Saturday, January 13, 2018

Authentic Writing at Its Best!

My students were literally moved to tears while writing to express their gratitude, when sharing their thoughts, and while listening to their peers, because what they were writing was meaningful to them!

If you would like to replicate this experience, follow the steps below.

1. Discuss as a class: (a) What is gratitude? (b) How do you measure happiness?
2. Show the video below
3. Have your students write a letter to someone who they would like to express gratitude.
4. Write a letter on the spot, as well.  In each of my 3 periods I wrote a letter and then called the person and read my letter aloud on speaker phone.
5. Allow students who want to share their stories AND why they wrote them (completely voluntarily)

*If you want your teaching to be a contagious experience, assign work that is meaningful and authentic and will rock the students' world!!

What Makes You Happy?

**This idea was originally posted on Facebook by another teacher.

How's Life Today? SEL Check-Ins

Here's the reality many middle school and high school teachers face.  Too many students to get to know on a personal level, in spite of our beginning of the year interest surveys, those not-so-fun ice breaker activities or projects, that leave us with data we just don't have time to get really utilize in the mad dash that is our teaching lives.

So what are we to do?  We can tell from their Cum files, their behavior, their silence, that there are some pretty strong needs that are not being met.  Also, what about those quiet students who are flying beneath your radar?  Or those who just want to share that they got a new puppy or they won their soccer game?

Enter this game changer, a weekly check-in Google Form sent to students via Google Classroom (though you could share the link with the students in another platform).

The initial purpose was for us to gauge how our students were doing on a physical, emotional, and social level. However, it has revolutionized how we are able to trouble-shoot, as well as connect effortlessly with our 90 students whom we share.  Now all of us (3 teachers in a departmentalized 6th grade) are able to know on Monday and Wednesday morning how our students are doing and alert one another of any concerns, such as students being hungry (didn't have dinner or breakfast) which you know is going to make learning almost impossible, or some challenging circumstance allowing us to intervene before a student reacts or a crisis occurs.  

Additionally, we have been able to connect with the students on a personal level. They have shared the good, the bad, and the heart-wrenching: new baby siblings, trying out for a team, getting to a new level in an online game, divorces, deportation hearings, parents who are struggling with cancer, homelessness, and the list goes on.

The form stays the same except for changing out 1-2 questions at the bottom of the form.  Here are some of the questions we have asked. Who do you hang out with?, Who do you avoid?, What do you wish for today in school?  What are your goals for the year?  People think I'm ...., but I'm really..... 

We found some great questions from Emily Yost of Third in Hollywood (she's on TPT, too) in her Morning Meeting Question product.  Check out this link Third in Hollywood or find her on TPT.

I've attached the link to my forms below.  Just copy them in Google Drive and have fun editing it to what you want your students to share.  I'd love to hear your stories about how this impacts your teaching.

Monday Check In
Midweek Check In

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Super Hero City LAUNCHed Me Into Design Thinking

 Teacher JOY!  

Students begging to be given MORE time to work on a project during the last week of school. This was our classroom reality due entirely to my year of being brave AND this book, LAUNCH . One week after getting the book and one of the authors, Juliani, generously giving me the videos that most have to pay for, I went for it!

Closed set of boxes at the front of class with a sign that stated, DO NOT OPEN, was the first step - my idea to get the students energerized to keep on learning and growing to the very last moment.  It was out for a day and the students were chomping at the bit.  On Day 1 we completed the first four steps and got started on the fifth part of the LAUNCH cycle.

Each student got a packet and then we watched the Super Hero City video - the Look, Listen, and Learn part of the cycle. The Seat Selector (yes, that is one of our classroom jobs I got from Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz (#LearnLAP).  There were oohhs and ahhs during the video and then hands shot up because their imagination engine had been ignited.  Next came the Ask Tons of Questions phase - there were a ton and usually my answer was, "It's your Super Hero City, you decide."  As predicted the students were anxious to begin building, but first each individually begin thinking about their Super Hero City - what was it going to look like, who were their super heroes, what were their powers, who were their arch-enemy.  I always use a timer because it builds in focus.

