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Sunday, July 16, 2017

No Homework Policy: One Year Later

Last school year was a really big year in my classroom.  We started flexible seating (you can read more about that adventure HERE), we implemented a Bring Your Own Device program, and we did away with homework.  Like I said-- BIG year!

While each of those three changes contributed to a very different feel in my classroom than years prior, I was particularly nervous about doing away with homework.  I know that homework has its place, and I know there are concepts and skills (especially in 4th grade!) that require repetition to really grasp.  Yet, I still felt like the reasons to do away with homework were more important than the  benefits of homework itself.

Throughout the school year, I had many colleagues pop in and ask how our no-homework policy was going.  "It's going well!" I would respond, but I wouldn't give many details.  Now, after a full school year without it, I definitely have some reflections on how it went, what changes I would make, and if I would do it again!

First of all, here is the homework philosophy that we presented to parents and students at the beginning of the school year. (If you'd like to use it, I've added the full text at the end of the post so that you can copy, paste, and edit as you wish.)


You can see that we didn't COMPLETELY do away with homework, but we did do away with 99% of it.  We still STRONGLY encouraged students to be reading each night, and they were required to have a novel in progress at all times.  We also continued our weekly letter writing, where students had to respond to us in letter form by the end of the week.  You can read more about that idea HERE.  I'll never have a classroom where I don't do it!

We also had a disclaimer that if students did not complete their classwork in a reasonable period of time or were excessively off task during an assignment, they would need to bring it home to complete it.

Of course, when we first told students about this change, there was hooting and hollering and cheers galore! I let them have their moment and then gently pulled them back together.  I reassured them that it was totally possible that they wouldn't have homework, but that it would mean they had to give me their all every. single. minute of every. single. day.  Their eyes got big, they sat up taller, and an air of confidence washed over them. "We've got this, Mrs. M.!" I remember one kiddo saying.  In the beginning, it was as if they would do anything to keep this privilege.  We floated on clouds of no-homework bliss for a solid week...

And then here's what really happened when I did away with homework...



I expected more from my students than ever before. 

When I was planning my lessons this year, I packed in more than I ever had before.  While that might send like a negative effect of this little experiment, it was actually one of the best parts for me.

In math, in particular, this was a game changer for me.  I knew that my students needed to deeply and fully understand these concepts and be able to compute with automaticity.  I also knew they wouldn't be going home and doing 20 extra problems each night like they had in the past.  This meant that 1) I had to make sure they understood the concept like the back of their hand and 2) They could apply that understanding to a wide variety of problems.... Of course, these are two non-negotiables that any math classroom should have, but I was going to be doing it with less practice and repetition than before.  Therefore, when I was planning, I ended up with FAR more inquiry-based lessons and practice (so that they would really get the meat of the concept), and far less direct teacher instruction.  I jammed as much as I could into my whole group time (10-15 minutes a day) and then jammed even more into their workshop time.  Kids were collaborating, practicing, and learning more than ever... Simply because I had this sense of urgency that I was missing before.

A few people have asked about spelling and how this worked without homework and studying at home.  We use a word study philosophy, similar to Words Their Way, which means that students are studying patterns in words rather than the words themselves.  I incorporated this into my reading rotations and would occasionally devote some of our writing to it, and I would highly recommend it!

Another option to fit in what would have previously been homework is to rethink your morning routine.  I usually use my Think It Through critical thinking packet as morning work, and when I did away with homework this year and had to give them some more "intense" morning work, I started using the packet during Morning Meeting instead.  I used our morning work time this year to review and reteach grammar concepts some days and math skills other days.  It was the perfect balance!

This brought out the best in some kids

When I say it brought out the best in them, I mean it changed their study habits permanently.  They created habits that I hope will continue on with them for years and years to come.  They knew that in order to continue having no homework, they truly had to give me their all during the day.  It wasn't easy.  They had to not only complete their assignments, but complete them well. We had very, very little down time, and I expected more from this group of kids than ever before.  Some rose to the challenge and THRIVED under the challenge...

...and some kids didn't care. 

I did have a handful of students who were not at all motivated by a lack of homework.  These were the kids who repeatedly ended up taking work home because they weren't completing it in class (usually due to them being distracted and not on-task).  Some kids learned quickly that this isn't what they wanted, and a few kids never did quite learn.

Some parents loved it. Some parents hated it. 

