Thursday, December 4, 2014

Genius Hour...One Year Later!


     I have been madly getting ready for a Genius Hour presentation at the TIES 2014 Conference in MN next week with a colleague of mine and I got to thinking that it was just over a year ago when I started exploring Genius Hour. I was looking for a "choice unit" that my gifted coordinator wanted us to incorporate into our full-day gifted program. I didn't even know what a "choice unit" was, but I had some ideas in my head.
     I had used Envision units in my classroom in the past with a fair amount of student enthusiasm. Some of the students loved the creativity and application to the real world, some hated the work and the organization that went along with it, and some just completed it because it was assigned. All of the final projects were always stellar...(or mostly stellar) and the students would walk away proud of their work.
     I then experimented with Project Based Learning(PBL). I had been awarded an amazing technology grant and had to come up with 6 project based learning projects for grades K-5. I was able to do this using a Project Based Learning framework and I was able to incorporate the use of technology into all of these projects. We studied seasons in Kindergarten, habitats in 1st grade, nutrition in 2nd grade, free choice related to STEM in 3rd and 5th grade, and designing a park in 4th grade. The projects all turned out well, with just a "little bit" of stress along the way, and a total of 18 different in-class parent observations. Yes, it was insane...but I learned quite a bit, and was able to incorporate technology into classroom projects for the first time ever.  
    Then I happened upon Genius Hour. I had happened upon a post about Genius Hour on Pinterest that looked intriguing. I decided to finally take a close look at it in December of last year. I put together a plan and had NO IDEA WHAT TO EXPECT! We started it in January and at first they literally groaned about the thought of another project. I was a bit worried, but I persevered. After two weeks of introducing Genius Hour and working on it in class, the students had done a complete 180! They were begging to have Genius Hour, begging to have more work time, asking if they could work on it at home(yes!), getting together for Genius Hour playdates(not kidding about this), and had a new enthusiasm about learning. I couldn't believe the student engagement and I began to truly see the value about voice and choice. I am now on my 3rd round of Genius Hour since January and I have tweaked it each time. I have learned just as much as the students and continue to grow as a teacher. I have given students even more choice throughout the process, have continually refined my lessons on how to pick a "deep question," conferred with students one-on-one and guided them along the way, created ways for students to authentically reflect on their progress, given students chances to share their work locally and globally, provided opportunities for the students to collaborate and share their knowledge about creating products like websites, Prezi's, Keynotes, iMovies, etc, and continued to stress that this is a PROCESS. I'm expecting to see growth each time they complete a Genius Hour cycle, both from the students and from myself. The students have commented so many times..."I didn't know anything about any of this in September and now I can make my own website/keynote/Prezi/Nearpod/iMovie about my topic." We are finishing up presenting over the next couple of weeks and I'm already amazed about the ideas that they have already for the next round of Genius Hour. This is personalized learning at its finest and it is amazing to watch the students shine as they share their projects. It makes me so proud of them! 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

An Update to Student Goal Setting

One of the most popular posts on my blog has been the post about Goal Setting in the Classroom.  I saw this idea last year on Twitter and knew right away that I wanted to incorporate it into my classroom. I created this chart and we used it for the second half of the year.  I was able to see not only the value of goal setting, but the value of having the goals front and center in the classroom. Students were aware of their goals on a weekly basis and were easily reminded of them when they were up and about in the classroom, in line to leave the classroom, or reminded of their goal by a friend(or a teacher)! 

This year, I have also incorporated an ACADEMIC and a BEHAVIOR goal for the students. The students need to create an academic goal and a behavior goal each Monday. They write an A- for Academic and a B- for Behavior. Pretty straight forward! :-) 

We try to focus on writing the goals in SMART goal format, but as you can see, that is a work in progress. Some weeks we do better than others. We will often sometimes share out our goals during morning meeting or "chat" with a friend about our goals and if we met our goals the previous week. Another way to help make them accountable! 

 We have also started a new reflection sheet for our data binders. We started by taking photos of our post-it notes and putting them in an album on our iPads, but I wanted them to have a reflection component. I found this great form and they fill it out each week. They write in their goals and how they will attempt to reach them. The following Monday, they reflect on if they met their goals and any strategies that helped them meet or not meet their goals. 

Here is a link to the site where I found the great weekly goal setting sheet. The parents have loved the weekly goal setting as well and will often encourage their child to perhaps set a goal in an area in which they are struggling. For example, maybe a child is having trouble remembering to finish their online math homework...they will suggest putting that as an academic goal for the week. Or maybe a child is struggling with bringing home their homework each night...that may be a suggestion. 

After using this system for the last 9 months, I highly recommend it as a way to keep your students accountable and encouraging a growth mindset inside of the classroom. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Using Bloom's Taxonomy and Choice to Engage Learners

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been working on a new project. I created a new website for my students in order to provide choice in the classroom, utilize our iPads to their full potential, and hopefully create high levels of student engagement. I created the website around the levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, which we discuss in our classroom on a regular basis. This week when I launch the website, we are going to do an indepth study on Bloom's Taxonomy at the student level. I decided to call the website PLMOSAIC to stand for (Personalized Learning MOSAIC.) MOSAIC is the name of our gifted program in our school district.  Below is the WHY of the website...


PLMOSAIC was designed to incorporate 21st century skills that are necessary in order to be successful and ready for the real world.  We are focusing on integrating the 4 C's(creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration) into our daily classroom. I believe that choice, motivation, innovation, and differentiation should be integrated into daily tasks through the use of various tools - especially our 1-1 iPads.  I am a strong believer in students having academic choice, freedom of creativity, time to think critically, and the opportunity to collaborate in order to demonstrate their learning. All of these ideals lead to strong student engagement. 

PLMOSAIC will help me teach, manage and monitor student learning.  I will be able to check for mastery and incorporate the student's work into a digital portfolio. As the students become more and more comfortable with the apps and Web 2.0 tools that are offered, they will be able to gain a variety of ways to demonstrate their learning. This platform is a great way for them to express their learning with their own creative spirit. Reflection will be key and goal setting will be imperative before starting a project.  All 21st century skills that will help them in the real world and in school!

Using Bloom's Taxonomy, the students in MOSAIC will be able to demonstrate their learning at higher levels. Living in the higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy is best practice for gifted students.  Students will have the opportunity to app smash and practice utilizing technology to it's fullest potential. This platform will create authentic learning experiences for the students. 

I will be using Google Forms for students to create a project proposal and also to submit a reflection when they are done with their project. This site is a work in progress, so I'm anticipating some changes as I roll-out this site in my classroom. I can't wait to introduce it this week and get it started! 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Student Data Binders

One of the greatest things that I have ever implemented in my classroom was the creation of  "data binders." I learned about these when I taught in Ohio and worked with some teachers who had implemented data binders in their prior district. They taught me about the purpose of data binders, how they benefit the students, the types of data that are beneficial to collect, and how to set them up correctly. 

Purpose: To drive student performance, to teach students about effective goal setting, to encourage a growth-mindset, and to make students responsible for their own learning and reflective about their work.   Research has documented that setting goals and reflecting on them can improve student learning over time. 

Our data binders demonstrate...

-improvement or growth
-mistakes that we made and have learned from
-our interests
-things that matter to us
-what our parents would like to see
-versatility as a student
-a sampling from all subject areas
-favorite books and pieces of writing
-things that we are working on that challenge us
-things that make us proud
-our goals
-our reflections

Teaching students how to set SMART goals is one of the most important pieces of creating a data binder. One reason is that setting SMART goals prepares them for the real world and provides them with 21st century skills. Another reason for teaching SMART goals is that it gives the students a measurable goal that they can assess over time. We discuss the difference between, "I will get better at multiplication this week." and "I will try to score a 95% on my multiplication fact test by Friday." Which one is easier to measure and to tell if it was achieved? 

I prefer to use a view binder for the data binder. Then they can tuck their cover sheet in the plastic view cover.  There are also pockets to hold different papers and extra papers that we may need. We divide our binder into 5 sections: SELF, ELA(Reading/Writing), MATH, CONTENT, and GENIUS HOUR/PROJECTS. Within the SELF section we keep our weekly goal setting statements, interest inventories, learning style inventories, personal mission statements, and other types of papers that pertain to the individual child. 

We also complete academic inventories about reading, writing, and math. We use this data to determine what kind of student we are and we watch for growth over the school year. We reflect on what we see and what we know about ourselves. The Weekly Goal Setting Form is something new that we have started using this year and it is great for getting students to keep track of their goals, reflect on if they are meeting them, and what is helping them or blocking them from meeting their goals on a weekly basis. 

