You Don’t Know Me

Each year Valentine’s Day brings a sense of community to a classroom that is exaggerated by the media and everywhere you look. But this year, my Valentine’s Day was a very different experience.

I am blessed to have looped with my class from First Grade to Second Grade and I love everyday with my students. It is a very different feeling in the classroom when you have been together for so long. I am fortunate that this class gets along very well. It is a very accepting group of students that support each other in many different ways.

This year I did not organize a Valentine’s Day swap. Truthfully it creeped up on me and all of a sudden it was Thursday. I had one parent email me asking for a list of names. I then quickly asked the students if they wanted a list and ALL hands shot up in the air. On Friday morning the bags of treats came in. We quickly made bags to collect the items. At the end of the day we handed out the items. Out of a class of 21, I have 3 students that did not bring anything in, but they helped the other students that needed assistance matching the names and keeping track of who they had given an item to.

The best part of the swap came when the students got to go through the bag to see what they had been given. I sat at my table with tears in my eyes as they interacted with one another. As the students started to go through the items, they got up and walked over to thank their friends. Some students gave hugs, others thanked their friend for the specific items, some gave exact examples of what they were going to do with the item. It was such a beautiful scene, all of it possible because there is a community that has grown together over a year and a half.

At the beginning of each  year, I get excited when thinking about creating a community in the classroom. It is so important to put the work in at the beginning of the year and then your students will benefit throughout the year. In Chapter 7 of Choice Words by Peter H. Johnston, he states that “children, just like adults, learn better in a supportive environment in which they can risk trying out new strategies and concepts and stretching themselves intellectually” (p. 65). This supportive environment creates learners that feel comfortable to take risks and feel comfortable in the learning environment.

I love the idea of creating reflective learners and Johnston gives great examples to use when creating a reflective environment. When working with my students to improve either our behavior or our academics, we discuss the improvements as a class.”We” are working together to make the classroom a better place. At the beginning of the year, I tried to implement compliments as a class. It worked at the beginning, but the students needed guidance. I can see the students that have continued the compliments by themselves in the classroom, but would love to see more in the classroom.

This month I started working with above grade level guided reading group.  The group consists of students from 2 classrooms. We have been studying characters, feelings of characters, point of views and the plot of characters. The students are able to answer my comprehension questions, but I did not feel we were getting enough out of the group. We discussed what a book club is and how people are part of book clubs. I give the students an assignment and then we meet back in a couple of days. I let the students guide the discussion. The students ask each other questions, take votes on whether they agree and disagree (holding each other to give a reason for the response) and they discuss the character and the plot. It is amazing to see how much they have grown and the responsibility they take when discussing the book.

After reading Chapter 8 – Who Do You Think You’re Talking To? I thought back to my first year of teaching. I had a little boy in my class who needed a lot of support both academically as well as behaviorally. One day I was trying to work with the student and trying to reflect on a behavior that had just acquired. He looked right at me and said “you don’t know me!”. This statement caught me off guard and made me think about the student as an individual. I felt like I knew this student pretty well, I went to his football games, communicated with his family and set up success plans in the classroom. But if he was able to make that comment, then there was something that I needed to change.

Throughout Choice Words Johnston gives great strategies and word choices to use in the classroom. This book can create a new environment that students feel comfortable in and feel safe to take risks. I am going to continue to use the strategies in the classroom and try tom implement new structures to help my students be successful.


TAG! You’re It!

Every year I start my writing curriculum with hopes and dreams to hold writing conferences throughout the year. I give myself a break if the conferences do not begin in the first few weeks, we are setting up writer’s workshop I tell myself. After the first month, I tell myself that we are finishing up our first unit and it would make more sense to start conferences the second unit.

In all honesty there is not time for me to hold writing conferences when I do not have a separate Writer’s Workshop time. Our writing lessons are 10 minutes long each day and students complete their writing during Daily 5 rotations. In those rare moments when I do get to walk around and check in with students (schedule changes do occur), I notice that my verbal instruction is not at the level needed during this precious time.

