Stop eliminating lessons where students celebrate other cultures! This reduces the chance of students learning about other cultures.
Recently I have had resources removed from Teachers Pay Teachers for these two reasons: "Resources where students are required to speak from the perspective of victims of or participants in traumatic events may trivialize the experiences of affected individuals or groups" and "Activities where students write from the perspective or otherwise roleplay as people from specific cultures may disrespect or marginalize individuals from associated communities."
Now I would understand removing resources that are disrespectful of certain groups, but I don't understand removing resources that CELEBRATE the heroes or culture of marginalized groups. Specifically, my worry is that so much of our curriculum already barely mentions other cultures in a positive manner. If we now take down the resources that we do have, teachers are even less likely to teach about these cultures in a positive manner.
Why are we removing celebrations of other cultures?
There are hundreds of Christmas plays available. In these students can act out the Judeo-Christian Christmas story and no one blinks an eye at it. However, my Light Up the World with Celebrations holiday play which has students pretending to be various students from all over the world celebrating different celebrations, in different ways, all with the joining theme of light, was removed. So now when a teacher is looking for a way to include diverse ideas into her classroom, they will have one less option. But none of the Christmas options are removed. This means that rather than making these other holidays, like Kwanza, Hanukkah, Eid and Diwali less marginalized, it makes them more so. Now I have other resources for these holidays - Vocabulary Packets, Presentations, and Cookbooks. However, this play is what the teachers actually use during those crazy, harried, days before winter break.
Since Teachers Pay Teachers chose to remove the play from my store, you can now find it on my Free Resources page here on my blog. I want to make sure that teachers have a chance to use it if they feel as I do that all holidays should be celebrated for their importance, not just Christmas.
Does acting out interviews trivialize the heroes of other cultures?
The other three resources that I have had to update are my Mister and Me Novel Study packet, my Black History Project and my Women's History Project. All of these included an acting out element. Playing pretend. Looking at life from a different perspective. All of those higher level thinking skills that make critical thinkers.
I removed those acting out activities because I was told that this was trivializing an experience of a marginalized population. I would like to note that the activity I took out of my Mister and Me Novel study is the EXACT same activity that is in my Charlotte's Web Novel study. I was not asked to remove the activity from the Charlotte's Web Novel study, which means that kids CAN act out a chapter from a fictional book about a white girl, but CANNOT act out a chapter from a fictional book about a black girl. To me this increases marginalization, rather than decreasing it.
Now, please don't get me wrong. I don't want students acting out a slave auction. I don't want them acting out segregation. But interviewing an African American hero about all of the success they have had? I think that is a great way to learn about the heroes of all groups. Again, no one blinks an eye at someone doing a mock interview with George Washington. Why is it wrong to have students create the same mock interview with Barrack Obama?
As a white woman, I always try to double check everything to make sure that my resources celebrate all students. I don't ever want to have students feel left out in my class, even inadvertently. But by removing these resources, I feel that many teachers will just not bother to teach about diversity. I wish we lived in a world where our African American, Native American, Asian American, Women and other marginalized groups were celebrated in our general ELA and Social Studies curriculums. But for the most part that is not true. So we as teachers need to bring that element to the classroom. We as teachers need to make sure that the heroes of all groups are celebrated, not just the heroes of white males.
Recent studies show that bulletin boards can be too overwhelming for the brain. Ten things to consider when building your bulletin boards this year.
Bulletin boards are a great way of having information readily available for student use. They can be used as a visual cue of information students already know - like the steps to solving a word problem. Or they can be used as a place for students to "grab" information they aren't sure of yet - like the meaning or spelling of a word.
However, bulletin boards can also be very visually overstimulating to students. This is especially true when we add multitudes of decorations, pictures, quotes, colorful borders and such to our bulletin boards. This overstimulation can cause the students who need bulletin boards the most to use them the least. Often, sorting through all of the extra, pretty stuff, takes too long for students who are visually overstimulated. When it takes students too long to find what they are looking for, they often get frustrated and stop looking for the information they need.
