As students work in groups, designate one or more students to silently observe the workers. Call them the Super Spies. The Super Spies silently take notes on positive behaviors and then report what they saw to the class. The teacher should be the first Super Spy to model the types of behaviors that should be reported. It’s quick, it’s simple, and it works wonders.
Watch as Super Spies report positive behaviors to class.
For the latest edition of the Bedley Bros. Scott shares a fantastic idea for bringing the community into your classroom for free and with little effort. He calls it the “Artist to Classroom Network.” He also shares a QuickTip about getting free prizes for your classroom. Check it out and leave us a comment!
For the last few years, I’ve been using musicals by Bad Wolf Press. They produce a wide variety of standards-based musical plays for grades K-8. Putting on the shows is a lot of work, but the kids never forget the lyrics nor the experience. A couple of 20 year old siblings were singing along as my students performed California Missions and More. Two years ago we performed a musical on the US Constitution. In May, the kids will perform US Geography for the student body and a night performance for parents and friends. Producing a show like this has several benefits including building class community, connecting the students with the community, and integrating the arts into our busy days.
Would 4th and 5th graders be able to hold their own student-driven, student-centered EdCamp? We gave it a shot this last Friday in room 32 at Wildomar Elementary School. Students signed up all week long to run the sessions. The “poster” was a shared Google Spreadsheet. We held four 15-minute sessions with a 20-minute break in the middle and at the end for reflection. The kids LOVED it as I’m sure you will be able to tell in this 4-minute highlight video of the event. Presentation topics included horses, One Direction band, Scratch game programming, dance, gymnastics, iPad settings, baseball, and Minecraft.
Assessment of the Day
It was a bit messy at times, but overall, the kids were thoroughly engaged and will never forget it. Areas to improve: greater guidance on “voting with your feet,” brainstorm topics before giving the kids access to the sign-up board, encourage deeper topics, and having more time for follow-up discussion and/or reflection journaling at the end. Victories: the presenters took it very seriously, one girl had a ton of research ready to go, one very shy girl totally blossomed and showed amazing communication and leadership skills, 29 of my 30 students present were engaged and learning, no one seemed to be too hurt by participants leaving their session, very little wasted time, took students to a new level of maturity and love of learning.
What about teaching the standards? None of the sessions were standards-based. I’m not sure if this is important, and if I did try to steer the event in that direction, if it would still be this engaging and successful in the eyes of the students. Students were definitely learning habits of mind, 21st century skills, and were totally engaged. Is there a way to run such an event that is standards-based without losing the magic? That remains to be seen. I plan to try it again in a month and include one or two other 4th/5th grade classes.
Many teachers have a D.E.A.R. Day on occasion. Drop Everything And Read. Here are 11 keys to D.E.A.R. Day success in the elementary school classroom.
Schedule the day. Break the day up into 15-20 minute segments. Doing what? Read on.
Rotate types of activities. Yes, it’s an ALL reading day, but that doesn’t mean you want little kids trying to read by themselves all day long. That is a recipe for disaster. Four possible activities include reading to self (silent reading), teacher read aloud, book talks, and read with a friend.
Discipline using an on/off switch. Are the kids allowed to talk or not? Make that perfectly clear and enforce it to a T! If voices are off, not a single student is allowed to say one single word. If it’s time to share, let ’em loose. Don’t tolerate a middle ground, occasional chatting when it’s supposed to be silent.
Maintain your classroom rules. The atmosphere should be relaxed but don’t throw your standards out the window.
Allow soft stuff. Encourage your students to wear their jammies, bring their giant pillows, and cuddle with their favorite stuffed animals. It’s a special day!
Move the furniture. Open up the room so the kids can lounge around on the floor. Join them on the floor (with professional discretion.)
Don’t allow movement. When it’s time to read silently, find a place and stay there until the timer goes off.
Read with the kids. Pull out your favorite book and read it while the kids read silently.
Get the kids talking about their reading. At the end of each silent reading block, ask the students to turn and talk about what they just read. Listen into their conversations.
Take pictures. Pictures send this message to your kids: What you are doing is newsworthy. Reading is a big deal.
Don’t ruin the fun. Stay away from quizzing the kids or giving them “assignments.” Make the day all about the love of reading.
I have been assigning slide presentations to my elementary students for many years. I found myself repeating the same critiques to group after group. Now, I don’t leave “PowerPoint” style to chance. Here are a few of the tips I give my students.
Use VERY small amount of text. A few words that give the main idea for each slide is good. The big NO-NO: Reading your slides to your audience.
Choose one font style for the main points and one for the sub-points. Use these styles throughout your entire presentation. This includes font name, color, and size.
Be careful with overlap. Text that is barely touching a photo is awkward. Text that sits right next to the edge of the slide is awkward.
Dark text on light background or light text on dark background. Contrast! Make it POP!
No bullet points. Duplicate your slides and put your sub-points on separate slides.
Try to fill your slide with one large image.
