Monthly Archives: August 2015

Gifted profiles, Motivation, and Extra Learning Opportunities

If there’s one thing I have learned as an educator, it is that every learner is unique and special. Categories and classifications are only merely guides. In the three years I’ve spent specializing in gifted education, I have come to realize that the term “gifted” is often used as a one-size-fits-all label.  Nothing could be further from accurate. To say a learner is gifted means different things depending on the definition you subscribe to. The most common misconception is that a gifted learner is a smart, high achieving student. Many people view children “who play school well” in this category.

For me there are two common characteristics that I see in the gifted 8 to 10-year-old population I work with. The first is that these children pick up things quickly. They can learn something when it is introduced one to two times. This differs from a typical learner who often needs repetition and reinforcement for mastery. I believe that for this reason gifted learners are able to consume information at a rapid rate. The other observation I have made about my young gifted learners is that they have evolved into poor listeners in the classroom. And I get it. When a teacher needs to repeat and review content and have students practice skills over and over, the gifted learner has already got it ready to move on starts to tune out.  I view this as a coping mechanism. In order to keep from being bored, gifted learners either retreat into their own minds or find other ways to entertain themselves. Of course to the dismay of the teacher and classroom peers, this can manifest in disruptions.

In addition to these characteristics, I also feel that gifted learners can be better understood by considering learning profiles.  The first profile is the one that must most people understand: successful (or those who “play school well”). These are the students that are eager to please and strive for perfection. Learning appears to come easy and success is obtained often with minimal effort.  Second is the creative student. Often viewed as challenging, these learners question the value of a task and may have inconsistent work habits because they invest their energy into that they feel is worthy their time.  A third type of gifted learner is one that may tried to hide their abilities.  These learners want to feel like they fit in and perhaps being successful makes them stand out. “At risk” gifted learners are those who have abilities and interests outside the school domain. These are the learners whose gifts may not be evident in the classroom and for this reason they are susceptible to frustration and negative feelings. The twice exceptional gifted learner possesses superior cognitive ability in addition to some type of learning challenge or difficulty.  this causes frustration for both the learner in the teacher yet getting the student enrichment and opportunities for extension is just as important as remediating any needs they have. Finally there is the autonomous learner. These gifted students not only do everything that is asked of them in the classroom, they create additional opportunities for themselves. The autonomous learner consistently goes above and beyond what is expected.

Keeping these learning profiles in mind, I try to provide an environment that can support and nurture them all. This is why the routine I build is complex and multifaceted. I have to provide a range of tasks and choices in order to speak to these diverse needs. Therefore I do not expect my students to take advantage of every opportunity available. I recognize that some children will be content to do the very minimum, others will gravitate towards tasks that speak to their interests and strengths, and those that will devour as much as they possibly can. I also recognize that while I can motivate some children with an external system such as points, others will not be motivated by “grades” or incentives.

For my more autonomous and “school driven” learners who push themselves, I have Extra Learning Opportunities (or ELO’s). These tasks offer extended practice with literacy skills and additional content to explore. For my externally motivated learners, I give points. There is no “minimum” number of points a child should be earning; rather some children enjoy the challenge of building and collecting points as well as having friendly competition with each other.
ELO points will be collected and “accumulated” on a classroom point chart. For those that enjoy the challenge and want to compete in a friendly way we will applaud and celebrate their effort.  My hope is that it can be an incentive or motivating to all of my children, however it if it is not, then I will work to meet the needs of those children in other ways.

The Importance of Feedback

Today I discussed “feedback” with my 3rd graders. It was interesting to hear what they thought feedback was.  Here’s how I explained it:

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Simply put, telling a child “great job” or “awesome work” feeds their heart, but it doesn’t help the child grow as a learner.  As a teacher I know it feels good to be told I’m doing well, but I am always wanting to do better. How can I stretch? How can I extend? How can I improve?  I told the children I want them to give ME feedback! If I make a mistake, respectfully tell me.

In order to give meaningful feedback, I have to invest time. It takes time to write a specific comment to guide or suggest making something better. Does it mean that the work isn’t already good? Of course not!

One of the first lessons I do with readers is talk about “making tracks” or annotating. There is no “correct” way to annotate… it is a personal experience. I tell the children that I cannot tell them what or how to think about a text. I can only help them learn to listen to the little voice in their heads as they read. When we listen to that voice, we construct meaning. One way to remember the meaning we are constructing is to leave tracks of our thinking behind…

So today I gave each 3rd grader some “feedback” on his or her first attempt at making tracks. They should start getting used to seeing it and using it! Sometimes it may not be as timely as I would like it to be, but always it is focused and specific; it takes me time to give it so I will expect time invested in reading and applying it in return.

Starting the year with solid routines

As a teacher, the best thing I can do each year is take time to teach solid classroom routines. I teach them carefully and with purpose. What might seem like a slow start is really a map to great success! This allows me to let the kids take charge and run the room themselves… a true STUDENT CENTERED classroom!

I am so excited to finally start seeing students Mon. Aug 24th! Yet already schedule bumps will impact us… 4th graders will be MAP testing Aug. 24-28th and 3rd graders Aug. 31-Sept. 4.  These weeks I will most likely only get to see students 3 days.  Still we work around it!

