Thursday, June 28, 2012

Home Again... and It's Currently June!

Well, it's not like we were without food or water or electricity... In fact, the accommodations were sublime! But five days without technology was a bit of an adjustment for me.

I loved seeing friends and family, (and I ADORE my teenage and almost-teenage nieces). But it is also good to be home.

I have to confess that I got off the plane, hurried home, and turned on the TV...
And, within minutes, I had about thirty-five windows open on my computer... all at the same time.


I'm sure this means there is something seriously wrong with me, but I felt so much more... comfortable and secure... once I had read the news (on a variety of sites), checked several e-mail accounts, logged onto Facebook, started getting caught up on blogs, and threw a bunch of stuff onto my wish list on TpT. Ahhhh. Yep, my life has returned to normal.

Further evidence of normalcy: My To Do list is eight pages long. My house is a mess. The post-trip laundry is piled up. I am behind on Guided Math AND Guiding Reading. (I think I need GUIDANCE!)

                                         HOWEVER, the calendar still says JUNE!


Which means although I am LAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTEEEE, I am not TOO late to join in on Farley's Currently for June! I may have the honor of being the LAST entry (#199!), but I will still be on the list. And my friend Farley at Oh Boy Fourth Grade will know that I didn't forget about her (like THAT would even be possible!)

So here's my thinking for JUNE... because, in a wink, it is going to be July!

As always, click on the picture link to get to Farley's party. And watch your Blog Roll for the July Currently link-up too. Next time, I am determined to be in the first fifty to join in...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Learning About Daily 5... and Learning to Relax...

My summer adventures began with a trip on an airplane. I hate flying. I really, REALLY hate flying!
I thought I was being quite smart when I tried the same approach suggested last winter to take my fear out of air travel...

I limited my carry-on luggage. I waited until the last minute to board. Then I practically lunged at the flight attendant and screamed (as nicely as I could under the circumstances), "BEVERAGE, please!" Unfortunately, I was so exhausted from the sleepless night before that my plan seems to have back-fired.
Aaaah... if only the beverage had looked more like this...
I did receive my beverage, but it seems that drinking it may have happened concurrently with a much-needed nap. Somehow I ended up wearing most of my orange-juice-and-other beverage all over my shirt. I'm still not sure if I tipped the cup into my lap or simply snoozed head-first into the fortified juice. Either way, when I woke up fifteen minutes later, my white shirt was less than dry... and it was newly-patterned. And I was orange-scented. And that cup was EMP-TY.

My travels began in Tacoma, Washington 
where I was stopped by
for a little professional development...

                        YEP! I spent two days with
                               THESE Two Sisters!

I attended both the Daily 5 and CAFE workshops and I learned a LOT. (I really tried to hide the recent "issues" behind a brain cell for the duration of the workshop.) Initially, I was worried that there wouldn't be enough content applicable to sixth grade. However, with a little encouragement from Sweet Katie at The Adventures of a Sixth Grade Teacher, I decided to give it a try. And I am so glad I did. There were goodie bags! And hand-outs! And cookies! (Golly, I love all that stuff. I MUST be a teacher!) Best of all, I feel like I have a better understanding of the whole process and it made me look forward to the Upper Grade Daily 5 Book Study even more!

Want to know more about the Daily 5/CAFE Book Study? There's a new blog in town! Check out the information about this exciting BlogEvent by clicking on the picture below...

And there are even more Book Studies going on... Just click on the Book Study tab in the right hand column at TBA!

Currently, I am sitting in a "Cyber Cafe." My friends have a beach house on the Oregon coast and they don't have Internet access. And they don't have TV. I am going though some serious withdrawals.

This morning, I snuck out of the house and found a funny little mildewed building with the words, "Wi Fi Hot Spot Here!" scrawled on a faded piece of paper taped to the window. YEE HAW!  Happy dance in the street! (Did I mention the entire--adorable--town is only six blocks long?!)

