Saturday, October 9, 2010

Sweet Behavior

I came across Sarah Cooley's "Brownie Points" class reward system a while back, and I thought it was really cute. She uses a cookie sheet and clip art brownies to reward her class for exemplary behavior. Once the pan is full, she rewards her kiddos with a party. Sarah Cooley's Brownie Points
I ran across adorable wooden cupcakes today at Pat Catans, and my mind instantly accessed my mental files on "Brownie Points". They were only $.50, so I couldn't resist stocking up on cupcakes. I was able to instantly create a class behavior management chart by adhering magnets to the back of each cupcake, placing them on a cookie sheet and creating a title: "Sweet Behavior". I'm really excited about using it with my class! They love to eat lunch with teachers, so I'm planning on rewarding them with lunch in the classroom once the pan is full! This project is a piece of... (cup)cake.

Teaching Metacognition

I never realized how much I was talking about my lessons until my husband came home one day from doing business down in Cincinnati. He said, “If I didn’t know any better, I could have sworn I saw you driving down 77 today.” I gave him the stink eye, because I guessed that he was trying to set up one of his trademark punchlines. I played along. “Oh yeah? Why is that?” Brad looked at me and noncholantly replied, “Oh, because I saw a bumper sticker that said, ‘Metacognition is Cool’. You probably want that bumper sticker now. Don’t you?” This made me realize two things. For one thing, despite my general repulsion to bumper stickers, I actually might consider purchasing that one. Also, I definitely talk a lot about my job. Brace yourself. Here I go again…

I truly do love metacognition. I even love the way it rolls off of my lips! Metacognition is thinking about your own thinking. It’s that self-talk that we all engage in every day, especially as we read or problem solve. How can you teach an internal process to intermediate students? Well, the trick is to try to make it as visible and tangible as possible. I have borrowed ideas from Tanny McGregor’s Comprehension Connections to teach my students how to think metacognitively. After a discussion of the term, I begin by doing a think aloud. I have a student stand behind me with a large poster-board thought bubble that says, “I’m thinking metacognitively!” As I read, I hold the book up and show the pictures. Any time I have a question, prediction, connection, observation, or any other kind of thought, I put the book on my lap and talk about what is swirling through my brain at that moment. While I am reading, another student volunteer is tracking the process by placing either a “thinking” card or a “text” card in a pail labeled “The Real Reading Salad”. At the end of the activity, we pull out the red “text” and green “thinking” cards and discuss how much thinking was interwoven with the actual words in the book and how it enhanced our understanding or appreciation for the story itself. I generally like to model metacognition using Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman because it’s relatable.

During the next step of this lesson, I ask three more volunteers to come up. One holds the “I’m thinking metacognitively!” bubble while another student reads Shiela Rae the Brave by Kevin Henkes. As the student conducts a think aloud as they read, the third student is in charge of tracking their reading of the text and their thoughts by using the”text” and “thinking” cards for the “Real Reading Salad”. Afterward, we discuss how we all do thinking as we read, and we may not even realize that we do it. I ask the reader if he/she ever realized that they had that many thoughts as they read, and they almost always say no. It’s a big realization to them. I discuss how, this year, I am going to teach them how to think more deeply about what they are reading. I also mention that I want to peek into their brains and see the things that they already think about.

In order to have a glimpse of what their thinking processes as they read, I send them out to find a book to read. I tell them that they will use Post-It notes to write down any thoughts they have as they read. I tell them that ANY THOUGHT is acceptable. They stick the Post-It notes directly to their page as they read and have an “A-ha” moment. Afterwards, the students do a pair-share. Then, a few students share their thoughts with the class.

In future lessons, when I ask students to share their thinking, which is typically more structured and strategy specific, we use a thought bubble that the kids can place their heads into while they share their metacognition with the class. It’s a prop we use all year, and the kids love it. It definitely ups the engagement factor. Thank you Tanny!

Here's another idea for teaching metacognition. Gather paint samples that show a range of shades and use them as a thinking scale. Students can track their thinking as they read using the "Thinking about my thinking" strips. They can describe their level of comprehension in common language during conferences and partner reading as well. This is also especially helpful in the other content areas or as an introduction to rubrics.This is an idea I tweaked from Tanny's book... which again... is a must read!  This is only scratching the surface, folks! :)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Establishing Classroom Rules and Building Community

At the beginning of every school year, I send welcome letters out to my incoming students. I want them to feel comfortable on day one, and I also want them to be excited about what’s ahead. The other reason I send home letters is because I want them to begin thinking about what they want their classroom to look and feel like on day one. I stress, year after year, that our classroom belongs to each of us. It is not just my classroom. It is ours. Each person in Room 306 assumes ownership and the responsibilities that come along with it. We become a community. We become learners. We become family. To facilitate the closeness I hope to achieve every school year, we begin by articulating our own classroom rules.

As we discuss the expectations we have for the school year, we also discuss the actions that could hold us back from reaching the goals we set. We compile an anchor chart of the rules we feel would be important to follow in order to have a successful year. These are eventually pruned down to encompass only a few umbrella rules. However, because we spent time spelling them out (so to speak), the students are more likely to understand the specific actions that would fit under each umbrella rule. They are also more likely to follow the rules, not only because we put in the time to discuss the specifics, but also because they helped make them. The rules weren’t done to them. They made the rules. They operate within a democratic community in Room 306. In a sense, it’s a classroom for the students, by the students.

After the rules are discussed, recorded on an anchor chart, and pruned down to 5-6 core rules, I take their original list and consider our conversation. I also think about the goals and expectations that I have as a teacher. I combine all of these ideas and concepts and create a “Classroom Promise” banner. I write down each rule and expectation in paragraph form, and it becomes our class mission statement for the school year. Once it is written out, I read it to the students and they ultimately have the final say. They let me know if it needs revised, or if it fits the goals we have for ourselves in Room 306. Once it is ready for the world and the students are satisfied, each child signs the “Classroom Promise” and it becomes a binding contract. The banner is hung in the hallway for everyone to see, and the students create self-portraits that are displayed around it. Our hope is that we can set a good example for other classes while cultivating friendships, engaging in learning, and being good citizens.