Monthly Archives: July 2016

Gearing up for a new school year…

Summer is always a time of reflection for me as a teacher. I consider what worked well in the past year and what needs to be changed or modified. To be honest, I reflect all year long and tweak systems and routines when needed, but when looking to make big changes, it is during the summer that I make my moves.

Last school year I implemented gamification with my 3rd graders; that is the incorporation of game like elements into our classroom. No I didn’t make everything a game, rather I added motivating components that resemble what we love in games. Leveling up and earning “badges” to be specific. (See the video of the launch of badges here). So what are badges? Well they are like digital stickers that students can earn when they achieve something. The goal is mastery of skills and top quality work so attempts at earning badges can be repeated. Certain badges unlock new and exciting options in the classroom so there is an increased incentive to work for them. And kids just like to “collect” stuff! Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 3.37.25 PM

The top row (and first two in the 2nd row) connect to reading response letters which will be explained in more detail later, but the rest are all detailed in the “badge catalog“. Each and every classroom element and routine is then taught explicitly and carefully. It seems confusing but once we get each part in place, the GREEN ROOM becomes a hub of self-directed activity!

In the past, I’ve given students “points” for their assignments. Since we do not give more traditional “letter grades”, we use a number system to communicate progress; 1, 2, 3, 4. However each task is practice in developing and mastering various skills so I do not put these numbers on assignments. Rather I have used “points” to let students know I’ve carefully examined their work and while I give feedback too, the points are sort of arbitrary. That is, they don’t carry weight, per se. Think of a video game. Players earn “points”, but what do those points really mean? It is just a way to show a player is moving along through various scenes. Some players are motivated by high scores; others don’t really care about the points…they play for the fun. So I don’t encourage students or parents to put too much emphasis on points; take it for what it is… a way to track completion of tasks and measure some degree of quality. (For example, I generally give station work 10 points if it is completed satisfactorily and at top quality effort. If the quality isn’t the best then I will give less and if I am blown away, then I may add a few more points).

Of course gifted learners need to have options and choice. This is where I use a “menu” system. Some learners will seek out every opportunity they can while others will just do the minimum. I respect and honor that (noting that “minimum” in my classroom is above grade level quality, effort, and skill). Therefore I DO NOT compare students. I encourage children to do his or her personal best.  The other element is working towards internal motivation to learn so this is where I work to help each child take charge and be self-directed.

My menu system works like this: we have non-negotiable learning that has to take place. As a child’s reading teacher, I am responsible for ensuring the 3rd/4th grade curriculum is met. I do this through the “main dish” activities. These are must-do. The choice comes in the form of when to do, how to do, or what materials to use.  Main dishes are both tasks done in class and for homework. (More about homework expectations in another post). Then I have “side dishes” which are choices in materials. Basically I have stations or areas/spots in the classroom with designated resources. Stations are intended to advance or accelerate specific learning goals.  Next come “snacks“. These are bonus activities; they are not required but students soon learn that they need to invest the effort if they want to unlock some of the more interesting assignments, which come in the form of “desserts“. Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 4.00.34 PMFor 3rd graders: Menu Menu Information         For 4th graders: Menu Menu Information

The menus used in the GREEN ROOM give students choice and opportunity to be self-directed and motivated in their own learning. It is my goal to instill our routines and then allow students to work while I am then available for support and facilitation. I’ve been fine tuning this system for the past 3 years and I’m excited to go into my 4th year as GIS with a solid classroom management system in place to grow eager readers!

How I am spending my summer vacation…

Well I could describe my summer with adjectives, but they wouldn’t be ones you would expect.  Depressing, lonely, confined…  and then some contradictions… Inspired, empowered, creative… Why?

It all started out great… I got to teach 4 classes for Loveland teachers the week after school was out in our Summer Learning Series.  Mr. Weber and I spent time with our “best friends” and did a special 50’s themed dinner theater. I even had a day of fun outside pretending to be at the beach…



These were some good times…



Then…it came to an end. I had to have foot surgery to repair some damage to my foot. I didn’t do anything to it… it happened over time. Apparently I have thin, small tendons and high arches. Combine that with being on my feet for years in the classroom and well… I had a big surgery in June.  BIG. Result… two months of NO weight bearing on my right foot. No walking, no driving, no fun…IMG_2656Stuck at home most everyday (thus the sad adjectives) But hey… look at my beautiful GREEN cast!!

Still I am an optimist and I took advantage of the “alone time” and “sitting with my foot elevated time” to accomplish some great things! This summer I have already read 5 different professional books (Explore Like a PirateAmplify, Flip Your Writing Workshop, DIY Literacy, and Nonfiction Reading: Notice and Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies). I am in the middle of 2 more (Argumentative Writing and A Mindset for Learning). I created a “podcast” and recorded 8 episodes already (seriously, you can find it on iTunes!) I set up and maintained a website for an online book study for teachers, co-authored an article for the National Association for Gifted Children, and have enjoyed learning myself as I “sketched to stretch” my thinking:

Of course I am reading for fun some too. Ella Enchanted will be the first book 4th graders will read together this year, so I’m getting ready for that. I have started Rump and am anxiously awaiting my copy of Pax to arrive in the mail (by Sara Pennypacker, the author of Clementine, a novel 3rd graders will read/last year’s students read). I’m also re-reading some old favorites and enjoying some great picture books as well. Naturally I always have some great audiobooks loaded up as I listen to one every night!  This summer’s favorites are Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories Series since the 5th one just came out two days ago! 4th graders, we are going to start off with some Fairy Tale explorations this year because I have been very inspired!

IMG_2805My favorite thing to do this summer however has been creating videos! I have discovered some new tools and I made an entire series of videos to help my new 3rd graders learn to respond to reading! Here’s the YouTube playlist: Learning how to write response to text letters/essays

I also created some other videos. One is on sketchnoting as a learning strategy that 3rd graders will be introduced to and 4th graders will be able to use regularly as they show what they know and have learned.

Now while I couldn’t get out and hang out with my friends much, I stayed connected virtually with digital conversations; Twitter, Facebook, Google+. The best was with a community of teachers from all over the country. We are sharing ideas and I am learning with and from them. I also made some videos for them (teachers teaching teachers…)

Still I have stayed connected to children… I always love to get emails from students and former students and I have gotten a few! Some of my soon-to-be 4th graders have been participating in an online book club. We are reading Wonder and Out of My Mind together. And I’m tutoring a few fantastic children… two soon to be 2nd graders, one soon to be 5th grader, one soon to be 6th grader and one soon to be 7th grader.

But I still have 5 more weeks to go… what else can I learn and do?! Look out 2016-2017 GREENIES… Mrs. Weber has been busy thinking, learning, and creating for you!