At the beginning of the year, I found the TAG! You’re It! resource for writing conferences. My first thought was to give the students time to conference with each other, but that required teaching on my part. After reading Chapter 5 and 6 in Choice Words by Peter H. Johnston, I am thinking about TAG as a framework for my writing conversations with my students.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 5.58.54 AM

In Chapter 5 Flexibility and Transfer (or Generalizing), Johnston gives strategies for teachers to work with students through transferring knowledge from one place to another students.  I believe that many students have to be taught to transfer knowledge. Some students see classrooms and subjects as compartmentalized.

Johnston discussed in prior chapters the idea that students need to make connections. It is interesting when a student makes a connection from one subject to another, but needs help transferring the knowledge and using the knowledge to better the learning.

My favorite writing conference strategies that I plan to use from Chapter 5 – Flexibility and Transfer (or Generalizing):

  • “How else….”
    • This encourages students to be reflective about their writing, whether they are celebrating or changing the writing. This gives the student the opportunity to lead the learning and the improvements.
  • “That’s like…”
    • This gives the student the option to make the connection and then independently lead the connection to help make the improvements.
  • “What if…”
    • This question gives the student the option of agreeing or disagreeing with the statement. The student is then positioned to make the decision to make the necessary changes. This is also another way to encourage learning without a strong teacher direction.

My favorite writing conference strategies that I plan to use from Chapter 6 – Knowing:

  • “Let’s see if I’ve got this right”
    • This statement shows the student that you have been actively listening and want to check that you understand what they have said.
  • “How did you know?”
    • This gives the student the opportunity to share his/her thinking or show where they found the information. It shows that the teacher is proud of what the student has accomplished.
  • “How could we check?”
    • This gives the teacher and the student the opportunity to work together to solve the problem. The student does not feel that the teacher is telling what needs to be corrected, but rather the student sees the partnership.
  • Silence
    • This shows that the teacher believes in what the student knows and cares enough to wait to hear what the student wants to say.

All of these strategies are great resources to use with TAG and I look forward to putting the strategies in place in the near future.

How do you conduct your student writing conferences?
What do you say to your students?
What do you expect from your writing conferences?


What do you want to be when you grow up?

Each year part of a social studies unit focuses on the idea of studying professions. Teachers expose students to professions that might be interesting, might be new professions or professions they hear about each year. In some classrooms this is the only exposure that students have to professions and they see the professions as a far reach goal. As teachers we need to make sure this is not the only exposure that children have to professions.

A couple years ago I participated in Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) training. SIOP® is proven to:
– Increase student achievement
– Improve academic content skills and language skills
– Deliver results aligned to district objectives
– Prepare students to become college and career ready

There are 8 components:

I left the training with one piece of information – I will change the way I spoke to my children. Ever since that day I have called my students “Readers” during Reader’s Workshop, “Writers” during Writer’s Workshop, “Mathematicians” or “Problem Solvers” during Math Workshop, “Scientists” during Science and “Learners” during Social Studies. I use this language with students when giving mini lessons, talking about the subject, and discussing our learning.

Peter H. Johnson discusses how students are “developing personal and social identities – uniqueness and affiliations that define the people they see themselves becoming”. At the beginning of the year, I share a selection of anchor charts for each subject. The anchor charts give students an introduction to the identities for each subject. We add to the identities as the year goes on as I want my students to know that there is not a specific identify for each subject.

Here are some examples of anchor charts:

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 6.36.19 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-03 at 6.36.43 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-03 at 6.37.38 PM                         Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 6.38.09 PM      Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 6.35.12 PM

After reading Chapter 3 and 4, I started thinking about my conversations with my students. I have one student that needs a lot of specific redirection. I have to think about my interactions with this student and how to ensure we have a smooth successful day.

The identity comments that Johnston provides in Chapter 3 made me think about my comments and how to encourage students to take ownership of their growth. I really enjoyed reading the positive comments and thought about ways to incorporate the language into my classroom. When reading the reflective comments, I immediately thought about my one student and the reaction I would get and how I could reframe the question to make it a more positive experience.

The agency comments that were provided in Chapter 4 give students more ownership of their learning. I enjoyed how the comments give students an opportunity to focus on what they did well and what they want to improve. This lets the student feel the accomplishments but then make a new goal. Students have to be taught how to be reflective and the comments in Chapter 4 increase the opportunities for students to reflect on both their learning and their actions.

I am looking forward to using these strategies in the classroom and then to reflect on my instruction with my students.

Johnston, P. H. (2004). Choice words: How our language affects children’s learning. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse.