Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Implementing Student-Led Conferences

Part of our jobs as teacher is to sit down with parents once or twice a year to discuss their children's progress and to set goals for future success. I always thought it was funny how parents and teachers get together to have these conversations, and to make decisions about a student's learning. For me, the missing link was always the student. As a teacher who has spent (almost) her entire career working with upper grade students, I started to realize that these students really needed to be involved in their own conferences. Why not let students lead the conversation about their progress and goals??

The Benefits of Student-Led Conferences
The first year after implementing student-led conferences with my class, the benefits were immediately obvious to me, my students, and their parents....

  • First, students take ownership and responsibility for their behavior, work habits, and grades. Instead of the teacher "defending" grades or marks for behavior, students must explain to their parents (and teacher) why they earned those marks.
  • Another benefit is that everyone is on the same page!! So much is lost in translation from school to home and home to school. With all parties involved, students, teachers, and parents can come together to discuss a student's needs without blame or excuses.
  • Also, students have more buy-in when setting and working toward goals. When students are able to identify and discuss their own strengths and weaknesses, they have a much easier time setting goals, and doing the work to meet those goals.
  • Most importantly, students feel a sense of pride and maturity when taking part in making decisions about their own education.

Conference Checklist
I always give my students a checklist to work through when they are leading their conferences. It starts with them welcoming their parents, showing them where to sit, and introducing them to me. Then they continue through the checklist, sharing about what they have learned, how they are doing in class, and eventually their goals. It ends with them thanking their parents for coming, and prompting them to ask any questions. Here is a sample of the checklist that I use:

What We're Learning This Year
I like for students to start their conferences by sharing what they are learning in class. Often times, this is the first chance that parents get to learn about what goes on in our classroom each day. It also gives students a chance to highlight some of their favorite activities that happen at school. Students usually spend about a minute or two sharing what they are learning.

Student Evaluation
In the weeks leading up to their conferences, students complete a couple self evaluations. The first asks them to evaluate their behavior and work habits. Then they complete a page about their strengths and weaknesses. This is good jumping off point for setting goals. During the conference, students will briefly share these evaluations.

Goal Setting
This is the final stage of our student-led conferences. You could have students write goals prior to their conference, or have them write them with their parents present. For the sake of time, I usually have students write their goals before their conference, and then modify them as needed during the conference. I also ask students to share with me and their parents what we can do to help them reach their goals. After all, we're a team and students should realize that they are not alone in achieving their goals!

After students have shared their evaluations and goals, and after parents have asked their questions, that is usually when I will step in to share the student's grades and any final thoughts. By the time we reach this point, so many great conversations have already taken place and students are able move forward toward achieving their goals.

The conference forms shared in this post are available as a FREE download in my Teacher Shop!! Click on the pic below to access this resource.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Effective Classroom Strategies to Combat Electronics

Who can compete with Minecraft, Rocket League, Roblox and Madden? We have a one-word answer for you-teachers!

Technology has taken over the lives of our students. Most, if not all, upper elementary students now have cell phones. Most have some type of gaming system at home, and probably a vast majority of them have some type of tablet at home as well (iPad, Kindle…). In an age where attention spans are judged on being fixated at an electronic screen, teachers are scrambling to find ways to engage their students in any way possible.

Ten years ago, the iPhone was released to the general public. Three years later came along the iPad. Since then society has been bombarded with electronic devices. Educators are beginning to see the impacts that these devices are having on child development. Ask any teachers and s/he will say that students’ attention spans aren’t what they used to be, they lack social skills when interacting with peers and adults, and are reliant on instant gratification. These seem like huge challenges for educators who spend 8 hours a day with these students.

What can educators do to at least address the issues we are seeing in schools? We have to be at the forefront of teaching our students social skills, patience, and perseverance.

We have developed 5 effective classroom strategies to combat electronics.

Interactive Read Alouds
Students need to be engaged in learning and listening. What better way to do this than through interactive read alouds. This is where the teacher selects high quality literature to read to the class. Every teacher should take at least 15 minutes a day to do this. Not only does the teacher read aloud, but s/he asks questions, models reading strategies, and even uses voices to portray characters. It is amazing how many students can’t wait for read aloud every day. We make sure that our students do not have anything on our desks when we do them, and sometimes we even have them come to the carpet as 5th graders to listen. When our district provided rigid guidelines for minutes for all subjects, one area we didn’t budge on was read alouds.

If the setting of a particular chapter is at night, turn off the lights and read by flashlight or candlelight. If there is an intense part of the book, add a little background music to make it come to life even more. Please make sure to do read alouds every day!

Drawing in Math
One way that we strive to make math more engaging, is by allowing our students to draw out the problems that we do in class. Not only does this get their minds working, it allows them to create a picture to help them learn. We have found that by allowing students to use images to help solve problems it has increased their attention spans and has helped to keep them focused on learning new concepts in math. Take a look at the example below.

Many students are kinesthetic learners and providing them with tools that they can manipulate in their hands during math can help them focus on the task at hand. 

Simulations in Social Studies
Reading out of a textbook all the time can get boring for any student regardless if they are addicted to electronics or not. Creating simulation activities where students play an active role in learning really helps to get them involved and excited to learn. For example, if you are teaching about the Oregon Trail, have the students do the learning by becoming pioneers who roll dice to determine their destiny. Or if you are learning about slavery, have your students pretend they are part of the Underground Railroad trying to escape to freedom. Along their journey they are learning about facts, famous people and events. If you can directly involve your students in simulations, their level of interest and participation will skyrocket!

Hands on Activities
When it comes to active student involvement, doing hands-on experiments in the classroom can’t be beat. Students love to get their hands into materials and be able to manipulate objects. It doesn't have to be limited to just science experiments.  You can do cooperative activities such as building towers out of spaghetti and marshmallows or the many STEM activities that are now available from many educators across the world.

Focus on Teamwork
We are finding that many students do not have good social or cooperative group skills. The social isolation of an electronic device at home has taken them away from quality human interaction. It is important to establish your room as a classroom community where collaboration and cooperative group work is the norm.

We have developed a slide show that focuses on Teaching Teamwork and Cooperative Learning for your students. The slide show has students memorize a set of numbers by themselves to see how many they can remember. Then it has them work as a team to see how many they can remember. The goal is to show your students that working together toward a common goal can have great results.

Teaching Teamwork and Cooperation Learning Activity

As educators, we need to engage our students at school and help teach them the social and academic skills that they will need to be successful in life. We need to show them that there is much more to life than staring into an electronic device.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

RtI for Math - Getting Started

Just the term RtI (Response to Intervention) can sound overwhelming.  When first starting out, it doesn't have to be a go big, or go home approach.  Start small.  Take baby steps and see what works and doesn't work for you.  You can begin implementing RtI for math right inside the confines of your classroom.  My district has a very successful RtI model for reading that we follow, but as for math, we are responsible for providing our own assessments, interventions, and tracking within our own classrooms.  So, how should you get started?  

1.  Gather Data

Where are you in the school year?  If you are at the beginning of the school year, administer a diagnostic test to see what students know and do not know from the previous year.  This will give you an idea of what skills students need to work on to be successful in the current school year curriculum.

You can also use your benchmark assessments to identify trouble spots.  By using the benchmark assessments you can create groups based on skill deficients and rotate students in and out of RtI according to their current need.

2.  Develop a Plan

Once you have administered the assessment you have chosen, begin to develop a plan.  Look for students' strengths and weaknesses.  Determine the skill(s) that the student needs the most help with.  Focus on no more than two at a time.   Next, create small groups of students based on their needs.  

You can download these FREE RtI Planning Forms HERE.  

3.  Provide Interventions

Interventions should happen in small groups, 4-5 times per week, and for a minimum of 20 minutes.  Instruction during interventions should be explicit and systematic.  This time should be used to provide extra practice and a lot of interaction with students.  

Interventions should be practiced under direct teacher guidance so that they receive on-demand corrective feedback.

During guided practice, the teacher should ask students to communicate the strategies they are using to complete each step of the process and provide reasons for their decisions.  In addition, the teacher should ask students to explain their solutions.  Note that not only interventionists, but also fellow students, can and should communicate how they think through solving problems to the interventionist and the rest of the group.  This can facilitate the development of shared language for talking about mathematical problem solving.  (Gersten et al, 2009, p. 23)

Add manipulatives for students to practice during interventions.  Here is a list of virtual manipulatives:

4.  Evaluate Progress

When evaluating progress, you want to think of it similar to giving a pretest, check points along the way, and a post test.  The "pretest" is the initial data that you collected.  This is the baseline for analyzing a student's progress. The "check points", which we call probes, should be a direct replica (referring to the format and type of problems) of the baseline that you took.  This way the data that is collected is reliable and valid.   

The frequency in which you assess students is up to you.  You may choose to give them weekly, bi-weekly, or when you feel that students are ready.  

If the student passed a probe, you may stop interventions.  I like students to be proficient with at least two probes before stopping interventions.  If the student did not pass the probe, interventions should continue.  The process continues until the student is able to successfully perform the task he or she initially struggled with.

If you are considering starting RtI for math in your classroom or even in your district, start small.  Collect your own data on how the process is going, and make changes along the way.  Just like in a classroom, one size does not fit all.  The tweaks you make along the way is what will help to make it successful.

Additional Resources to Get You Started

I have a series of blog posts that give a lot of additional tips!  You can find the RtI for Math Made Easy blog series HERE.  

Printable Resources

3rd Grade 

4th Grade

5th Grade