Archive for the 'Lessons I've learned' Category

Let’s Talk Reading Logs

books-933333_960_720By Stephanie Nicoletti

The 2017-2018 school year has begun, and I have had fresh, smiling, first grade faces in my class. My students have been eager and ready to learn– and their excitement is contagious! One of my favorite things about the beginning of the school year is watching how excited the kids are to explore books. It is always one of my goals to ensure that their love of reading continues.

In first grade reading at home is the most important “homework” students can have. This year we are sending home reading logs to make sure students are reading at home. My only worry is that the logs will start to make students hate reading-or are they too young to see reading logs this way? I know when I was in high school (and even now) I would never fill out a log to track my reading or reflect on it, but I still love reading. I don’t want student’s love for reading to be diminished at a young age.

Maybe the discussion should not be around holding students accountable at home, but how do we create reading environments that allow our students to be passionate readers and learners, even at a young age.

Year One: Complete

Denali_Mt_McKinley

By Danny Smith

Waqaa!

So I feel as if I start all of these saying how much better I’ll be about posting … blah blah blah…well, I don’t have to do that because it is summer and I am back to living the same boring life you all lead! I have been done for about a month now though, and have been back in the lower 48 for a few weeks. I have been sitting here wondering what I would write about and how I should write for the last few weeks. I think that this post will again be reflective, but before I do that, I want to list all of the new things I have tried or done in the past year:

New Foods Tried:
1. Akutaq
2. moose (dried, sticks, stew)
3. muskox (stew, chunks)
4. fish, dried (halibut, smelt, pike, whitefish,salmon, probably a ton more)
5. fresh and wild berries (cranberry, blueberry, salmonberry, blackberry)
6. seal oil
7. seal
8. shelf-stored milk
9. bird (duck, crane, goose, ptarmigan)
10. and the most important from an Alaskan’s P.O.V.: Tillamook Cheddar Cheese

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New Things Attempted:
1. halibut fishing (proceeded to give to an elder at fish camp)
2. camping
3. salmon drifting (then used that salmon as bait for halibut)
4. wearing waders
5. holding a rifle
6. maqii (steam bath)
7. teaching by myself
8. running a student government
9. fundraising for a senior trip (despite it not working out)
10. trick-or-treating as an adult and walking into homes instead of knocking
11. speak a new language (Yugtun)
12. waking up at 6AM to fish alone before school
13. living without wifi at home
14. water conservation
15. -60 temperatures
16. seal skin/fur hat (never knew that fur was more than just for style)
17. SIOP lesson plans
18. Word Wall
19. casual conversations with students about firearms…
20. hauling water
21. riding in a sled of mail being pulled by a snowmachine over a melting river
22. riding on the back of a snowmachine
23. calling snowmobiles snowmachines
24. raising my eyebrows instead of saying ‘yes’
25. Iqmiik (aka black bull, or the native chewing tobacco)
26. flying to district trainings
27. not going through TSA to fly
28. Amazon Prime taking 2 weeks to deliver
29. paying $100 for a couple things at the store
30. boardwalks instead of roads

There are a ton more things I could add, but cannot think of at the moment, but there they are: 40 new experiences in the course of a year. As far as reflecting back goes, I’ve realized while writing this post that those lists kind of summarize my experience. I’d love to sit here and reflect on teaching practices and such, but that would get quite boring for the majority of you. As far as teaching goes, though, I will be spending the month of July working on lessons and such — many of which I have to just completely abandon and re-make due to how poorly designed they were. I think knowing our curriculum now and knowing my students and how they learn as individuals will benefit me tremendously going into next year.

As for my plans on staying or leaving is concerned, I have not made a decision on that. This upcoming year will definitely be the determining factor. My plan at the moment though is to be present (elders will tell the younger community members this often: to just be present in the moment and in my words, observe and absorb) and take things as they come, and then evaluate at winter break.

As far as this blog goes, I will probably keep it going throughout next year as well based on how popular it was among you all this past year. However, I am going to be realistic and not claim to have a post every week or every other week. I WILL try to keep it up once a month, or at the bare minimum bi-monthly.

I hope you have all enjoyed this year with me and have a great summer!

 

The Last Day of School

1000w_q95By Stephanie Nicoletti

On Friday there was a certain buzz going around the school, the kids came in with happy faces and even teachers were grinning ear to ear; it was the last day of school. During our closing circle on the last day I told my students that I enjoyed every minute with them and absolutely loved watching them grow over the school year.

Each year I always get sad during our last closing circle, your students become a part of you after spending a year together. This year I even had a little one who had tears streaming from his face when the bell rang, he was so upset he did not want to leave the classroom. This made me sad of course, but it also made me realize that all of the work teachers do over the summer to prepare for the following school year does not go unnoticed.

