Five Ways to Bring the Joy Back

As I read educator blogs, Twitter feeds, and professional books this summer, I cannot help but think about how stressful our job as an educator can be. We care so much about our students and being the best teacher we can be, sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves first. Yes, I said first.

How do we take care of ourselves and still be an excellent educator? I have a few ideas on this topic I’d like to share.

First of all, enjoy your summer. Even if you are not going on an official vacation, do something for yourself you normally cannot to during the school year. For example, I went on a private wine tasting event where we were able to compare wines straight out of the barrel. We are also traveling to Lake Chelan this week to relax with my family and my new nephew. Take advantage of this precious time we have during the summer!

 

Barrel Tasting!
 
During the school year, here are a few thing you can do to keep the joy in your teacher life, and the stress out.

  • Do something with your class that you are passionate about and enjoy. I happen to love technology and teaching my students how to use new tools. I introduce them to blogging, storyboards, google drive. I get so excited when students discover how powerful these tools can be, how motivating they can be, and the students can see this excitement in me too. Together we are truly enjoying the experience.
  • Change it up. Students and teachers can get bogged down by the same routines. We naturally need something fresh, different, to help not only students be engaged, but teachers too.
  • Have fun! At least once a week, plan a fun activity with your class. It could be a simple team-building activity or game. Make sure it is something you will enjoy.
  • Read aloud books you enjoy. I happen to love children and young adult novels. I read up a ton during the summer and choose my read alouds for the school year that I am passionate about and know I will love reading again.

How do you keep the stress at bay? Please add to the list of ways we can take care of ourselves so we can be better teachers for our students.

Summer Reading: Four Highly Recommended Books

In two days I completed four books. I would not have accomplished such a feat if it was not for the genius writing of these four authors. Thank you for sharing these stories with the world!

1. Fish, by L.S. Matthews

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A family must face a difficult journey escaping the war-ridden country. If only they will make it over the mountain and cross the boarder. I could not put this book down.  Matthews draws you in until the amazing journey of a boy, his family, a guide, and a fish is over.

My story starts the day that my parents told me we must leave our adopted home forever. Because of the soldiers and the drought we barely had enough to eat and we could no longer stay to help the people in our village.


Right before we were leaving I saw a fish in a small brown puddle and I knew I had to take it with me. The journey would be hard to get across the mountains—to the safety of the border and the people there who could help us. Yet when I put the fish in the pot I never realized what we would have to face. It never occurred to me to leave Fish behind.  Synopsis and photo from Amazon.com

2. Lost in the Sun, by Lisa Graff

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Powerful story about a boy who cannot forgive himself and in the process deals with outbursts of anger. His life is falling apart and only a girl, who has a mysterious scar, can save him. I was totally sucked in. A MUST read!

Everyone says that middle school is awful, but Trent knows nothing could be worse than the year he had in fifth grade, when a freak accident on Cedar Lake left one kid dead, and Trent with a brain full of terrible thoughts he can’t get rid of. Trent’s pretty positive the entire disaster was his fault, so for him middle school feels like a fresh start, a chance to prove to everyone that he’s not the horrible screw-up they seem to think he is. 
If only Trent could make that fresh start happen.
It isn’t until Trent gets caught up in the whirlwind that is Fallon Little—the girl with the mysterious scar across her face—that things begin to change. Because fresh starts aren’t always easy. Even in baseball, when a fly ball gets lost in the sun, you have to remember to shift your position to find it. Synopsis and photo from Amazon.com

3. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, by Meg Medina

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It is amazing how one person can cause such havoc in another’s life. A moving story about a girl who is the target of extreme bullying. You will fall in love with the characters in this book.

One morning before school, some girl tells Piddy Sanchez that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, never mind what she’s done to piss her off. Word is that Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, shakes her stuff when she walks, and isn’t Latin enough with her white skin, good grades, and no accent. And Yaqui isn’t kidding around, so Piddy better watch her back. At first Piddy is more concerned with trying to find out more about the father she’s never met and how to balance honors courses with her weekend job at the neighborhood hair salon. But as the harassment escalates, avoiding Yaqui and her gang starts to take over Piddy’s life. Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off or running away? In an all-too-realistic novel, Meg Medina portrays a sympathetic heroine who is forced to decide who she really is. Synopsis and photo from Amazon.com

4. An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green

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Wow, the way Green intertwines a prodigy’s mind, mathematics, and love all into one story is genius. The characters are easy to like and find who they really are through an amazing, fun journey. (Recommend for high school and up due to mature content.)

When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton’s type is girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact. On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy–loving best friend riding shotgun—but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl. Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself. Synopsis and photo from Amazon.com

Stay tuned for more summer reading recommendations. Please leave your recommendations as well!

I Wish

The last leg of our journey together as a class. Nine more days to go. Wishful thinking enters my mind as I prepare to send you all to middle school.