At the moment, I am paying in half hour increments to pound away on my computer. I want to blog about Guided Math, and share some of my thinking about Daily 5, and talk more about my plans for September. But I think they might start missing me soon and the ticking timer is telling me I almost out of minutes.

I know I am supposed to learn how to relax... I am just not sure that is part of who or how I am.

So... I am going to walk down the street in search of ice cream or a mocha (or both!). Obviously, there is no Starbucks here! (Thump Thump ____ Thump. That was my heart skipping a beat.)

Then I am going to hurry back to the house and try to fit in with the "vacation-minded crowd."

Any guesses on how that is going to go?

I miss you, BloggyPals! I hope you are enjoying your summer!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Defeated by Blogger... Again!

I am on vacation... and I have tried SEVEN times to post about my adventures.
Alas, Blogger simply refuses to accept my entries.
Consequently, I will just have to wait until I return to civilization to post about my travels.
I can't wait to chat with my BloggyFriends and to hear about what has happened while I have been away!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Making A Difference--Another Year Draws to a Close


I know it seems like I fell off the earth... but it has just been a crazy time...

Sixth grade activities and promotion have filled my life in the last week. My heart is bursting with JOY for my sixth-now-seventh graders and appreciation to all who helped to make our week unfold in such a lovely way!

Last Tuesday, we had Sixth Grade Park Day, a day that includes a picnic and games at the park next to our school. I forgot to take pictures (I was rather busy running three rotations of relay races!), but here are the leftovers. It was so nice to be outside in the sun knowing that our benchmark tests were completed and we were nearing the end of the school year.

Last Wednesday was the Sixth Grade Awards Luncheon. We had a pizza lunch (and used up the leftover soda from Park Day!) Every sixth grader got at least one certificate... but the highlight was when the kindergarten Book Buddies came in to say thank you and share one last hug with their Big Buddies. Nothing like fifty shared hugs to reduce the audience to tears.



On Thursday, we had Sixth Grade Game Day. This is usually my FAVORITE sixth grade celebration. We set up board games all over the room. There are are colored tablecloths and matching tags at each table. Every twenty minutes, the kids get a chance to choose a new game.  This keeps the tablemates rotating, and kids from the three different classrooms have a chance to interact with each other in different combinations.

On Friday, we practiced for promotion and then had cake--right before lunch so they could work off some of that sugar high!

We started Monday with big worries that we might not have enough time to practice songs and signs enough to pull it all together. Since we have some deaf students in our classrooms (and some deaf teachers too), our promotion ceremony is filled with sign language. All of the songs are signed. The speeches are interpreted by a sign language interpreter. In some cases, if a deaf student or teacher is signing, the interpreter voices what is being signed. It is beautiful to watch!

That afternoon, we put out the chairs and transformed the lawn. The blue backdrop was hung and the excitement was building. It was almost time...

I stayed up most of the night finishing certificates, making the banner, and putting finishing touches on the program. And I said more than a few prayers that everything would fall into place. I needn't have worried... while the teacher was a bit frenzied, the students had everything under control. It had become their ceremony.

Tuesday was a whirlwind. Balloons were filled and attached, the banner was hung, programs were folded and certificates were signed and sealed.

And then it was time...

The theme was "Make a Difference," so students' speeches focused on how our school has made a difference in their lives... and how they will use their school experience to make a difference in the lives of others.  Students talked about overcoming shyness, learning to speak English, learning to be happy with their "true self" and finding their possible career--we heard hopes of becoming a professional athlete, an engineer, an artist, an author, an inventor, a Navy SEAL, a neurologist, a video game designer, a chef... and a teacher! My principal shared the "Starfish Story" which illustrated that making the difference in one life is significant and it can become a catalyst for change that benefits many. Finally, each child shared one of their wishes, hopes or dreams... which ranged from having money grow on trees, to wishes for good health, to finding a job to cover the cost of gas prices, to living in a society that could meet everyone's needs, to ending global warming. I was proud and awestruck by their sincerity, their maturity, and their poise.

