It's back to school season and Pinterest is blowing up with all of the cute classroom set ups and decorations. While I love Pinterest for finding innovative ideas and management tools, I kind of resent Pinterest too. As both a parent and a teacher, Pinterest ups the pressure to be "cute".
I noticed this as a parent a few years ago. With the advancement of sites like Pinterest, the level of expectation as a parent has increased. Suddenly you're supposed to take monthly pictures of your kids with cute little signs and have perfectly organized birthday parties and knit your child the perfect Halloween costume. At first you do might do it to see if you can or as a way to show off on Facebook to your friends. But then slowly, it seeps itself into our society that it's a requirement. That somehow in order to be a good mom, I have to make a 4 tiered birthday cake out of cupcakes because if I don't then my child will be deeply disappointed and scarred for life. Seriously? My kids are happy with cake and ice cream because it has a lot of sugar in it. They don't care how fancy it is. But we've trained ourselves to think they care.
Now if baking fancy things is your specialty, great! Share that gift with your kids if you'd like. I personally love to experiment in the kitchen and get an especial kick out of making something from scratch that I had to buy prepared before (cheese sauces, bread, pasta, granola bars, etc.) and I love sharing this with my kiddos. But I don't knit or sew. I don't make fancy halloween costumes. I don't plan over the top birthday parties. I don't use Pinterest to decorate my kids' rooms. And guess what? My kids are fine. They are healthy and happy and they know that mom loves them. There's no need to get into this "I can do everything on Pinterest" mode in order to prove you're a good parent.
The same is true as a teacher. Themes in particular seem to have taken over the world of Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers in the past few years. Teachers, especially in elementary, seem to think that they have to have a cute, color coordinated theme in order to teach their students. There suddenly have to be multiple, professional level bulletin boards and all of the baskets in your library center have to match or the kids just will not learn. Today I even saw a post in a teacher's forum on Facebook that said "I feel so bad. I'm a first year teacher and I can't afford to do a theme in my classroom." Seriously? This will be my 12th year of teaching and I have NEVER done a theme. EVER. My books are in mismatched baskets, labeled by genre, but not matching colored labels. I have no beautiful colored duct tape on my teacher's desk. My bulletin boards are neat and organized, but not fancy. And guess what guys? My kids learn, a lot, every single year.
And none of my students have ever said "Mrs. Raki, why isn't your room pretty?" Why? Because the kids don't care. They could care less what theme you've chosen. They care whether you care about them. They care about how you treat them. They care about the activities you do. They don't care what color your book baskets are.
Of course there are a lot of teachers who LOVE doing classroom themes and that's fine for them, just like knitting a Halloween costume for your kids is fine for those parents who just love to knit. My worry is the pressure that this puts on other teachers, who don't love it and especially teachers who are on a budget. Teachers already don't make enough money. We spend way too much of our own money already on books, storage, curriculum, and other things that help directly impact our instruction. Adding cute themes and bulletin boards requires teachers to spend more money and more time on things that aren't helping us do our job better. They're often just a way to "keep up with the Jones'" that is disguised as "necessary".
In addition to the pressure having a "cute" classroom puts on teachers, it is also a time drain. There is always so much to do and so little time as a teacher. More and more is being added to our plates every day, taking away from the time we have with our families and our personal lives. Designing super cute classrooms is something you can take off of your plate and still be a great teacher!
At the end of the year, when we talk about everything we have read during the course of the year, my students are always amazed at how many books they have "consumed". Then if we add in research we have done and videos we have watched, the information they have learned gets bigger and bigger. Last year, I started having my students record that information on "Text Consumption Recording Sheets". We started with whole group books and then by a student suggestion we added them to guided reading. Eventually we realized we could use them for center work and even with videos that we watch to build background knowledge.
By the time we got to PARCC testing, my students had a whole notebook of these sheets. We used them to compare and contrast different books we had read and check back on our understanding. Towards the end of the year, we even did some re-reading of books we had already read. Then we added new details we learned using colored pencils or markers so that they could visualize how re-reading texts helps them to learn new information.
These sheets are very simple, but they help my students to work on a variety of skills and standards with each book, article, story, poem, recipe, or website that they read. Or any videos or songs that they watch. Since these worked so well for me, I decided to share them at my Teachers Pay Teachers store as a simple freebie for the 2017/2018 school year. I hope they help your class as much as they helped mine.
Informational text is one of the hardest types of texts for many students to comprehend. This is particularly challenging for students like mine, in title one schools, who lack in background knowledge. These students struggle with informational text often simply because they lack background knowledge. These students do not visit museums, watch documentaries or have access to as many educational toys. These students do not look at newspapers or watch the news on t.v.
So when you start reading a book about glaciers with kids who live in the desert and have never seen more than 1/4 inch of snow or reading a book about flightless birds who have never been to a zoo or even a farm, the students have no background knowledge on the topic to connect with. Without these connections, students who read the words are not understanding the words. So how do we help these students to better understand informational text? Here are 5 strategies I use:
1.) Bring in background knowledge BEFORE you read. Most of the time we can read a book and know if your students will have background knowledge on a topic. If you are unsure, a simple K-W-L chart will help you know if your students will have the background knowledge to understand the book you're going to read.
Once you know what your students are lacking, you can fill in those gaps with videos like the Magic School Bus, field trips, experiments or even real world experience like baking bread. This year my class baked bread to help my students understand what yeast does.
2.) Pre-teach important vocabulary words. Especially with English Langage Learners or limited English learners (who often are native English speakers that have only had experience with a single non-standard English dialect), preteaching vocabulary is very important. Students can often sound out words in books and have no idea what that word means. Because they don't want to sound "stupid" and ask what that word means, they just won't ask and thereby won't understand what they read. To stop this phenomenom, I ALWAYS pre-teach vocabulary words. I choose key words from the text that will help students to understand what they are going to read. Then we brainstorm what the meaning of these words are using a variety of word strategies, including cognates, parts of speech, and context clues. Sometimes the students stumble on to the correct definition of the word. Other times, I have to give them the definition. Either way, students have thought about and discussed these words BEFORE they read. This primes their brains, builds additional background knowledge and gives them the vocabulary they need in order to understand the text they will be reading.
Once I have finished pre-teaching this vocabulary, I post all of the words onto my word wall for students to reference at any time while they are reading this book (or any other book).
***Product note: Suggested vocabulary for pre-teaching can be found in all of the Novel Studies available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. There is also a section in my Self Selected Informational Book Studies for pre-teaching vocabulary.
3.) Teach students to use informational text features. "Mrs. Raki, do I have to read this?" is something I often have to hear while students point to captions or charts provided in informational books we read. We need to teach students about these text features. They need to know that not only do they need to read them, but that each different kind of text feature will provide them with different information. My class recently went on a "scavenger hunt" for text features through a variety of old Science Weekly magazines I had. Students worked together to find different examples of each text feature and glued them onto chart paper to make text feature posters.
Now, every time we read an informational book, I ask them "What text feature is this?" If they don't remember, we refer back to our posters. Then we talk about what that feature will do for us as a reader.
4.) Use informational text as read alouds. It's easy to get into our favorite novels and picture books for read alouds. However, informational texts can be just as successful as a read aloud. This is particularly true if you use the book as a "think a loud". "Oh I see the caption for this picture says..." or "This diagram shows us more details about how..." Use informational read a louds as a way to model for your students how to read and understand informational books. Additionally, informational texts as read alouds build background knowledge, vocabulary and pull in students who are not interested in "storybook reading". Of course this isn't to say we never use novels or picture books for read aloud. Instead, it would be great to read a fiction and a non-fiction back to back. For example read Mr. Popper's Penguins and then read a National Geographic book about Penguins.
5.) Find topics that students do have background knowledge about. Even students will limited background knowledge have interests in non-fiction topics. Find out what topics intrigue your students and find books on them. Often students love books on weird, icky topics like "Why do people burp?" or "What are boogers made of?" Students might also love to hear a read aloud on a book about the making of their favorite t.v. show or video game cheats. The point is to draw in their attention and stretch their background knowledge and vocabulary.
Whatever strategies you use, it's evident that teaching informational text is important for our students. Reading informational text is the type of text that we read 75% of the time "in real life" so it needs to be a larger part of what we read in the classroom too.
Technology is often referred to by teachers as either an after thought or "one more thing I don't have time for". A few weeks ago, I took part in a fantastic twitter chat on the Hour of Code. During the discussion, one thing that kept coming up was "How do you have time for coding with all of the other standards?" This is a question I get all of the time with technology in general. Over the past 10 years, I have had my students create blogs, videos, online storybooks, prezis, glogs, video games, and a variety of other technology based projects, while still teaching my math, literacy, science and social studies standards. What I have found is that teaching technology skills enhances my students' learning within the "regular curriculum" so much that whatever time I give to technology is time well spent.
Technology skills transfer and spiral. The skills you teach for one technology program can easily be used within another technology program. And within this new program you're going to learn how to do something else you didn't know how to do and that will continue the spiral. Here are some of the technology skills that I have found worth taking the time out of "regular curriculm" to teach:
1.) Logging in and logging out:
Especially with younger students, it is worth your time to spend time at the beginning of the year teaching students to how to log in and log out. Let's be honest some of our students will spend half or all of their computer time just trying to log in. Once kids can successfully log in, they can begin seeing technology as a tool to help them and not an obstacle to overcome. I am also sure to teach students about the importance of actually logging out so that another students doesn't inadvertantly begin working in your account. Like everything else, once students know how to log in and out of one account, they will quickly pick up on logging in and out of various programs and accounts.
2.) Reading the screen:
My students giggle at me, but I regularly tell them "Those words on the screen aren't decorations!" Teaching students to read the screen seems simple, but it can be one of the biggest struggles, especially with low readers and those with little previous technology experience. This is especially true when an error message pops up and the kids don't even read it, they just come running and calling "Mrs. Raki, there's a problem!"
So one of the first things I teach my students is to read the screen and think about what it's asking you. If it pops up asking if you want to save your work, you know the answer to that question. If you don't know where the button is for editing, start reading all of the drop down menus. Which do you think makes the most sense? (Hello real life reading skills!)
One of our first technology vocabulary words, that isn't a name of a piece of equipment, is troubleshoot. (For other technology words that are more specifically linked to pieces of equipment and technology techniques, download my Technology Vocabulary Word Wall Cards.)
Once my students know what the word troubleshoot means, I regulary ask them "Can you troubleshoot that problem?" Can you figure out what is causing the problem or experiment a little to see how to fix the problem? I also teach students common problems and answers, starting with the simplest (Did you plug in the computer? Is your caps lock on?) and working to more complex problems and solutions (Click the refresh button if a website freezes. CTRL-ALT-DEL is a last case scenario that will get you out without hurting the computer too badly.)
Once you start encouraging students to problem solve their way out of problems, you increase the chance that they'll fix the problem themselves (thereby decreasing the chance that they'll interupt you to fix it). This is also when you start seeing "peer tech support" where students help each other figure out the problem by sharing what has worked for them in the past. (Hello REAL collaboration!)
4.) Using a search engine:
When I spend time teaching students how to properly use Google and other search engines, they quickly become efficient searchers. Then, they can use this knowledge to search up answers in every subject. They can use this knowledge to find videos to help them when they get stuck in math. They can more efficiently find research for projects in science and social studies. They can decide which is a good source to use for their persuasive writing article.
One thing I do is make sure to start out by using my Internet Research Lesson with my students so that they understand what internet research is. Then, I make sure to share with my students the search engines that I want them to use. I am also sure to clarify for my students that websites like YouTube also use a similar search engine.
5.) Use basic functions (open, save, cut, copy, paste):
These functions can be used in pretty much EVERY program that students used, whether a stand alone program on a single computer like Microsoft Word or an internet based program like Weebly. Once students understand these basic functions, they can be transfered very easily to any new program I want to throw at them.
6.) Manipulating images:
Like cutting and pasting, most programs allow you to manipulate an image in a similar way, by taking a corner, stretching it out or by sending it forward or backward in an effort to layer images, etc. etc. By teaching students how to manipulate the images, they are more likely to get in there and play around with images in a large variety of ways. These skills also begin to transfer as students realize that any non-text image (ie. shapes, lines, borders, etc.) often work in a similar fashion in most programs.
7.) Copyright information:
Start out the year with copyright information. Talk about what constitutes plagerism. Talk about public domain images. Students who know better, do better and teaching students about these copyright issues will open their eyes to what can and can't be done with the information that is out there on the internet. This will reduce the amount of essays you recieve that are copied and pasted from the internet and increase the number of citations you recieve from older students.
8.) Internet Safety:
Don't share passwords. Don't give out any information except your first name. Don't participate in cyber bullying. Learning how to use the internet safely is an important skill for all students, even those who don't touch the internet for class, because we know they're using the internet at home. However, by opening our students up to new programs and ways to use the internet at school, they are even more likely to use this internet at home away from our watchful eyes. This makes it that much more important that students know how to use the internet safely. I start out the year with my Internet Safety Power Point and E-Quiz to make sure that this point is expressed clearly to my students from day one.
9.) Website URLs vs. Search Engine Topics:
My students regularly type website URLs into search engines without realizing that there is a distinct difference between the two. Then they don't understand why they have to do so many more clicks. So I always take time to teach students where the address bar is and how to use it. I post the URLs that we use most regularly on a bulletin board or on the white board so that students can get used to typing them in. I stress that URLs should never have capitals or spaces in them. With the way that most internet browsers are set up today, if students add in spaces, the browser will automatically assume that you are try to put your URL through a search engine.
10.) How to Use Your Most Commonly Used Programs:
There will be certain programs or websites that you will use on a regular basis. Model your expectations on these programs by showing the entire class on a projector before they get onto the computers. For my class this year, I modeled how to use: IXL, Weebly, Storybird and Gaggle (our school's e-mail server). We have used other websites and programs, but these are the ones that are used most and so they are the ones that I deemed important enough to take time out of class to show the entire class how to use the programs. The other programs I use I only show to a few of my top technology students (and quickest finishers) and they in turn show the rest of the class one at a time as "tech support peer tutors".
Teaching students some technology skills will not only help them to succeed in your class, but in their entire school (and real life) career. We must make time for this in our classrooms and realize that we are impacting learning even if these skills are not a part of our "regular curriculum".
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