Environment As the Third Teacher

DoctorIsIn

Dear Dr. P.,

I am excited about my new classroom, but I’m feeling completely overwhelmed looking at the bare walls and thinking about how I’m going to make the classroom come to life and be organized for the students. Any suggestions?

Thank you, Classroom Setup Crunch


Dear Crunch,

Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of Reggio Emilia preschools, would be enthusiastic about your question. He believed that environment is such an important part of making learning meaningful that he coined the term “environment as the third teacher” (Gandini, 2011).

The Reggio Emilia approach provokes educators to think differently about the aesthetics of a classroom. Instead of purchased “decorations,” students are the creators of the aesthetic through learning. For example, instead of buying an alphabet chart to put at the front of the room, young learners can create one themselves out of sticks found on the playground or materials recycled from another unit. The students not only use the finished chart, but they also engage in an in-depth way by constructing it to make meaning for themselves. Older students can use similar techniques to create a periodic table or an anchor chart.

Student-made alphabet chart adorns the hallway at the IPS/Butler Lab School.

Consider what supplies you can keep out on a regular basis instead of just pulling them out for a short time. You’ll notice this inspires a creative work process. Imagine if you encourage students to use the set of magnifying glasses at recess and beyond! In Reggio Emilia-inspired classrooms, you’ll often see glass jars or recycled storage containers (like baskets) filled with materials for learners’ easy access.

Ms. Marielle Keller’s kindergarten classroom at the IPS/Butler Lab School.

Think about how students move around your class to collaborate. Where are they able to work in small groups? What is the easiest access to supplies without disrupting classmates? At the beginning of the year, have students role-play the appropriate and inappropriate ways to move about the room. This “interactive modeling” also can help you assess what does and does not work. After you’ve built a strong class community, why not give students a chance to redesign the room and think about the ways the classroom can morph and change to support their growing needs?

Lastly, calming spots, relaxation stations, and “amygdala reset areas” are important for students who might need a break for behavior or academic reasons. These areas are usually a soft space away from the busyness of the classroom. They don’t have to be large, just safe spots for kids to take a break in a proactive way.

Lastly, and I know this goes against the grain, but I highly encourage you to not feel pressure to spend money on your classroom environment (although we’ve all done it). From an administrative and community perspective, it gives a false sense of budget needs. Many new teachers have had tremendous success with Donorschoose.org for supplies like pillows and lamps for calming spots. Businesses also have allotted money for school donations and, in many cases, all you must do is fill out a simple form. PTAs and parent groups are also eager to support environment when possible.

Enjoy establishing your new community and your new environment!

Dr. P.

Image result for catherine hagerman panganDr. Pangan, a former elementary teacher and current Professor at Butler University (Indianapolis), loves to help build and support strong, healthy schools. Please send your question for Dr. P. to cpangan@butler.edu.

Reference

Gandini, L. (2011). Play and the hundred languages of children: An interview with Lella Gandini. American Journal of Play, 4(1), 1–18.

4 Steps To Engage Students In The Close Reading Process

CloseReading

You know that close reading is important and necessary due to Common Core mandates, but do you feel uncomfortable when it is time to teach close reading and implement close reading strategies with your students?

Does your current mode of instruction leave your students disengaged and uninterested in reading?

What can you do to change the current atmosphere in your classroom regarding close reading and close reading strategies?

With the adoption of the Common Core Standards, teachers were pushed to incorporate close reading into their curriculum (Dollins, 2016). It sent teachers into a frenzy to find ways of promoting close reading within their classrooms. Close reading is defined as uncovering layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension of complex text (Boyles, 2014). But how does one effectively do this? One way is by using close reading strategies—concepts that help students actively think about close reading in a formulaic manner.

Figuring out which strategies are the most effective in engaging students while allowing them to deeply comprehend the selected course reading is a daunting task for a newer teacher. However, you can do four things to ensure that your students get the most out of the close reading process.

1. Choose interesting and culturally relevant text.

Choose text and passages that are interesting to your students. When students find no interest or relevance in the text, they will be disengaged and uninterested. Choose texts that are age appropriate, intellectually stimulating, and culturally relevant. When books contain characters or situations that are representative of students, children are more likely to remain engaged and show curiosity (May, Bingham, & Pendergast, 2014).

2. Use graphic organizers.

Graphic organizers encourage your students to engage with complex text by organizing key ideas from the reading (Flynt & Cooter, 2005; Singleton & Filce, 2015). Foldable graphic organizers are interactive and will keep kinesthetic learners engaged as they fill in important information from the text.

