Monday, February 28, 2011

Create Small Groups in Seconds and So Much More

This is one of those "oldie but a goodie" ideas that I've been using since I began teaching seven years ago.

There is one other tool in my classroom that gets almost as much use as my document camera and projector--a cup of craft sticks. I have a cup of jumbo craft sticks (tongue depressors) with the names of my students written on them. I want to share with you a handful of...crafty uses for these sticks.

I use the sticks a lot when I need to make partnerships or small groups for a quick activity. I pull any number of sticks (depending on the size of the group I desire) to make grouping students happen in seconds. I also like the randomness of this method, because it ensures that my students get a chance to work with each person in the class at some point over the year.

Keeping my students awake and on their toes is another added benefit of the sticks. Instead of calling on the student with his/her hand raised I pose the question, allow for some thinking time, and then pull a stick. You should see them sit up a little straighter when I announce that I'm going to pull a stick to get an answer.

Here's another use for the sticks...I use them as a bias-free way of choosing which student gets to help out with those little tasks that mean a lot to them. Here's an example of what mean that happened just a few weeks ago: our music teacher needed a couple of students to help him set up for the recorder concert. Of course everyone of them wanted to help, but I used a few sticks to settle the debate quickly and fairly.

One more. We fill out a planner/calendar at the end of each day. I pull a stick and use that student's planner under my document camera as my model. I write the day's events as students copy it down.

There are a lot more creative uses out there, and I'd love to read what you do, or plan on doing with your own set of sticks. Stop by your local art supply or craft store and pick up a box of jumbo craft sticks, and give it a try tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Teaser Tuesday!

Jason and I are both reading "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller. At the beginning of Chapter 4, Miller writes about using a 'teaser' to share books with students to get them excited to read. Basically, you read an excerpt from a book which, in Miller's words, "gives you a taste of the book without revealing the entire plot." The goal, of course, is to motivate your students to pick up the book and read it independently.

I thought a fun quick routine you could do with students is have 'Teaser Tuesday'. This would be a designated time each Tuesday to share a teaser from a different book. Something fun, quick, and, with the use of alliteration, at least one of my students would remind me about Teaser Tuesday...which I would inevitably forget once in while!

Need a book ideas to start? Donalyn Miller has a great list of recommendations across many genres!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Current Event Website

I just came across this "Teaching Kids the News" website and wanted to share it. It is an online newspaper written for students ranging from second to fifth grade. I was impressed because the articles were well composed and written at a level most elementary students kids could comprehend. This is a Canadian newspaper, so some of the current events may not connect as strongly with students in other countries, but there are articles for broad interests that it is worth checking out.

Friday, February 4, 2011

"Stickerize" Your Way to Grading-Free Evenings

I got this great idea from a veteran teacher. It's one of those great "work smarter, not harder" ideas.

Stickerization is a term my students have coined that describes a fun and smart way to formatively assess student work in real time. Dr. Robert Marzano and company urge teachers to give instructional feedback to students as soon as possible to help maximize student learning and achievement.

All you need is some cheap dollar store stickers (I use small little smiley face stickers) to get started. The best part is, when it's all said and done, you are correcting work during class instead of after school. If you think about it, it really doesn't make sense to correct work when the student isn't even there to get the feedback.

I use stickerization mostly in math class.  I teach fourth graders. I have them do a lot of group work and partner work. They are expected to work on the practice pages in their math journals first on their own, and then check it with their partner. Before they begin in their journals I tell them what problems or pages I want to check, or stickerize as they call it. I don't necessarily need to check the whole page of problems to get a good sense of their understanding. So, ahead of time I choose several problems that I feel will show their understanding of the skill I want them to learn.

When the partners come to me for checking, I look over the work. Students know that they got it right if I put a sticker over the problem number or page number (formative assessment). If I see some problems done incorrectly I don't issue a sticker, and then I take a minute to investigate with them where they might have gone wrong (immediate feedback driven by formative assessment). After a little coaching, they go back to work the problem again. When they think they've got it they come up and check back with me. And hey, kids are kids, and they love to get stickers.

When the work is handed in for the day, I have a pile of graded work ready for my gradebook. A 10-20 minute chore after school it's magically turned into a 2-3 minute chore all because of a little sticker.

Who doesn't want to save time and have a little bit of fun? Try it soon!