Then they shared their ideas as a group with one person facilitating the discussion, so that all got an opportunity (Another wonderful idea from #LearnLAP).  EVERYONE shared, trust me, this project is a sure-fire winner in student engagement.  At this time they were fluctuating between the Understanding the Process and Navigating Ideas.

Now is was time to open the box to actually begin see how they would use the materials - it was time for Create a Prototype ON PAPER, though most started to see how they could manipulate the materials.  What I loved about this phase is that the students all were contributing to the creation, there was so much collaborative discussion - asking questions of one another, when a solution couldn't be reached than Rock-Paper-Scissoring, but most importantly they were respectful of each others' opinion and knew that a consensus had to be reached within the group.  During this time, I looked over each prototype - asked the purpose of the buildings, name of the city, kinds of super heroes - really just checking in.

Day 2 was all about using their materials and actually Creating a Prototype of their Super Hero City and at the end an individual and then a group reflection - the Highlight and Fix part of the cycle. Of everything that is awesome in this kind of teaching, it is the reflection that the students found the most beneficial.  The many design failures causes the students to focus on what was working while fixing what wasn't working, YET.  Some ideas were scrapped, but most were revised with lots of additions.

Day 3 was the last day of creation.  Some finished early and designed super heroes, others discussed their super heroes and/or villians' personas and abilities/weaknesses.

Day 4 was the Launch to an Audience phase - due to time constraints it was an in class presentation.  I created a rubric of what they needed to review in their presentation and ensured that all would be speaking about at least one phase of the project.

At the conclusion of the presentation, each student completed a self-evaluation reflection and then we discussed a a class what worked, what had to be worked through, the value they found in this project (all wanted to know why we hadn't done something like this before), the problems that had to be worked through in all aspects and a few even mentioned that they were glad that they had had to practice collaborative discourse throughout the year.  ALL mentioned the need for PATIENCE.

Though I'm moving up to middle school and will be teaching Social Studies, I plan on using this design thinking methodology when my students are creating projects.  The most powerful take-away of this book, LAUNCH by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani was the built in reflection piece throughout the design-thinking phases.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On Fire for Doodling

I am ON FIRE for all the connections that are happening in my brain.  One after another idea is igniting the flame to burst into a full on fire of imagination and possibilities.  

Growth Mindset
Design Thinking 
Student-led classroom
Collaborative Conversations
Now, I'm to doodle my lessons
and I can't draw a stick figure to save my life?????

All of this year's PD is colliding into a MEGA-Moment of WOW!
My pedagogy of teaching continues to be rocked and that is a good thing!

Let me explain.  Earlier today I left a very creative professional development training through Opportunity Schools ( in which the speaker, Jon Pearson (, inspired me to use drawing in every subject.  You must understand.  My stick figures are challenging for even me to decipher.  
However, Jon STRONGLY believes that these so called limitation are actually assets.  Say, what? 

According to Jon, my lack of skill will encourage my students to try because seriously, the bar won't be high for them to reach.  I am giving them permission to "fail" publicly but in a safe place, my classroom.  I've already been practicing this failure idea with gusto this year by daring to be brave in so many areas of my teaching that after my initial first flutter of discomfort, I went for it. So drawing is now going to be a part of my teaching tool kit.  

Jon believes that teachers AND students should draw often, happily, and playfully because.....

The better you can see it, 
the better you can say it, 
the better you can write it, 
the better you can read it.

STOP, go back and read that again.  

If your students can see a picture of what they are learning in their head, they have probably connected with it emotionally in some way, which means there is a much greater chance that they are going to not only be able to recall the information, but on a deeper level make connections, and that is one of my main goals in education.  Making learning personal and contagious!

More on the connections to come!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Rituals Empower Students to Take On Even Greater Responsibility

Visual by

Oh the juxtaposition, giving up power in my classroom to my students has resulted in me being more available to my students!

Putting my students in charge has resulted in a more efficient classroom.