The students signed "You Have Made a Difference," "One Voice" part of "Graduation" by Vitamin C and, best of all, "Firework" by Katy Perry. That was a crowd-pleaser!

Once the students had received their certificates, one of my students who is deaf and two of my students who are hearing joined together to provide the audience with a little sign language lesson. By combining the letters, "i," "l," and "y," you make a handshape which is the "I love you" sign. With signs and shouts of "I love you," students reminded their parents how much they are loved--and then the parents sent that same message back to the kids. It WAS a day filled with love!

They walked out to "Forever Young," and then, it was over.
                  My students have been promoted to seventh grade.
                                         And I am left to enjoy warm memories of another year completed.

So here I am with my feet in June, my heart in July, and my mind racing toward September...

This was one of my most difficult years of teaching--my students had many diverse needs and I felt like I was always in search of a way to reach them. And yet, in many ways, it was one of my best years of teaching. I know that several of my students will do truly great things.  And I am hopeful that many of them will come back and visit in the years to come.

Becoming a part of the Blogging Community has provided me with many lessons, ideas and strategies to improve my teaching skills. Best of all, I have met a network of colleagues who have walked alongside me--through cyberspace--all year long. Thank you, BlogFriends. I hope you know how much I appreciate you... and I hope you recognize that YOU have made a difference in my life too!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Classroom Management: The Purple Clipboard

I have heard it said that the best way to increase positive behavior to is to reduce the need for negative behaviors to occur...

I have many systems that keep my classroom running smoothly--from classroom jobs to signs and signals that we use in class.  We fill each others buckets, we make commitments during class meetings to improve our decision-making, we celebrate successes big and small, and we examine the "why" behind our behavior choices.

Further, I spend the first month (or two!) of the school year spelling out the positive behaviors that I expect in my classroom. We talk about why certain choices are safe, responsible, respectful, important, etc. I want the students to have as many opportunities as possible to do the right things and a limited need to do the wrong things. I am sure most teachers use all of the same procedures.

If only that were all I had to do! I honestly believe that some students are not aware that their most common social interaction is rolling their eyes. Others aren't cognizant of the fact that they are yelling out answers or comments throughout the day. Some arrive in sixth grade not knowing I really DO expect them to participate, to remain on task, and to NOT throw things (why are those red pencil top erasers so often the choice for airborne expeditions?)

Although our room is housed on an elementary site, I try to offer them the skills to help them transition into middle school. Consequently, most of my management systems are subtle and somewhat inconspicuous. We don't change clips or cards; instead, behavior is managed through a clipboard system.

From the first minute of the first day that clipboard is in my hand. I show it to them. I show them their names. I show them the key at the bottom of the page. I show them how I mark the occurrence of incorrect behavior choices. Originally, I will say, "I'm sorry that I will need to record a 'CO' for those who are calling out. In our room, there are lots of times when it is okay to talk without raising your hand--but if I am talking, or explaining something, or giving directions, it is not respectful to make comments or call out answers." Especially at the beginning of school, I try to explain WHY certain behaviors are not acceptable. And I encourage them to choose to do the right thing--for them and for their classmates.

The clipboard is always covered. The actual marks are not visible, although when I confer with a student, I will sometimes show them their data (keeping the marks for other students covered). In this way, I try to help students make sense of their choices and to "see" what I see from my side of the classroom.

During the first few weeks, I really try not to go to "Phase Two," but sooner or later, it happens. If a student cannot get his behavior under control, I will show him the marks on the clipboard at the end of the day (Likely, I have been providing warnings and opportunities throughout the day). The first time that the student exceeds three reminders in a day, he needs to take home a yellow card for a parent signature. I explain that the first card is a warning. And I tell him that this card will be put in his behavior folder, but the next time, the card will need to be taken home.