So how do we go about finding balance between having an attractive classroom and making bulletin boards useful to students? Here are my top ten tips:
1.) Keep bulletin boards for useful information only.
Hang decorations or things students do not need to reference regularly (like a list of standards or an inspiring quote) in one specific area. The back of the room or near the door are great places for these items, as they will be out of students eyeline most of the time. In those key, front of the room places, have things you want students to regularly reference - number lines, word walls, phonics sounds, writing formats, etc.
2.) Organize bulletin boards by subject area.
Keeping all of the math boards on one side of the room and all of the ELA boards on the other will help students to focus in on just one area of the room at a time. This way they will know where to turn depending on what they are looking for.
3.) Consider color and design when choosing borders and background paper or fabric.
Sometimes the desire to have all of our boards match in a "theme" will cause the bulletin boards to be busy for the brain before we have even hung anything on it. Other times the background clashes with what we are hanging on it, or makes that information hard to read. Use contrasting colors, with little to no design to make the information that you want kids to access to "pop" out for them.
4.) Consider leaving bulletin boards blank at the beginning of the year.
Add items to your bulletin boards with your students, instead of ahead of time. If possible allow students to be part of the process. For example, when I add word family words to my word wall, I pass the word cards out to students. Each student "presents" their word to the class. We discuss the word (the phonics, the meaning, etc.) and then the student tells me where to put the word on the word wall. This buy-in will help them be more willing to use bulletin boards. It will also increase the likelihood of them being able to locate items if they have a visual and auditory memory link of you hanging it up.
5.) Make bulletin boards interactive whenever possible.
Using bulletin boards for items like Number of the Day posters that are reviewed regularly gives students another form of buy-in. If you can, have a student or two write the answers on these posters. However, even if you are writing, by going over it daily, students can more easily locate the information for various skills.
6.) Consider having interactive notebooks in place of certain bulletin boards.
Interactive notebooks give students the same information that might be on an anchor chart or bulletin board, but in each students' individualized notebook. In addition to being a great way for students to build organizational skills, as students write in their notebook, they are building visual memory links for themselves.
7.) Don't put everything on a bulletin board. Instead, try O-Rings.
Another alternative to bulletin boards, especially for word walls, is to have things like sight word cards put onto an O-Ring where students can easily and quickly reference them. These O-Rings can be hung on a hook on the side of a desk, or be kept in a pencil case, for easy access.
8.) Use O-Rings to "layer" anchor charts and posters.
This is great for things like the success criteria to different writing genres. At the beginning of the year, we can have the narrative writing success criteria (or rubric) on our bulletin board. Then as we move into informational writing, we can add that success criteria to the O-Ring. Students only see the front poster of the O-Ring, but they know additional items are behind it if they should need it.
9.) Refer to your bulletin boards while you are teaching.
So often we hang things up on a bulletin board and assume the students will use it because it's right there. However, that is often not true. Just like all other teaching tools, we must model for students how and when to use them. During lessons, refer regularly to the bulletin boards that host the information you want students to reference. Then, when giving directions for independent work, remind students where they can find help. For example, I always tell students that words on the word wall should not be misspelled in their independent writing because they know how to find that word.
10.) Keep bulletin boards consistent.
If the purpose behind bulletin boards is for students to use them as a reference tool, then we shouldn't be changing the boards every week, or even every month. All of my bulletin boards in my classroom stay the same all year, sometimes with information being added in a new layer, but the writing board is the writing board all year. This consistency gives my students the confidence to know where they can find the information they need. This confidence makes them stronger students and more independent learners.
I know that many teachers these days feel the pressure to have 'Pinterest Ready' bulletin boards. But if those beautiful boards aren't helping our students, then why are we spending our valuable time on them. A teacher's time is limited enough. Let's focus that time on creating classrooms that work for our students, not for Pinterest.
Stop updating outdated boxed curriculums and trying to sell them back to us. Let teachers and students think for ourselves.
