Wednesday, July 23, 2014

#CyberPD Part III: Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits



This week's reflection in on chapter 5 and the Appendices of Reading in the Wild:  The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalyn Miller.
Product Details
 
Wild Readers Show Preferences

Assisting my students to become independent readers is one of my responsibilities as a teacher.  I want to support them as they grow into wild readers.  Like adults, our students are readers who have different personalities and experiences.  As we find out as much as we can about our students, we become better equipped to support them as readers. 

Helping to connect students to books is one of the ways that we can offer students support.  Three areas stood out for me in Reading in the Wild as ways for readers to “connect” to books.  They connect with books by being introduced to read-alike titles, by allowing them to include light reading as an option for book selection, and by providing them opportunities to reread favorite books.

Read-Alike Titles

I love the idea of read-alike titles.  As an adult reader, I often gravitate to the kinds of books I’ve enjoyed reading in the past.  Why should that be any different for my first grade readers?  Once I identify what my first graders enjoy reading, I can use their interests to suggest similar types of books for their independent reading time.  I’m also aware of the kinds of books my students tend to enjoy as a read aloud and I’m constantly on the look-out for those kinds of books.  Books that provide weird, gross, or interesting facts, books that make you laugh, and books that teach powerful lessons.  I’ve never referred to these as read-alike books before but I think this is my new, favorite title for identifying these books.

Light Reading

When my first grade readers choose books for their reading baskets I ask them to select 6-8 good fit books, 2 informational books, and 2 free choice or look-books.  Inevitably, I have some kids who choose books that are below their reading level as their free choice option.  Donalyn shares evidence that this type of reading helps readers become more competent and it motivates them to read more.  Who doesn’t enjoy a light read from time to time?  I think most wild readers do.

Rereading Favorite Books

In primary classrooms students enjoy rereading their favorite books.  On book shopping day I usually have 2 or 3 students who ask if they can keep one or two of the books in their baskets so they can reread them.   As I was reading the story Donalyn shared about her student, Jordan, who reread the Harry Potter series and shared how he “discovers new things” when he revisits books, it reminded me of my favorite movies.  In addition to loving books, I also enjoy watching movies.  Sometimes I watch my favorite movies over again.  I often discover new things in the movie upon the second or third viewing.  I often share this analogy with my students as well.  When I’m sharing a read aloud that my students have read before I explain that it’s like the movies I’ve seen again and again.   Perhaps they’ll discover something they didn’t notice before.  I also remind them that they are not the same readers they were last year when they were introduced to the book the first time.  There are a lot of benefits to rereading books.  “In fact, rereading books increases comprehension and enjoyment.” (p. 175) I totally agree with Donalyn when she says, “f they reread books because they love them, I say let them.  We want to develop students’ ownership of reading.  When we tell students they can’t reread a book they love, we put our goals in front of theirs.” (p. 176)

Nonfiction Reading

I was shocked to read that older students avoid and dislike reading nonfiction books.  I have to agree with Donalyn when she says that it’s probably because they lack positive reading experiences.  My first grade students love reading nonfiction texts.  I’m sure it has a lot to do with their curious nature.  First graders are like sponges and they soak up tons of information while listening to and reading nonfiction texts.  Over the last few years I’ve made an effort to share more nonfiction texts when I read aloud to my students.  On page 180 Donalyn shared this list of really good activities for using nonfiction text in the classroom:

·        Add more nonfiction book talks.

·        Read-aloud nonfiction texts.

·        Use nonfiction as mentor texts.

·        Pair fiction texts with nonfiction on related topics.

·        Provide students frequent opportunities to preview, read, and show nonfiction.

Appendices
There are a ton of great forms in the Appendices for use in supporting students as they become wild readers.  My goal is to revamp some of them in order to make them more primary-friendly.  I’m hoping that other primary teachers are planning to do the same thing.  Perhaps at some point we can share the forms we create.  I love the idea of using “reader” in place of “name” on these forms.  That was a great idea and one that I plan to use in other areas.

What are your thoughts?  Thank you for taking the time to read and add your voice to the conversation. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

#CyperPD Part II: Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits




This week's reflection is on chapters 3 and 4 of Reading in the Wild:  The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalyn Miller.

Product DetailsChapter 3
Wild Readers Share Books and Reading with Other Readers

Chapter 4
Wild Readers Have Reading Plans




As I wandered through these chapters, I found myself pausing, thinking, and reflecting.  Visual images of my own classroom drifted in and out of my mind.  Many of these pages resonate with me because they mirror my beliefs about teaching and supporting readers. 

'It is our charge as more experienced readers to lead children to reading, first as enjoyment and then as a place to understand themselves and the world we must live in together, and ultimately as an appreciation for the power of stories to capture what it means to be human.' (p. 160)

Here are my Super Seven Takeaways:

  1. Cultivate Successful Learning Communities.  Staring with the first days of school, I'm working to create a school family.  Students are asked to bring in beloved books to share, book baskets are filled with familiar books, and carefully selected books are shared and discussed during our read-aloud time.  We are creating an environment where everyone feels safe and respected.  "How my students and I interact creates a climate that both supports learning and provides social and emotional safety." (p. 89)
  2. Educate Parents About the Importance of Daily Reading.  Working in a Title I building, my colleagues and I spend a lot of time educating our parent community about the importance of daily reading.   We are always on the lookout for new ideas and things to try that supports this purpose.  I love Donalyn's ideas for flooding parents with pro-reading messages.  For example, adding a weekly student book recommendation to our email signatures.  What an easy way to promote reading!  Additionally, increasing children's access to books during school breaks.  I'm thinking about creating "School-Break Reading Bags" (at different reading levels) that students may check-out over the holidays.  Another great idea was teaching parents how to squeeze more reading time into boring activities.  Even if parents know theses things, it doesn't hurt to give a gentle reminder.  "Many parents lack strong, positive reading experiences in their own lives and don't see the urgency or understand how to support their children's literacy in meaningful ways.  When flooding students with pro-reading messages, we must flood their parents, too." (p. 92)
  3. Reading and Discussing Books Together Benefits Children and Builds Relationships Among Readers.  I have been thinking about this a lot lately.  Providing authentic ways for students to share and respond to what they read enhances our learning community.  In the beginning of the year, we start with post-it notes to record and capture our thoughts and we share books and ideas with reading buddies.  As the year progresses, my students can use their individual Kidblogs and our classroom Twitter account to share and discuss books with other readers in our classroom and around the world.  Even with these wonderful tools and opportunities, I try to keep the focus on the reading rather than their ability to use these amazing tools, successfully.  This can be a bit tricky with primary students.  But my first graders are amazing!  They enjoy trying new things and they're not afraid of taking risks.  I plan to give them even more opportunities to share their books and thinking with the world.   #CyperPD is a perfect example of readers sharing their thinking in authentic ways.  "When we finish a book we consider our personal reactions to it, and if we appreciate it, we share the book." (p. 100)   
  4. All Readers Deserve Opportunities to Grow.  I never really thought about expanding the influence of my epicenter readers.  Why hadn't I tapped into this valuable resource in my classroom?  Thinking about my epicenter readers from last year, these students would have been great resources for book information and modeling wild reader reading habits.  I know they were naturally doing those things, however, I plan to expand their influence from now on.  I have always wondered if I focused more on my struggling readers at the expense of my epicenter readers.  Not ignoring them, but certainly not challenging them to their fullest potential.  I plan to do better by these readers next year.  "We are tempted to focus our attention on the students who struggle with reading.  But we must remember that all readers deserve opportunities to grow." (p.121)
  5. Every Book We Read and Share Connects Us to Each Other.  I love reading and sharing books with my first graders.  Our read-aloud time is one of our favorite times of the day.  "Every book we read and share connects us to each other.  That's the best part of our story--the part that lasts long after the book ends." (p.128)
  6. Conferring Provides Opportunities for Fostering Relationships with Students.  When I pull up close to one of my kiddos, I give them my undivided attention.  I find that it's one of the best ways to learn about and support my students as readers.  "Talking one-on-one with children, guiding them as readers, and helping them move forward in their understanding seemed a lot like a conference when I stepped back and thought about it." (p.131)
  7. Series Books Provide Paths to Lifelong Independent Reading Habits.  There are so many great reasons for introducing students to books in a series.  "Reading series books provides students with both commitment and challenge plans, depending on readers' needs and interests.  It provides a scaffold for students who lack confidence or cannot follow through on their own reading plans.  And it provides readers familiarity so students are much less likely to end up floundering with unsuccessful book choices or abandoning book that didn't work." (p.152)  Below are a few series books that I plan to share with my first graders this year:
Marty McGuire Series by Kate Messner
*Heidi Heckelbeck by Wanda Coven
Andy Shame by Jennifer Jacobson
*Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows
*Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo
*Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo
*Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold
Frankie Pickle by Eric Wight
*Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo by Nancy Krulik
Freddie Fernortner Fearless First Grader by Johnathan Rand
 
*I've shared most of these books with former first graders and they have loved them.  I'll be reading a couple of the titles on the list for the first time this school year.
 
Are there any titles that you would add to this list for primary students?  Please share...I would love to hear from you.
 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

#CyberPD Part I: Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits

Product Details

                      
Beginning this week and for the month of July, I'm participating in #CyberPD (online professional development).  A group of educators, like me, will be reading the book, Reading in the Wild:  The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalyn Miller.  We'll be writing reflections about the book on our blogs, commenting on the blogs of others who are participating, and using Twitter to continue the conversations.  In this first session, I'll be reflecting on Chapters 1 and 2.  This event is hosted by Cathy Mere, Laura Komos, and Michelle Nero.  Thank you, ladies, for hosting this wonderful event.

I've been thinking about what it means to be a "wild" reader a lot lately. As a first grade teacher, I'm working with students who are at the beginning of their reading journeys. I want them to see themselves as readers.  While reading this book, I was looking through the lens of a first grade teacher and asking myself how these ideas might impact my own teaching.


Chapter 1
Wild Readers Dedicate Time to Read

Some Important Considerations:
  • "Students need to connect with other readers and participate in a reading culture that values them. Our students must see themselves as readers, or they will never embrace reading beyond school." (p.  9)
  • "It is difficult for many children to become wild readers if they don't read during the edge times." (wasted moments in between our daily commitments) (p. 13)
  • "Reading a book in one sitting (binge reading) is a rare indulgence, but most wild readers take advantage of the random Saturday or vacation and read books cover to cover." (p. 16)
  • "Most wild readers prefer a relaxing, quiet environment." (p. 23)
  • "Fake reading and reading avoidance commonly occur when students lack independent reading habits, confidence, or adequate reading skills." (p.25)
  • "As teachers, we need to reclaim reflective practices for ourselves and use it as a tool to continually recalibrate our teaching to our core beliefs, determine what is and isn't working, and focus our teaching so we can continue to offer quality instruction that we can reasonably manage and maintain throughout the school year." (p.41)
The impact these ideas have on my teaching:
  • My first graders participate in partner reading time, daily.  They enjoy sharing and discussing books with peers and value this opportunity.
  • I'm always looking for creative ways to encourage my first graders to read outside of the classroom.  Last year, we carried books to read in between our gym and music specials.  We used this "edge time" to read more books.
  • As an adult reader, I enjoy binge reading.  I know that I'm hooked when I continue to think about the characters long after I have finished reading the book.  As a first grader teacher, I might have 1 or 2 binge readers in my classroom each year.  These students tend to read above grade level and have positive reading experiences outside of school.  I can model this behavior for all of my first graders by discussing and reminding them of the characters we know and love from books we've shared as class.
  • All students appreciate a quiet classroom during reading time.  Reading is thinking.  Our reading environment must support the reading and thinking we do all year.
  • I refer to fake-reading as "pretend reading" in my classroom.  I had a student who struggled in this area for most of the school year.  His reading was above grade level.  However, he did not value our reading time and complained of being bored.  It took me months to discover that he was not selecting books he was interested in reading.  Donalyn's warning signs (p. 27) are a helpful reminder of what students do when they are not really reading.  She also shares how to address these behaviors in chapter 1.
  • Reflection is the key to almost everything we do as teachers.  Like many educators, I'm constantly reflecting on my teaching.  Each year I find myself tweaking my teaching practices and classroom routines in an effort to support learners and provide a positive classroom experience for my students.
Chapter 2
Wild Readers Self-Select Reading Material

Some Important Considerations:
  • "When students select their own books to read and enjoy, they develop confidence in their abilities to make reading choices and build their capacity for choosing books in the future." (p. 46)
  • "Read-alouds provide students with support in choosing their own books by increasing their title and author awareness, improving their background knowledge and experience, and fostering increased motivation and engagement with reading through positive reading experiences." (p. 56)
  • "Book drawings are an engaging and fun way to introduce new books to students and encourage risk taking.  Students are more willing to try unfamiliar books when I endorse them and classmates express enthusiasm for reading them.  Even students who don't enter drawings build title and author awareness." (p.58)
  • "The more we know about books and our individual students, the better support we can provide." (p. 64)
  • "Students who regularly choose books that they can't read or don't enjoy are unlikely to read much or find reading personally gratifying.  Exposing students to lots of books and positive reading experiences while building a network of other readers who support each other provides student with tools that last beyond the classroom setting." (p. 70)
  • "Providing students with scaffolded opportunities to preview, evaluate, and choose texts gives them the practice they need in self-selecting books." (p.71)
  • Managing a classroom library requires curation--selecting the best, most current materials for curriculum needs and students' interests." (p. 80)
The impact these ideas have on my teaching:
  • My first graders enjoy choosing their own books to read.  Allowing them to fill their baskets with books of their choice is a huge motivator for reading.
  • Our Read-Aloud time is one of our favorites parts of the school day.  I love the idea of allowing students to select the next read-aloud using book commercials. (p. 54) 
  • We use the "Random Name Generator" on our Interactive White Board to randomly select students who want dibs our the newest additions to our classroom library or the next book in a series that was recently introduced.  It's is fast and effective with my first graders because they know the computer is doing the choosing rather than the teacher. 
  • Getting to know our readers is vital.  I've tried a number of different ways over the years, such as reading surveys and the like.  Last year, when I had a student teacher, I was able to conduct reading interviews with my first graders which provided some helpful information.  It's amazing how well you get to know the readers in your classroom when you talk to students even during informal gatherings like "lunch bunch" celebrations.  It's a matter of noticing, listening, and noting.
  • Making sure that my first graders have books they can read and enjoy is always a challenge.  On any given day I encounter children who are sitting with baskets of books that are too challenging for them to read.  This tends to be especially true of my struggling readers who desire to have a successful reading experience as they build stamina and encounter books they enjoy and connect with.  I'm wondering what would be the best way to approach a first grade friendly "Reading Selection Reflection".  Perhaps this could be accomplished in small groups by creating an anchor chart based on their input.  I'll have to consider this idea further.
  • Occasionally, I create tubs of books for students who need this extra support.  The books are at their reading levels and they do their book shopping out of these prearranged tubs.  They still have choice, however, they are not yet ready to choose books from our entire classroom library.  I have found this support to be quite successful.  Also, I love Donalyn's suggestion to "Unpack your thinking when evaluating a book and share it with students." (p. 71)  This would make a great mini-lesson and one that I need to share with my first graders periodically throughout the school year.
  • Our classroom library is one of those areas that is a work in progress.  I'm constantly working on the best way to arrange books and make them accessible to my first graders.  I also have a bit of a book addiction and I'm always buying new titles to add to our collection.  I love the idea of allowing students to carefully rummage through the books even before you introduce them to how to use the library.  One of my favorite first grade moments was the day I opened two boxes of donated books in front of my first graders and shared the books inside.  It was like Christmas in September.  That was a blast!
As I continue to dig into Reading in the Wild, I have lots to consider as I prepare for a new school year.  There are things that I can identify with because they validate what I'm already doing in my classroom.  There are a few areas that I have moved away from but I may need to "recalibrate" my teaching as it relates to these ideas.  And...some surprises that make me smile as I'm already starting to think about how I might tweak these ideas to engage and support first grade learners.  I can't wait to dig into chapters 3 and 4. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Book Clubs in the Primary Classroom

We are at the end of our informational reading unit and my kiddos are now working in book clubs. Book clubs are typical routines in the upper grades but they don't happen as much in primary classrooms. In my opinion, the key to successful book clubs is not expecting perfection. Yes, I do expect my students to work hard, and I do expect them to do their best work. However, these are not MY book clubs, these book clubs belong to my students. What I am saying is...Let go! Let them have at it. It's going to get messy, and that's o.k.
In the first grade classroom book clubs will look and sound different from their upper grade counter parts. After all, this is the first time my kids have participated in a book club. A big part of the learning is to expose them to what book clubs are and  how we participate in book clubs. First graders will study a topic and then talk and listen to each other as they share their learning.  The final piece is to sharing their learning with the entire class.

First, I presented the topics: Snakes, butterflies, turtles, polar bears, and wicked weather. I chose the topics based on the books that were in my classroom library and based on the interests of my students. For example, I have a group of boys who love snakes. I knew right up front that I would make snakes one of the topics for a book club. Next, students were placed in groups according to reading levels. It's tempting to put students in mixed ability groups so that students can help each other. However, by placing kids in leveled groups your stronger readers are not taking over and your lower readers are more likely to add their voice to the conversation. After that, groups chose their topics and got to work. They read their books during independent reading time and jotted notes on Post-its. Later, they shared and discussed their notes with the other members of their groups. Finally, the created posters to share their information with the class. Every group was required to represent their findings using a poster. I could have given them choices as to how they would share their findings but I felt that too much choice would be confusing for our first time working in book clubs. Even though they were all using posters, I still had kids asking me if they could draw pictures on their posters, or if they could use markers, or could they show words and pictures, etc. My response to each question was..."I don't know. I'm not in your group. You'll have to discuss that with the other members in your group and see what they think about that idea."

I'm convinced that giving them too many options would have made things a bit confusing for our first time out of the gate. However, you know your kids best. Perhaps your kiddos would be able to handle having lots of options right up front. The consensus from other first grade teachers that I've chatted with, who were also doing book clubs, was that giving them too many options was a lot for them to take on.

Additionally, my students are accustomed to using their Wonder Books two to three times each week. We use these books to record our wonders using the Wonderopolis website. I think our book clubs went very smoothly since my students were already comfortable with "wondering" and asking questions. In the beginning of the school year I had student who didn't know how to wonder. Or at least, they didn't THINK they knew how. Those same students now typically record five or six "wonders" in their notebooks each time we do a wonder of the day. I'm really proud of the work these students did. Take a look and let us know
what you think!
Book Club Weather from Valerie Ruckes on Vimeo.
We are going to do book clubs again in the spring. At that point I plan to give them more choice as to how they will present their information. Now that they have an idea of how book clubs work, I'm sure they can handle having more options and a choice of how they demonstrate their learning. I'm getting excited just thinking about it! Have you tried doing book clubs in a primary classroom? What worked for you? Please leave your comments and suggestions below. I would love to hear you ideas.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Professional Connections and the Power of Twitter





Most educators are not aware of the power of Twitter.  If you're a regular Twitter user, more than likely this statement doesn't apply to you.  It's not a criticism, it's simply an unfortunate fact.  I was introduced to Twitter a few years ago.  My sister was an active Twitter user and had been using Twitter with great results as a published author.  I was intrigued by the prospect of using Twitter but I had no clue how to go about it.  I opened a Twitter account which, I have to say, was the easy part.  My next reaction was, "What now?"  That was the hard part.  I couldn't seem to figure out what to tweet and how to use Twitter with a purpose.  What could I share that others would be interested in knowing?

Back to the drawing board!  I ran back to my sister complaining, "I just don't Get It!"  Her response was, "You have to find your niche."  I remember thinking, "Now we're getting somewhere."  I'm a teacher, so my niche is obviously education.  There must be a way to use Twitter for educational purposes.  I set out to do what teachers tend to do without even thinking much about.  I did a bit (actually a lot) of research. I started reading everything I could find on Twitter in education.  I found myself at the Simple K12 Teacher Learner Community website.  I did a lot of reading there.  That reading led me to more websites, more reading, and educators who were already using Twitter.  Somewhere on my journey I found out about the importance of building a PLN or Personal Learning Network.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Three years later I'm a member of an invaluable learning community of educators on Twitter.  This journey has transformed my teaching in ways that I never would have imagined.  I have made connections with educators from all over the United States and from around the world.  My Personal Learning Network is made up of a group of brilliant educators who share resources, discuss ideas, push my thinking, offer support, answer questions, make suggestions, and share learning and insights.  They are like minded individuals who enjoy learning new things, acknowledge when they don't know something (and feel safe to do so), and want to continue to grow as professionals.  Great teachers never stop learning and growing and the educators that I've made connections with on Twitter exemplify that mantra.