Each time a student exceeds three reminders in a day, he takes home a behavior card. It is usually around October when a savvy student asks, "Why don't you just say FOUR reminders? Isn't more than three the same as four?" To which I respond "Three is an adequate number of reminders in a day. More than that is too many." (And, for the record, there are times when those behaviors occur more than three OR four times!)

I have many uninvolved parents. Many sign the cards without caring. Sometimes I have to send duplicate cards home. But some do care and that makes my job easier. And, over the years, I have noticed other things...

1. Some kids really DON'T know how often they demonstrate inappropriate behaviors. This system helps them to know. In fact, for some kids, I pair this with a clip system and ask THEM to keep track of how often they are out of their chair (or any behavior) and I ask them to put a paper clip on an index card every time the behavior occurs. I've had some kids say: I was off task eight times today. Do you think that's too many?" {Yep!} I will then ask the student what I need to do to help her change the behavior that she is working on.

2. I require every parent to come to a conference for the first report card. I have made home visits, met in coffee shops, etc., but that first face-to-face meeting is critical. When I bring out a handful of behavior cards (some with forged signatures!) even my most disinterested parents raise an eyebrow. That little bit of buy-in helps set kids on the right track--at least for a little while.

3. More than anything, kids need to know that I KNOW what they are doing --and that I expect them to get better. I don't expect them to be perfect, but I expect them to improve. I often write a note on the back of the card (okay, it is hastily scribbled because I am usually writing as we are walking out the door at the end of the day).

This is not the only system I use. And the majority of my behavior management is done through routines, plenty of modeling and directions, and clear expectations. However, in an educational system where data collection is critical, this provides me an ongoing record with very little effort. I keep all of the daily behavior records in a binder, so I have the data at my fingertips. Because there is a key at the bottom, it also an easy record-keeping system for substitute teachers, push-in teachers and student teachers to follow. Further, when we are all using the same systems, students don't need to guess which teacher uses which system in our classroom.

After a while, this becomes a system that runs itself. When the kids walk through the door, I am often holding the clipboard. This is a cue to enter quietly and get ready to work. I don't even have to ask any more. When the noise level gets too loud, I will ring the chimes. If the noise continues, I reach for the clipboard... and most students recognize that I am scanning for correct behavior and noting those who have needed too many reminders. Usually, behavior improves before I even find a pencil. And, although it is now June, "good" behavior has persisted. I have only sent home five behavior cards in the last three months!

I have a student who has been working on "self-control" all year. Recently, we were discussing an assignment and she blurted out a comment before I had a chance to finish the explanation. And then she looked at me with a very serious expression and said, "Sorry. I know it's distracting when I interrupt." I'm not sure which of us went home with a bigger smile that day.

I don't want you to think I spend all day looking for infractions and being an inflexible tyrant. We do a lot of laughing in our classroom. And there are many positive elements of my behavior management program as well. We celebrate almost anything! It is important to note that I make "happy calls" and send home "happy notes" too! I am particularly fond of these stickers from SmileMakers (click the image to see the catalog)
I put them on an index card and detail the wonderful behavior, kindness and good choice-making I have observed. I try to recognize the little things--especially when a child has selected a self-management strategy as a goal.

I also use these notes... they were a freebie from my blog during the Bunny Blog Hop. but they are still at Click on the picture below to take you there.

I encourage my students to take responsibility for their own behavior, not because I am watching, but because it makes it easier for them--and everyone else--to learn and have fun.  My students will tell anyone who will listen that in our classroom, we have a commitment to service, to leadership and excellence. On the first day of school I always say, "When I tell people that I teach sixth grade, many people reply, "Oooooh. That must be challenging..." I add that people often expect sixth graders to be unruly and rude and out-of-control. And then I add with a wink, "Our job is to prove them wrong. Let's show them how wonderful sixth graders can be."

I am ready to start my thirtieth year and I haven't given up yet. This is the system that works for me. But I am always looking for new elements to add or to blend in with what I am currently doing. I am interested in learning more about your management systems too.

There are lots more ideas about classroom management linking up so head back to TBA by clicking on the button...