Monthly Archives: July 2015

Ready or not, here it comes! Back to School!

I love my summers as much as the next teacher, or third grader for that matter. It is time for me to recharge and sleep in and go to the bathroom whenever I want. But there is something magical about the end of summer, and I think a lot of it has to do with the anticipation of going back to school.

It should have tipped me off that I was destined to be a teacher by the fact that I love school supply shopping. It was like Christmas in July.

Now it’s this time of year that I start doing all the fun little things to get ready for school: writing in my planner,

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We usually go with Erin Condren for our planners, which we still love, but they are just so expensive. So this year we found a template on Etsy that we downloaded and printed. It seems great so far! 

designing our third grade website,

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I’m such a tech person, I love working on our website and making it colorful, fun, and user friendly for our parents. 

and reorganizing my classroom.

IMG_3434Deskless classroom, year 2, here we go! There will be a couch under the blue bulletin board. 

And laying around all summer is great, but I’m also excited to just be back in my daily routine:  getting up at the same time every day, having lunch at the same time every day, etc. I also take way more steps and drink way more water during the school year. Routine is good for us, and it’s good for kids too.

 

Are you ready/excited to go back to school? What for? 

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My Favorite Books!

Summer is an excellent time to read and I LOVE to read! Here is my GoodReads account.

Here are some of my favorite teacher books: 

51c7vKRzfFL._AA160_51svEql0jkL._AA160_Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess and Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz– I have whole other tabs and blog posts regarding these two books. They are super inspirational and contain some really exciting new ways to teach that I can’t wait to try! They involve making instruction engaging and exciting, and relinquishing control over to your students to make them take charge of their own learning.

41r7dn2oBJL._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_The Third Teacher- A lot of my ideas for my crazy deskless classroom came from this book. It has a lot of information for people building schools, but there are things you can apply to your already built school.

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32 Third Graders and a Class Bunny (and its sequel, Close Encounters of the Third Grade Kind) by Phillip Done- These books are hilarious stories from the author’s experience teaching. Any teacher will totally relate. My favorite story is when he gets his tie caught in the laminating machine 😉

519xZgWre1L._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_Leadership Coaching for Educators by Karla Reiss- I love working with teachers and giving PD classes, so coaching is something I am very interested in. This is a really good, practical guide to coaching other teachers.

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Here are some of my favorite books to read aloud to my third graders: I always try to align my read alouds to our curriculum: 

51rOK+cTYwL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis– This one doesn’t align, but I like to read it first because it is one of my favorite books and I can show the kids my passion for reading. If the kids enjoy this book I sometimes read them Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, or the Silver Chair also.

Pdownloadercy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan– This book takes a long time to get through, but the kids really love it. We study Ancient Rome. This book has a lot to do with Ancient Greece which my students study in second grade, so we do a lot of compare and contrast. We also study astronomy and can make many comparisons in mythology.

51NTmKpsfnL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_My America: Elizabeth’s Jamestown Diary by Patricia Hermes- I am always surprised that the kids like this story since historical fiction is not my personal favorite, but they get really invested Elizabeth’s life and they get a really good first person view of what life was like in the early stages of the 13 colonies.

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51cTIpSJacL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_The BFG by Roald Dahl– We do a book club where all the students are reading different Roald Dahl books, so I read this aloud during that unit.

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614+9RogOVL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein- This book doesn’t exactly align, but it talks all about books and libraries, so I squeeze it in when I have time. It was a finalist for the National Children’s Book award last year.

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download (1)Peter Pan (abridged) by JM Barrie– One of our units is Classics and all the kids are reading different Classic Start books, so I read Peter Pan at that time.

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51hHgyrI1PL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_The School Story by Andrew Clements- We write personal narratives at the beginning of the year and I read this book at that time. It’s a great personal narrative as well as a great “you can do anything you put your mind to” kind of book.

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51+cRtNBUyL._AA160_Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica George Day– I read this one while we are writing fairy tales.

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And for good measure, here are some of my all time favorite books and series, completely unrelated to school, in no particular order: 

51telt3xSoL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis 

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41v5r8HSynL._SY240_BO1,204,203,200_The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling 

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Percy JacksonThe Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan 

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516eMLHT9DL._AA160_The Austin Family Series by Madeleine L’Engle 

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51lB-mUx9KL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare 

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51-2eilnVbL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth 

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511UE0Uq4KL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

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51Q+CphZ7rL._SX340_BO1,204,203,200_Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist 

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51DxkexIVJL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_On the Shoulders of Hobbits by Louis Markos 

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51FXbatBjaL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis 

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41-pfQ2q+UL._SX305_BO1,204,203,200_True Believer by Nicholas Sparks 

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There are a million-trillion links in this post, if any of them aren’t working please let me know! Thanks! 

What are your favorite teacher books, read aloud books, and just for fun books? 

Learn Like a Pirate

I’m an annotator when I read. I always have a slew of colored pens in hand to underline and write notes in my books, especially non-fiction and even more especially teaching books. When I began digging into Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz I was doing so much underlining that I decided to write a blog post to outline all of my notes. That would have been a great plan, however, once I picked the book up, I read the whole entire thing in one sitting without my laptop. Oops 😉 So now I’m writing after I’ve finished the whole book and I can confidently say that it is a fantastic read. The book goes along with Dave Burgess’ book Teach Like a Pirate (which is equally inspiring.) Burgess and Solarz are the kind of teachers that I aspire to be.