3. Read the text in different methods.

Students should not sit and read independently as the only form of reading. Chunk the text into smaller, shorter passages, depending on the length of the text. Then, allow students to read with a partner, read with a whole group, read independently, or listen to audiobooks. You can even read aloud to your students. Use all methods in a balanced manner, being sure that students do not become fatigued from reading and shut down.

4. Discuss.

What’s the point in reading literature if there’s no discussion? Give students the opportunity to share their learning, discuss opinions, make predictions, and share alternate endings for the text. After engaging in the close reading of a text, the best way to encourage engagement and interest is to allow students to share their ideas about a text.

Today’s classroom teachers don’t have the luxury of simply assigning text and allowing students to self-monitor for comprehension.

When expecting students to closely read a text, teachers must be hands-on throughout the close reading process, especially to ensure engagement with, foster interest in, and allow students to derive meaning from the text. There’s no need for the frenzy of trying to figure out how to promote close reading in the classroom. Implement these simple close reading strategies for stress-free, engaged, and interesting close reading throughout your class.

Image result for sharonica nelson university of alabama birmingham Dr. Nelson is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English/ Language Arts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her research interests include urban education, writing instruction, and close reading.

References

Boyles, N. (2014). Close reading without tears. Educational Leadership, 72(1), 32–37.

Dollins, C. A. (2016). Crafting creative nonfiction: From close reading to close writing. The Reading Teacher, 70(1), 49–58. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1465

Flynt, E. S., & Cooter Jr., R. B. (2005). Improving middle-grades reading in urban schools: The Memphis Comprehension Framework. Reading Teacher, 58(8), 774–780.

May, L. A., Bingham, G. E., & Pendergast, M. L. (2014). Culturally and linguistically relevant readalouds. Multicultural Perspectives, 16(4), 210–218. https://doi.org/10.1080/15210960.2014.952299

Singleton, S. M., & Filce, H. G. (2015). Graphic organizers for secondary students with learning disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 48(2), 110–117. https://doi.org/10.1177/0040059915605799

New Teachers, Don’t Accept the Default: Suggestions to Ensure Success in Your First Year

araoz-lee2Our blog today comes to you from Lee Araoz, who maintains “The Golden Age of Education: Highly Effective Tools and Strategies”, who recently posted this blog. (He’s approved us to share it with you!) It was originally shared as part of a speech he gave for the KDP Initiation Ceremony at Molloy College on March 14, 2016. Enjoy!

I’ve compiled a list of statements offering new teachers advice as they enter their first year of teaching. It is my intention that these suggestions will dispel many of the myths preservice teachers encounter as they complete their training programs.

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Don’t accept the DEFAULT. Seek out an option that will be BETTER for students:

  • Make it your mission to fight the “we’ve always done it this way” thinking.
  • Be a disruptor and shake things up. Create an epic classroom!
  • Start slowly with little tweaks like replacing rows of desks with clusters of four in all classrooms—especially those in middle school and high school.
  • Create the change you wish to see in your school.

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Be so GOOD they can’t ignore you:

  • Do MORE than the default — arrive early and stay late.
  • Work during your lunch hour — hold review sessions, play RISK with students, treat them to lunch occasionally and allow them to work on projects.
  • Volunteer for everything — start a drama club, be a student government advisor, go to PTA meetings, and/or join the site-based management team.
  • Read Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, for more inspiration.

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Establish a strong PERSONAL CONNECTION with your students:

  • Share family stories with your class — include your spouse, your children, and your pets. Describe how things were in school when you were a kid.
  • Share your writing folder — read stories you wrote when you were their age. Show them your horrible handwriting.
  • Get to know your students — provide ample opportunities for them to share verbally and in writing. Start a class blog. Go to your students’ soccer games, dance recitals, and drama shows. They will never forget this!