On Back to School Night, when we handed out this homework policy, the general consensus was all the praise hands in the world! Parents thanked us for giving them FREEDOM in the evenings to take their kids to gymnastics without worrying about homework and some parents thanked us for eliminating the nightly homework battle they had fought for the past few years.

We also had a small number of parents who wanted their kids to have homework.  They worried that they would become accustomed to not having homework and have a difficult time next year when their teacher required it again.  They worried they wouldn't get enough skill practice.  These were valid concerns, and we reassured parents that, if they requested it, we would send home supplemental practice.  Not one of the parents who initially expressed concern over the policy ever ended up asking for homework.

...but some KIDS asked for homework!

I'll never forget the first time one of my kids ASKED for homework! It was about a month into the school year, and we were working on Error Analysis in small groups.  One of my students looked up and said, "I LOVE this.  Can you PLEASE give us some more to do at home!?"  How could I deny them that opportunity!? :)  The rest of the kids in the small group chimed in that they wanted to bring some home too.  During my lunch break, I printed a few more tasks out for those kids, and guess what? Every single student in that group brought it home and returned it the next day-- BY CHOICE!

This happened multiple times throughout the year, primarily with my math projects and error analysis tasks.  I never, ever denied them when they asked to bring something home for homework.

Some kids NEED homework. 

Usually, these aren't the kids who were requesting the extra homework, but I had another handful of students who needed homework.  They needed skill practice, they needed reading fluency practice, and they needed fact practice.  I talked to each of those students individually and contacted those parents privately.  They (both students and parents) understood why I needed to send supplemental work home.  Once a quarter, I put together packets based on those kids' needs.  I gave them free reign to complete it at any time throughout the quarter, and every single packet came back completed by the end of the quarter.

I would do it all over again. 

At the end of the year, I had parents come up to me and thank me for this policy, telling me how they had enjoyed a better relationship with their student this year without the nightly homework battle.  They had taken more walks, participated in more after school activities, and were generally so thankful for the reprieve.

As a teacher, I saw happy kids coming in every day and relaxed kids leaving every afternoon.  There were no battles over missing homework, and kids worked hard to keep the privilege.  I had no noticeable (anecdotally or with data) drop in achievement or growth over the course of the year.  I felt like a better teacher because I worked even harder during the school day to make sure they were getting exactly what they needed while they were with me.

...Oh, and I had a lot less grading to do, too! :) :)

I would do it again a heartbeat!

Homework Policy

We strongly believe in the power of play and the importance of letting children be children. Further,  research does not indicate significant benefits of homework at the elementary level. We believe that when students give us all of their day, they deserve to have all of their night.  Therefore, we have eliminated the majority of our standing homework assignments. Eat dinner as a family and ask them how their day was, enjoy your child’s extracurricular activities without worrying about homework, and know that your child is working hard at school each day and has earned their evening playtime!


To foster community and self-reflection, your student will have a weekly letter from their teacher (more about that below!) to respond to, and we highly encourage you to read a book of choice with your child each evening. Please Note: If a student exhibits off-task behaviors during the school day and fails to complete an assignment, the assignment will be sent home for completion.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Teaching Students to Dissect Responding to Reading Prompts

I have a list a mile long of activities and concepts that I want and need to blog about, but I just HAD to take a few minutes today to share this one. It truly is a game-changer for those of you who are tasked with the daunting job of teaching kids to respond to texts-- especially multiple texts!

In the upper grades, students are expected to be able to read two or more texts on a similar topic, then write a short essay or paragraph responding to a specific prompt about those texts.  Sounds easy enough, right?! Wrong!  In my experience, this is one of the most difficult writing concepts for students to grasp.  After all, they have to combine their reading skills with their writing skills-- analyzing multiple texts, referencing text evidence, making sure they completely answer the prompt, following writing formats, etc.  There is so much that goes into this skill!

For the past 8 years, I've worked with an incredible team of teachers in a wide variety of grade levels. This school year and last, I have been so lucky to be teammates with one of the creators of our phenomenal writing program, Write Now Right Now.  The program has changed me as a writing teacher, and all of these ideas come right from the program.  You can learn more about it HERE!

I begin teaching this skill by creating an anchor chart with my students, which we title "The Three Ps of Written Response."