It never fails! Every year you show up to pre-planning and there's a new curriculum, a new program, or a new idea that is supposed to solve all of the problems of education. So as educators, we are supposed to throw out everything we know and jump on this new bandwagon (for a year or so, until something new comes along). Generally these are really repacking of an old idea. If you stay in education long enough, you see the same ideas cycle through every 8 - 12 years, branded as new and shiny.
But in reality what we did last year (and the year before that, and the year before that) WORKED. Can it be improved on? ALWAYS! But should we throw the baby out with the bath water? NO. In fact very often, I will find myself trying to put some supplemental material together to make this new program meet the needs of a group of students (because these lovely educational programs that districts spend fortunes on DO NOT provide everything) and halfway through I'll say to myself "I made something like this before." So I'll go dig through my stuff and lo and behold there it is.
Now I'm not saying that we should teach the same lesson using the same lesson plan for 30 years. We should always be on the look-out to learn and grow as teachers. But we should also be trusting OURSELVES to know how to teach. We went to school for this. We go to professional development. We spend hours analyzing what went well and what didn't on a lesson. We get to know our students and their needs. We KNOW how to teach.
Instead of teaching to a boxed curriculum, we should be teaching to the student and the standards. Yes, all kids need to learn how to read. But every first grader does not need to be read Stellaluna. Yes, all kids need to learn how to solve word problems, but every third grader does not need to build arrays using only red chips.
If I ruled the world of education (which obviously I don't) I would have 5 - 10 standards for ELA and 5-10 standards for Math, with very basic outlines for teachers and students to follow. Then I would allow teachers and students the freedom to choose the books that interest them. To choose the manipulatives that make sense for them to solve the problem. Freedom to get interested in learning. I taught 1st graders last year who already hated school. 1st grade! They have 11 more years to go and they already think of school as a chore. How sad is that?
But I have to follow the boxed curriculum with fidelity....
So I obviously can't make your school tell you that you don't have to use their shiny new program. However, I have learned how to "wiggle" inside the box you are given. First, use any "extra" time to your advantage - morning work, transitions, centers, etc. Second, use pieces of the curriculum in your own tried and true way. ie. Yes, we're reading Stellaluna, but we're going to act it out instead of reading it for the 12th time. Third, allow yourself to think outside the box - seek out creative ways to present the information from the curriculum. Fourth, listen to your students! Let them have some input and some choice into the activities they will be completing.
If you are able to find that wiggle room, or if you are lucky enough to NOT have a boxed curriculum, here are a few things that might work to teach the basics, while still allowing for teacher and student choice and outside the box thinking. For so many teachers bringing outside of the box ideas into a boxed curriculum classroom would take hours and hours of extra work. I hope that some of these resources will take that stress away from you.
Genre Book Reports - Students choose any book within the genre to read. This allows them to read in their interest area and reading level. After reading, they complete an organizer with the basic reading comprehension information. Finally, they APPLY their comprehension of the book to create a project of their choice about the book they read.
Read Aloud Journal - Read alouds are such a great way to work on various comprehension strategies. Teachers model their thinking, as well as good fluency. However which book you read is actually not very important. Using this journal, the teacher chooses the book, and the focus. You post a guiding question and students answer it while you are reading. This leads to discussion - where the read learning happens. Then students can APPLY their learning to independent reading.
Daily Vocabulary Work - We all know that learning and working with new vocabulary words is important. But just because the words are listed in a TE doesn't always make them important. Instead, have kids choose words from a book you are reading. Or pre-teach the words you think they might struggle on. Have kids practice - at home or in class - and then for the weekly "test", have students write down 5 words and give you a sentence showing they understand the meaning of the words. It works with ANYTHING and can give you the freedom to make it student or teacher led.
Year Long Country Study - Students LOVE to learn about other places. Let kids choose a country - any county - to research for a whole year. This project gives you a monthly focus so that students are doing research, creating projects, and learning more than just Social Studies all throughout.
Student Created Tutorial Videos - We all know that students learn more by teaching others. But who has the time to sit and listen to 20 different "teaching presentations"? Instead, have students create videos to show they have mastered a topic. Build a class library of videos that students can refer back to when they are stuck. Don't just talk about a community of learners, build one.
