Thursday, May 28, 2015

Spelling is More Than Just Memorizing



I have been boycotting standard spelling programs for a long time. Memorizing a list of spelling words to regurgitate onto a Friday spelling test is rarely helpful to students. Often students do not remember how to spell the words one week later, and they definitely can’t use those words in their writing. Instead of memorizing a list of words, students need to know how to identify key spelling patterns and word work skills. This way, even if they haven’t memorized how to spell weight, they have a chance of remembering that EIGH can make the long A sound too. This is a skill that will be very important in both reading and writing.



Additionally, when students simply memorize a list of words they rarely understand the meaning of their words, which means they will rarely use those words in their independent writing. The entire purpose behind learning to spell words is to improve reading and writing skills. If students don’t know the meaning of the word, there is no purpose in memorizing how to spell it because they can’t use the word in their writing and it’s not going to help them better understand what they are reading. This is particularly important for ESL students and students from low income homes.  These students often have smaller spoken vocabularies and so they are often asked to memorize lists of words that they don’t understand. This turns into a time wasting exercise and we wonder why their vocabularies are improving so slowly. This is why I have turned my spelling instruction into vocabulary instruction for the past few years. Students learn vocabulary, which I feel is important, but they are also doing “spelling” which many parents and administrators feel is important. Everybody wins!



Even though we teach students spelling patterns, they will still make mistakes in their writing. However, students who have been taught to look at words for possible mistakes will have built up the ability to edit their own writing more proficiently. This is why my spelling assessments are not memorized lists where students write out words that I say – a skill that will rarely be used outside of school, unless your students are planning on becoming secretaries who take dictations. Instead, my students look at typed sentences with misspelled words in them. They then correct the misspelled word. This is a skill that will come in very handy as they edit their own writing, and possibly the writing of a peer.




Two years ago I began to put together some word work/ spelling/ vocabulary packets to help my students work on spelling patterns, vocabulary and editing skills all at the same time. Of course all of my students were not on the same level, so I went ahead and created four differentiated lists for each spelling pattern. This meant that the whole class could practice the same spelling pattern while each student worked at the correct level for them. It has taken time to put together these Differentiated Word Work Packets, but I am excited to say that I have finally completed 30 packets, each with five activities for each level, and put them together into a Year Long Word Work Bundle, which is now available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.


Whether you choose to use my bundle or another set of resources, please be sure to teach your students spelling patterns, vocabulary meanings and proofreading skills, as all of these are vitally important to applying good spelling to student writing.



Monday, May 11, 2015

What’s Wrong with Standardized Testing?

What's wrong with standardized testing - a teacher's point of view editorial piece written by Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources.

Recently, John Oliver put out a great video about standardized testing and how we use the information gathered from these tests. If you haven’t seen it, you can find it HERE:

 

 

In addition, I recently listened to Jennifer Gonzalez’s interview over at Cult of Pedagogy with Anthony Cody about standardized tests in coordination with educational policy, which you can find HERE.

 

These two resources made me start thinking about standardized testing much deeper. Being out of the classroom this year and having my own children homeschooled, we don’t have to deal with standardized testing much.  I never liked standardized testing when I was in the classroom, and often simply didn’t put much emphasis on it,choosing to do research projects instead of test prep during testing season. However, I’ve also never had my job depend on my students’ test scores.  I didn’t leave teaching or take my kids out because of testing, but now that we are out, I am seeing so many benefits from not having testing as a driving force in our learning environment. If they were to go back into a public school environment, I would definitely be opting them out of the test.

Here are the reasons why I don’t agree with standardized testing:

1.) Tests often occur four to six weeks BEFORE the end of the school year. This means that teachers are required to be done teaching all of their content at least a month before the end of the school year. Not only does this mean that curriculum is rushed through, it also leaves the impression with students and parents that when the test is done, school is done, which means the last six weeks of school can be a major classroom management nightmare. 

2.) Students and teachers NEVER get to see which questions students got right or wrong. Part of the reason for assessing is to know what students haven’t mastered, so that we can cover this material better. In my classroom, all in class assessments are reviewed in detail with students so that they can make corrections to their thinking, or even their test taking strategies. However, standardized tests are never reviewed, so they are there simply to judge students, not to help them.

3.) Standardized tests are often more of an assessment of a students’ background knowledge than of the content or skills that they are learning. This is why low income students traditionally score lower on these tests. They have different background knowledge and approach problems differently. It can also be a problem for kids on the other end of the spectrum. Students who are extremely well read and exposed often over think test questions because they know that things aren’t generally as simple as test questions want them to be.

4.) Current policies put so much pressure on students and teachers, that these tests are now taking center stage when learning should take center stage. I don’t do test prep if it’s not forced on me, but I have never had my job depend on my students’ test scores. I can completely understand how test prep has become a focus of our schools. I don’t think test prep helps students, but I can understand why it is so predominant now.

