

I start the time on the board. Initially, I thought this would be distracting, but most of the time, no one pays attention to it. For my few who care, they will take quick glances and get back to reading.
In Step 7, where I struggle - "The Teacher Stays Out of the Way" because you have to trust your students and most importantly, your training! The first 2 weeks of stamina building the teacher does not provide any prompting during stamina building. Students need to be able to do this independently (i.e without teacher prompting), so when teachers start pulling small groups later in the year, student behavior is not contingent on the 'teacher look'. So, when students are building stamina, I grab a book and read at my teacher table. I am not walking around or giving the teacher eye. I am watching for barometer students (the first students to break stamina and who measure the 'weather' in our room...the ones we'll later intervene with - notice the sand timer below), but not so much that the students feel monitored.
After students have broken stamina, it's time to play a quiet signal. I use a traditional teacher's bell and ring it 2-3 times. As soon as it is rung, students quickly grab their book bin, put their bin on their desk, and sit on the carpet (SILENTLY)! During this time, I give no affirmations or teacher looks. Students need to do this independently without hints from me...even if we didn't meet out stamina goal. Reflection will come next...NOT during this transition.
When we are all on the carpet, friends are given the chance to reflect on their own Stamina Building. The Sisters suggest students use a 1-4 scale to rate their reading. When I introduce this scale, it looks like this - 
(4) Wow! I am ready to do __________ by myself and can teach others how to do it.
(3) I can do __________ by myself but sometimes need a few reminders.
(2) I tried my best. I need more practice.
(1) Help! I need to check-in with Ms. W.
This is a quick check-in and I visually scan the room. It is a great chance to see if students are actually understanding how they are doing...especially our barometer friends.
After an individual check-in, we do a whole-class check in. We make a Plus/Delta chart on our SMART Board talking about our celebrations and what we want to do differently. If we're in the right 'mood' we'll practice building stamina right away. If I can see we need a break, we'll take one and practice later in the day. The Sisters suggest practicing 3 times a day, initially...but I found 2 times a day was plenty for us.
Finally, we graph our practice session. I graph EVERY single session...not just by the day. It's important for students to see how a weekend or a break can affect our stamina. Plus, for my competitive friends, they love setting meeting the next minute-goal! ;) (Snag this graph here.)
So, there they are: step-by-step ideas for building stamina and independence. When we follow these steps we give students the tools to read independently and the blessing of books. When our students become wild readers, they love reading...even the kids who wouldn't traditionally be "readers". It is with training, that EVERY student becomes a reader. So, what did you think about Chapter 3? Do you follow the steps explicitly? Do you find that you have to add any additional steps? 
We're on an accelerated schedule (so we can finish by the end of July), so on Sunday we'll be looking at Chapter 3: What Do You Need to Begin Daily 5. Here we'll talk about the materials you need to keep your Daily 5 block running smoothly.

Also, make sure to visit The Crazy Schoolteacher (who is hosting Chapter 3), as well as, the other awesome teacher-bloggers who are joining us. Even if you're not a blogger, please join-in on the conversation below! :)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pic Collages: Technology-Based Assessment

Hello, friends! Today I want to share one of my passions with you - non-traditional assessments - in the mode of an authentic way of assessing students using technology-based pic collages.
Creating Picture Collages in Word Work became one of our favorite ways to show what we know about our grammar skills. There are many apps you can use to create picture collages, but I like using A Beautiful Mess because students can make a collage of photos and then, write on the collage all within one app. If you're using a laptop to create collages, you might look into PicMonkey which has fabulous versatility.

Now, through our School's PTO and grants from Donor's Choose, I have quite a few classroom devices - 2 laptops, 6 iPads, and 3 iPod touches. When using technology to assess, I place 2-3 devices at Word Work. As you can see below, I've added A Beautiful Mess to our iPad dashboard, so students have easy-assess to it and help make it an independent activity.

When making a collage, students know our establish procedures -
(1) Choose a partner and look at our grammar skill for the week.
(2) Sit with your partner and choose 4 objects/people to take pictures of.
(3) Take pictures quickly and quietly. Do not disturb those working.
(4) After you have taken your photos, add them to A Beautiful Mess.
(5) Identify the objects you have photographed.
(6) Save your collage onto the iPad.
(7) Email it to Ms. W. (I have set up a free Google Email specifically for our classroom and save it to our iPads. When students type in the first letter of the email, it immediately pops-up. Once I receive the collage, I tweet it out and share it on our website.)
Below are some collages students have made this year. You'll notice they are definitely 1st graders and love taking silly pictures and adding fun fonts.

The next two collage represent nouns.
 These friends took the collage one-step further and added a person, place, and thing to their collage. Also, note my silly face. When you start this project, be prepared to be photographed... A LOT!
 This is an adjective collage two friends made. Don't you love the spelling of 'colorful'?
My friends love creating these collages and they are an easy way for me to assess student learning. When I see the emailed collages, it's easy to see when students have accidentally added a verb to their noun collage, or put a singular noun in their collage of plural nouns. When I see these mistakes, I can intervene, meeting with the specific students to address misconceptions. 

After I receive the collages from students, students love to show their collage to the entire class and challenging them to figure out the 'Title' of their collage. Friends then decide what the topic of the collage is and explain their thinking. 

So, are you convinced that collages are a FUN and easy way to assess student learning? Here are some ideas for putting this resource into action 
-Parts of Speech: nouns, verb, adjectives, prepositions, pronouns
-Grammar: plural/singular nouns, homophones, antonyms, synonyms
-Math: identifying numbers in groups of objects, sum-themed collages (i.e. Sums of 8: 4 backpacks & 4 cubbies, 7 yellow cubes & 1 white cubes, 6 chairs and then 2 stools), fractions in real life
-Social Skills (especially at the beginning of the year): sharing, partner reading, manners, kindness, 7 Habits
So friends, what do you think? Do you think your friends would enjoy make collages? How could you use them in your classroom? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Daily 5 Book Study: Our Core Beliefs

Happy Saturday, friends! Last week, we launched our Daily 5 Book Study with Chapter 1 which compared the 1st Edition of the Daily 5 and the 2nd Edition. There are some major shifts in thinking and flexibility, so if you missed them you can check it out here. Today, we're looking at reading and writing, asking ourselves - "What do we inherently believe about learning?"
I believe in the power of words. I believe that books open doors and when students leave our classrooms loving to read, the possibilities are endless. Coming from 5th grade, I saw too many friends enter my classroom hating reading. They had never been given the opportunity to fall in love with genres or authors. They had been fed activities and sorts and busy work, but they had never been given the opportunity to fall in love with reading. So, as a 1st grade teacher, my kids - every year - will fall in love with books. That means I will spend inordinate amounts of money purchasing books my kids will love, modeling a love for reading, and spend enormous chunks of classroom time giving students experience with books - reading to self, with friends, listening to reading, and whole-class read-alouds. For the first time this year, I learned the power of books and community that reading can build...even in 1st grade. My 1st grade friends left my classroom in love with books. They had their favorite authors and genres, and they could talk to you about books...and that is an incredible blessing.
Within the 2nd chapter there is this fantastic table about the time 5th graders spend reading and how they percentile score on standardized testing. Friends, I know that we do not teach so students do well on standardized testing, but fostering a community of readers does foster successful test-takers. Over and over, research proves that the greater access to words students have the better they will perform.

When I taught 5th grade, I shared this chart with my 5th graders, and they were shocked! Even in 1st grade, I tell my kids all the time, "Words have power! The more time you spend reading, the more words you have access to, the larger your world becomes." Now, I show parents this chart at Open House when I encourage them to build an at-home reading routine. I don't think my pleas for "Please read at home" becomes 'real' until I show them this chart. The idea that reading 20 minutes a day alone gives students access to 1.8 million words and puts them in the 90th percentile of 5th grade students [one day] BLOWS THEM AWAY! Honestly, it does me too. Every time I look at this chart, I say to myself, "YOU MUST MAKE MORE TIME FOR DAILY READING IN CLASS!!!!"
I believe that time spent reading and writing together builds a community in which students are invested in one another. When friends sit down together working separately but knowing they can turn to a friends for help spelling a word or an idea for a transition word, there is safety. Students know they can trust one another and they know their ideas matter. When we sit and read as a class, we have a new common ground. Anytime we see a bird outside on the playground, we wonder if it is Mo Willems' pigeon. After reading The Day the Crayons Quit, we giggle when we see a peach crayon being used. ;)  Time spent reading and writing, builds a community of learners.
I also believe in choice. The first 9ish weeks, we use the below rotation chart to give students structure and as I'm introducing all the parts of our Daily 5 routine. Ultimately, there comes 'that' moment when you know your friends have built their stamina and are ready to choose. This requires considerable trust in your friends and in your training...but if trained, they will be great. When I let choice happen with my 1st graders, it was fabulous. I have friends telling me - "Ms. W, I am working on zooming into my writing moment and really need some extra writing time." or a sweet friend who fell in love with graphic novels would often say "I only have 40 more pages until I can read the next book. I'm visiting Read to Self twice today." Even in 1st grade, choice can work. Now, did friends occasionally lose choice - absolutely! But it was a reminder that we needed more practice and we would try again the next week.
Within choice, there must also be accountability. I do trust my 1st graders to make choices that are best for them; but as the teacher, I am responsible for ensuring that every friend in my class is performing and achieving at high levels. For accountability, I goal-set with students (more about this later) and students use the below guide to record their choices. Students color the choices they made each day and then, at the end of our block we take time to reflect. As a class, we make a plus (celebrations of our learning) and delta (things we want to make better tomorrow) chart and then, students write their own plus/delta. As students finish, they put their heads down, I check their reflection (and many times have a mini-conference or write a note of my own), and then students line up for the restroom. This is a five-minute process that communicates to students that I am aware of what's going on in the classroom and I expect their best every day. Time off task keeps us from becoming better readers and writers.
Friends, I know this post has been scattered, but these are the foundations for the future chapters - trust, community, more time spent reading/writing, choice, accountability. So, what did you think about Chapter 2? How do these core beliefs match your writing/reading block? Does the trust and choice part get you (sometimes I am so guilt of that!)?  I've love to hear your ideas!

We're on an accelerated schedule (so we can finish by the end of July), so on Tuesday we'll be looking at Chapter 3: The 10 Steps. Friends, this is a BIG chapter. It's all about how the launch Daily 5, and the 10 steps for building independence. So, buckle up and get reading! ;)

Also, make sure to visit Adventures in Room 129 (who is hosting Week 2), as well as, the other awesome teacher-bloggers who are joining us. Even if you're not a blogger, please join-in on the conversation below! :)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Creating a Classroom Website using Weebly

Connecting families to the classroom and giving them the tools to work with students at home is a huge part of our jobs as teachers. Although I use many modes of parent communication (you can read about them in this blog post), I love having a 'landing' where families always have access to the information they need. Emails bounce back, texts are sometimes erased, and paper newsletters reside in a mystical land of lost home/school folders...do you feel me? My classroom Weebly site is always available and contains all of our must-know classroom information - dates, newsletters, photos, videos, and learning resources.
Weebly is a free and SIMPLE blogging platform. Unlike Blogger, Snapfish, or Wordpress, Weebly is all drag-and-drop. Once you create a website and choose a template (there are dozens of different templates), you will see the grey menu on the left of your screen (as seen below). Here you have lots of choices that you can drag and drop into the body of your website. Boom - it's that easy! There is no coding or building or creating, just dragging and dropping the features you want.

Using the blue menu at the top of the screen (seen below), you can also create and organize your web-site pages. On my website I've created 4 pages - our Class Blog (an easy feature to add-on to your website), our Newsletter, our Photos, and Home Practice. 
When families go to our website, they arrive at our Home landing page. I created three columns by dragging 3 pictures/text/headings side-by-side (it's that easy!). If I were to take out the 'Upcoming Events' text, the other two columns would automatically fill the page. I wouldn't have to readjust them.

On our Home page, I typically link 2 blog posts or photo albums that have been recently added. Sometimes I link to outside resources. Right now, I'm linking to Barnes and Noble Summer Reading Program. In the 3rd column, I've dragged-and-dropped a text box for Upcoming Events, as well as, ways for families to stay connected (email, Twitter, YouTubes, etc.)

Now, for the individual pages on our class website. 

On our Newsletter page (below), I upload photos of our weekly newsletter and any information I've sent home in our Home/School folders. Right now, I'm preparing for August, so I traded-out our classroom newsletter for our supply list and math-resource page. Weebly has a great linking feature, so if families click on either photo they can download the documents.

At the very bottom of this page, you can also see the beginning of a Contact Form. This is another drag-and-drop feature on Weebly. If family members or someone in the school wants to be added to our email distribution list, they can fill out the form on this page, I receive an email, and I'll add them. 
 On each page of your website, you can choose whether or not you want a header. On our Newsletter page (above), I opted for no header but on our At-Home Practice page (below), I've included a simple picture (from Weebly's stock photos) and a title.

Within each page, you can drag-and-drop pictures, text, headings, or videos. Within our At-Home Practice page, I've included logos to learning resources and then, added the weblink so families can click on them and be instantly connected. I've also included the usernames and passwords, so there is easy-access on the weekends and over breaks.
The bulk of my website traffic is directed toward Our Classroom Blog (a sample entry is below). In this space, I share weekly posts about our learning, pictures of us in action, explanations of our classroom routines, and some of the 'why' behind the methods we use to learn (i.e. What is Daily 5? Why do we build Reading Stamina? What is Guided Math?). 

If students are really struggling with a certain standard (i.e. fact and opinion), I share low-key ideas for practicing this skill at home. With our Classroom Blog, families go from being aware to being invested. I want to give parents a clear picture of what is happening in our classroom, why, and how  they can help at home. 

Below is the beginning of a February post. (Please excuse the grey rectangle; those are my awesome 1st graders!) Every 2 weeks (preferably more often), I sit down and share about our learning. I try to include information/pictures from each content area - reading, math, writing, and theme. Sometimes I'll even sneak into specials early and take videos/pictures of my friends painting, tagging, playing xylophones, or learning to type. :) 
One of the reasons our classroom website works is because I promote it. Every time I post photos or a blog post, I text it out to families using Remind, as well as, Tweet it out using our classroom Twitter account. Also, my 1st graders know we have a class website, and I'll also tell them when I post. They love going home to ask their families to look at the pictures. It's super exciting to them!

Now, I must have a moment of true confession. ALL of the above features are available with the FREE Weebly account...but I do pay the pro yearly fee ($80/year). Why, you ask? 
(1)Website Traffic - I love my classroom website and truly feel like it's a fabulous method of communication. BUT if my families weren't using it, I would want to know that and make another plan. I like seeing how often my website is visited and how people are accessing it (what pages, from what links, etc.)
(2) Ad Free - Although there are very few ads (usually just one at the bottom of the page) with a free account, it still drives me bonkers.
(3) Password-Protected Pages- with a paid account I can password protect any or all of the pages on my website. So, if I wanted to or families asked, I could put a password on our Classroom Blog or Photos tabs, so only people with the password would have access to these pages.
So friends, this is Weebly. It's versatile, simple to use, and creates stunning websites. If you're looking for an online platform for your class website, I'd say - "Go for it!" 

Now, please tell me - what do you currently use as your class website platform? Do you like it? I'd love to hear your ideas, questions, and/or general reservations!