I was making a list this morning of all of the things I wanted to accomplish this summer before the school year starts. The list is long and daunting, but then I remember the tears that were in my classroom on the last day and remind myself that everything teachers do, no matter how daunting it may seem, is always for the students. While this summer will be fun, relaxing and refreshing for students and teachers alike, do not forget to remember your students who are itching to come back to school!

Students Try on a Different Writing Style with Their Voice

writer-605764_1280By Elizabeth Jorgensen

To encourage my students to write in a different style, I first have them read a chapter from House on Mango Street titled “Four Skinny Trees.” We read and discuss this chapter. Then, I tell students to try on the author’s style of writing to see how it fits with his or her voice. I instruct students to adhere to Sandra Cisneros’s sentence structure by going word by word, keeping her structure, but changing the words.

First, students look at the title: “Four Skinny Trees.” In the title, Cisneros has a number, an adjective, and then a plural noun. Students then write their own title, complete with a number, adjective and plural noun.

Example: Four Skinny Trees could become Three Bulbous Rocks or Five Insecure Boys or Three Broken Feet.

Students continue through Cisneros’s “Four Skinny Trees” chapter, keeping her structure but telling their own story. I remind students that they should have the same number of sentences and paragraphs as Cisneros. If she repeats a word, I remind the students they need to repeat a word. If Cisneros states her title, the student should state his or hers.

Cisneros: “Four Skinny Trees”

Jorgensen: Three Bulbous Rocks

Cisneros: “They are the only ones who understand me. I am the only one who understands them.”

Jorgensen: They are the only ones that irritate me. I am the only one who kicks them.

Cisneros: “Four skinny trees with skinny necks and pointy elbows like mine.”

Jorgensen: Three bulbous rocks with dirty bellies and snowy caps like glaciers.

Cisneros: “Four who do not belong here but are here.”

Jorgensen: Three amongst a million more in my yard.

Cisneros: “Four raggedy excuses planted by the city.”

Jorgensen: Three infuriating rocks there to trip me.

Cisneros: “From our room we can hear them, but Nenny just sleeps and doesn’t appreciate these things.”

Jorgensen: From my porch I can see them, but my boyfriend just sighs and says I’m hallucinating.

I provide a model as well as student and teacher examples. You can see my worksheet and resources here. At the end of the exercise, students have a poetic, entertaining and interesting vignette. This exercise also prompts a plagiarism discussion, students debating if a writer can copy another author’s structure.

Student vignettes are often published. Teen Ink published Nate Ferro’s vignette and Megan Rutkowksi’s vignette.

I encourage you to use this exercise with your students or to modify it to better align with your curriculum.

 

Is it Good for Kids?

By Claudia Felske

Ask any teacher (especially this time of year) how they’re doing, and my guess is their response will be “busy” or some synonym thereof. The truth is that “busyness” is pretty much par for the course in this profession, and so this month (a particularly busy one) I thought I’d reflect a bit on how a teacher might best prioritize his/her time. Whether facing a time consuming class project, a district initiative, a  stack of papers, a student need, a community event, an administrative request, a building committee, a licensure requirement, (the list goes on and on…) it must all boil down to one question: “Is it good for kids?”  It may sound ridiculously reductive, but if that’s not ALWAYS the central question, what are we doing here? And so, here’s a flow-chart version of how I try to prioritize my time. Feel free to give it a try when your to-do list is seemingly insurmountable: IMG_0098

Playing and Learning

board-gamesBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

In the Washington Post article, “Children’s board games help reinforce lessons learned in the classroom,” Jayne Cooke-Cobern, a kindergarten teacher at Marumsco Hills Elementary School in Woodbridge says, “Any game that requires a student to count and move a game piece at the same time is good for developing one-to-one correspondence while counting.” Which games does she use? Trouble, Chutes and Ladders, Uno, Yahtzee, Racko, and Apples to Apples.

Lisa Barnes, another kindergarten teacher at Marumsco Hills quoted in the article, says she uses “Memory (recognition of numbers, sight words and color words), bingo (letters, shapes and rhyming words) and dominoes (numbers and the concept of more and less)” with her students.

Although I teach students on the other end of the educational spectrum—seniors in high school—board games also supplement my lesson plans. Why? Games force students to use planning and cognitive skills. They also encourage problem-solving and creative thinking.

In the Washington Post article, Marilyn Fleetwood, president of the Academy of the Child, a Montessori preschool and elementary school said, “Play is probably the most important skill for life. Most children learn to read, but social skills are one of those things that really have to be developed. And that’s what you get with board games.”

I keep a stack of board games in my classroom. And on days when attendance is light—or during challenging weeks (like Homecoming or when the basketball team makes it to state)—I will often allow students to pull them out. Students say the same things: games are fun, appealing, and motivating. And they also support my English curriculum. While word, matching and memory games foster language development and literacy, while card games improve spatial awareness and develop strategic thinking.