What I wish for you…

  • Love
  • Laughter
  • Hugs
  • New adventures
  • Old friends
  • New friends
  • Confidence
  • Perserverence
  • Struggle
  • “Aha” moments
  • Family
  • Passion

All of the above can be found in life AND books. Keep moving forward. Celebrate mistakes and learn from them. Remember, I will always be your biggest fan.

Your Teacher,

Mrs. Druffel

Students’ Top 10 Books for Fifth Grade

I am excited to share our class’s top ten list of MUST HAVE books for a fifth grade classroom library. All of our read alouds made this list. Here are the most loved books in our classroom in order of popularity!

  1. The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart 
  2. The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth  
  3. because of mr. terupt by Bob Buyea    
  4. Blood on the River by Elisa Carbone
  5. The I Survived Series by Lauren Tarahis
  6. Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
  7. Smile, Sisters, and Drama by Raina  Telgemeier
  8. The Bone Series by Jeff Smith
  9. The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm  
  10. City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Planning for Next School Year


This is the time of year I reflect on what went well, what I want to improve, and set goals for the next school year.

What Went Well

  • Independent Reading Time: I made the commitment after reading The Book Whisperer and The Reading Zone to set aside 30 minutes of choice reading time for students. The results were amazing. Students became readers and learned what kind of books they enjoyed, how to pick out books, and how to get lost in a book. I wrote more about this change in a previous post, Devouring Books.
  • Genius Hour: I learned more about my students’ strengths and talents through this hour a week commitment. I was really scared to try this out, worried the freedom would be too much for some students. Instead, students learned how to self-manage time, self-manage research, plan presentations, and learned from each other. Did we have some struggles, yes. But students learned more about themselves as a learner through these struggles.
  • Blogging: This is the second year I have used Kidblog with my class. Students now know how to write for an audience instead of just for the teacher. When they write, they sound like they are actually talking to someone. The authentic audience blogging provides cannot be replaced. My students are better writers because of it and it has transferred to their writing in other areas.

Areas to Improve/Goals

  • Growth Mindset: I had many students this year, especially in math, get discouraged and down on themselves. They thought it is all about having the right answer, or not being good at math. Some gave up during math time. I did not do enough to address this. I plan on using Making Number Talks Matter next year to address the sense-making some students lack in math. If anyone has an awesome resource for helping  students establish a growth-mindset, please recommend in the comment section below!
  • Kindness/Repect: Many students had a lot of baggage they brought to school with them. Because of this, some would lash out at others. You know how we tend to take it out in the ones we love the most? Yep, that is our classroom this year. We are a small school and most students have been together since kindergarten. How do you establish, despite the fact you might be boiling inside, to still treat others around you with the kindness and respect they deserve. Please advise in the comments below!

There are many things I hope to keep doing well and many things I want to do better next year. Blogging about these issues helps me digest and reflect. It also allows me to document my thinking to refer back to as I plan for next year. I would love to here from you. How do you plan for the next year? What process works for you?


Great Things Take Time

Just sharing a celebration moment that happened last week in our classroom. Picture the student who has lots of creativity, outside of the box thinker, and always has trouble with deadlines. In the traditional classroom, this students has difficulty keeping up and feeling successful.

Now give them the opportunity to work on a Passion Project/Genius Hour. No deadline, just trial and error. That student finally presents for the first time in…MAY!

What happens next, the whole class is amazed. We never expected how she took 51 slides, put them to music, and told a story. It was by far the most impressive project of the year. No one expected this from her. You should have seen how she inspired her peers and the pride on her face, knowing how her effort and perserverence paid off. What a life lesson to learn!! If only we could provide opportunities like this more often in education. Powerful.

Do You Correct?

As students were working on Concept Card Mapping from Page Keely’s book, Formative Assessment in Science, I asked a student why she made a placement with her card and how it relates to the other cards in her group. What happend next disturbed me. She immediately removed the card, thinking I was telling her she was wrong. I responded with a quick, “No! Put it back.” 

Why do kids assume when asked why, they are automatically wrong? I then began to reflect on my questioning. Do I contribute to this problem?

After talking to each group of students during the Concept Card Mapping formative activity, I noticed some misconceptions they had about food webs and energy transfer in science.

Instead of telling students where their thinking was wrong, I facilitated a fishbowl activity where four students sat in the middle of our class circle. The four discussed energy transfer in an ecosystem of their choice while the rest of us observed. The four of them disagreed on if water provides energy for plants and animals like the sun does. The outside observers then stated whether they agreed or disagreed with the statements. What happend from here was an amazing discussion that I facilitated without correcting the misconception that water provides energy. All but one had reasons they thought water provides energy. You might think they will always think this, but hearing their reasoning opened my eyes for what I needed to do next to address their misconception. Because I listened, I discovered the root of the idea. 

The next day I told them scientists measure energy in what we consume by calories. We looked at food labels to see how much energy was in a serving of various food and drinks. Then they made a T chart with items that contained no energy (0 Calories) and items with energy ( 1 or more Calories). They discovered many things like sugar comes from a plant and salt contains no energy but is a mineral nutrient. 

If I would have corrected the misconception right away, none of this learning would of happend. I would have not thought of bringing in the energy as calories piece. 

Do you correct every misconception right away? I know it is hard for me to not do this. Page Keely’s book is helping me get better. I want students to feel safe discussing their thinking instead of assuming they are wrong. How do you facilitate this?

Student Choice, Student Voice

Photo credit: Sky Druffel

 

I am continuously amazed at my fifth grade students. Today we had an insightful discussion on how they learn best. An overwhelming majority talked about choice.

Our district has a new GVC (Garenteed and Viable Curriculum) this year for language arts. Our current unit focuses on how readers integrate information from multiple texts on the same topic. In this unit, the topic and texts are about grizzly bears. 

I gave my students choice on the texts, maps, and videos to work with from the provided resources, but it was still like pulling teeth to get students to put much effort into their work. I heard a lot of moans and groans.

After three days of this, I decided to ask why this was so hard and unmotivating. The unanimous response, “We wish we could pick the topic, at least from a list of choices.” A great discussion continued on how to do this. I thanked the students for their honest responses. 

I was reminded, once again, just how important it is to our students to have choice. This enables them to take pride in their work, motivates them, and helps students internalize their learning. I was also reminded of the importance of student voice. Listening to them, involving them, planning with them, is one of the most powerful things teachers can do. How do you offer choice? How do you facilitate student voice?

Through the Eyes of a Student

 

Photo Credit: Sky Druffel

As I spend the first official day of Spring Break planning for the rest of the year, I reflect on the survey my students kindly filled out about our classroom and my teaching. I noticed a lot of trends and commonalities, but also many differences. 

Many wrote they love when I use humor and suggested I use it more. My goal is to plan at least one humor related item a day. Some of my ideas include jokes, stories, silly movements, and role-playing.

Students also wrote they needed more practice with math concepts. I plan on using a workshop model this spring to provide more practice time and small group instruction.

Using the single point rubric to provide feedback instead of giving a grade on formative assessments was a huge success with students this winter. Students wrote they want to keep doing this and feel it helps them succeed.

Finally, I noticed many individual differences which reminded me of the unique needs of each student. A strategy that works for one may not work for another. I am reminded of the importance of differentiation to meet as many needs of each student as possible. 

In my process of reflection, I asked my daughter today to tell me her favorite part of school (she is a first grader). Library was her response. I asked her to tell me why. She talked about books, the teacher read alouds and bringing rocks to her librarian. Rocks? Her librarian has a different theme each year, this year’s theme is rocks. She allows them to being in rocks they have found. I asked if she is funny. My daughter responded no, but said she is nice.

Nice. My daughter’s last statement brought me back to the most important word in education, relationships. If a child can see that you truly care (there is no faking it) amazing things can and will happen. We have the privilege to work with children everyday. Our relationship with each one of them makes the most impact. Notice them, listen to them, celebrate with them, love them.

Benefits of Student Blogging (and things to let go)

As I reflect on my students’ progress in the area of writing, I cannot ignore the positive impact blogging has had with my students. 

  • Motivation: Students write because they have an authentic audience. The Global Read Aloud enabled us to make connections easily with classrooms around the world. Students receive comments from other students. (Which they value way more than teacher comments). We have continued many of these connections throughout the year. Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension has a vast resource on student blogging by Pernille Ripp, founder of the Global Read Aloud.
  • Knowing Your Audience If I had to pick the biggest change in my students’ writing ability, it is writing FOR an audience. When I read my students’ writing, it sounds like they are talking to me, actually having a conversation with me. As a reader, I am genuinely engaged and enjoy the voice that leaps from the paper. Parents have commented on this as well.
  • Practice We all know, readers become better readers by reading and writers become better writers by writing. Students actually enjoy writing for a real audience and tend to write more even on their free time.

Things to Let Go When Blogging with Students

  • Perfection Students will post writing that is not perfect. If you pick apart their writing, they will stop. Allow for mistakes, but teach them how to use spell check and peer edit. Approve posts even when they are not perfect. The struggling writer will actually write way more than you imagined if you live by this! Trust me.
  • Fear If you have thought about starting student blogging, but are afraid, just do it! Kidblog.org is a great classroom blogging site that allows the teacher to filter everything before it is posted, even comments from around the world. It is free and user friendly. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg about the benefits of student blogging. If anything, give it a shot! If you have any other benefits you have noticed in your class on blogging, please share.