Recently, I've had the opportunity to share the "Power of Twitter" with colleagues.  My principal asked me if I would share how Twitter could be used for professional development.  I was more than happy to do so.  When you find a great resource, tool, etc. it's natural to want to share it with others.  As I suspected, Twitter is a well kept secret because many educators are unaware of how it can be used in education.  Afterwards, a few of my colleagues told me they had no idea how useful it could be to their teaching or to themselves professionally.  I think a few still find it a bit mysterious, some may feel they simply don't have the time, but others have already taken the plunge and/or dipped their toes into the water. They are finding out it's a bit cool but the more they dip their toes and feet in, the warmer the water feels.


Here are the Twitter Tips and Twitter Lingo that I shared with my colleagues.  I have also compiled a few websites where you can do a bit of research of your own.  I hope others will decide to jump in.  The water is not half bad...it's actually quite exhilarating!

Twitter for Professional Development
Teachers Teaching Teachers, on Twitter: Q and A on 'Edchats'
Why Educators Should Join Twitter
60 Inspiring Examples of Twitter in the Classroom
Twitter Hashtags in the Classroom

How are you sharing the Power of Twitter with colleagues and/or friends?  Please share your stories in the comments below.

I would love to connect with you on Twitter.  You can connect with me using @valruckes on Twitter and through Twitter chats.  I co-host #1stchat on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. EST.

Note:  If you share the Twitter Tips and/or Twitter Lingo please give credit to this site.

Happy Tweeting!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Liebster Award

I love meeting other educators through this blog and on Twitter. I have made a lot of connections and I've gotten a ton of support. When I found out that one of those educators had selected my blog for the Liebster Award, I was thrilled. The Liebster Award is given to a fellow blogger who has fewer than 200 followers. This Award would certainly give that blogger a lot more exposure and their blog would no longer be a well kept secret. Thank you Nancy at Teaching is Elementary for this wonderful nomination!



The Rules for the Liebster Award are:
1. You must post 11 random things about yourself.
2. You must answer the questions that the nominator set for you.
3. You must create 11 new questions for the people you nominate.
4. You must choose 11 other blogs with fewer than 200 followers to nominate and link them in your post.
5. No tag backs to the blog that nominated you, but do leave a comment on their post with the URL of your Liebster post.

 Here goes...

 Random Things About Me:

  1. I have three sisters.
  2. I have a 17 year old daughter.
  3. I'm a huge movie buff.
  4. I love, love, love chocolate!
  5. I prefer daisies to roses.
  6. I get up at 5 a.m. to hit the gym by 5:30 a.m.
  7. I love getting cozy with a good book.
  8. I restore antique furniture in my spare time, when I have spare time.
  9. My Ipad is my favorite new toy.
  10. I'm a shoe fanatic.
  11. I've know my best friend since kindergarten.

Questions from Nancy:
  1. Favorite Book?  The Hunger Games
  2. What is your earliest memory?  Picking apples
  3. Favorite Sound?  The sound of rain
  4. Book or eReader?  Book
  5. Last movie you saw at the theater?  Flight
  6. If you weren't in education - what would you do?  Write Children's Books (future goal)
  7. Can you speak another language?  If so, which one?  No
  8. Favorite subject to teach?  Reading
  9. Sports team you like to watch?  Detroit Tigers
  10. A favorite lesson to teach?   Fluency lesson on Tuning into interesting words 
  11. Would you rather receive an email or letter in the mails?  Letter in the mail
Questions for My Nominees:
  1. Favorite flower other than roses?
  2. Favorite book?
  3. Favorite sound?
  4. A place you want to visit?
  5. Friday evening ritual?
  6. Heals or sneakers?
  7. Morning person or night owl?
  8. Your Star crush?
  9. A person you admire?
  10. Three people (living or not living) you would love to share a meal with?
  11. One word you would use to describe your personality?
My 11 Nominees are:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Science Rotations in the Primary Classroom

My colleagues and I decided earlier in the school year to teach our science content as a team. In my building we have four first grade teachers. We would use our first science unit, Weather Watchers, to rotate our first graders around four different lessons. We chose Friday as Science Day. Friday is the day we have no special classes and it makes for a very long afternoon of teaching and learning. Additionally, we have to teach this unit during the fall and winter in that it's a weather unit and many of the lessons require observing the weather and using snow (which we didn't get much of last winter here in Michigan).