5.) All children do NOT learn at the same rate or with the same activities. Standardized testing is taking away individual learning. It doesn’t matter if Student A loves to read and learns to read quickly, but lags behind in math skills while Student B enjoys numbers and learns math and exceeds in math, but doesn’t enjoy reading fiction stories. Both students – all students – are expected to be at the same place at the same time, even though we all know that no children, and no adult for that matter, grows and changes at the same rate as other people their own age. Instead of embracing the differences that make us all unique, the testing push tries to stamp us all into the same person.

 

Portfolios should replace standardized tests - an editorial piece written by Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources.

 

Portfolios should replace standardized tests - an editorial piece written by Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources.Now I do understand the need for assessment and to show teachers and students that growth has happened over the course of a school year. I think that every students should have a portfolio – paper or online – that travels with them through their school career. This portfolio can be compared against “student norms” to see if students are below, on or above level in different subject areas. It can be used to create an instructional plan for students. It can allow for different students to excel in different areas and to be their own unique selves.

When I was teaching at a private school in Morocco, I started an online portfolio system with my 2nd –5th graders where students created their own portfolios. At the end of each school year, the portfolios were added on to in order to show student growth. The students had certain requirements, including a writing example from each genre and links to completed science and social studies projects. Then the students presented their own portfolios to their teacher and parents. These portfolios showed true growth and understanding over the course of a year, whereas test scores simply gave a snapshot of a single point in time. If you’re interested in using my Online Portfolio Format, you can find templates and instructions on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Teacher Appreciation Sale and Giveaway

Welcome to Day 2 of Teacher Appreciation Week!  If you missed out yesterday, you can check out some great teaching secrets for your classroom HERE.   Also, you don't want to miss out on the two giveaways we are hosting this week.  If you didn't enter yesterday, you can do so now.  Make sure you enter for both prize bundles so you have double the change to win!




Enter to Win Prize Bundle #2 Here


Enter to Win Prize Bundle #1 Here

Today, we are offering a collection of high quality classroom resources at a huge discount.  Below is a list of Best Selling Resources that have been discounted by 20%.  You can receive an additional 10% off at checkout by using the code THANKYOU.




An InLinkz Link-up

We have also put together a collection of $1.00 Deals to help stock up your classroom for the rest of the year and next year.  I know I have added several of these deals to my cart.  Don't forget to use the code THANKYOU at checkout for maximum savings!






Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources

Monday, May 4, 2015

Secrets to a Successful Classroom

What works? Successful teachers share secrets from their classroom for Teacher Appreciation Weekof 2015. Stop by Raki's Rad Resources to find out what her secrets are!

We’re almost to the end of the school year. It’s a time to look back and appreciate all of the amazing things you and your students have accomplished this year. It’s also a time for everyone to take a moment to tell teachers how much we appreciate them. Within the field of education, we collaborate, we work as a team and we share, share, share. While it’s nice that parents and students take time at this time of the year to show their appreciation for teachers, too often teachers forget to take the time to show appreciation for the other teachers around them – the teachers they work with each day, the teachers they collaborate with online, the teachers who share their ideas or their resources, the teachers who help make the professional teaching community such a wonderful place. So a few teacher bloggers (including me here at Raki’s Rad Resources) are coming together to show how much we appreciate all the teachers in this great professional teaching community. For the next few days, in coordination with the Teacher Appreciation Giveaway, many different bloggers will be sharing a few of our teacher secrets. Here are three of my personal teaching secrets:
What works? Successful teachers share secrets from their classroom for Teacher Appreciation Weekof 2015. Stop by Raki's Rad Resources to find out what her secrets are!
Every moment is a possible learning moment.  Learning doesn’t just happen during the precise lessons you plan out so perfectly. Learning happens when students aWhat works? Successful teachers share secrets from their classroom for Teacher Appreciation Weekof 2015. Stop by Raki's Rad Resources to find out what her secrets are!re doing independent reading. Learning happens when students explore nature at recess. Learning can happen at lunch, on the bus, while standing in line for the bathroom. Kids process information in their own way, on their own time and can make the strangest connections to what we teach them. However, connections of any kind help students remember and process information. So grasp all those little minutes to review, discuss and build connections. Talk to students while they are lining up. Ask them to tell you three things they learned today. Quiz them on their fast facts. Make up silly songs that go over key concepts and sing them during transition times. There are tons of ways to utilize every possible moment of your instructional day, you just have to be creative!
 
**** For more information on strategies I have used to make every moment count in my classroom, check out this old blog post called: Learning Every Second
 
What works? Successful teachers share secrets from their classroom for Teacher Appreciation Weekof 2015. Stop by Raki's Rad Resources to find out what her secrets are!
Building relationships is more important than building bulletin boards. They key to good teaching is knowing your students. Knowing your students is more What works? Successful teachers share secrets from their classroom for Teacher Appreciation Weekof 2015. Stop by Raki's Rad Resources to find out what her secrets are!important that knowing your content. Content can be looked up, found in a book, or discovered with students. Building relationships with your students is something that takes time and energy in class every day. However, once you have built those relationships, your students will trust you more, listen to you better and cause fewer disturbances in class. Once you have built those relationships, you will know how to help individual students connect to the content you are teaching. Once you build those relationships, you will spend more time teaching and significantly less time “managing” your class. Bulletin boards are very low on my priority list, unless they are interactive and built with the students. Building relationships with my students is my number one priority.
 
**** For more information on how I create bulletin boards that matter while building relationships with my students – check out this old blog post called: The Purpose Behind Bulletin Boards
What works? Successful teachers share secrets from their classroom for Teacher Appreciation Weekof 2015. Stop by Raki's Rad Resources to find out what her secrets are!
Differentiation is easier when it appears that everyone is doing the same thing.  It makes things easier for the kids and it makes things easier for you. I have taught multi-age classes for the past three years and so my kids know that Mary doesn’t always do the same work as Johnny. They know that I give everyone work that is just right for them. What works? Successful teachers share secrets from their classroom for Teacher Appreciation Weekof 2015. Stop by Raki's Rad Resources to find out what her secrets are!However, they also know the directions for everyone’s work, because pretty much the directions are the same for everyone. Everyone is doing calendar book this morning. Now the calendar book pages may be different for Mary than they are for Johnny, but everyone is doing calendar book. Everyone will be doing their vocabulary packet later this afternoon. Juan may be doing Weather ESL vocabulary on Weather for a Level 1 while Katie is doing Long Vowel Word Work vocabulary on a Level 4, but everyone is doing a vocabulary packet and everyone is doing the Friday page in their vocabulary packet. This way everyone knows what we’re doing, they are able to help each other out with some general directions and I maintain my sanity while still providing individualized education.
 
****For some resources that make differentiation simple, check out this resource: Differentiated Monthly Calendar Books with 8 Different Levels 
 
What works? Successful teachers share secrets from their classroom for Teacher Appreciation Weekof 2015. Stop by Raki's Rad Resources to find out what her secrets are!
Two lucky teachers will receive huge thank you gifts in the form of one of these two prize bundles. Be sure to enter to win so that you might be one of those lucky teachers.
What works? Successful teachers share secrets from their classroom for Teacher Appreciation Weekof 2015. Stop by Raki's Rad Resources to find out what her secrets are!
Just take a look at everything you could win...One lucky reader will win this entire prize package!!!
What works? Successful teachers share secrets from their classroom for Teacher Appreciation Weekof 2015. Stop by Raki's Rad Resources to find out what her secrets are!
Prize Bundle #1 Includes
PLUS....$140 Gift Box of Fabulous Teacher Supplies sent to you from Amazon
What works? Successful teachers share secrets from their classroom for Teacher Appreciation Weekof 2015. Stop by Raki's Rad Resources to find out what her secrets are!
We aren't finished yet....take a look at everything a second lucky winner will win!!!
What works? Successful teachers share secrets from their classroom for Teacher Appreciation Weekof 2015. Stop by Raki's Rad Resources to find out what her secrets are!
Prize Bundle #2 Includes
PLUS....$140 Gift Box of Fabulous Teacher Supplies sent to you from Amazon
What works? Successful teachers share secrets from their classroom for Teacher Appreciation Weekof 2015. Stop by Raki's Rad Resources to find out what her secrets are!
Be sure to enter both rafflecopters for a better chance at winning one of these amazing prize bundles!

Enter to Win Prize Bundle #1 Here

Enter to Win Prize Bundle #2 Here

You won't want to miss out on all the other great secrets being shared by successful teachers!  Be sure to check out all the other great posts below.






Saturday, May 2, 2015

Social Media Timelines

make timelines more fun by allowing students to create a series of social media posts. Ideas and resources from Raki's Rad Resources. 

Last month my kids were tasked with the project of creating a timeline about the country they have been studying this year. This was their final project for the history section of their Year Long Country Study Project. I often feel that timelines can be kind of a boring project. However, putting those events they have learned about into some sort of order helps kids to process the information better.

My oldest son read the project sheet and actually got excited. He didn’t feel that this project was boring at all. “Hey mom, can I make this like those fake Facebook histories?” he asked me. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about – check out the Facebook History of the World, but be warned it is a bit PG13 for strong language.) Leave it to him to find a creative technology solution for this project! Of course I said yes and he did a good job putting together a Prezi that looks like a series of social media posts or thought bubbles of the people who were actually at the event. Here’s what he came up with:

 

 

So if your students are bored with timeline projects, suggest this creative option to them – what would that history look like as a series of tweets or posts – or as an Instagram feed or a Pinterest board? This could also be done with books. Can you summarize this book in a series of tweets from the characters? Technology is a huge part of our kids’ lives. Rather than run from it, let’s embrace it!

Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources