Monday, May 22, 2017

5 Reasons to Teach Cursive in the Digital Age

Cursive?  What's cursive?  How many of you still teach it or have students that come to you knowing how to write in cursive?  Learning how to write ones name is one of the first things that children learn.  They need to know how to write their own name with paper pencil.  Right?  Well, we haven't changed it.  With technology being so readily available, once students learn how to write in print, cursive has been place on the back burner.  The Common Core Standards took it out completely.  So, you may be wondering why is it necessary to teach cursive in the digital age.  I have five reason that may persuade you to keep it in the curriculum.  

1.  Signatures

Needing to write your signature is just as important today as it was 200 years ago.  Signatures are needed on legal documents.  When you are told to sign your name, do you sign your name in print or cursive?  If you have your own signature, it's your own style, and much harder to duplicate.  Without knowing the basics of cursive, creating your own signature is a little more difficult.  

2.  Develops Motor Skills

Have you ever watched students learn cursive for the first time?  It's definitely not as easy as one would think.  When writing in cursive students use hand muscles in different ways, a different part of their brain is activated, which in turn can be beneficial in furthering motor skill development.  

3.  Patience

Like mentioned in number three, learning cursive is not easy.  There is a lot of eye/hand coordination that goes into creating those curvy letters.  It takes a lot of concentration for a long period of time to get it right.  All the concentration contributes to patience and diligence.  

4.  What Happens if There's No Technology?

Technology, what would we do without it?  Some of us couldn't imagine a world without it, but who is to say that it will always be there.  Writing in cursive is faster.  So, if you are without a keyboard, and taking notes is a necessity, you have cursive as your backup.

5.  We Need to Be Able to Read Cursive

There is a lot of research out there about teaching cursive.  One argument is that students need to be able to read historical documents.  It's not that I don't agree with that, but I don't know that I have ever had to read the Constitution in its original form.  While it may be important to read historical documents, it's not the only reason students need to be able to read cursive.  Children still have adults in their life that write in some form of cursive.   Not everything we encounter is digital.  I have had many students see something written in cursive and tell me that they can't read it because they can't read cursive.  So, if we teach students to write in cursive, they will be able to read cursive.  

The days of teaching cursive to perfect it may be a thing of the past, but teaching students to write in cursive should still be an important part of the curriculum.

Where should you start?  I have the solution HERE.   Everything you need to get started and continue teaching cursive at your fingertips.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Connecting with Your Class: Steps to Increase Student Engagement

If there is one thing that will help you be a more effective teacher, it is making connections with your students. Below we have outlined our top 10 ways that we can connect with our class. They are easy to implement and will result in your students performing better for you in all subject areas.

1. Listen!
Probably the most important thing you can do every day is just listen to your students. They have so much to share and just taking a few seconds to listen to their stories will make all the difference. With the hustle and bustle that we all face on a daily basis, this can seem like it is hard to accomplish. But we must, as educators, connect with our students. Listening is the first step in establishing a trusting relationship with your class.

2. Greet Every Day
When the students arrive in the hallways in the morning it is important to be visual outside your classroom door. You set the tone for your class every day. By smiling and greeting each child by name, you are recognizing that they are important and that you are glad that they are at school. It can also be a red flag as to why a child is having a rough start. You can find that out early on, and be able to address it before it balloons into a bigger issue during the school day. Plus, the kids love it and will often stop to talk to you about something that happened. Remember to listen!

3. Class Chant
Every morning after we say the Pledge of Allegiance, we do our class chant. This is a time to bond together as a class and to say statements that you believe in. Here is our class chant.
I am somebody.
I am capable and loveable.
I am teachable.
Therefore, I can learn.
I can do anything when I try.
I will not let others stand in my way of learning.
I am somebody.
I am somebody.
I am somebody!
Students love to do this and remind me if I ever forget. We even have students come back to us from previous years and can recite it back to us. It is a great way to connect with your class and show them that they are somebody!

4. Culturally Responsive Techniques
As educators we know that students learn through various methods. That is why it is so important to not always teach in the same way. Over the past few years, we have realized the importance of incorporating culturally relevant teaching techniques in our classroom. We want ALL of our students to feel included in the learning process. You can find 25 engaging culturally responsive teaching techniques for purchase by clicking here.

5. Interest Inventory
A great way to get to know your students is to hand out an interest inventory.The questions on the inventory are geared at helping you get to know your students better. It is a quick, stress-free handout that you can give to your students and have them complete in under 15 minutes. Click here to download this free resource!

6. Student-Selected Music
Asking students what music they like to listen to is another great way to connect with them. We have students take out a piece of loose leaf paper and write down their favorite musicians and songs. Then, we go through the process of screening them (looking up lyrics on the internet) and compile a class list. There are a few ways to do this. One is to find them on youtube and then just save them to a folder on your account. Another way is to find a Pandora Or Amazon Unlimited Music channel that has clean versions of songs available. We also like to play classical music too. Surprising kids with their songs during work time will sure to be a hit with your class!

7. Class Library
If you want to build reading fluency with your class, have high interest books in your class library. Each year we find out not only the genres of books that students like, but also topics that they would love to read more about. Over the past 10 years we have included books about Minecraft, WWE wrestling, monster trucks, horses, graphic novels, and so much more. The books are easy to find in our library as we have them labeled by interest as well as genre. If we don't have a topic that a student is interested in, we make it a point to either order a few books through Scholastic Book Club or go to our local book store and buy a few.

8. Real-Life Connections
If there is any way you can connect the curriculum to the students' lives it will make it more engaging for them. By doing this, it will also more than likely increase their achievement in the subject as well. Doing project-based learning is a great way to foster interest and self-motivation. Writing is a great area to implement real-life connections. If you are doing an argumentative, or persuasive, essay, have the students write about topics that matter to them. Then make sure that these essays are shared with the appropriate channels (local newspapers, principal, magazines). You would be surprised to see the responses you will get and we have had students' essays published in the local newspaper as well!

9. Star of the Week
Each child deserves to be spotlighted for one week. We have the child create a "Star of the Week" poster (we provide the poster board). On the poster they can include things such as family photos, favorites (food, drink, book, TV shows/movies,...) and any other things that are important to them. They bring the poster to school at the beginning of the week and we have a special place to display it so all kids can see it throughout the week. Then at the end of the week, the student shares his/her spotlight with the class. It is amazing to see the pride they have in doing this. We also take a picture of the child with the spotlight and then email it to the parents as well.

10. Time to Talk
If there was one thing we wish we could do, it would be to give each child 5 minutes of our time each day. It would be great just to meet with them and listen to what they have to say, really dive in and get to know them. But we know the harsh reality of today's rigid teaching environment doesn't allow it. But that doesn't mean that you can't find ways to sneak in a few minutes a day with kids. That morning time when students are arriving at school is key. They want to tell you so much, try and listen. That work time where students are working quietly, kneel down by them and ask how they are doing. That guided reading time when you are meeting with small groups, connect the book to their lives and find out more about each of them. The end of the day wrap up, take time to sit in a circle and share about their days. Just by taking time to allow them to talk about non-school related things will show them that you truly care.

We hope that you can take the time to implement at least a few of the above ideas into your classroom. Connecting with your class truly will increase student engagement!

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Rethinking the Rough Draft: A Simple Strategy that Leads to Better Revising

Of all the stages of the writing process, doesn't it feel like revising often gets the short end of the stick? One of the obstacles that always seems to be in the way is the simple logistics of where to do it.

When students make this small change to how they write their rough draft, it allows them a lot more freedom when it comes to revising. Such a simple yet powerful idea!

Students write their rough drafts in their composition notebooks, filling the lines, front and back, eventually "finishing," and we move them into the revising stage.

Okay, make it better, we say. And students caret in a few adjectives. Maybe they even cross out a sentence or arrow one into a better place. They notice a capital letter to fix and a word they repeated accidentally, and ultimately, the revising stage begins to look very similar to the editing stage: a little fix here and a little fix there.

The piece as a whole looks basically the same as it did prior to revising. And that's a bummer because the potential of that piece is a lot higher than where it stands, and the revising stage is meant to be a time to close that gap.

But where in their rough draft do we expect students to make those bold changes, those big changes, those important changes? There's just not enough space to do it. The manner in which the draft has been written is not conducive to making serious revisions.

Sure we can pick and poke and find ways around. Skip lines, we say. Use arrows, we say. Tape a flap of paper over the top, we say. Not bad. But how about we rethink the rough draft altogether? Let's revise how the rough draft is written. Let's write the rough draft in a way that completely removes the obstacle of not having space to make revisions.

Enter, the one-column rough draft.

When we fold our notebook page in half length-wise, it creates two columns: one for drafting, and one saved for revising.

And the obstacle is obliterated.

It's a simple, easy adjustment, but let's look at the difference it allows when it comes to revision:

When I introduced the one-column rough draft idea to students, I first had everyone turn to a fresh page in their writer's notebook and fold the page over to the pink line, creating two columns. Then I gave the class a story starter, just to get everyone rolling with an idea, and asked them to begin writing their draft on the left side of the fold only. Even if they went on to another page, they were to leave the column on the right side blank during this drafting phase.

After a few minutes of writing, I stopped the class and brought one student's notebook to the document camera to model some revisions.  Before I started, I made clear what we were about to do: "Boys and girls, let's do some revising to Audrey's draft. Do you see the blank column here? Let's see if this allows us to do the revisions we want, whether big or small."

I proceeded to read Audrey's draft aloud, and then chose a few spots to make revisions. What was super nice was the ability to write the revision right next to the spot in the story where it occurred. Whether we were revising a phrase, a sentence, or an entire section, we had the space to do it.

I then asked the class to take some time to try revising the draft they'd written thus far, getting a feel for using this new space.

The one-column rough draft can really open a door to meaningful revising.

You might say that even if students had all the space in the world, they still wouldn't make dramatic revisions, that students tend to think whatever first flows out of the pencil is their best work, or that serious revising is just too much of a hassle.

Those are issues. And we can work on them. But for now, let's clear out the one big obstacle of space.

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