Saturday, November 29, 2014

Quote Quandaries

Two quotes from Content Area Literacy churned in my brain today. The first one was not a shocker; Lecture teaching has been proven ineffective since 1950 when Hunt and Sheldon stated, "High school teachers must also realize that much of their frustration is derived from attempting to teach forty pupils as if all the children were able to perform on the same level." Yes, yes, I agree with this quote entirely! I have witnessed the lecture glaze appearing in students' eyes, and I am certain very little learning takes during these moments. The second quote I found depressing but also very, very true; Referring to individualization, Bean, Readence, and Baldwin said, "This may be an ideal to which some educators [like ME] aspire; however, in the face of the rigors of day-to-day classroom experiences with large numbers of students, complete individualization is an unrealistic and counterproductive goal." I know! I have tried! With 56 students, my lesson planning and execution took more time than existed in a day! I wish I could individualize everything, but I must take a good, long look at reality. For the sake of time, I need to slip in more group work and differentiation. The book confirmed my feelings, and it gave suggestions for types of small groups: instructional, research, debate, and digressive groups. I have used each in my classroom and found them to be effective. Along with this, modify, modify, modify, in pre-reading, reading, post-reading. Basically, quote 1 validated my strong personal opinion towards student-centered instruction, and quote 2 told me to chill out. okay, i will...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Throwing a Reeses into the Great American Melting Pot

I'm trying. I'm really trying. This week, as I met one-on-one with students to differentiate their brochure projects, I questioned them about their research and knowledge of the texts we have been close reading. I found that in Pearl Harbor, located in Boston, which is off the coast of England, the Americans dumped the colonists' tea into the water to feed all the fish because it was going bad. How am I doing as a teacher?

Americans and colonists. Weren't they the same thing? How could this beautiful, innocent-eyed fifth-grader pit them against each other with such sincerity?

Differentiated instruction and personalized learning. Am I pitting two things against each other that share more similarities than differences? As I continued through my Week o’ Brochure, I found myself personalizing writing instruction in a differentiated task. Cohabitation existed so snuggly that I had trouble separating the two.

I found that yes, two great tastes can taste great together. As I bit into the Reeses Peanut Butter Cup of instructional practices, the flavors blended and melted into some great brochures.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Teaming with Technology

Dawn is breaking on the eastern horizon. Growing light sheds understanding on a day of commitment to family, church, school, and friends. Yes, my great scale of balance has toppled tremendously to one side as I have tried to individualize or differentiate everything in my classroom. I wrote about time restraints in the summer and laughed at the though, but I have been living them... until this week. After several articles and a college course on technology, I have found help. I must team with technology to emotionally and mentally have a life outside of my classroom walls. Peg Writing has been a life-line to individualize writing instruction. Nothing takes the place of teacher instruction, so I am constantly leaving notes and messages, but this program has made everything more accessible and gives students suggestions on how to improve their own writing. Another program I have used is Newsela. I don't use it in the way intended, but it has earned a bookmark on my navigational top ten. Leveling current events to understandable levels has allowed every student in my classroom to tie literature themes into real-world issues. Though the articles are often unbalanced, my students have become brilliant at understanding slanted sides and searching for the "whole conversation." Thank you technology! You have allowed me to pick up my middle-schooler on time every day this week! The days are definitely growing lighter!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Making It Personal

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” These words of Maya Angelou resonate with me as I think of my classroom. As I look into the faces of my students, I can tell when they are ready to write. As a teacher, I frame their writing through readings, activities, questions, outlines, and graphic organizers, depending on the student’s need and style of writing. With this, I hope I have given them the best tools to pull what is inside of them out for the world to read.

This month for the first time in their lives, students tackled analysis writing for the PARCC’s Literary Performance Based Assessment Tasks. I saw lights turn on in their eyes when they made an analytical connection, but I also saw the same light dim rapidly as they fiercely attempted to put their thoughts into written words in this new genre. The “untold story” was burdened within them. To give them credit, their writing was not ALL bad. Some knew how to find evidence, some knew how to write connections, some produced gripping introductions, and others generated the perfect conclusions, but at this point of the year, no one had it all. For this reason, I had to personalize everything. To do this, I set up small group rotations once or twice a week during class time. I also called students individually for mini-conferences. If I was short on time, I took their writings home, read through it, and wrote a personalized suggestion plan for them to use the next day.

These small steps of personalizing learning have generated amazing writers in a very small amount of time. Yes, it appears to be time consuming at first, but the speed of my students’ improvement will soon have them independently telling their “untold stories.”