The students love to track their progress for their fact fluency. We practice our multiplication and division facts once a week and graph our progress in colored pencil. This chart really motivates them to go home and study so that their graph goes up each week. I send the data binders home every Friday for the students to review with their parents and share their learning. They are also great to use at student-led conferences. 

Overall, data binders are a great tool for learning and reflective practice. It helps teach organization, goal setting, and reflection.  I highly recommend implementing them in the classroom! Start small and then let them grow as you see the benefits of using them. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A New School Year!

So this Tuesday, I started another new school year! 28 fresh faces entered my classroom...or should I say...entered our classroom, because the classroom doesn't just belong to ME! So one fairly fresh teacher(THANK YOU SUMMER!)  is ready to take on a new year with new ideas! I have done a lot of reflecting over the last few months and have come up with some ideas that I really want to focus on this year. Some of the ideas are things that I loved from last year, some of the ideas are new ones that I have learned about in the past few months, and some are ideas that I have come up with on my own. 
Here are some of the things that I am looking forward to implementing this school year...

1. The new awesome website

I am loving this site and I have JUST begun to tap into it. I heard about it just a couple of weeks ago and it looked like a great fit for my students. You set your class up on this site by uploading their names and their parent's email addresses. They will then receive a username and password to enter the site. The teacher and the students can set up a bookshelf with recommended books, favorites, required books, and wish list books. The site can also direct you to AMAZON to purchase any of the books. (there are parent controls for this as well.) The teacher can set up reading challenges and students can earn badges for completing certain tasks.  We are just getting started on this site, but it seems very promising and well thought out for teachers and students. 

2. Another site that I am going to utilize more this year is KidBlog.  I decided that when the students write about the books that they finish, I want them to have an authentic audience. I dabbled in this site last year, but didn't use it to its fullest potential. I would like to have students blog on our class site each time that they finish a book.  I am also going to 

encourage them to respond to 2 other posts each time they blog.  Over the years, students are always reluctant to write in their reading journals and turn them in after finishing a book, and I am hoping with 1-1 iPads and the availability of KidBlog, we can make their reading responses more authentic and exciting. 

3. I am going to use Google Drive to create Reading Notebooks.  I am trying to go digital this year! I saw a great pin on Pinterest that showed an idea for Reading Notebooks on Google Drive. I played around with this sumer and made a folder on Google Drive with other folders within the Reading Notebook folder. This is going to be a little challenging as most of my students will be new to Google Docs, but they are going to be experts before too long. 

This is what I am envisioning...

4.  Another tool that I use that is a non-negotiable for this year is Student Data Binders. I use data binders for students to set goals, track data, reflect on their learning, show growth, keep work samples, and store interest inventories.  I call them S.T.A.R. binders (Students Taking Academic Responsibility.) This week we have been filling out interest inventories and learning style inventories.  We will soon be goal setting and creating SMART goals. I love these binders and I encourage the students to share them often with their parents. I am starting to look into digital portfolios and how I can create these to complement our data binder. I found a site called Fresh Grade that looks promising and I am going to play around with it once we get our iPads. 

5. The biggest thing that I am going to KEEP in my classroom this year is Genius Hour. I started this last January and it was a HUGE success.  My students loved it and couldn't get enough. I had no idea what to expect and was blown away by their engagement and excitement. It was a wonderful way to integrate the 4 C's-critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication. The students created projects that were beyond what I thought  was even possible. Websites, presentations, songs, movies, models, etc. Their enthusiasm for Genius Hour was mind blowing and with each passing week I was reminded of the importance of voice and choice. I can't wait to experience this with a new set of kiddos this year. 

6. The last thing that I want to improve upon is our Interactive Math Journals. I love these tools and I see a lot of value in these notebooks. I am going to add in some more metacognitive thinking and some more higher level thinking. I decided to focus on adding in 2 additional things...

Processing Questions:
1. What did we learn today?
2. How does what we learned today connect to or add to something we learned previously?
3. How can what we learned today help us in the real world?
Thinking Stems:
• The most important thing I learned today was…
• I would explain to an absent student what I learned today like this…
• I still don't understand…
• I first thought…but now I realize…
• I’m not sure…
• Another strategy I could have used …
• I will understand this better if I…
• Tomorrow I would like to …
• The easiest/most difficult part of the lesson was…

I'm anxious to see where all of these new ideas lead our class and to see how they contribute to student success. I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Picture Book 10 for 10...2014!!!