We always encourage our students to go straight to the prompt before they even begin reading.  After all, how much easier is it for students to read when they know what their purpose is for reading?  After they have read the prompt, it's time to dissect it.  They cloud the format, they box the topic, and they underline the big ideas.  Then, they make a plan.  This is always a little bit confusing for students because they can't quite grasp how they can make a plan without reading! BUT, they can, AND if they do, it's going to ensure that they fully respond to the prompt.

To show them how easy it is to dissect a prompt and make a plan without reading the text, I give them a bunch of prompts without the accompanying texts.  In fact, none of these texts actually exist!  These are just examples.  We dissect all of the prompts first, looking for the format, the topic, and the big ideas.  Then, we make a plan for each of the prompts.



 Above, you can see all of the different prompts we dissected.  Some of them are more tricky than others.  Below, you can see the plans we made together for each of the prompts. Remember, there were no actual passages, and the kids knew we had no intention of completing the plans, so it wasn't completely overwhelming for them.


After we had done a bunch of practice, we applied it to an actual prompt with actual passages.


We used the two poems The Land of Counterpane, and Sick, and the short story You Got Me Sick for this one.  Again, we read the prompt first and made our plan outline BEFORE we read the poems and story.  This was so critical because then the kids never forgot that they had to mention EACH of the stories, and they didn't forget about the extra prompt at the end.  As we read, we underlined our text evidence as well.

We will continue to practice with basic prompts (and no passages) as well as do a few here and there that do incorporate passages.  This really has empowered my students to be successful with such a difficult skill!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Going Digital with Student-Led Conferences


Happy spring!  I can't believe how quickly this year is flying by.  Before we know it, we'll be prepping for the end of the year.  It seems like just yesterday we were gearing up for the beginning of the year.  Isn't that always how it goes, though? :) 

In our school district, spring also means another round of parent-teacher conferences.  I've blogged about those before (HERE), but during spring, we are required to implement student-led conferences.  We've done this for years and years.  

In the past, we have always done paper versions of student-led conferences.  The students end up with a reflection sheet for each subject, for their specials classes, and for their behavior.  We spent hours upon hours preparing these sheets.  They put them in a folder with a sweet little self-portrait on the front.  When their parents arrived on the evening of conferences, they would share their pages with them, then show them a few sample pages from their math journals, learning logs, or writing binders.  Students were always pretty proud of themselves, and it worked well!

This year, in 4th grade, we implemented BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) in our classrooms, and we also started using Google Drive as our portfolio systems.  We knew that we wanted to ditch the "old" paper way of conducting student-led conferences and use our devices to document our learning.  I spent an afternoon converting much of the information from our original paper documents to a fun Google Slide document.  It was met with such great success that I just had to share it!

We started our reflections by working in groups to brainstorm what we have learned, what our strengths are, and what our challenges have been.  We made a chart for each subject (math, writing, reading, science, social studies, and specials).  This really got our juices flowing and thinking about all we had done this year so far!


After we had a lot of different ideas on our charts, we were ready to begin working on our own individual reflections. 

I used Google Classroom to give each of my students an individual copy of their reflection document. There were several pages of the document, including a page for them to reflect on each subject.  In between each reflection page was a Work Sample page.  On this page, they could either take pictures of work samples they had created throughout the year (like math journal pages, anchor charts, etc.) or they could include links to items they had created in their Google Drive or on Google Classroom.  This is what most students chose to do!


**Note: You can access a copy of the document I used HERE, but please note that it is not editable, and we are an IB school, so all of our behavior reflections use IB Attitudes and the IB Learner Profile. I am sharing the document here so that you can get some ideas.  When prompted, click "Make a Copy" and a copy will show up in your Google Drive.  This document is copyright 2017 Teaching With a Mountain View,  Ltd. and you may not share or sell anything based on this document. Feel free to create your own similar version to use in your personal classroom! HERE is a link to the sticky note clip art I used!

When it was finally time for conferences, they were so proud of the work they had done and parents were so impressed with all of the skills their students were able to cover in such a short period of time.  These were definitely the most successful student-led conferences we have had!


During student-led conferences, we allow up to 3 families to be conferencing at once.  I usually opt to let my students lead the conference on their own, then sit down with them and chat for 5-10 minutes at the end.