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Be FIRM, FAIR, FLEXIBLE, and FUN:

  • Establish clear and simple standards of behavior and stick to them. Students need to feel loved, and they all want limits (although they may not realize it).
  • Flexibility is a key factor to success in your first year. Every student is not at the same instructional level and has different social and emotional needs. For example, I had a student in my first class who was a genius. He absorbed knowledge like a sponge, but his desk was a mess inside and out. Rather than scold him repeatedly about his disorganization, I allowed him to “take over” the empty desk next to him so that he would have more room to put his things.
  • I’ll never forget the FUN I had in 5th grade. My teacher, Mrs. Weiner, made each learning task a joyful experience. We played game shows like Password to review material, created our own videos and filmstrips (cutting-edge technology in the 1970s), wrote extensively and read voraciously. We participated in a Gong Show talent contest, dressed up as our favorite book character and played kickball in her class. Content was being created on a daily basis and it made for an unforgettable experience. I credit Mrs. Weiner as a primary influence on my desire to become a teacher. And, I’ve made sure to incorporate fun activities like these into my lessons every year regardless of grade level. My students come back to tell me how they will always remember the Ancient History News programs they created and filmed live in front of the class.

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Make a daily effort to be a “GUIDE ON THE SIDE” rather than a “Sage on the Stage”:

  • Move from a teacher-centered to a LEARNER-DRIVEN classroom.
  • Plan group work activities into ever lesson — play Breakout EDU!
  • Allow students to explore and innovate — do passion-based Genius Hour projects.
  • Incorporate student choice into learning labs — think-tac-toe.

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DIFFERENTIATE:

  • Assess prior knowledge as soon as the lesson begins with Socrative, Nearpod, Padlet, Poll Everywhere, Google Forms, or plain old pencil and paper.
  • Then, group students accordingly for that lesson (Flexible Skills Grouping).
  • Offer multiple project options for students to create evidence of learning. Be sure to include choices that reflect various learning styles. Refrain from assigning “cookie-cutter” projects where every student creates the same exact thing.

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Get students MOVING in the classroom:

  • Take your class on “learning walks” inside AND outside the school building.
  • Switch up the seats and your classroom configuration often.
  • Use GoNoodle, a fun, interactive way to get kids moving.
  • Don’t spend more than 30 minutes at a time engaging in seat work.

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Don’t overwhelm students with too much homework:

  • Homework takes the joy out of learning for many kids.
  • “There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students,” shares Harris Cooper of Duke University.
  • Family across America battle over homework nightly. Parents nag, cajole, and often end up doing assignments for their children.

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Establish a POSITIVE and PROFESSIONAL digital presence for yourself and your class:

  • Understand that your digital tattoo is permanent and you have total control over the content you put out there. So keep it positive!
  • Provide multiple pathways for students and parents to remotely access learning materials outside the classroom.
  • Model and demonstrate that “Learning Doesn’t Stop at 3 O’Clock”.

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Don’t try to keep up with EVERYTHING in education technology:

  • You can’t; nobody can.
  • Curate your resources for quick and easy access using tools like: Padlet, Pearltrees, Pinterest, Smore, or Symbaloo.
  • Ask your students what’s new in technology and social media.
  • Test-drive a new tech tool this year.

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Foster a GROWTH MINDSET in your students:

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    For example: Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, and Michael Jordan all overcame many obstacles before becoming famous.

    Teach students that failure is an important part of learning.

  • Promote the power of positive self-talk. Change your words; change your mindset.
  • Give examples of famous people who failed multiple times before achieving success.

 

 

Don’t EVER stop learning:

  • Embark on self-directed, passion-based professional development.
  • Curate and share content with colleagues.
  • Listen to podcasts, view webinars, and READ whatever you can get your hands on.
  • Become an expert in your field at your own blistering speed. “The standard pace is for chumps.” – Kimo Williams

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GET connected:

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SHARE your work:

  • Brag about your lessons, your students, and your school on social media.
  • Use apps like Remind to send home positive messages and pictures of students in action.
  • Create a class blog, a digital newsletter, or a YouTube channel to spread the word.
  • Don’t hold back because you worry that it’s not good enough or original enough. “To be original, you don’t have to be FIRST, you just have to be DIFFERENT and BETTER,” – Adam Grant.
  • As a teacher in the new millennium, you are your own personal brand. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to promote yourself.
  • Read Austin Kleon’s book, Show Your Work, for more inspiration.

Save EVERYTHING:

  • Keep a teaching journal and/or blog about your successes and failures in the classroom.
  • Take pictures, make “best of” slideshows, and share your work!
  • Keep a digital portfolio of your work.
  • Continually update your résumé.

I’d like to emphasize that teaching is a difficult job, but it is the MOST REWARDING profession there is. I had a friend who owned his own business and he asked, “Isn’t it boring teaching the same grade/subject each and every year?” and my immediate response was, “No, it NEVER gets boring because each year, you are challenged with a new and vastly different group of students.”

EMBRACE CHANGE and you will rarely be disappointed!