New Year's Resolution: More Challenge Please!

More challenge?

People might argue, "The increased rigor of today's classroom is ruining our children!  Let them be kids!  Enough with the crazy standards and unreasonable expectations!"

And I agree--enough with UNREASONABLE expectations.

That being said, I have been doing this teaching thing for quite some time, and I have noticed a number of things.  One of them is that as our standards have increased in rigor, many students do not have the learning behaviors to tackle them.  It's not that they don't have the ACADEMIC ability--they simply don't have the  proper "learning behaviors" to be successful.

This can happen for a number of reasons.  They haven't had to tackle challenging tasks before.  They have gotten too much help (you've seen it--the learned helplessness?),  They might not have someone who truly can help them believe that they CAN do it.  That's where YOU come in.

Today I challenge YOU with these FIVE ways to try to help your students become more ready to take on challenges in the new year.  I know I am going to try to do more with each and every one of these in 2016.  My classroom resolutions follow (ok...and keeping my piles to a minimum but THAT'S another post!)

1.  Be your students' number one cheerleader.

I know it seems simple--but when students know that we really believe in them, it's contagious.  Some of our students have very few people in their lives who can serve in this role--and we can do it.  That whole "unconditional love" thing?  It's "unconditional belief".  No matter what.  My trickiest kiddos are the ones I need to convince of this the most--that no matter what they do, I still believe in them.  In order to learn, they need to feel connected to their school--and we are the gatekeeper to this.

I LOVE to tell my students things like, "I have SUCH a hard problem for you to try today...and I KNOW you are going to have a hard time--but I am confident you will be able to at least get started..."  Establishing that climate where challenge is expected and acknowledged with a positive attitude (not "This is really hard because our state standards are ridiculous and I don't even know WHY they think this is appropriate for you guys.")  This cheerleading can extend beyond the classroom too...ask about their basketball games.  Know about their piano recitals.  Talk about what book they are reading.  Show them you care and that you believe in them.  With the rush of our schedules, it's easy to focus our energy on our "to do" list.  I "resolve" to focus more energy on my students than the work I am asking them to do--I guess you could say my resolution is to be more "present" with my students this year.  The curriculum will still get taught.  I promise--and believe it or not, students who feel loved and cared for at school are far more willing to take risks, work hard, and be engaged in our challenging curriculum.  

2.  Put them in situations where they will fail.  And be there to pick them up and show them how to recover.

I know it is, for most of us, in our nature to minimize discomfort in those around us-especially children!  That being said, there is something to be said about helping students learn to struggle.  In fact, recent brain research is VERY compelling that allowing students to struggle actually develops their brain.  Check out this two minute video by Jo Boaler as she explains a little bit about this.  The research is there--we need to put students in situations where they must tackle challenging tasks--and they need to make mistakes...and they need us to explain to them why mistakes are valued!  Nothing makes me happier than when one of my students makes a mistake and shares about it with the class so we can all learn from it...we have the power to build this culture in our classrooms in 2016!

Want a problem to use with your class to help them struggle a bit?  Grab this freebie and try it!  If you like it, I have a zillion other problem solving tasks and open ended challenges in my store if you want to build more of these into your classroom instruction.

3.  Teach them the language of asking for help--the right KIND of help!

Another thing we, as teachers, can do this year is wait to give help just a little longer!  Learning to ask good questions that get students "unstuck" so they can do it themselves is so important.  Also, helping students learn to politely ask for help from other students is so important--as is teaching students how to "coach" without giving away answers.  We've all seen students "help" by simply telling the answer or doing the work--we need to scaffold this so students can learn how to ask those same questions to gently encourage.

"What would happen if you drew a picture?"

"Try rereading the first paragraph and see what it tells you."

"What do you know about adding fractions?"

All of these are "hints" that can be just enough to allow a child to tackle something challenging without DOING the "thinking work" for them.  Yeah...I'm guilty of this sometimes.  I  need to remember to slow down so this can happen.

4.  Model your own "grit" and growth mindset.

If you have followed me for a while, you know that I really strongly believe in teaching a growth mindset in my classroom.  I wrote about it HERE if you are interested in reading more. As this year has unfolded, I have really tried to model times in m own life when I have had to face challenges--and I don't mean climbing Mount Everest!  I talked to my students about the difficult decision I faced when buying a new car and the steps I took.  I talked to them about my son's struggle to pick a college and what he did about it.  I even share my frustration with a technology issue we continue to have a school.  What I want them to see is that challenges and problems abound--but we all have strategies we can learn to handle them!
On the last day before break, we had a great discussion about this--and students even shared some examples of how changing their attitude about something really paid off.  We spent some time talking about how we can get this spread beyond our classroom, so we started making these growth mindset posters to hang around school to greet students in the new year!  (These are a part of my growth mindset resource...just click the image to see more.)

5.  Help your students understand the PURPOSE of what they are doing--help them make connections and see why you teach what you teach.

As simple as this sounds, I think we sometimes get so caught up in our units and learning targets and standards and assessments and schedules that we simply forget to "fill in" our students about WHY is is that we do what we do.  Explaining that learning how to combine sentences is important because writing a variety of different sentence types makes your writing flow better for the reader.  Explaining that it is important to learn math facts fluently because it will help free their brain up to focus on the more complex math that is coming soon.  Explaining that reading a variety of different genres actually helps their brain learn to read and understand different organization structures.  You'll know you are starting to head in the right direction when your students start asking--"Why is this important to learn?"...and hopefully you can answer!

Thanks for stopping your 2015 comes to an end, our wish for you is that 2016 is your best year yet--and we can't wait to keep sharing our teaching tips, ideas, and resources with you.
Happy New Year!

Follow me on...
Instagram @Fourthgradestudio
Twitter @FourthGrStudio

Beyond the Textbooks: 3 Skills Every Teacher Should Teach

As teachers, we know that we must teach reading, writing, math, science and social studies. And we hope that while we are teaching the academics- parents are teaching social and life skills. However, more and more, kids lack these most basic skills. Teachers are having to pick up the slack because we know that these skills are vital to a child's future success. Here are three skills that every teacher must teach and some suggestions for teaching them in the classroom. 

Wouldn't it be nice if all of our students already came to us with manners? It's a dream! The reality is that most students don't even say "please" and "thank you." I feel strongly about the importance of manners and spend lots of time teaching and practicing good manners. Because of this- specialists and other school staff are always complimenting my class. The more compliments they get on their manners- the more they use them! 

I teach manners by introducing a skill on a Monday and then challenging them to put it into use all week. Some skills take 2-4 weeks. We keep working on them until we've got it down good! When I see a student doing a great job with manners, I am sure to reward them with class money. My hope is that using these manners all year will cause them to be a habit for life. Here is a look at some of the important skills that I enforce:

Depending on my group, I sometimes need to add skills related to eating!

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a student say something like: "It's too hard! I can't do it." Or they see that the text passages are long and so they just skim them and guess on the answers. Students lack perseverance! They don't know how to tackle difficult or lengthy tasks without giving up. They don't have  growth mindset.

I like to teach perseverance when I am covering character traits in literature at the beginning of the year. I read books with characters that never give up- even when something is hard- and we discuss the characters as a class. Here are some great books to read when discussing perseverance:

Extend the lesson into your writing time by asking students to write a personal narrative about a time that they had to persevere. This helps to prove to students that they CAN do hard things! They have done it before!

As teachers, we have to make certain that we are giving students the opportunity to practice perseverance. Give students challenges! When my students work on their math journals or reading responses, I like to meet with them and show them the rubric. We talk about what they did well and their goal for the next assignment. I challenge them to dig deeper and go farther. Having a little goal to focus on makes these challenges more manageable. This is the goal sheet we use for our reading responses. Click on the picture to grab it for FREE.
I reward students who never give up. The reward can be as simple as a compliment, dojo points, class money or a positive note home. The student who perseveres is not always the same student who got the correct answer. I want to show my students that not giving up is just as important. 

I am a very organized person. My coworkers often marvel at the organization of my classroom. No piles. Everything has a place and those places are labeled. I don't have a teacher desk and I refuse to keep paper sitting on the table! Even half way through the year, my room is still organized. 

I was not born organized. I was taught how to be organized. Since I was taught to be organized, I feel that I was able to be more successful in school. No lost homework or forgotten assignments for me! 

My students have binders that they bring to school each day and take home every night. The binder has their homework, spelling words, math facts, etc. Last year I noticed that many of the binders were a complete disaster with papers hanging out every which way. When I wanted to practice math facts, it was taking these kiddos way too long to find them. Time was being wasted. Homework was being lost. Teacher was losing her mind. Things had to change. 

Fast forward to this year...

Students have page protectors for each of the resources they are expected to have in their binder. Each page protector has a cover sheet on the front and the necessary material in the back. 

Students colored their cover sheets during the first several days of school while I was busy doing beginning of year assessments. Now students can easily find their materials. We aren't wasting time waiting on students. Less homework is getting lost. Teacher is happy!

You can grab my cover sheets for FREE by clicking on the image below.

What other life skills are you teaching in your classroom?

I would love to connect with you!
My Blog

10 Simple Ways to Integrate Technology in the Classroom

I am a technology junky!  At any given time you will find a collection of iPads, laptops, iPhones, smart T.V.s, e-readers, you name it.  If you haven't read Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd, you really should.  This may very well have taken place in my house.  ;)

If you aren't sold on the importance of integrating technology in the classroom or have doubts, this video is an absolute MUST!!  This video is one of the most powerful videos that I have watched lately.

This year I was fortunate to receive Chromebooks for all of my students.  Receiving these Chromebooks and feeling the pressure (mostly self-induced) to use them often and effectively was, and still is, overwhelming.

To keep my sanity in check, I decided to start small.  By starting small, I saved my sanity and also my students'.

Whether you have one, two, three or many technology devices available for your students, start small!!

To get you started or to simply get your creative technology juices flowing, I have a list of 10 simple ways to integrate technology into the classroom, and they are all free.  These tools and resources are great for the classroom that is 1:1 with technology, or the classroom that has only one iPad or tablet.  Do you only have one device?  Create a center that focuses on the use of technology.

1.  Listen/Watch digital stories.  There are many free websites available where students can go, choose a book, and listen to the story.  Zing and Storyonline are a perfect start!

2.  Have students begin with a little research.  Provide them with a topic and have them gather 3-5 facts.  Here, on Upper Elementary Snapshots, we have a list of child-safe search engines that you can find HERE.

3.  Create a Google form for students to choose their lunch choice for the day.

4.  Practice math skills on IXL.  IXL is a paid subscription, but students can practice for free until they have reached the daily problem limit.

5.  Create a Kahoot to review for an upcoming test.  They are a hoot and students LOVE them!

6.  Have students visit Wonderopolis, read the wonder of the day, and reflect in their writing journal.

7.  Create a classroom blog using Google's free Blogger.  Post an open-ended reading question for students to comment.

8.  For Social Studies, use to practice their geography skills.

9.  If you are familiar with QR codes, create a question of the day and require students to check their answer by scanning the code.

10.  Can students ever get enough practice with basic math facts?!?!  XtraMath is a perfect free solution!

Remember to start slow!  Focus on one area of your choice.  Allow students to become comfortable with using the tool and allow yourself to become comfortable implementing it.  Once you and your students are comfortable, think about adding a new focus.  Taking baby steps with ultimately lead to success!

Tips, Tricks, and Tools for Teaching Roots and Affixes

If you follow me on my blog or Teachers-Pay-Teachers, you know that I am a bit of a "word nerd."  I  have always been fascinated with etymology and love sharing this interest with students.  Teaching morphemes (specially, prefixes, roots, and suffixes) is one of the most impactful things we can do as educators.  Not only does it empower students to decode unfamiliar words, but it also allows them to understand the subtle nuances of word meanings.

Here are just few tips, tricks, and tools that you can easily incorporate in your vocabulary instruction.

  • Matching Word Parts: This is a hands-on activity and can be easily adapted for a wide range of learners.  Students are given a variety of prefixes, roots and/or base words, suffixes, and word meanings.  They must find as many combination of words as they can and then match the words to the correct definition.  Answers can be recorded on a separate sheet of paper and discussed in class.  I made a bank template of this game that you can use for any word parts and definitions you want!  You can download this for free HERE.

  •  Divide and Conquer: For this activity you’ll need to choose 4-8 preselected words.  The words should all contain the same root; the example shown uses “sens, sent” (Latin – “to feel, sense, perceive). Any affixes that are part of the words should be ones your students already know the meaning to.  Take for example the word "sensible."  Students the  break down the  word into its meaningful parts (e.g. sens + ible).  The meaningful parts are then defined (e.g. to feel + able to be).  Students will then provide a literal definition based on the meaning of the roots (e.g. able to feel).  The last step requires students to provide a dictionary definition of the word (e.g. capable of being made aware of or of feeling).  Divide and Conquer allows students to examine the meaningful parts of words to determine their meanings. They can then compare the literal definition of words (based on the root and affix meanings) to the dictionary definitions, which allows them to see how similar the definitions are (in most cases). You can grab this free Divide and Conquer graphic organizer HERE.Greek and Latin Roots
  • Vocabulary Builder Flip-book: This resource is so handy for students!  It is a user-friendly flip-book with the most common affixes and roots.  Definitions and word examples for each morpheme is provided.  This is a FREE download that I made exclusively for my email subscribers.  If you would like to get your free copy, just subscribe to my newsletter HERE.
  • Online Games:  There are so many great games and activities online for roots and affixes.  I really like this one for "Fun English Games."  It requires students to match a correct affix with a base word and then it explains the meaning of the word parts and the word created from them.

I hope you find some of these ideas useful with your students!

If you're interested in implementing a robust and thorough vocabulary program, click on the resources below!

6 Math Video Websites for Upper Elementary Students

Math is definitely  my favorite subject to teach.  I love to use a math workshop model and teach my students in a small group setting.  I also love to find short, focused videos to introduce/review math topics.  Below are 6 websites that you can search and find videos to use during your math whole class instruction.  

1. Art of Problem Solving

This website has a large collection of math videos.  The videos are for older students (grades 5+).

2. KhanAcademy

This website is pretty awesome! You can search by topic or grade-level.  What is neat is that there is a path you can follow that has videos and practice problems.

3. VirtualNerd

The videos on this website are so well organized!  They are prefect if you are looking for a short video to introduce/review a topic.  (grades 1 - highschool)

4. LearnZillion

This is my favorite website for math videos!  You can search any topic and then narrow it down by grade-level and standard.  The example problems and explanations are very detailed.  

5. MathAntics

The videos on this website are very entertaining and teach a lot of math vocabulary.  The videos are all free and organized by topic. 

6. Estimation 180

Even though this website is not 100% videos, it is pretty awesome!  There are currently 210+ estimation challenges for students to complete.  You can complete one challenge a day when you have a few free minutes.

Holiday Freebies from Upper Elementary Snapshots!!

This is my favorite time of year!! I love bundling up on cool winter days, celebrating with friends and family, and that feeling of the holiday season in the air!!

I also love sharing this time of year with my students!! Although it can be a bit crazy, with their spirits high, it is also a very exciting time for all! Every year I try to incorporate as many fun and educational activities as I can, while also celebrating the holiday season.

Today Upper Elementary Snapshots would like to share some of our favorite winter and holiday themed activities!! So, grab a warm beverage, curl up with a cozy blanket, and get ready to download some fabulous freebies to get you through the next two weeks....

Language Arts

This Christmas-Themed Roll-a-Story is a favorite in my classroom!!

Find it Here!!

Reinforce your students' figurative language skills with this simile activity!!

Homophones are brought to life with these Holly Jolly Homophones!!

There are so many wonderful uses for Exit Slips!! 
Why not add to the fun with these holiday-themed slips?!?!

Students will love writing about the perfect gift with this writing freebie!!


A new twist on area and perimeter.... with wrapping paper!!!

Practice those addition and subtraction skills with dice as snowballs!!

These Holiday Prompts are perfect this time of year for your math journals and notebooks!!

Keep the games coming with Factor Freeze!!

Let's Decorate

These Christmas templates can be used with just about anything!! 
Use them to help spruce up your classroom for the holiday season!!!

Kindness During the Holiday Season

What better way to celebrate the holiday season, than with acts of kindness!?
These fun activities are meant to promote kindness during this wonderful winter season!!

Looking for more holiday fun?! Check out the following blog posts for more great ideas...

We hope that you are able to enjoy some of these freebies and that you have a wonderful holiday season!!