Games provide a forum for initiative and leadership, reasoning, and problem-solving. Challenging and strategic games help children learn to focus and concentrate, which is essential to developing creative thought.

Here are some of the games I use in my classroom:

  • You’ve Been Sentenced
  • Word on the Street
  • Buzz Word
  • Guesstures
  • Quickword
  • Starwords
  • Alphabet Roundabout
  • Play on Words
  • Scrabble Upwords
  • Rattled
  • Flashwordz
  • Boggle
  • Buy Word
  • Word Winks

 

5 Things to Remember About Middle School Students

7841950486_428fcebe11_bBy Sabrina Bartels

I want to tell you a secret: I initially did not want to be in a middle school.

During my interview, one of my interviewers asked which age level I would most like to work with. At the time, I replied that I wanted to be in a high school. Talking about college, advising students on their application essays, and discussing scholarships sounded like what I most wanted in life. The interviewers then asked what age group I did not want to work with. I laughed and responded “Middle school!”

Here’s why I initially said no: middle school is a really tough age. In fact, that’s probably an under-exaggeration. Middle school is probably the toughest age. You’re not an adult, but you’re not a kid either. You want to be independent, yet you want rules. You want your parents’ love, but then you hate it because it’s so overbearing (I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “Oh my God, Mom! I can’t hug you in public!”). You’re hormonal and cranky, and no one seems to understand you. Trust me, I remember.

With all that on my mind, I was full of trepidation when I went into the middle school.

But now, I love it. I thrive on it. Because as crazy as these days may be, I love my students. I love my job. I also love quoting my parents, which I do on a frequent basis (I can’t tell you the number of times I say “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”).

I recently stumbled across an article by Jennifer Gonzalez that was entitled “8 Things I know for Sure About Middle School Kids.” It was a hilarious, but very truthful list of things to know about middle school students. While her thoughts and tips are spot on, I thought I would add a few lessons that I have learned as well.

  1. Middle school students are (surprisingly) very forgiving. Whether it’s you or their best “frenemy,” middle schoolers are willing to bury the hatchet with others. Enemy talks about them behind their back? Two days later, they are best friends. Student gets into a verbal disagreement with a teacher? The teacher is back in his good graces before the end of the day. And when I need to have a serious discussion with a kiddo and give her a consequence, the pouting lasts for a day or less.
  2. They really do appreciate the boundaries you set. How is this possible when they argue with you at EVERY turn? But I have found that my middle school students feel much safer and more secure when there are firm boundaries set. For example, my students know that when they come into my office, they can say almost anything they want. My only rule is that they not swear. When I have students who need to vent, they often come in furious, spewing out all their hatred for school, their teacher, or their homework. But the minute they swear, many of them turn bright red, apologize, then proceed in a more neutral tone. It teaches them that they can have feelings and they can be angry, but they have to moderate their anger and be appropriate with it.
  3. Respect is expressed in so many different ways. This was one of the biggest eye-openers for me coming into a middle school. I’ve been raised that respect looks like polite words and gestures, calm tone of voice, and eye contact. Some of my students do not have the same ideas of what respect is, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t show it; they just express it in different ways. I remember one student mentioned to me that the reason he never shouted at me the same way he yelled at other teachers because he didn’t want to make me cry. I don’t know why he thought I would cry over this, but he was very careful and mindful never to shout at me. I think it was respect, and it really flattered me. Even if students don’t meet my definition of “respect,” they still find ways to demonstrate it.
  4. They are still learning how to ask for help … and that’s hard. I can’t tell you the number of students I meet with who are struggling in class, yet when I ask them if they have spoken to their teachers about this, they say no. Some are too embarrassed, some are just plain shy, and some have honestly no idea how to ask for help, since they never had to in school before. I was one of those kids when I was in middle school, so these kiddos have a very special place in my heart. As a counselor, the best thing I can do is model with them how to ask for help, and assure them that there is nothing wrong with it.
  5. They really are watching everything you do. Every year, you would think that I would get used to the fact that being a middle school counselor is the equivalent to being a goldfish in an aquarium. And yet, every year it still surprises me. While I don’t run into students too often, they do randomly appear at different places: State Fair, Summerfest, various restaurants, and the mall. Some say hi to me in the moment; some pretend I don’t exist, but mention it the next time they see me at school. I know some of my students try to find me on social media. What does this mean for me? It means that wherever I go, I’m mindful of how I act, speak, and dress. Before I post anything on social media, I consider what would happen if my students ever saw it. I want to be a role model for my students, both in and out of school. It’s important to me. Even when they act like they could care less about me, I know they’re watching.

Those are my five thoughts! If you want to read the original article, you can find it here.


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