Thursday, January 18, 2018

I Like to Move It, Move It

Happy New Year (still)!

When was the last time you sat in a long meeting, PLC, or training. Feel free to call me out on this one from some meeting or PD you were in with me (“Tracy! That's that one long meeting with YOU!”)

If I can ask a personal question, how do you FEEL after sitting for that long? Do your legs go numb? Does your foot bounce up and down? Do you change posture over and over again? Does your backside get too tired of those plastic molded chairs we find almost everywhere?

Uhhhhh, Trace? Pot? Kettle?

Yup. I’m not a superstar at incorporating movement in my instruction or my PD,  I admit it.

Sitting too long makes you tired. It makes your eyes glaze over. It makes you zone out. It makes your fitness tracker chirp at you. And if you sit there every day in 45-minute chunks (or longer!!) and rarely get to move ...

Your brain won’t work as well. You need oxygen to your brain, produced by body movement.

The average learner regardless of age (that means we- adults as well as our teens and tweens) needs to briefly move their bodies every 15-30 minutes If you’re in a 45 minute class, you need to have kids get up once in the middle. If you teach on block, you need to get them up multiple times a block.

Here are a couple of benefits of movement breaks:
  • Brain needs processing time for short term memory
  • As students return to content, their brains can refocus; movement re-energizes learning
  • If students are uncomfortable or stressed, the brain will not retain new information easily.
  • There is much less movement in today’s world of Ubereats, social media, and Shipt. Kids and grown ups need to move!
  • Our best ideas often come when we are taking a break.
  • Movement and collaboration heighten participation.
  • Movement can builds relationships, self-esteem and sense of belonging
  • Movement boosts listening skills and communication

  • Approximately 90% of the oxygen in our bodies are “stale” until we take a deep breath, yawn, or move.
  • Lack of oxygen results in confusion, lack of focus, and memory problems.

Yeah. It’s kind of a big deal.

“But Trace,” you say, “if I let my kids get up, they’ll go crazy!! (more likely in middle school) or “my kids will think it’s stupid and they won’t want to do it (more likely in high school)

If you’re worried your kids will get wacky, then set parameters, like you do with everyone else. Then don’t give them a “wiggle break” or a “stand and stretch” break. Instead, work it into your lesson.

Try things like
  • If you agree with x, stand up at your seat. Now sit down. If you think it’s y, stand up at your seat.
  • Please walk around the room to find someone who chose the same answer you did. See if you two (or three) can explain why you chose what you chose.
  • Please send one member of your group to me to check the answer.
  • Go post your response on a sticky note on the board/question when you’re done.
  • Do a gallery walk in small groups.
  • Graffiti challenge -- post prompts, misconceptions, or political cartoons on chart paper on the board. Have kids go respond to those question with graffiti. No chart paper? Have them write right on the whiteboard
  • Turn and talk -- but GET UP and find someone to talk to  ... (whose name starts with the same letter as yours, someone whose birthday is in the same month as yours, someone who as the same math teacher as you.. whatever)

One last note -- Movement is one of the 6 Ms of Culturally Responsible Instruction. When kids are up and moving, they are interacting with each other. When they speak and are heard by each other, they are being culturally responsive. And when they get up and move you-the-old-person-teacher (yes, even you, recent-college-grad. You’re old in their eyes), your Old Self is being responsive to their youth culture. And youth (children and teens) need to MOVE! It’s developmentally appropriate. So with movement, you are incorporating a small piece of CRI (Culturally Responsive Instruction)

And today, it might get the blood flowing through their frozen little limbs.

Try some movement. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Put some rules/parameters on it and give it a purpose. You’ll be surprised at how much it improves student learning.

And then, get up and move it, move it. (You’re welcome for that Lin-Manuel Miranda "Moana" earworm!)

Let me know how it goes. Does your class implode? I hope not! Email me to tell me!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Write It Down

Happy New Year!

I’m not doing New Year’s resolutions, per se, this year. I’m just...
  • Cutting back on my holiday eating and tracking my food
  • Trying to keep my family room more picked up (darn it!)
  • Finding more time for personal (not work) reading.