One of the first “routines” I will teach 3rd graders is how to annotate text, or leave “reading tracks“. The progression of the 3rd grade routine will take time so that I can ensure children fully understand and know what to do and what is expected. Since most of my 4th graders were with me last year, we will start off with our 4th grade expectations (new friends ease in at their own pace… I have plenty of help from classmates!) 4th graders will hopefully be working mostly with Chromebooks so that we can go paper-less. Not only does this let the children learn, develop, and strengthen 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity, but selfishly I can provide more efficient, timely, and focused student feedback this way! Using your Chromebook to show what you know will be emphasized.

Classroom management… well for me it is simple. We do what is expected. Period. I don’t believe in rewards for doing what you should do. When is the last time a police officer pulled someone over and praised him/her for going the speed limit? Have you been rewarded for stopping at a red light? We do what is expected for the safety and well-being of the community. My classroom is no different. For more than 10 years now, I have found that I do not need any behavioral systems because I teach what is expected, we practice it, we reinforce it and above all I hold students ACCOUNTABLE; if we make mistakes, we use them as learning opportunities so that we can do what is right the next time. Therefore we don’t have “rules”. We go over what is expected and the “nuts and bolts” of what holds our learning environment together/keeps it running smoothly.

In order to keep my sanity and 75+ students organized, I separate my day into “groups”. I will see two 4th grade groups and two 3rd grade groups (currently with no more than 17 kids in a group).  In a few weeks, I’ll be adding a smaller “Tiger Time” enrichment group (8:40-9:15). The children will learn their “group” color: Blue (4th 9:15-10:15), Green (3rd 10:15-11:15), Red (4th 1-2), and Yellow (3rd 2-3). Then they will each get a “number”.

Finally, for students and families, I make my “lesson plans” accessible using an online planbook. While my plans are never all-inclusive (as I can have multiple objectives and activities running in a single day) and my plans are always subject to change, those who are interested can check for a general idea of what is happening in the GREEN ROOM. Some parents have found it useful as a way to touch base with their child (since many are reluctant to give more than 1 word responses when asked how school was!) You can find this link and many others in my GREEN ROOM resources webmix. These tools help me keep our classroom “transparent”… if you can’t be there in person, we welcome you to join us “virtually”!

Cheers to a spectacular year!!

A “passion project” of my own…

I tell the children I work with that I am passionate about learning. There are things that “light a fire” inside of me and drive me to want to discover, explore, research, and investigate. As adults, we conduct informal research all the time… when we plan a vacation, we search for travel related information. When we see a doctor and receive a “diagnosis”, we hunt for more info about it. We read labels on the products we buy; we choose service providers carefully. What ever our pursuit, we are essentially doing research.

While research can be necessary and important, it can also be for fun. For this reason, I invite my students to do their own “passion projects”. Learn more about any topic that you find interesting and want to know more about. Passion is what drives us to learn!  Setting up a fantasy football team? That’s a passion project! Collecting dolls and creatively displaying them? Passion project! Reading a book about something you are curious about… passion project.

This summer I explored many of my passions; they all pretty much happened to be centered around teaching but still I did research, investigated, experimented, and discovered some new and exciting things.  While I had many pursuits, my main “passion project” was learning more about Google Apps for Education (GAfE) and obtaining my Level 1 Google Certification.  Through this process I worked through 13 self-paced units and then took a 2 hour online “test”.  What excites me the most about this however is what changes it lets me bring into our classroom!

While 3rd graders will get off to a “paper-pencil” start to instill structure and routine, my 4th graders are going to jump in to a more “digital” and blended classroom. With our own Chromebooks we have regular access to GAfE.  Here are some of the highlights that I will share with students when I start seeing them regularly: Using Your Chromebook to “Show what you have learned” , 4th Grade Expectations, and  Sample Stations with Google Apps.

Stay tuned to learn more about how the 4th graders and I are going to use Google Keep as a tool to set personal goals, create personal checklists, and self-monitor time on task!

It’s not about the product…

As parents we often focus on the end goal with our children… what grade is my child going to get? When is such and such due? Why did they miss this question or how come they didn’t get full points? I know. I was there. It is part of our mindset… we focus on the end goal; the destination.

But we miss the fun, excitement, and engagement of the JOURNEY. The process. This is where the learning is taking place.  I had a great time last year watching my kids create videos around their virtual field trip destinations. The final videos were far from polished. Our green screen experiment left us with some fuzzy and semi-transparent looking subjects. BUT… the learning that was going on behind those scenes was amazing! I listened to the conversations of why and how they were doing what they were doing. I watched the “bloopers” and “out-takes” where mistakes were occurring; mistakes that led to changes and new discoveries. It was an exciting experience as both a teacher and learner right along side with them.

So as we get ready to kick off another school year, I challenge the parents of my students to change their mind set… keep the learning in mind. Don’t focus on the end product. Realize mistakes are important and celebrate them with your kids. Enjoy the journey… the destination will come, but often the fun is in the ride!