If you've never tried student-led conferences, I can't encourage them enough!  They are such a great way for students to take responsibility for their learning and really SHINE!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Using Topple Blocks with Task Cards

Remember back in September when I bought several sets of Topple Blocks for my students?  THIS post might jog your memory!

Since then, we have used the Topple Blocks to increase engagement time and time again.  They never seem to get old!

Yesterday, we started adding and subtracting fractions with like denominators.  Today, I wanted something for my other students to work on while I worked individually with some small groups to reinforce the concept and with another small group to show them how to add and subtract with unlike denominators.  I didn't have time to create an entire topple blocks game dedicated to the skill (like I did for Elapsed Time, Long Division, and Factors & Multiples), but I did have a set of task cards to use!  I quickly copied them onto different colored papers to correspond to the colors of my topple blocks.  Then, I set them off to work their way through the set of task cards while playing the game.  SUPER simple set up for me, copious amounts of skill practice for them, and high engagement for all students.  Win, Win, Win!


While I do plan to create more of the games that follow the original format, this is such an easy adaptation that you can do with ANY task cards! Have fun!

You can purchase the Topple Blocks HERE. (Amazon Affiliate Link)

You can purchase the Fraction Task Cards HERE.

You can view ALL of my task cards HERE.

Happy teaching!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Additions to our Fraction Unit!

I'm popping in quickly to share a few additions I've made to our fractions unit this year that have really brought some added depth to student learning.  Before (or after) you browse here, make sure you stop by my original blog post about all of my fraction unit activities.  It's HUGE and has so much information!  Click the image below to read all about it!
The Ultimate Collection of Activities to Teach Fraction Skills
Now, moving on to a few new ideas!

This year, I was looking at adding in more inquiry-based activities.  One of my big focuses this year is allowing students to draw conclusions themselves so that they are more meaningful in the long run.  Fractions are so conceptual, and sometimes I feel like student understanding is left so surface level.  This year, I wanted to make sure there was no chance of that happening.  I decided to invest in a great unit from Meg at The Teacher Studio.  She has a great constructivist approach to teaching fractions, with a lot of hands-on activities that really get kids thinking!  You can see the unit HERE, and I highly recommend it!  Many of the activities I talk about today are straight from her unit.  It's SO worth it!


Since I teach fourth grade, most students already have a basic understanding of fractions.  I started by asking each student to find something circular, square, or rectangular to trace.  Then, they traced and cut out their shapes 3 or 4 times (they all had to be identical, of course).  I put these small posters up all over the room with different fractional amounts of them (halves, thirds, fifths, eights, etc.).  They had to FOLD their shapes into each of these amounts, then they traced the fold lines and glued it on the page.  It yielded SUCH a rich discussion, especially about forming fractions and what is/is not a properly formed fraction-- check out some of those totally inaccurate thirds!


The next day, I gave each student this prompt (also from Meg's unit).  They discussed their answers with a partner and each pair wrote a written response justifying their response.  We recorded their votes, and then had another huge discussion about it.  It was so eye-opening!


It's no secret that I'm a HUGE fan of Stephanie from Teaching in Room 6.  Her ideas are always so meaningful, and they have very little "fluff," which I always appreciate.  She posted on Instagram about creating a concept chart for specific units, adding to it each day as they reveal new learning.  I absolutely LOVED this idea and got started on ours right away.  We can even record misconceptions to be figured out later.  It's amazing how full this chart got over the course of the unit!


I always love to incorporate some Skittles fun into our lessons!  When we were working on equivalent fractions, I used my Skittles Math activities in combination with Meg's Skittles activities from her unit, and we had a blast!  It's always so hard for them to wait to eat the Skittles, but when they have successfully completed their activity, it's such a sweet treat and feeling of accomplishment!

 

 Last year, I created these free fraction concept exit tickets (you can download them from THIS post).  Most of the time last year, I used them just as they were intended-- as exit tickets.  This year, though, I decided to use them for some reflection time.  Instead of just having them turn in the exit tickets, we shared several different ways of constructing answers.  All of these students are solving the same exact problem, but look at how different their explanations were!  I have done this with three different exit tickets, and I just LOVE hearing them explain their reasoning and seeing how excited their peers get, too.

 These next two activities are also from Meg's unit and provided such great practice!  The top one they are working on comparing and ordering numbers.  They had to make a "train" as big as possible.  They LOVED this and begged to do it again.  Success!

This was another activity that was very telling.  I could see very quickly which students were successful in reasoning about a fraction's relative size and which were still struggling.  They loved this activity as well!


So, this activity LOOKS so lame, I know!  BUT, it is the activity that my students have loved the most so far this entire unit!  Isn't it funny what kids end up loving?  I dreamed it up about 13 minutes before my plan time was over (right before math), I typed it up quickly, and off they went.  The room was completely silent as they worked on drawing their bakeries, writing the fraction of each goodie that they had drawn, and then ordering the fractions.  I spruced it up a little bit when I got home, and you can download the differentiated activity for free HERE.  The first page is significantly more difficult than the second, so take a look and see which students can handle the first page!

This was a great stepping stone to starting our HUGE fractions bakery project, which is coming up soon in our unit.  I can't wait to kick that one off with some chef's hats and goodies!


As we had finished practicing all of these skills (ordering fractions, comparing fractions, modeling fractions, equivalent fractions, etc.) I wanted to be sure to review them all together.  So often we teach these skills in isolation and once we move on, kids just seem to forget all that we had done!  We decided to have a slumber party day, and I put together a sleepover fraction challenge to review all of these concepts.  It was so much fun!




That's it for now!  We are only about half way through our unit, so I'm sure I'll be updating more soon. :)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Flexible Seating Reflections

Starting the new year in August, we were implementing some massive changes!  We were the first grade level piloting BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), we stopped assigning homework, we were gearing up for our IB Reauthorization Visit, and the biggest game changer-- my classroom was completely transformed into a room with flexible seating.  We went all in, and I was ready and confident on the first day of school.  You can read more about my journey toward flexible seating HERE, HERE , and HERE. (Links to all of the seating options and where I purchased them can be found at the end of the post. That's always a popular question!)


Now, five months into this little adventure, I'm ready to share some updates and changes we have made!

First of all, I want to be totally clear that implement flexible seating has most definitely not been all rainbows and sunshine.  There have been days when I've looked around the room and wondered what on earth I've done.  Then there have been days that I look around the room and am in awe of the beautiful way these children are working together, all while making their own choices.

The Pros:

Organization:  My students have never been more organized than they are now.  Each student has a book box where they keep all of their folders, spirals and work in progress.  They also each have a social studies binder and a writing binder stored in different areas around the room.  We clean them out about once a month.  It is so rare to hear a student say they can't find something, because there are no endlessly messy desks.  I tell them where to put a specific piece of work (i.e. this goes in your yellow math folder), and they all head to their book boxes and slide it into their folder.  Since the book boxes are relatively small, they really don't have room to shove it in.  It has been a beautiful organization system for even my most unorganized students.



Classroom Management: Students love having the opportunity to sit where they want, and for the most part, they don't want to put that in jeopardy, which means they are most often on-task, working hard, and making good choices. See also: The Cons. :)

Movement and Flow of the Room:  Since kids have NO personal supplies at their desks, the room is completely and totally flexible.  That means that they can have their "Home Base" where they are sitting for instruction and independent work, but when it's time to move around for small groups, partner work, etc. there are multiple, distinct work places ready to go that are completely clean.  I LOVE this aspect of it.  I usually meet with my small groups on the floor now (where the elephant rug is) while other groups work in other parts of the room.

A HUGE Energy Outlet and HIGHER Engagement:  It definitely took some getting used to, having kids bouncing on balls and slowly rotating on the Hokki stools, but now that I'm used to it, it's amazing the different it makes in student engagement!  This is especially true when I'm doing a whole class lesson.  Instead of fidgeting, drawing, playing in desks, students are now standing, on balls, etc. and still intently focused.  It's awesome!

Open Space: Since we used what used to be extra tables as some of our seating options, this opened up a TON of space for us!  Never before have I had such a HUGE gathering area, and I love, love, love it. All of the students can fit on the elephant rug easily, and ALL 29 of us can make a large circle.  This has always been hard to achieve in the past when we've had 28 desks, plus a teacher desk, plus two or three "group" tables.


The Changes:
At the beginning of the year, we had all of their cubbies together in one location.  It became very clear very quickly that this was not going to be the most efficient way for them to function.  At the end of every activity, they have to put their stuff into their cubby, and it would be major gridlock in the one area of the room!  So, we moved their cubbies all around the room so that they were scattered about the room and kids were going in different directions to put things away.