New Year's’ Resolutions are a little cliche. And are often “fails” before Valentine’s Day. So instead of thinking about a New Year’s Resolution, I am just trying to be more conscious and intentional.

I feel that way about my new semester. I don’t need a real “resolution:. I just need some attempts at improving myself and my instruction. .

Now, I certainly haven’t taught every type of kid out there. But I have taught a bunch.  
  • I have had classes of entirely ESOL students with not an English-speaker to be found.
  • I have taught entire classes of all gifted students.
  • I have taught ESE Inclusion classes and classes that just happened to have 90% ESE students.
  • I have taught classes with 26 boys and 3 girls (who does that?!?!).
  • I have taught classes of all girls
  • I have taught 6th graders and 12th graders and most grades in between.
  • I have taught required courses and electives

And here is the number one teaching hack that I feel is rarely used.

Are you ready for it?

It’s so stupid, it’s brilliant.

Here goes:

Write. All. Your. Directions. Down.

Write ‘em down. Write ‘em on the board, write ’em in a powerpoint, write ‘em on the handout  before you photocopy it. Write ‘em in portal, for make-up work. Write ‘em digitally in your Google Classroom or class website.

Just put the directions in writing to whatever activity or assignment.

It’s amazing how frequently a teacher shows me some student work and bemoans the quality of work ... and then when we look at it more clearly, they notice that a kid missed some part of the directions.

You know. The kid copied the whole question when they weren’t supposed to. Or they answered the first part of the question but missed the second part. Or they totally didn’t find the answers in the reading. Or they didn’t know that there was a second page.

This is not because the kid is stupid. This is because some kids are not auditory learners.

I am not an auditory learner. I need directions written out for me.

When you give verbal directions, some kids are going to miss parts of those directions. If the directions are written, the kid can go back and look to see what she missed.

Here is the beginning of a  solid set of written directions from superstar/Pinellas teacher, JH.

Step 1: Get into groups of 3.  No groups of 4.  You will be in 2 groups of 2 instead.   No, you can’t work by yourself.
Step 2: Read both documents written by Camillo di Cavour in your group.  Come up with comments or questions for each paragraph, and write them on the margin.
Step 3: Discuss the documents in your group.  What is di Cavour’s main idea?  What idea is he trying to spread?
Step 4: Underline the passage every time he makes an argument for nationalism.   Are you convinced? Why or why not?  Write your answer somewhere on the document for each underlined argument.

There is more to the assignment, but do you see how students choosing groups can be a little distracting and can make the kids forget what they’re supposed to be doing next?

Instead of just giving the directions verbally, write them down, too.

Seriously. This is such a small “teaching hack” that can make such a huge difference.

Written directions can help
  • the ESE student who struggles with more than one-step directions.
  • the gifted student who gets distracted and goes down the rabbit hole.
  • the ESOL student who needs to connect the written word to the spoken word, helping his language acquisition.
  • the kid who was daydreaming, talking, texting, or staring at her love crush du jour across the room.

It’s not a magic fix-all. But it sure does help more kids be more successful at the learning tasks in your class. And if they’re more successful with the tasks, then they can be more successful with the  learning.

Try it. It’s so simple, it’s awesome.

Write the directions down. And see if that boosts the success of some of your kiddos.

I love to hear about it. Email me!


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Graffiti Challenge

Ok, team! The countdown to Winter Break is down to single-digits! Wahoo!!! After today, there are seven school days left -- and several of those are exam days!  So let’s do one last review game -- one that requires VERY LITTLE PREP!!! (almost none)

Here is our last Review Strategy for December...

Higher Order Review: Graffiti Challenge
  1. Use it before an assessment or project to review key concepts, words, or HOT questions.
  2. What you need:
    1. Key concepts (1 for each poster)
    2. Chart paper
    3. Markers
  3.  Write each of the chosen key concepts or HOT questions in the middle of the poster and spread the posters around the room.
4. Put students into groups, each one with a poster.
  1. Hint: Keep groups small (no more than 3-4 a group) and let the kids name their groups if they want.
  2. Give students the markers or let them choose (you can have them next to the posters).
  3. Describe to them the process and the intervals. They are to write as many words, phrases, sentences, or draw pictures that relate to the concept or HOT questions within the allotted time interval.
  4. Hint: Don’t make it a long time interval. 3-5 minutes max.
  5. You call SWITCH and they rotate to the next poster.
  6. Follow this procedure until students return to their original poster.
  7. Collect the posters and display them; or have the students choose where to display them.
  8. As a class, go through the posters. Correct any mistakes if necessary and add any important information where necessary. This can also be student-led.
  9. As you go through the posters, ask additional higher-order thinking questions!