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In Burgess’ book, #tlap, he explains that we aren’t trying to be literal pirates, but embrace their daring and adventurous spirit.  Solarz expands on that by explaining how he empowers his students to learn an equally exciting way, embracing responsibility and ownership over their own learning. Burgess says it well in the foreword of #Learnlap, “The most daring maneuver a pirate captain can make is to be willing to hand over the wheel and let the crew steer the ship.”

Below are my notes from the book including excerpts directly from the text (cited with page numbers.) This outline is more for myself than anything else. The whole book is definitely worth reading, as there is only so much you can glean from my abridged blog post.

The overarching theme in the book is creating a tight knit family classroom community and relinquishing control over practically everything to the students.

Section 1: Student Lead Classrooms

What is a Student Lead Classroom? “A student lead classroom is one in which students make decisions and choices throughout the day without consulting the teacher” (pg 8-9). This concept would blow most teachers away. For decades the teacher has stood at the front of the room and talked AT the kids. The teacher was the star of the show. But Solarz has seen that, properly trained, the students can function perfectly well without the teacher being “on the stage.” He also says that, “student-led classrooms are only effective if students feel safe, appreciated, and connected to their teacher,” (pg 10) which is why the classroom community building is so crucial. 

It is one of the best feelings as a teacher reading a professional development book telling you some new tactic to try and being able to say Hey! I already do that in my classroom! J I have worked really hard this past year to relinquish control to my students more and more, so transitioning to Solarz methods shouldn’t be too foreign for me thankfully. (Many of my past blog posts have been about my desk-less classroom if you want to read more about my experience.)

Common Concerns About Student Lead Classrooms- First, some pirate-y encouragement: “Pirates don’t give up when the wind blows them off course; they adjust their sails and continue towards their destination!” (pg 14). It will be hard at first and you and your students will make mistakes, but teaching them (and yourself) to learn from those mistakes and not be shaken by them is a huge part of #learnlap. It makes me think of Ms. Frizzle 😉 

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Section 2: Learn Like a Pirate

Peer Collaboration- “Two brains are better than one” (pg 38). This is another category that I feel I am well on my way to. My crazy desk-less classroom is specifically set up to encourage kids to work together. Now I just need to implement more of the Give Me Five. I don’t particularly love the phrase itself. I personally use a few others to get my students’ attention, so I’ll need to think about if I’ll use it or find another phrase to replace it, but I know for sure I need to include the concept. “When a student shouts ‘Give me five,’ everyone in the classroom (including the teacher) stops what they are doing, faces the speaker, and listens intently to their message” (pg 40). The students can stop the class and ask a question, issue a reminder, tell the class it’s time to transition, or even teach a mini-lesson WITHOUT asking the teacher’s permission first! I think this is so cool and I can’t wait to try it.

He also addresses working in partners. He always assigns them to allow students to learn to work with all different kinds of people. And he directly teaches kids HOW to work in partners (not divide and conquer, for example.) The emphasis is put on learning, not just getting the work done. He differentiates between working in partners  and working in responsibility partners (pg 53). Responsibility Partners are for when students  are working on something independently, but checking in with their partner to ensure they understand directions and stay on task. He also emphasizes conflict management strategies, which I desperately need to work on teaching my dramatic third graders.

Improvement Focus vs. Grade Focus- “When grades, rewards, or punishments are a child’s only motivation for doing well in school, he or she will find ways to work the system and miss the educational value of the lesson” (pg 80). I love the idea of downplaying grades and focus on learning and improving, but I worry about how admin and parents will react to this minimalist kind of grading. I’ll need to do some more research. Solarz really emphasizes the importance of student reflection. I’m just beginning to learn that, for myself as well. Keeping a blog is a great way for me to reflect on my teaching.

Responsibility– Third grade is a major transition year for students. We don’t hold their hands anymore and we really expect them to be responsible, and to not rely on their parents to bail them out and make excuses for them. So teaching kids to be responsible for themselves is something I firmly believe in. In his classroom he assigns a handful of jobs to students, but “if you create jobs for every task, you rob students of countless opportunities to take charge” (pg 108). Every other job that is not assigned is a collaborative responsibility that all students need to take upon themselves to make sure gets done. I do not have any jobs in my classroom and rely heavily on the collaborative responsibility concept.

Active Learning– In this section, Solarz gives several examples of lessons he teaches in his classroom that are more experiences and simulations than lessons. These are the kinds of lessons that kids will remember. He goes into debates, project based learning, technology, and reader’s theater.

Twenty-First Century Skills– These are life skills and Solarz has created a list of 34 skills in 11 categories that he believes students need in order to be successful in life. There is already a Partnership for Twenty First Century Learning in place just for this specific purpose. He sends home a 21st Century skills report card that goes home along with the students’ grades.

Empowerment– Passion Time! I’m excited to try this. Kids get to do projects about whatever they are interested in. “Having the freedom to do something they love every week makes them even more appreciative of their teachers” (pg 223).

“When teachers empower students, the result is a higher enjoyment of learning, which leads to more motivation to work hard, which often leads to stronger achievement in class” (235).

Our Purpose at Educators- “When we teach our students to ask permission before making decisions, expect them to wait for directions, and shame them when they make mistakes, students learn to obey rather than lead” (248). And that right there says it all.

learn-like-a-pirate-quoteThe thing I loved so much about Learn Like a Pirate and Teach Like a Pirate is that they were encouraging and inspirational unlike so many PD books nowadays that tell us everything we are doing wrong as teachers. I am so excited for school to start incorporating Piracy into my classroom!

Anyone else enjoy #tlap or #learnlap?

~Christie