Faces are better. We all like to see closeups of the human face.
Be careful not to distort your pictures. Grab the photo in the corner, not the edge, to change the size.
Be careful with image size. If you use a small image and resize it to make it large, the image gets very blurry.
Photos are better than clipart. Better yet, make your own pictures by taking photos or drawing pictures.
Cite your source. Always give credit for the images you use.
Overall Design Tips
Avoid using templates. They are cheesy and show little creativity.
Avoid slide transitions. You want your audience focused on the slides, not the switching between slides. NO transition is wonderful!
Simple! Keep your slides clutter free. A nice big clear picture with 3 words to focus the audience is great!
Avoid creating a “The End” slide. If you have a conclusion, great. Otherwise, just make a main topic slide as your last slide. Don’t make a slide that says, “Thanks for watching,” or something similar.
Advanced Tip: Use the rule of thirds. Draw a tic-tac-toe board on your slide. Place items where the lines cross. It’s a bit more complicated than this, but the main thing: try to avoid centering things on the slide.
Note: These tips definitely limit creativity, but my purpose is to teach my students to first create a good clean slide show. Once that is accomplished, then I encourage the students to break the rules…with purpose. It’s similar to learning a new instrument. We first need to learn our scales and copy the masters. Later, we develop our own style and can artfully break the rules.
Screencast Instructional Video: 12 PowerPoint Tips for Kids
A paradigm shift needs to occur in our classrooms to get the students thinking critically. Teachers must reduce the amount of feedback they give and ask the students to critique each other’s answers. This sounds simple, but it’s not. I’ve spent considerable time watching others teach, and without exception, every teacher immediately responds to students during discussions with judgments of all student answers. When teachers are the first to give feedback, the students grow lax and learn that their opinions don’t really matter. I taught for 17 years before I figured this out. My classroom was revolutionized after making the shift. Students began sharing more, they had greater boldness and confidence, and they developed deeper thoughts which they were able to express with more clarity.
Teacher: What do you think is wrong with this sentence? (Calls on a raised hand.)
Student: It’s too long. It’s a run-on.
T: That’s almost it. Try again.
S: Oh, yeah. It’s a fragment. It’s not a whole sentence.
T: Yes! There you go. Good job.
Critical Thinking Classroom
T: What do you think is wrong with this sentence?
S: It’s too long. It’s a run-on.
T: Thanks Sarah. Who else has a thought?
S: I don’t think it’s a run-on. It just doesn’t really sound like a run-on.
T: Who else?
S: It seems to be missing something more than being a run-on.
T: Raise your hand if you think this sentence is a run-on. (Looks) Raise your hand if you do NOT think it’s a run-on.
The discussion would progress like this. Some teachers are not willing to spend the time to develop this sort of class discussion. It’s laborious for sure and takes a great deal of teacher self-control. But the kids will enjoy taking the driver’s seat, they will develop deeper critical thinking skills, and you will know more about the way your students think. Try it. You’ll like it.
Have you been around teachers who constantly yack at their students? Give them command after command after command? Have you noticed students in these classes tend to misbehave more?
Teachers with effective classroom discipline choose their words carefully and use as few of them as possible. Commands are brief and used only when essential.
Of course, classroom discipline is extremely complex and cannot be narrowed down to one factor, but a teacher who understands this concept will increase her effectiveness.
Train your students in classroom procedures instead of relying on spur-of-the-moment teacher directives. Use gestures to signal your kids. Be careful, or you will become the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher and your students will tune you out.
Why do you shake with respect when a police officer walks up to your window? “Do you know why I pulled you over? License and registration.” Imagine a police officer standing on the corner incessantly lecturing everyone that went by. The effect would be greatly diminished.
The teacher wants a student from across the room to close the door. She looks at the student and makes a swinging door motion with her hand and then points to the door.
The students come in the room loudly after lunch. Instead of giving the kids a big lecture about how many times they’ve been told, the teacher says, “Our class comes into buildings silently. Go outside and do it correctly.”
Several students turned in math papers without names. Instead of berating the class for their laziness, the teacher says, “Please stand if I say your name.” After reading all the names from the math papers, the teacher says, “These students followed directions by putting their names on their math papers. Go take a ticket.” Then the teacher lays the remaning papers on the floor and points to them while looking at the class.
A student is talking instead of working independently. The teacher calls the student’s name, beckons the student, and then says, “Sit up here and do your work.”
I use Google forms to help guide my 4th and 5th graders through the writing peer critique process. I have created tailor-made forms for Response to Literature, Summaries and more.
My students bring their own iPads to school. The few that do not own one borrow a class iPad. Students sit in pairs around the room with their iPad and recent writing assignment in hand. Each student is given about 15 minutes to critique their partner’s paper. I set a timer for this.
When the form has been completed, students use their iPad thesaurus to help the author enrich vocabulary.
I train the students to do this independently. It takes several times running through things with a lot of modeling and reflection to get the students able to work independently and effectively at peer critique.