I know that all of these resources are a bit "outside of the boxed curriculum", but our kids are not all inside the box. We owe them some learning that is outside of that box. For the past 5 years, I taught inside the box (because I had to), but brought in as many of these out of the box ideas as I could. If you are lucky enough to have the freedom to teach outside of the boxed curriculum - please enjoy and run with these ideas for your students. I have many more inside and outside of the box ideas at my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I hope you find something to help make your day slightly easier.
Tuesday TESOL Tip #1: Show Me The Picture! - Use These Tips to Build Neural Pathways for English Language Learners with Images and Videos
Back in 2012, when I taught English Language Learner exclusively in Morocco, I began a series called "Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tips". The series was long after a variety of website changes, so I have decided to revise it. I will be sharing one tip each Tuesday, starting with the original tips and expanding on them with the additional knowledge I've added in the last 8 years. Today's TESOL Teaching Tip is to use pictures and videos.
Teach ELL Students Tip #1: Use Pictures, Videos and Displays
One of the thing teachers are often surprised of with English Language Learners is how they can understand some difficult academic vocabulary words, but then not know basic every day words. For example, students will often know about interrogative sentences and the commutative property, but might not know what an olive is. Remember that when English Language Learners are learning, they are not always understanding every word. Additionally non school vocabulary is often not taught at all, or is mentioned in passing.
The concept of "a picture is worth a thousand words" is not new. However for English Language Learners, a picture can build vocabulary faster than hearing the word a hundred time. But of course, we shouldn't just show the kiddo a picture and move on. When we hit a word they don't know, use an image to get them over the hump. Then ask them if they know the word in their native language. This will help them build a connection. Finally, have students use the word in a sentence or in context, asking them to make that picture in their head. By helping students build these neuropathways, they are more likely to bring that picture into their head the next time they encounter that word.
Of course with verbs and more complex concepts, videos are even more effective. Stopping a lesson to watch a 30 minute video isn't ideal, but ten to twenty seconds of ballroom dancing is enough for students to understand the meaning of the word waltz.
Real Life Teaching Example:
I remember teaching using my Muslim Holiday Center Packet in Morocco. One of the activities was for them to draw a picture of words that were important to Ramadan. All of my kids could draw a picture of sunrise and sunset and pray and fast. The word that stumped them was – date (as in the fruit you eat when you break your fast.) Now, if these students lived somewhere else, I would say maybe they don’t know what a date is, but this was Morocco, and dates were a very common snack.
So, I projected an image of a date to show my students and all of a sudden they understood. We then talked about who did and didn't like to eat dates and drew a picture in our packet. All of these things allowed my students to make those connections and allow them to use that word in their writing later that week.
Public Service and Teaching Come Together on today's episode of Teaching Hive Mind: A Worldwide Window into Education Today
Teachers are busy. That should be news to no teacher reading this. However, because we are so busy, we often only see teaching as what WE are doing in our own school in our own area. We forget that there are so many teachers teaching in other parts of the world, in other circumstances, in other ways. For a long time I have wanted to help us as teachers connect with each other, to learn from what is happening in different schools around the world. Then COVID happened and the differences between areas became more and more apparent. So I have reached out to some teacher friends and put together a series called Teaching Hive Mind: A Worldwide Window into Education.
For each episode in this series, I will be interviewing an educator from a different area on what teaching looks like in their area, and how their area is responding to the COVID pandemic. Today I am releasing Episode 2: An Interview with Billie in New Mexico on Public Service and Public Safety during a Pandemic.
For this episode, I spoke with my friend Billie, who I teach with here in New Mexico. In addition to being a first grade teacher, Billie is our union president and is running for the New Mexico State House of Representatives. She is the epitome of a teacher who focuses on the needs of her student and a teacher's role in public service.
Billie and I discussed the unique challenges many of our students in New Mexico face, including a lack of broad band internet. We also discussed the safety procedures put into place in New Mexico, and the possible positive outcomes to come out of this pandemic. Small class sizes, especially seem to be a highlight of positivity from this situation.
