Rethinking My Morning Work Routine

Are your students excited every morning to begin their day? Do they arrive in your room riding on a cloud of excitement? I’d like to believe mine do. But let’s face it, that’s not always the case. Most of the time they are wondering what exactly we’re going to do today. Are we doing Calendar Math? Is it a spelling page? Is it a cursive page? Or, maybe we’ll just get to read. That last one is their favorite.

At my first meeting with my new fifth grade team for next year, this topic came up. We thought about using sites like Wonderopolis or Star something to get their minds ready to learn, but in a way that they actually look forward to their morning work everyday. I’ve even had days where they were able to choose an educational game to review skills. All I know is that I really need to mix things up, and if it saves paper that’s even better!

So I’m thinking I would like some sort of routine so that my kids who need it, know what to expect each day. Yet, I want a variety so that it still offers a sense of something exciting each day. I don’t want to get stuck in a rut or use massive quantities of paper. A technology component would be ideal, but I share a cart with two other teachers, it’s often unreliable, and then we each have twenty-four students. But that’s life, and we’ll just work around it. At least we have computers.

Right now, and I know I’ll change my mind at least a hundred times over the summer, I think I have a plan. Each day of the week will focus on a different curricular area. However, no drill and kill allowed. I’m aiming for real thinking here. Maybe it will look something like Math Mondays, This Time in History Tuesdays, Wacky for Cursive Wednesdays, Thirst for Science Thursdays, and Free For All Fridays (this is where I get to mix it up each week). I know reading is not specifically mentioned, but it’s embedded in the others. I will have later posts that will go into detail about what I envision or actually do on each of those days. And yes, I’ve got to find out what that Star Something site is actually called. I’ll link to the resources I find , and once I learn to use Google Docs better, I’ll post my own resources.

So, for now, I just know I want to change what I do in the mornings to get even my reluctant learners excited to start the day. I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t wake up thinking, “Oh joy, I can’t wait to get to school and complete a worksheet.” Ok, so I did as a child. But then again, I am a weird one.


Breaking Up with The Daily Five

Now that I may have peaked your interest, let me explain.  Don’t get me wrong. I think what The Sisters have done with The Daily Five and the CAFE approach to reading and writing has been phenomenal.  Their research and approach to reading and writing really changed the way I approached guided reading and center time.  My students were more engaged and it even meant less prep time for me.  I embraced the approach whole-heartedly.  I made the CAFE board, trained my kids how to work through all the components, have a well stocked classroom library, and book boxes for each student with their individually chosen books.  I was in reading heaven.

So why the break up?  I am about to loop to fifth grade with my class. It will be a year of change in that I am moving up a grade level, but constant in that I already know the personalities, strengths, and areas of needs of my students.  So, this is the year to try something new.  It’s time to get messy and maybe even make a few mistakes.    I want to rethink how my students use their time when they are not with me in small groups.  As far as I know, we will still be doing small group reading in fifth grade and I’m ok with that.  I approach it a little differently than many, but that’s ok, too.  I’ve purchased some great resources from Jennifer Findley of Teaching to Inspire in Fifth in which I use shorter texts to teach Common Core Standards through Close Reading.  I feel that in this way, my students are not managing multiple novels during the day and can focus on new material in a manageable way.  As our students gain more of a background with the Common Core I may not always need to approach it in this way, but for now, it is working.

Another reason for the breakup is the book bin itself.  This year they became a catch-all for everything and were holding far more than the three books I required.  Originally, I loved the idea that my students would not be getting up during Read to Self time and focused on reading.  Then, I read this blog on Scholastic by Genia Connell on how she is rethinking her book boxes.  I like the idea of letting them decorate the name tag for their box, and including books that are microreads, short reads, and independent reads in the book box.  Please click on my link to her blog for a full explanation of these categories and a great chart she made to explain them.  I truly believe my students will welcome the change in our book bins for next year.

One final reason for the break up is that I want my students to have that time to work on their book report projects (not a boring report, but something with a product, technology component, or whatever their creative genius can come up with), work on their Genius Hour projects, create writing partnerships, and more.  I just want to make this time meaningful to intermediate students.  And, as much as I still love the Daily Five, it’s time to explore new avenues.

So maybe breaking up is a bit dramatic.  To paraphrase what Ross said to Rachael on Friends, we’re on a break.

Thank Goodness for State Testing

Why on earth would I be happy for state testing?  State testing means I have access to a computer cart full of laptops for my entire class.   At the same time no less!  This meant I could throw away what I thought I was going to do today and do Genius Hour.

So I finally finished meeting with my last few students about their Genius Hour projects today.  The topics they’ve chosen to pursue are interesting. I have one researching why Pokemon cards are so popular among their peers. He’s planning to create a survey as part of the project and use Edmodo or Survey Monkey so he can utilize technology. He’s so excited about it!  I have another researching what it takes to become a Major League Baseball catcher. As they think of how to present their research there are the more common ones like Power Points and Prezis, of course. Then I have others who are wanting to create a web site, a public service announcement video, an interactive timeline, a picture book, and even a tutorial for parents about Pokemon. I’m so proud of my kids!   

Now, don’t think for a minute it was all rainbows and unicorns. I was hopping all around the room getting kids started, showing them how to save web sites, informing them that they did indeed have to read the material and that they may actually read the entire piece of information and discover it’s not what they needed.  All the while I’m praying they won’t accidentally stumble upon anything inappropriate. I think the best moment was when a student informed me that she typed her question into Google and it didn’t give her an answer. Gotta love them!

As crazy as it felt on our first full day of Genius Hour, I was so proud of my class. They were helping each other out with technical issues and were, for the most part, patient with me.  What really made this amazing is that after a morning full of state testing and all the glitches we had with that, they were willing to sit in front of a computer in the afternoon and do research. There were even groans when I said time was up for today. Many asked if they could work on their projects during Daily Five or whenever they finished their work early. Of course, I still have a few students who’ll need a little more support and maybe a structured list of items to accomplish in a given session, but we’ll get there. 

I would have loved for my principal or school improvement specialist to walk in and see them at work. You know what? My principal did just that.  Of course, we had just finished and my kids were watching a Magic School Bus video on sound.  Timing is everything.  But hey, at least it was an educational video and they were one hundred percent engaged!  


Make Mistakes, Get Messy

So, about two or three weeks ago I introduced my class to Genius Hour. I’d been putting it off because I wanted everything planned out and just right.  I made the Prezi from some great resources  from a great blog, Runde’s Room. The students were excited, they’d generated their lists of ideas, we’d even posted them on what was soon to be the Genius Board. Ok, I was ready…or so I thought.

So what happened? It never did get planned out perfectly.   I got distracted by all the other projects, ideas, and commitments I had going on. I dropped the ball, pure and simple. I thought time was running out, so why bother. I’ll tell you why, the kids. Even if just one kid is excited by the idea, that’s good enough for me.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. This is going to get messy. We may not even finish before the end of the year in May. I don’t even know if I’m even doing Genius Hour the right way. But you know what? I don’t care! I’m embracing the unofficial theme of our building this year. We’ve been encouraged to try new things, even if it doesn’t work at first. Like Ms. Frizzle says, “Make mistakes. Get messy.” Well, let me tell you Ms. Frizzle would be proud. You see, I’ve already made plenty of mistakes and it’s about to get messy.  I realized I should have spent more time teaching my students how to develop a good question that could be researched, starting earlier so they’d have time to create the projects they are so excited about. I have students who want to learn how to animate, create their own board game, write a picture book so little kids can learn how to become a defensive end (I’ll need to read it myself as I pretended to know what one is) and the students wanting to create their own websites to get people interested in saving wildlife and marine animals.

What do I do? I really can’t give up now (I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that idea hadn’t crossed my mind several times.). I’ve decided to just breathe and do the best I can for what’s left of the school year. I’m keeping notes of what I need to improve upon for next year. For starters we’ll begin much, much earlier. I’ll develop a lesson on writing an essential question (maybe even read Runde’s blog more closely (she’s done a lot of great work on this). Of course, more clear cut directions and expectations. I want them to have a notebook or binder to keep their materials in, as well as their reflections on the process. I think a timeline would help keep them on track and motivated. This kind of project, and the responsibility that comes along with it, is so new for most of my students. Really, it’s new for me as well. Instead of assisting my students with one project, I’ll be advising on so many more. It’s all going to be worth it, especially as I think back on the excitement of one of my most reluctant writers.

So, next week will be scary. Over 20 different projects going on at one time, some kind of mandatory standardized testing, an assembly, and probably only one computer plus my iPhone available for research. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, and that’s ok.

Why name a blog One Room Schoolhouse?

What?  A one room schoolhouse?  Do those even exist anymore or is it just a fond memory from Little House on the Prairie?  Well, I think the answer is really both.  Teachers don’t really teach the grade level they are assigned.  Rather, we have a classroom of students who may be a grade level above, on grade level, or even below.  Isn’t this what Laura Ingalls experienced during her time as a teacher in a one room schoolhouse?  What did she do?  She found the strengths and areas of growth for each of her students, planned lessons in order to differentiate, and created integrated lessons (yes, it’s not a new concept).  This is what we are continuing to do, we just have a few more bells and whistles.  So, I decided to name my blog to reflect both my love of the Little House on the Prairie book series and what we teachers experience on a daily basis.  I’m hoping this blog will enable me to share what I learn about utilizing blended learning in my classroom.  Sometimes I will have successes and even tips to share, other times I will be sharing the messier moments on my journey.  In my classroom my students know learning is a messy business and that’s ok.

Practice What You Preach

Simple advice really. Practice what you preach. That’s exactly what I’m doing by starting a blog. You see, I teach fourth grade and we’ve begun Genius Hour. This is time set aside each week for students to pursue a passion of theirs. They research and create a product that demonstrates their learning and then present to their classmates, maybe even globally. So, in order to encourage my students to pursue an interest, to not be afraid to fail, I’m putting myself out there and will begin a blog where I share my thoughts about education and to share the cool things my students do. I’ll first have to just figure out how to set up my blog, as well as make it both appealing and valuable.  I’ve lots to learn! Please join me on this new adventure.