Sunday, September 25, 2016

Making Partner Work Perfect!

If you have followed the discussion over the past years about "21st Century Skills" or have been on this planet long enough, you know that the ability to work with others is just as important as any "content" knowledge that we, as teachers, can provide.

That being said, working "cooperatively" is NOT natural for all people, especially young children, and we have to make sure we are thoughtful about how we help students learn this valuable skill.  Today I thought I'd share three key things to keep in mind--and then offer a few suggestions to get your brain thinking about ways to incorporate more learning partnerships in YOUR classroom!

Partnerships are the perfect "starting point" for cooperative work!

 Think about how difficult it is for us, as adults, to get 4 or 5 of us to agree and be productive!  Young students simply haven't been around long enough to know how to do that "delicate dance" of sharing, contributing, listening, and more.  Learning how to actively listen is easier with just one other person.  Sharing with just one person is so much easier for student who are more shy--and it's easier to have a back and forth conversation than try to balance several people.  As students become accustomed to working with pairs, then it becomes easier to add people to the group.

When forming partnerships, be mindful of your students' feelings.  Be careful about the "find a partner" direction--because that is SO difficult for so many students.  Whether they be shy, slower thinkers, worried about other students' feelings--asking students to form partners on the fly is often a tricky situation.  Think about those who struggle finding partners and make sure everything is safe for them.

Ideas?  Use a "people picker" like popsicle sticks or index cards.  Premake partnerships whenever possible (in addition to avoiding popularity contests, this allows you to encourage students to work with MANY other students, not just best friends).  If you DO have students pick partners at times, consider a disclaimer, "If you don't find a partner in 15 seconds, come to me." so you can quickly help pair off those last few students.  My students get very used to working with EVERYONE in the class (males, females, tall, small, etc) and they actually REQUEST me to pick popsicle sticks to take the partnering process out of their hands.
student partnerships

 We need to explicitly TEACH partnering skills

Before I ask my students to work in partners, we have a number of discussions where we talk about what partnering LOOKS like, SOUNDS like, and WHY working in partnerships is beneficial.  Together we made a list that we continue to refer to as we refine our partnering skills.  The students did a pretty good job, I thought!  Consider making a similar list with your students to make sure they understand that partnering isn't always easy--but it's worth it!

As students start to work in pairs, you may need to stop and review some of these...and your students may come up with different ideas as well.  Students need to realize that partnering isn't easy--and they will have to work at it!  For some students, understanding that "balanced power" means that BOTH people have to share and both people have to listen is key--they can all relate to times they have had someone try to take over a group...and trying to work with someone who is NOT engaged or on task.

So when should I use partnerships?

All day long!  Think about all the different ways that "Two heads" might be better than one...try some of these!  Creating a climate where students work peacefully together will help increase engagement, improve learning, and increase the amount of academic discourse in your classroom.  Another added bonus?  As students work well TOGETHER, you are free to circulate, coach, and get a better sense of what is happening with your students' learning.

Buddy reading

Whether your students read with younger students or with others in your class, learning to read so others can hear, taking turns, staying on task, and using an appropriate voice level are all easy to practice with buddy reading.  Try making copies of a fun poem for students to experiment with--or have them partner read an article. If you really want to dig in, have students read a novel as partners where they have discussions and buddy reading over an extended period of time.  They can even complete a culminating project together!

Checking for accuracy

One of the first "partner routines" my students learn as we start the school year is "check for accuracy".  I start this with basic math problems, math homework, and other tasks--where students work alone, then compare answers with a partner.  We then practice how to handle when answers are different...and learn how to re-solve the problem together to see who was wrong and how to "fix up" any mistakes together.  This really helps create a climate for collaboration, not competition and is a great way for students to check homework, to check over practice work, or to test the spelling of a tricky word!

"Turn and Talk"

One of the classic partner activities...and a GREAT way to get all students involved in discussions--turn and talk is a way for students to participate more frequently.  This DOES need to be explicitly taught as well.  If you simply say, "Turn and talk to a partner", you can sit back and watch certain students immediately turning to a best friend, other students sitting back and waiting to be asked (often ending up sitting silent)--and this doesn't lead to productive talk.  Teach students to turn and talk by first checking around them to "include" students (may mean creating a trio!) and to make sure that each partner has a chance to share their ideas.  This is a great way to get everyone talking--especially when asking questions ALL students should have access to.  Not all students will know the answer to all math problems...but everyone should be able to answer questions related to read alouds ("What do you think Ally should do next?")...or other easily accessible ideas.

Math games

Math games are a fun and easy way to teach the give and take of partnering.  When students struggle, you can sit with them and coach the fair play and sportsmanship...but with games, the turn taking part is more automatic and students can work on some of the other factors such as voice level, on task behavior, using supplies wisely and more.
math workshop
This is one of the games in one of my "Partner Play" resources!  

Partner journals

One thing my students enjoy once in a while is what I call "partner journals".  You can do a lot of different things with this--but essentially in involves "sharing a notebook" to reflect back and forth on a read aloud, an article, a math problem--anything.  Check out THIS POST for more information.  It is a great way for students to realize that they write so that others can understand--and if they don't, communication breaks down.  Try it and see!

Challenge problems

Putting students in situations where they need to solve difficult problems can be a great way for partners to learn how to make suggestions, listen to ideas, and politely disagree.  When the answer isn't immediately obvious, it becomes clear that "two heads can be better than one"...and students can take their learning to higher levels.  What about when students WANT to work alone?  This is when coaching might be important...students need to see that other students might have great ideas, might help them find errors in their own thinking--and can make the entire process more fun!  
problem solving
My students did a great job partnering on this back to school shopping challenge!
algebra thinking challenge
These algebra thinking cards were MUCH easier when partners started working together!  The math discussions they had were fantastic--and they found lots of misconceptions and mistakes they were making as they worked!  My favorite quote?  "I knew I could  never do math this hard by myself!"

And so much more!

These are just a few suggestions to get your students working in pairs--but there are so many more!  Keep stressing how important collaboration is--and how it takes practice to get good at it...but when we ARE good at it, working together can be so much fun!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

5 Benefits of Weekly Reflections

Weekly Reflections are a great way for students to take a look back at their week and reflect on what they learned, how they were successful, what challenges they faced, and what goals they would like to set, moving forward. Weekly Reflections allow students to take the wheel and show ownership over their learning. In this post I will mostly be referring to a Weekly Reflection booklet that I created for use in my own upper elementary classroom. You can click HERE to download a free copy. Completing these reflections only takes about 15 to 20 minutes at the end of each week, but the benefits are well worth the time investment. Here are 5 benefits that I have found for having students complete these reflections each week...

First of all, weekly reflections give students the opportunity to celebrate successes each week, whether big or small. A student may have finally finished a challenging book that they have been working on, or finally mastered their x8 multiplication facts. No matter what it is, it is important that students have the chance to acknowledge their growth and learning, and the different ways they are successful throughout the year. Focusing on a success each week shows students that their hard work and effort is paying off. It also gives students the confidence they need to take on other challenges!

While addressing challenges is not as rewarding for students as celebrating their successes, it is still a very important part of weekly reflections. Students need to be able to identify what is challenging for them, in order to learn and grow. This is the perfect opportunity for students to communicate to themselves, their teachers, and their parents, exactly what they find to be challenging. Once these challenges are acknowledged, all involved can work together to address those challenges, and make a plan to overcome them. 

It is so important that students know what behaviors are expected of them at school. However, it is just as important that students are able to evaluate their own behaviors, and how those behaviors impact their learning and the learning of others. In this particular booklet, students rate their classroom behavior and work habits on scale from 1 to 5. When doing this they are able to acknowledge how well they did with each of these behaviors. This is also a great communication piece for parents, giving them a chance to discuss specific behaviors with their children, and to set expectations for the following week.

Once students are able to reflect on their successes, challenges, work habits, and behavior, this leads to the perfect opportunity for them to set short term goals for the next week. They might decide to focus on what was challenging for them that week, or focus on behaviors where they might need some improvement. Students might also choose to focus on something specific for that week, like a test or project that might be due. One of the most important parts of student goal setting, is that they also state how they plan to achieve their goals for the next week.

As a mom and a teacher, I know all too well that students are not always the best about communicating what happened at school each day. I have heard far too many "goods" and "fines" when asking my own kiddos about their school days. Weekly reflections are the perfect way for students to share what they are learning each week. They open up conversations about what's going on in the classroom, and students can then share their successes, challenges, and goals for the following week.

I truly think the most important benefit to weekly reflections are the conversations that students get to have with their parents and teachers. Weekly reflections puts everyone on the same page, and parents and teachers are able to reflect along with their students.

If you are not already using a reflection piece with your students, I urge you to give it a try. Click the pic below to download a Weekly Reflection Booklet to use in your own classroom. I guarantee that you will see these same benefit with your own students!!


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

5 Tips for Teachers Struggling with Behavior Management

Are you struggling with behavior management in your elementary classroom? This article will share 5 tips that will help teachers effectively manage their classrooms and provide students with more time on task and increased learning.

Having strong classroom management skills greatly increases a teacher’s effectiveness. The students have more time on task and more positive learning experiences when there are procedures and routines in place that enable the room to “run itself.” Consistency and clear expectations are the key to proactively avoiding most potential behavior issues.

One component of an effective classroom management plan is having strategies to help modify student behaviors and encourage students to make smart choices. Most teachers have tried and true behavior management systems they have used year after year. However, different cohorts and individual children may require something different from the norm. This blog post will provide you with tips on what to do if your current classroom behavior plan isn’t effective.
Are you struggling with behavior management in your elementary classroom? This article will share 5 tips that will help teachers effectively manage their classrooms and provide students with more time on task and increased learning.

#1 Analyze why your current behavior system isn’t working.

Sometimes the behavior strategies that worked great for a few years don’t work with your current class. See if you can figure out why. A colleague, puzzled by the fact that her marble jar didn’t motivate her kids, suddenly realized more than half her class were the youngest siblings in their families. Because they had older brothers and sisters and were exposed to more mature concepts, they felt it was too babyish for them. As a third grade teacher I had used a clip chart and thought it was magical, but after they were implemented school-wide, the chart lost its power because they had used it for three years prior. Sometimes it isn't the system, but the cohort of kids you are using it with. Put it away, experiment with something new and maybe try it again next year.

#2 Reflect honestly on how you are using your behavior plan.

Kids are perceptive. Last year my son and his friends shared an observation with me they had made about one of their teacher's use of the clip chart. They said, “There is only one girl in the class that the teacher has ever told to clip up. She only uses the chart to clip people down, but she never has anyone clip down to contact home.” That certainly isn't motivating to them. If you are associating rewards or punishments with your behavior plan are you fulfilling those promises consistently? Did you implement an elaborate classroom system with tokens as rewards but struggle to find time to actually open the classroom store you said they could shop at with the tokens? If the problem is with how you are using your system see if there is room for improvement.

#3 Mix up how you are managing student behaviors.

I said consistency is the key and that is true, but it doesn’t mean you can’t add in some variety. I had great success with introducing new positive behavior incentive plans at the start of each month. One month we did paper chains and the next we did Teamwork Bingo. Keeping things fresh and interesting motivates kids. This works especially well with whole class plans vs individual plans.

Are you struggling with behavior management in your elementary classroom? This article will share 5 tips that will help teachers effectively manage their classrooms and provide students with more time on task and increased learning.

#4 Be honest and open with the class.

What better way to model a growth mindset and encourage risk taking than by modeling it yourself. Hold a class meeting and discuss what you are seeing. Ask them to share their thoughts and reflections. Talk about why a change is needed. Collaborate with them on what the classroom community should do instead.

#5 Be sure you are regularly communicating with the students’ families.

Too often teachers will only contact home when a child has done something wrong. Establishing a system that builds in daily communication between home and school will automatically increase student accountability. Some teachers prefer (and some schools require) teachers to implement a behavior plan that is individualized and discrete. I created a system that met both of those goals and streamlined the process of communicating a child’s behavior to their family daily. I made a daily calendar/behavior log with numbers that directly related to my expectations. Each student had a monthly calendar in his daily communication folder. 
Are you struggling with behavior management in your elementary classroom? This article will share 5 tips that will help teachers effectively manage their classrooms and provide students with more time on task and increased learning.
{click to access and download}
If a child was not “meeting a classroom expectation,” I quietly addressed it by verbally reminding him of the expectation that he was not following. For example “You are expected to be on task during independent work time.” I then record the #7 on my whole-class chart. If the behavior continues I would state, “I reminded you that the expectation is to be on task during independent work. Let's add it to your calendar as a goal to work on.” I then circle the #7 on my chart which signifies that I will be recording it on his calendar. 
If the same behavior continues throughout the day, I add tally marks next to the number. This shows the parent what the child’s day looked like. In the event that a child exhibits repeated behaviors or demonstrates a behavior that is dangerous, destructive or considered to be "bully-like" they complete a goal sheet. The goal sheet communicates more about the incident to the family and, most importantly, it is in the child's words. 
I explain that because these are “expectations,” we don’t need to write on the calendar if they are doing what is expected. I don’t tie in extrinsic rewards because I think it is important for them to adhere to our established guidelines. The goal should be to do what is expected of them as members of a learning community, not just to earn a prize. This system provides data which is so important when grading report cards or participating in team meetings for a child. It allows teachers to analyze specific students and it provides the parents with a record of the day. Best of all it is quick, easy and not at all intrusive to the school day.
I encourage you to try it in your own classroom either with your whole class or a student who may need extra behavioral support. If you would like to save time, I have created a downloadable resource that will get you started quickly right away. It's available on it's own or as part of a bundle that also includes a comprehensive guide to classroom management, a teacher workbook for planning out procedures and routines and 29 other printable tools for improving classroom management.
Are you struggling with behavior management in your elementary classroom? This article will share 5 tips that will help teachers effectively manage their classrooms and provide students with more time on task and increased learning.
{Click to Access and Download}

Subscribe to My Newsletter for Frequent Freebies: Clutter-Free Classroom Newsletter

Visit My Blog: The Clutter-Free Classroom

See What I've Made @ My Store for Teachers

Follow Me on Facebook and  Pinterest

See What Goes on Behind the Scenes @ Instagram