At the beginning of the year, ALL 30 book boxes/cubbies were on these two book shelves. 


Now, you can see that they are spread out between the book shelves, the cubbies on the back wall, and the bookshelf in front of the standing desks.  This change helped the flow of the classroom tremendously!  We still keep their writing and social studies binders in the same place, but they don't stay in numerical order.


You can also see in the above pictures that we added TWO computer carts to our room.  One holds all of our BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) devices and the other holds Writers, which we use to practice typing skills.  They are HUGE, and they aren't my favorite thing in the world, but there's not much I can do about it!

Another major change we made (in about October) was the kneeling table.  The table we were using didn't go low enough to be a true sitting table, and the kids just didn't love it, even with the pillows.  We raised the table back up, and they can use some of the other options while sitting there.  When I have surveyed them about their preferences, sitting on the floor just isn't their favorite option. (The standing desks are ALWAYS the favorite option!)

This was taken on the first or second day of school.  It was pretty novel at first, but kids did not prefer this as their daily seating choice!
One of the other changes we made (more recently) is that students can move the seating options from table to table.  When we began the year, all of the seating options were confined to one space (in the picture below, all of the Hokki stools remained at one table).  We realized that in order to be truly flexible, they should have a choice about exactly where they were sitting as well as on what.


Now, at any given time, there are different seats all over the room.  There are three Hokki stools at the trapezoid table along with an Otto Stool, a regular chair, and a stability ball!


We added the Otto Stools a month or two after the start of the year, and they are SUPER popular, especially when kids are working in partners or joining me at the carpet for small group lessons.  They love to have a place to sit other than the floor or a chair, as has been the options in years past.


Other small changes were that we have a Home Base for water bottles (they only put them here when we are in small groups or they are away from their home base), and we changed how our classroom iPads are stored.

The water bottles are stored behind the sink.  The iPads are now on lid racks instead of in a bin.

The Cons:
Classroom Management: I know, I know!  I said this was a pro, and it really is, most days.  But there are also days that we all have to come to the carpet, and I end up assigning students their Home Base for a day.  There have been weeks that students haven't been able to chose where their Home Base is because they just. can't. handle. it.  It is also a little bit more difficult to move students around because it often means that I need to also move someone who IS doing a nice job at their chosen seat in order to accommodate another student.

We do very little independent work in class, but occasionally it can be difficult to reign them in to work independently when their spaces are so collaborative.  Usually, turning on some quiet music (I love the Piano Guys for my classroom!) quiets them down and reminds them that it's a quiet work time.

Clean Up:  With such a wide variety of options, clean up at the end of the day can be a little bit daunting.  No longer can I tell them all to stack their chairs and be done with it.  They have to neatly put their choice of seat under their table, and that's challenging for some of my darlings. :) It can also become a challenge when they are working all over the room and have to return seating to where it belongs.  Some kids are PROS and this, and some just can't remember to return things no matter what.  Luckily, I have a few students who take great pride in how everything looks at the end of the day, and they pick up the slack for others! 

I am also in charge of cleaning the stability balls, as our custodial staff just couldn't take on that extra responsibility in addition to everything else they do.
This is a great picture of Flexible Seating in Action.  They've all chosen where they are sitting to work on this partner activity.  It's also a great example of how hard it can be to get kids to put their seating options back because they are spread out all over the place. :)
Teacher Space: This is a half pro/half con!  When we decided to implement flexible seating, my co-teacher and I gave up our big, beautiful teacher desk.  Now, it's a seating option for students.  We replaced it with a very small (VERY small) desk from IKEA that was just big enough to fit a laptop, plan book, and document camera.  We use the document camera all day long, so we really needed a good place for it.  This desk became our home base, and while it's adorable and cute, it's SMALL!  You can see on the counter that we also have rainbow colored bins, which is where we keep copies and materials for the coming weeks.  This system truly FORCES us to stay very organized, which again, is a pro and a con! 

  

Q&A:

Any time I post a picture of flexible seating on social media or someone new walks into the room, I get a lot of questions!  Here are some of the most common questions I get asked, and here are my answers!

Q: Where did you get that ELEPHANT RUG!?
A:  This one always makes me laugh!  It's really hard to find a beautiful rug for a classroom.  It is from Wayfair and as of today it is not on their website anymore.  HOWEVER, I have to caution you that it is not "classroom quality."  It has stayed looking beautiful and mostly white, but the edges have curled significantly, despite our desperate attempts to prevent it.  I am currently trying heavy duty Velcro to see if it will stay down, but I'm not super optimistic!

Q: How do parents respond to the change and how do you get them on board?
A: Most of our parents were COMPLETELY and TOTALLY on board with this at the beginning of the year.  Some were not.  First, we asked them to put their trust in us (and in the research, which we shared with them).  Second, we reassured them that we had plenty of desk and chair options if it truly became an issue for their children.  After those initial conversations, we have had nothing but positive interactions with parents.  They even love coming in and sitting on the Hokki Stools and stability balls during conferences and parties.

Q: How do you organize all of the supplies?
A: There are several mentions of this above, but I'll directly address it here.  Each student has their own book box.  In it are folders for all of the core subjects as well as spiral and composition notebooks for each subject.  This is also where they keep their novels and anything we are currently working on.  In addition, they each have a writing binder (the white binders pictured above) and a social studies binder (the black binders).  They pull the binders out as needed.  

We have bins of paper scattered throughout the room so that students can easily access paper.  Each seating area also has a bin of basic supplies which are kept community style.  Some students choose to keep pencils or mechanical pencils in their individual book boxes, and we are fine with that!  

Q: What do you do with students during testing? 
A: For regular, in-class tests, students spread out all over the room.  This hasn't been an issue for us.  For standardized testing, however, it WOULD be an issue.  We are very lucky that all of our standardized testing takes place in the school computer lab and library, which eliminates this as an issue for us.

Q: Won't students have a hard time transitioning back to regular seating next year?
A:  A hard time? No.  Will it be an adjustment?  Maybe.  My take on it is that every classroom is different every year, and students have to adjust and adapt to the changes from teacher to teacher no matter what.  I don't think we should change what WE believe in to fit next year's teacher's beliefs.  If anything, I think for some students THIS was a harder transition than they will encounter next year when they go back to regular desks.

Q: What do you do with students who simply can't handle the freedom?
A: Unfortunately, after a lot of coaching and reminders, they lose their freedom.  There are some students who, try as they may, just can't seem to choose a good fit spot for themselves.  In that case, I choose their Home Base for them. :(  If students are just having a momentary lapse in judgement, we have a "Safe Seat" which is a separate desk and chair that they can go to recover.  This is part of our school-wide behavior plan.

Q: How did you afford to buy all of that!?
A: This is a super valid question.  We were very lucky to get money from our principal to purchase much of what you see here.  However, we also made good use of what we already had!  We used our whole group tables (we had two-- the trapezoid and hexagon table), our teacher desk, crate seats we had already made, etc.  We added stability balls, Hokki Stools, and the standing desks.  

It's totally doable to transform your classroom on a budget.  One of my good teacher friends down the hall has done an AMAZING job of making her room totally flexible seating with almost no financial support.  She did a lot of thrift shopping, asking friends and neighbors for old desks, chairs, balls, etc.  Her room is FANTASTIC, so it can definitely be done!

If you are starting on a budget, I'd suggest starting with some pillows and stability balls.  You will get the most bang for your buck with them.  If you have a bit of a budget, definitely invest in the standing desks (or the equivalent) and Hokki stools.

Q: Do the kids take turns picking a spot? How do you keep it fair?
A: I have seen a lot of really great ideas on Pinterest and Instagram about how people "claim" seats or they rotate through them.  The very first two or three weeks of school, we had kids rotating through the options for a day at a time so that they had the chance to try everything.  From there on out, it has worked out pretty seamlessly.  An equal number of students prefer to sit at a variety of places that we have not had to really manage it as much as some teachers have.  If you're looking for ideas, hop on Pinterest and type in "Flexible Seating Options" and you'll find some great ideas!

Q: How do you keep the balls from rolling away?
A: I got the ones with little feet on them, and it was the best decision ever!  While they still roll a bit, they stay miraculously stable!  BUY THE BALLS WITH FEET! Truly.