Since I started this blog back in January, I was able to participate in Nonfiction 10 for 10 in February. When I saw Picture Book 10 for 10...I had to take part! It is so hard to choose just 10 favorite picture books, but I think I have finally narrowed down my choices! Here it no particular order.

 1.   Little Red Writing by Joan Holub is one of my favorite new books that I discovered this year.  I grabbed it from the local library after reading about it on a blog. This books is adorable and whimsical! 
A perfect book for teaching your students about writing.  After I read this book to my class, I had to go out and buy it! I love the page that incorporates loads of adjectives about the deep, dark forest. An enjoyable book for kids of ALL ages...even teachers! 

2.  Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin is a NEW favorite. I now know why this is a  New York Times Bestseller!  What a great book to read to draw kids in and point out fabulous writing! The author first starts out with "Hey, Kid! Do you know what dragons love tacos?" What a way to teach students the importance of "bold beginnings" in writing.  Lots of great inferring can happen with this text as well.  The voice in this book is hilarious and will make your students laugh uncontrollably! 

3.  The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt is another one of my new favorites! I found this book in the library on a whim. I didn't even realize how hilarious it was until I started reading it to my class. My students loved the "voice" in this book and we laughed and laughed. We loved how "overworked" the red crayon was, loved the beige crayon's perspective about only being able to color wheat and turkey dinners, the gray crayon complaining about ALL of the large animals that it has to color, and of course the peach crayon being "naked!" Tee Hee!!!  The students couldn't wait to try their hand at experimenting with voice as soon as we were done reading!  I had to change my plans up so that I could accomodate their excitement! 

4.  Memoirs of a Goldfish by Devin Scillian is brilliant. There is also Memoirs of a Hamster which is  equally brilliant!  Love reading this book from the perspective of the goldfish. Another book written with great "voice" and you can just hear the tone of the goldfish as you read the book aloud. Love when Rhoda and Clark announce they're going to have babies in the small fishbowl and the goldfish says, "Like there's room for THAT."  Lots of great humor in this book that will especially make older students laugh. 

5.  Mr. Peabody's Apples by Madonna is one that I ALWAYS have to read to my class each year. I heard about this book after a boy in my class started a rumor about another teacher. The assistant principal came in and read this to my class and I loved the message in this book.  I read this book when we talk about theme and it is a great interactive read aloud. A boy starts a rumor about his baseball coach and then realizes that it is really hard to take back your words once you say something about someone else. A great book and a great lesson for EVERYONE! 

6. Hooray for You! by Marianne Richmond is such a sweet book! I love reading this to my own kids as well as my students every year. This book has beautiful illustrations and a sweet message. The text rhymes and encourages kids to appreciate their individuality and reminds them to be yourself. I love the line, "Yes, from head to toe tip, you're truly original, a creation in progress, a distinct individual." All of the books by this author are equally sweet and touching. 

7.  Ralph Tells A Story by Abby Hanlon is another great book to encourage kids with writing stories. 
Ralph is like many of our students who never have anything to write about because nothing exciting ever happens to Ralph. I've heard this same story myself many times over the years. Students can really relate to this book and to Ralph. This book will encourage your students to think outside the box, help them develop their writing and find stories in their everyday life! 

8.  Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes is one of my ALL TIME FAVORITES! I love Lilly! Always have...always will! I think I also love Kevin Henkes! His books just make me laugh and kids can always relate to his stories. I love the "voice" in his books and I love how he develops his characters so thoughtfully. I also love the added adult humor in his books. To me, Lilly is an icon...when she isn't busy being a dancer, or a surgeon, or an ambulance driver, or a diva, or a scuba diver. 

9.  The Gardener by Sarah Stewart is one that I love every time that I read it! I love the format of this book and how the author writes the book through Lydia Grace's letters to her family. Lydia Grace writes home about her experience visiting her grumpy Uncle Jim and growing flowers at his place.  The students always painfully wait through each page to see if Uncle Jim will finally smile. The students ALWAYS love the ending of this book and love to see the change in Uncle Jim over time. 

10.  The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires is a new favorite! I heard about this book and HAD to buy it. What a great message in this book! The girl in the book wants to make something, has a great idea, and some great supplies, but just can't seem to get it right. She gets pretty frustrated and quits.  This book is perfect for teaching perseverance and helping perfectionists navigate what to do when you don't complete something perfectly right out of the gate. A book that will be a classic read aloud for years to come! 