I have decided nothing is more personalized than writing.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Play Dough, Aluminum Foil, and a Good Book

With a month and a half of diversified instruction and personalized learning, I am getting an idea of how they fit hand-in-hand within the walls of my classroom.  An eye-opening experience of the power of diversification occurred during reading time. Several students struggled with main idea as we read a fabulous piece of literature called Island of the Blue Dolphins. Part of the problem was the author’s style of carrying a main idea through most of the chapter, but changing at the end. Another problem was that my dear, sweet students just didn’t get it. What to do? I used play dough, aluminum foil, crayons, dry erase markers, and physical actions. After reading a chapter, students had to create the main idea. Those students on personalized plans who were reading different books did the same thing.  The catch was that I only gave them 2 minutes. They had to create the most important object. The result: every student represented the correct main idea. From that point on, with any reading we have done, I ask the students for main idea. If they have a confused look on their face, I ask them to imagine molding the most important thing in play dough. BINGO! They got it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Week 1 sped by without a major glitch! The “how to do this and how to do that” of Week 1 sends my nerves into spasms, but it’s done! Both students and teacher appear to be catching on to the new routine! Breath is coming much easier.

  • Interest Survey
  • Learning Survey
  • Intelligence Survey
  • Writing Assessment

  • Reading Assessment

Sadly, I must report that I did not get to check “reading assessment” off the list. I am using a computer-based program that wasn’t ready yet. However, I did an informal assessment that gives me a good ballpark figure. From my info, I started collecting optional materials for students to choose for their literacy circles. Yes, this will definitely fit into my diversified instruction plan.

A highlight of the week was mimicking a fabulous poem called “If I were in Charge of the World.” The template can be found with a simple google. Oh how we laughed at the ideas that surfaced, and we got to know what students definitely did NOT like.  Sorry about that Justin Beiber.

Student autobiographies mimicked Boy, by Roald Dahl, and several students were able to slip in the humor of his writing. From their poems and autobiographies, I have started student check-off sheets for personalized learning in writing.

My favorite pastime was observing the students interact with each other and with the materials in front of them. I learned more about my students from observation and the content of their writing then from their formal surveys.

For example, I noticed they responded well to rhythm, hand motions, talking with partners, and jumping out of their seats for answers. No, this didn’t come as a big surprise to me.

From these observations, I decided students like variety. And so do I. Again, this is not new info, but now I have classroom research proof! For this reason, I will lightly glaze over the learning and intelligence surveys and use the researched-based approach of using diverse ways to teach a single concept. That seems to go along with the brain research as well as the purpose of Gardner’s Intelligence Theory.

My big WAHOO moment was working with Melissa, our school techie, who showed me how to create a google doc where students can graph assessment scores, set goals for the week, create a plan to accomplish their goals, and THEN SHARE IT WITH PARENTS!!! I am so excited about this!!! And I will definitely blog about parent feedback from this form created for personalized learning.

So how was your first week? Please share the fabulous ideas you used to get to know the interest and academic levels of your students, which is definitely needed for both diversified instruction and personalized learning.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

That Smell!

Mmmmmm… Can you smell that? I find the smell of newly waxed floors in a school to be intoxicating. Moments earlier, I had wished for another week of summer, but now, the classroom is calling me. It makes me wonder if you can diversify teaching through smell. I bet they have essential oils for that. Students could be tested for their optimal learning smell. I would definitely use lavender, Tide original scent, new baby forehead, and mountain rain with a touch of dirt. Until now, I used 1 sentsy to mask the smell of 5th grade recess, but is 1 scent enough? Not when I am trying to diversify!

To diversify, I think I will sniff out the learning styles of my students. And while I’m at it, maybe I should identify my own learning style to see if it noses its way into my teaching. I found a test to determine if you are a visual, auditory, or tactile learner,, gave it a try, and after 20 simple questions, I snorted with delight to find myself labeled a visual learner. Well that makes perfect scents! I always create pictures in my head in odor to remember things! Then, I took an intelligence learning style test from  to unveil my innate domain of success. I was shocked to find the visual intelligence ranked last.  That stinks! This test said my intelligences were interpersonal and intrapersonal, which seems contradictory unless you know me. Good thing research doesn’t show teaching to a specific learning style is particularly beneficial or I would be a stinky mess. However, I am still curious about my students…so here’s my plan. Starting the first day of school, which happens to be Wednesday, I am going to give my students both tests and see if the results match better than mine. Through observation, I will see if some students respond better to certain ways of teaching over others, and above all, I will keep in mind that every student needs exposure to new material through diverse ways no matter what the learning style. I like the smell of that.