Watch the entire interview on my YouTube channel.
Socially distanced classrooms are challenging the mental and physical health of our students. Intentionally add movement and conversation with these tips.
Movement breaks and brain breaks are definitely not a new concept in education. However, never have I taught a school year that required brain breaks more than 2020. Due to COVID restrictions, this year I have 14 first graders who are not allowed to leave their seats all day. Six year olds, at desks six feet apart, all day long. No centers, no "find a partner who..." activities, no real group work, not even the option to get up to sharpen a pencil or grab a piece of paper. We have truly no movement naturally built into our day. So, I started the school year by intentionally planning movement breaks and partner activities that would be a part of every school day, to protect the mental and physical health of my students.
I have always actually leaned away from formal brain breaks, like the ones posted on Go Noodle, because they often get students wound up and then require me to lose teaching time to get us refocused. Instead, I have always just built natural movement into our day, with center rotations, group projects, allowing students to get their own materials and work in every corner of our classroom. However, with all of those things being big no-nos, I went into this school year with an intentional plan to give students movement without taking away from instructional time. Here are a few of the things I have done:
"Action Break" Transitions
Even though my students can't rotate through centers, I am continuing to teach through small group rotations. Only this year the students complete the activities at their desks and I move from one small group to the next with my rolling whiteboard. In between each rotation, when students would normally be moving from one area of the classroom to another I have created "action breaks".
For these action breaks, I typed up a list of different actions, everything from basic exercises (like jumping jacks and pushups) to yoga poses (like chair pose and boat pose) to imagination activities (like pretending to drive a car or pretending to hula hoop). I cut up my list and during each transition, I pull an action and the kiddos have thirty seconds to a minute to complete it. This is about the same amount of time that I would normally give students to transition between center rotations, so no lost teaching time and the kids get out of their seats.
Planned Talking Partner Activities
When students are working in centers, they talk to their groupmates, a lot. When these conversations are on topic, they can create additional learning possibilities. This is especially important for English Language Learners and students with disabilities. But, honestly all students benefit from these peer on peer conversations. Additionally, these conversations give students an outlet from the monotony of their own thoughts. Without these built in times to talk, we as teachers need to intentionally build in talking opportunities.
Since groupwork is challenging from a six foot distance, I have assigned each of my students a single "talking partner". This is generally the person closest to them in the classroom. All throughout the day, I ask students questions and they are to discuss it with their "talking partner". This can be as simple as "Tell your talking partner about the work you did on that word problem." or "Tell your partner what you would do if you were that character." However, I also build in specific questions during whole group and small group lessons. As in I write the questions directly into lesson plans. I also put them in my daily slides. This keeps me focused and gives my students a brain break from listening to me. It also gives them a chance to talk and make meaning.
Learning Material Boxes
Since students cannot share materials this year, I gave each child a tote with baggies of basic manipulatives. It has things like red and white chips, connecting blocks, plastic coins, dice, a timer, a clock, etc. I originally created these simply as a time saver so I wouldn't have to sanitize manipulatives each time they were used. However, this has really helped encouraged my students to pull out manipulatives whenever they feel they need them. This increases learning and the metacognition skills to realize when they need manipulatives.
These learning boxes also increase movement. They sit on the floor next to my students' desks, and so each time they bend down to get something, they are more active than if I had delivered those manipulatives to them. Additionally, I use these learning boxes as an opportunity to build in partner talk. For example, I might say "Roll the dice, compare it with your talking partner. Who has more?" Or "Build that word with one chip per sound. Show your talking partner how to spell that word. "
The lack of movement and conversation our kids are experiencing due to COVID is very concerning to me, as a parent and as a teacher. It is not good for anyone's mental or physical health to sit still all day, or to be isolated from their peers. While I understand that this disease is dangerous, the measures we are taking to prevent disease spread are also dangerous. Please, as a teacher, find ways to add movement and conversation into your classrooms, whether you are teaching virtually or face to face. And if you have a great way to add this into the classroom that you'd like to share, please leave a comment with that information. Let's learn from each other to make the best decisions for our students.
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