My students have NEVER gotten out early and rarely on time until this year. For the past two weeks or more, my students are ready to walk out the door 10-12 minutes EARLY because of their efficiency in administering the end of the day activities espoused in Paul Solarz's book, Learn Like a Pirate.  Read about it here, Rearjmcl, or on p.136 in the book.

It's hilarious to me to think I was so nervous about releasing responsibility to my students.  Every day, I post the times for each subject and activity. STUDENTS remind the class of upcoming transitions which has reduced our transition times.  Since, the reminder is verbal, I'm made aware that I need to wrap things up with a small group or one-on-one conference and begin preparing for the next subject area.

The many strategies, especially the "Give Me 5," has been a life-saver for me this year, because I have suffered from 2 months of laryngitis.  Students begin their day outside the classroom with the Good Morning Greeter, walk quietly (okay that is relative!) into the classroom, turn in their homework and get right to work on their AM work, all of this within minutes and WITHOUT me issuing any verbal instructions!  The end of the day with the REARJMCL is a similar experience.

Every strategy I have tried is working like gold in my classroom. Now, all I need to do is reread each chapter because I keep on finding new treasure with each read!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Magnetic Student Empowerment

Magnets by Rick Morris
Magnets empower my students! I was first introduced to the power of magnets at a Rick Morris seminar. I've used them ever since! Magnets can be used in a multitude of ways: as a means to fairly call on students, to stop the "teacher, teacher" cry that drives all teachers crazy, magnets allow one to easily see who's completed an assignment, as an expert board, and a way for students to collaborate and discuss texts.

One of my students' favorite use is the "Got Questions?" board.  It is primarily used during math and the first hour of class when students are turning in homework, starting AM work, or just have something they want to share.  The method ensures that all students have easy and fair access to me as often as they need my help, advice, or concern.  Students simply go to the board and move their magnet into line.  After I help a student, they move their magnet down and call for the next student - Wow! students are empowered to lead.  Of course, I have taken the time to talk to them about using a kind tone when calling on their classmate.

Also, this magnet-method builds community. Students know that I'm available and often I will hear mini-stories about their weekends, their concern, or a cool video clip they saw. These mini-conversations are relatively brief, students know that others are waiting, but this magnet-system has created a space for them to share about their lives

During the independent practice time in math, the magnets ensure that all students get called on fairly.  This matters greatly to my early-finishers who know if they finish their practice early, they can start their homework.

The expert board empowers students to use their skills to help others.  The required "expert" changes daily, sometimes hourly, so all students have the opportunity to be an expert. I have seen first hand, shy students move their magnets up because they knew they had a skill or knowledge and wanted to help their classmates, even though it was outside of their comfort-zone, especially if there were very few "experts" on the list. Again, magnets empower students to lead.

Magnets provide a means to monitor progress while letting the teacher see at a quick glance who's completed various assignments. Students love to go to the list and move their magnet up once they have turned in an assignment.

In addition, I have used  magnets as a means to monitor writing progress (rough draft, peer-editing, final draft).

Last year, I began using magnets as a means for students to discuss texts and/or collaborate.The magnets allow students choice in who they want to be their discussion-partners = students are empowered to make smart choices.  

Two of the best side-benefits to using magnets is that students keep it all organized and it's front and center for all to see.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Inspiring Readers to Read Across the Genres

In order to encourage my students to read across the genres, I implemented 3 years ago a Read Across America Project - there are 50 different projects that are named after our 50 states - this was a fun way to tie our American History to our Reading projects - however, only one is directly related to a state (New York - read about the Empire State Building).

Student choice, exposing students to actually opening out atlases, cook books, almanacs, comic strips, graphic novels, poetry books, encyclopedias, science experiments, picture books, researching a future career, reading about scientists, biographies, as well as reading novels has opened up so many windows to my students.

Each week students are required to turn in one project.  These project include science experiments, making a paper puppet of a main character, book marks, illustrations, word-searches/puzzles, quizzes, reading poems aloud, writing paragraphs, cooking a recipe for their family, and the list really does go on.

It holds the students accountable in making reading a habit while allowing the students to choose what they want to read.  They are allowed to do 3 projects on one novel - I do want them to complete the novel!

If you are interested in this project, let me know.