Pro tips:
  • Explain the rules, expectations, and concept of the game prior to beginning it.
  • Have the students lead the discussion at the end.
  • Have the students tally up points at the end.
  • Keep a strict and consistent time interval. It creates a sense of urgency.
  • Give each team their own color to help you keep track of who said what on the chart paper.

Benefits of Graffiti Challenge Game:
  • Because the kids will love it! Especially having a choice between writing a word, phrase, sentence, and drawing.
  • It forces the students to pull from their own knowledge and collaborate with each other.
  • It gives the students an opportunity to move about the room while you still maintain control.

Watch Out For:
Students get a little “crazy” because they don’t know what to do. That can be solved by thoroughly and explicitly discussing your rules, expectations, and the reasons for the review game. It can also be solved by maintaining a consistent time interval during the rotations.

All you need is a little chart paper, some markers, and some open-ended questions! Can you use it? Will it help your kids review content? And ... can you make it these last few days before Winter Break? I’m a little antsy myself.

As always, email me and let me know how it goes!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

True False Fix

When was the last time you gave a True/False activity? Most of us have moved away from  these. They give kids a 50/50 shot at guessing. They actually take time to craft carefully --- and if we don’t take time, they end up being ridiculously easy for kids to answer. That makes them low level.

But recently, we have found a new life for true/false statements! *Full disclosure! We still have to spend some time on them so they aren’t  super easy!

But the amount of thinking that goes into True/False/Fix might be worth it. You tell me what you think...

Higher Order Review: True, False, Fix
  1. What you need:
    1. 10-20 statements that are cut out and that are true and false. (Pro tip: use different colors and Ziploc bags to keep each group’s stacks from getting mixed with another’s)
    2. Blank paper (1 per group)
    3. Writing utensils
  2. Choose several statements that are higher order and true and false about the materials you are reviewing. (not “right there” statements)
    1. These need to be separated into separate slips (cut outs) of paper so they can be moved around.
    2.  Choose 10-20 statements, depending on the length of your class and your students.
  3. Divide the students into pairs and separate throughout the room.
  4. Allow them to create their own team names
  5. Describe the expectations, rules, and processes of the review game.
  1. Phase 1: Set a timer and begin! If the statement is correct, they move it to the left side. If the statement is incorrect, they move it to the right side.
    1. They must have done this before moving onto the next step.
    2. 10 minutes is enough time for them to read through it and separate.
  2. Phase 2: Set a timer and have the students correct the false statements.
  3. Phase 3: Go over the false statements with the class – this can be done by group, individually, or whole class. Don’t forget! Have the students correct the false statements.
  4. 8.      Phase 4: Have the students write their own! 2 true and 2 false statements, share with a neighboring group, and teach their classmates!
Pro tips:
  • Keep students on a timer and monitor the room.
  • Explain the goal and expectations ahead of time.
  • Work with the students in their groups.
  • Allow them to use lesson materials, but remind them of the time limit.
  • Idea: You can have the students earn points for correcting the false statements.
Benefits of True, False, Fix
  • You can review larger topics and single quotes.
  • The students can practice quickly correcting mistakes and form the correct answers.
  • The students can write their own true-false statements and have a different group sort and correct, teaching the others.
Watch out for:
  • Students might not understand your rules and expectations, so make sure they know this in advance!
  • What if they don’t write a corrected phrase? Walk through it with them! It’s super beneficial to do one as a whole class so they see it! (MODEL IT)
  • They could get off-task…monitor them and interact with them during the game!

What do you think? Can your students try True/False/Fix? Will they review what you want them to review? Will it help? As always, I love to hear about it! Email me at