Last Friday, was our first rotation day. Each of us would teach one of the first 4 lessons. I was given Lesson 1, another teacher was given Lesson 2, and so on. Each of us taught our particular lesson to our own students on Thursday. On Friday we would only need to teach 3 lessons having taught our own students the day before. One of the benefits to teaching rotation style is that each teacher needs to prepare and set up for one lesson rather than 4 different lessons. Our rotations consisted of three sessions that were 35 minutes long with a 15 minute recess in between the second and third rotation. We also scheduled in transition time of 5 minutes between each rotation. The schedule looked something like this:

Rotation 1: 1:15-1:50
Transition: 1:50-1:55
Rotation 2: 1:55-2:30
Recess: 2:30-2:50
Transition: 2:50-2:55
Rotation 3: 2:55-3:30
Transition back to homeroom: 3:30-3:35

 Our first rotation day was exhausting!  There were some things to consider and a few minor problems to work out.  I've listed them below:

  • Two of the teachers didn't have their students wear name tags-Interacting with students is more difficult when you don't know their names.
  • One of the teachers sent her students with pencils-The kids were playing with them during my lesson and were very distracted.
  • Behavior was not at it's best.  Students interrupted the lesson because they wanted to use the bathroom, some were arguing over where they would sit, and several were playing around and not following directions.
  • We have a lot of content to teach in 35 minutes and every minute counts.
Honestly, I wanted to throw in the towel.  It would be so much easier to teach my own students and a lot less stressful.  However, I'm not one to give up so easily.  I had committed to trying the rotations and I wanted to see this through to the end.  What we needed was to make a few adjustments.  These are the adjustments we made prior to our second rotation day:
  • Everyone would remember to have name tags for their students.
  • Each of us would have our students use the bathroom prior to rotation time.
  • Students would not come with pencils since each of us have plenty in our classrooms
  • We would provide students with an incentive to maintain good behavior during the rotations
What would that incentive be?  McGregor Bucks!
What are McGregor Bucks and how do they work?

We have a school-wide behavior program already in place.  In that plan, student get guiding reminders (4 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon) to help them monitor and regulate their behavior.  When a student receives her 4th reminder (for blurting, not following directions, disrespectful behavior, unsafe activity, etc.) they receive a Student Learning Form that is sent home and explains their reminders.  Our "McGregor Bucks" are meant to work within our behavior program.  For our Science rotations, I copied a strip of four, one dollar bills on green paper with our school name (McGregor) written on the front of each one.  We stapled the strip in the back of each students' Science Notebook.  Each time a child was given a reminder, the teacher crossed out one of the bucks.  When the students returned to their homerooms, they were given a treat or reward if they had at least 1 or 2 bucks that were not crossed off.  Treats/rewards included stickers, candy, a classroom celebration to occur on another day, etc.  I'm somewhat old school.  I gave my students a piece of candy for each McGregor Buck that was not crossed off.  All of my students got 4 pieces of candy and one of my students got 3 pieces.  My most difficult to manage student was able to redeem all 4 of his McGregor Bucks and was hooked on the Bucks from the start.  The McGregor Bucks became a visible tool to help them regulate their own behavior.

I have to say that our second Science Rotation Day was a huge success.  The students were exposed to 4 different teachers with different teaching styles, my colleagues and I have new relationships with the other first graders in our building, the students learned a lot of content and had fun in the process.  Our science rotations not only demonstrate best practices in teaching, they are also great examples of collaboration, teamwork and school community.  It's also a reminder of how important it is for educators to work smarter and not harder.  We're already working so very hard these days.  Aren't we?

How are you teaching science in your classroom, grade level, or building?  Do you have an unique way of teaching science?  Leave a comment below.  I would love your input.