Q: What are your students' favorite places to sit and what are their least favorite places?
A:  I surveyed the students at the end of November to get a good feel of how they were feeling about flexible seating.  Students unanimously voted for the standing desks as their favorite location. They LOVE them. They also really enjoy the Hokki stools and Otto Stools.  The stability balls are a strong favorite of some students, and other students simply can't handle them.  I am so, so glad I got the ones with the feet on the bottom because I think the balls rolling around would drive me crazy otherwise!  The teacher desk is one of the least favorite options because it has solid sides and it can be hard for them to find a place to put their feet.  As mentioned above, we also did away with the kneeling table, as most of my 4th graders did not care for it.



I'd love to hear how your adventure with flexible seating has gone!  Please share in the comments. :)

Click each link below for furniture sources:
(May include affiliate links)

Hokki Stools: WittFitt (Mine are 18" and are the perfect size for my 4th graders.  I sit on them often, too!)
Stability Balls: WittFitt (Mine are 55cm and great for kids.  I also sit on them!)
Blue stools: These are Otto Stools.  Love them!
Elephant Rug: Metro Turquoise Area Rug on Wayfair.com (Currently not on the site. So sad!)
Blue and White Teacher Desk: IKEA MICKE Desk
Blue Teacher Chair: IKEA Skalberg Chair (Be careful! Our seat broke on DAY 2 when a student sat in it.  We still use it, but my dresses get caught where it broke sometimes!)


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Using Pictures to Teach Reading and Writing Skills


For years, I have witnessed, over and over again, the value of using pictures to teach reading skills in my classroom.  I always use them to introduce reading skills like inference, story elements, cause and effect, compare and contrast, etc.  I have blogged about it extensively, and you can read six more blog posts with examples of how I use them in my room HERE or you can click the image below.

This summer, I thought a lot how I could take this even further in my classroom.  I had always used pictures as a guided introduction to the skill or whole group practice, or by using task cards in centers or small groups.  Both of these were (and are still) great, but I wanted to have an option for independent work, assessment, homework, etc. that would continue to strengthen their skills.

That's when this little gem was born...


I created each section of this document with a specific purpose in mind.  I wanted the students to use the pictures in a variety of ways while still practicing the specific focus reading skill.  They have the opportunity to observe a picture and make inferences, ask questions, make predictions, etc., practice a reading skill based on the picture, and apply the reading skill to a short passage. 


There are three components to EACH page of this resource:

Observe It: This section includes the picture with plenty of white space around it. The white space is for students to make literal AND inferential observations. Take as many notes as you can, encourage students to stretch their thinking, and watch their inference skills grow with EVERY picture you observe! Examples of observations are included.

Answer It: This section has a task to complete that focuses on the reading skill AND relates to the picture in the “observe it” section. 

Apply It: This section has a short story that loosely relates to the same topic shown in the picture (but does NOT represent the picture) and includes a task that relates to the reading skill focus.

Every time I introduce a new skill, I use one of the pages whole class (the inference and sequencing examples above came from a whole class lesson), and then I have them work on one with a partner. Eventually, they take a page home for homework or do one independently in centers or as an assessment.  I know it sounds silly, but these pages have TRULY changed my classroom for the better. Why?


Students are now better able to concretely understand these reading skills.  The pictures make the skills real life, so they are able to make connections outside of the classroom, outside of the reading skill itself.  They look at things a bit differently now, and instead of memorizing how sequencing or cause and effect or compare and contrast relate to reading, they know how it relates to the real world, so it becomes second nature for them when they are asked to do it when reading.  They are constantly making these observations through the pictures, so they just KNOW how to do it intuitively.  This type of initial practice takes the pressure off of the reading portion so that they can be successful with the skill first before diving into the "nitty gritty."


You can purchase this pack of reading skills pages at my TpT store by clicking the image below.  It includes 7  key reading skills with 5 pages of practice for each skill.


After using these for several months this year and just loving them (both me AND my students), I decided to create a new set as I started teaching figurative language!  Again, I had always used pictures to teach figurative language... You can click each picture below to read more about how I have used pictures to teach figurative language!

I followed almost the same basic format for this set of printables, but left less white space for observing and added a new multiple choice section to add a little extra challenge.


Here are two examples of pages I've done with students as a guide, one with metaphors, and one with similes.  They still make their observations, but then they have to identify and write similes and metaphors of their own.  They LOVE these, too!

                                         

This one always makes me laugh.  Coming up with their own figurative language is always the hardest part for students, and the one they came up with to describe the girl's glasses is so silly. :)

You can purchase this pack of figurative language printables at my TpT store by clicking the image below.