Checkout pinterest for my Top Read Alouds of 2014.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reading in the Wild #cyberPD- Week 3

Thank you to our cyberPD hosts – Cathy MereLaura Komos, and Michelle Nero for hosting this year’s #CYBERPD.  I have enjoyed the opportunity to reread Reading in the Wild this summer and it has been fun to read all of the other participants’ posts. The wrap-up twitter chat will be on July 30th, 8pm EST.

Chapter 5-Wild Readers Show Preferences

After reading this chapter, I thought about my own reading preferences. What do I like to read? What do I enjoy?(I enjoy the latest kid lit, memoirs, mindless summer reading, and books on literacy to name a few.) It made me think...can my own students verbalize their reading preferences? Donalyn writes, "True preferences come from wide reading and lots of positive encounters with books." 
It is our job as teachers to make our student's encounters with books positive!
Don't make them read a book just because you have always taught this book for 15 years. Don't force books on kids, instead take time to find what they like and recommend books for them. 
I have helped turn many kids into voracious readers just by taking time to look for books for them.  I will say..."Jake, I ordered this book from Scholastic just for you...I really think you will love it...could you read it first and then I will have you tell the class all about it." They always look at me like..." You were thinking of me when you got that book and you got it for me to read???" We then start this relationship where I lead them in the direction of good books and before I know it they are choosing their own books and over time they become a wild reader! They just need to find and recognize their reading preferences...sometimes with a little guidance. This echoes what Donalyn writes, "Students' preferences provide a starting point for building positive reading relationships between us and our students." So find a reluctant reader or more this year and help shape their reading life! What a lasting impact on that child or children!!

My one struggle that I have in my classroom is the balance of reading graphic novels. Our library has a million of them(or so it seems!) and my students are pulled to them. I hate to tell students that they can't read a certain book, but I had this major struggle with graphic novels. I teach in a classroom of all gifted students and am responsible for their reading growth(amongst other areas as well!) I  had students only reading graphic  novels week after week, rereading Diary of a Wimpy Kid 4 and 5 times, and not stretching themselves as a reader. I realize that these books can be enjoyable to read, engaging, creative, and less overwhelming to read than a traditional novel or text but I felt that it was my job to push my students to read more challenging text. I ended up telling students that they could check out one graphic novel each week but they would have to read it at home. In class, we would be focusing on reading novels and nonfiction. Every once in awhile I would say, "Today during read to self you can read a graphic novel."  Some students would, some wouldn't. The parents were in support of this plan, because they were ready for their children to move away from the repeated readings and reliance on graphic novels. It is a delicate balance and something I still struggle with in my head. I also know that there are exceptions and sometimes I encourage students to read graphic novels or to read the matching graphic novel to the chapter book.(Maximum Ride series by James Patterson). As a teacher, you have to always be thinking about what is best for your students and how you can grow them as readers!

I love the statement in this chapter that states, "rereading books increases comprehension and enjoyment." (pg. 175) It was when I was young and reread The Boxcar Children multiple times that I started to notice books in depth. I could visualize the boxcar house, I could infer their feelings about living on their own, I asked myself questions about how they could possible live on their own, and I felt like I was such a part of the book that I had to step out of it when I was done reading. Students discover new things when they reread, they notice story structure, and it should never be forbidden to reread a book. When it becomes obvious that a student is not moving away from a book, then a conversation can take place. 

There were many other great points in this chapter that I will highlight below...
 •During these reading habits conferences, we gain deeper understanding of how each reader has grown and the wild reading habits each one still needs to develop. (pg. 183)
•Constantly looking for ways to bridge the divide between school reading and life reading, I changed the term "student" or "name" on every form to "reader" or "writer" as the task suited. (pg. 184)
•I do not obsess on a book-by-book basis about whether my students read books that match their reading levels at all times, but I do consider trends in reading choices. (pg. 185)
•Readers who have finished few books by certain points in the school year may reveal a lack of consistent engagement with what they read. (pg. 186)
•I have learned that the most avid readers often keep the worst records of their reading activities. (pg. 187)
•Conferring about their independent reading habits keeps my students and me focused on our long-term goals--internalizing wild reading behaviors and developing the self-reflection skills necessary to maintain lifelong reading. 

This books has so many nuggets of wisdom about developing wild readers. Let's go out there in a few short weeks and develop reading lives and build more wild readers!!!