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.

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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. 

5 Ways to Recognize Student Talent





I just have to get this off my chest. I have the most amazing, unique students this year in fifth grade. They are a mashed-up, crazy mix of the most unique personalities and I love them dearly. My class reminds me of the movie, “Little Miss Sunshine.” So many quirks, but we stick together and make it work through trial and error.

I love my class this year! They are an amazing set of individuals who have lived and gone through more than any of us could imagine. They are opening up to each other and supporting each other in so many ways.

It is important that each child know they are unique AND special. This class alone reminds me how important it is. How to recognize the talent in your class:

  1. Morning compliments: Have students meet in a circle and state a compliment to someone in their life. This helps to build a positive culture and recognize individual talents.
  2. Genius Hour: Let students have time to learn about and share their passions. This builds a sense of community and recognizes individual strengths.
  3. Time to Read-Foster the love of reading: Give students time to read books of their choice daily. Students learn so much about themselves through reading. They discover who they are as readers: what kinds of books they enjoy, recommending books to each other. Give them time to talk about books. We do class book-talks once a week to add books to our someday lists.
  4. Give Students a Voice: Survey your class on anything from how they feel about grades to what they would love to learn about. It is amazing what you learn about your students when you ask them intentional questions.
  5. Nobody is Perfect: Discuss this often. Model this often. Sometimes it is hard to be a person. Sometimes we deserve a high five for getting out of bed! Recognize struggles and celebrate diligence. Focus on learning as a journey. The process is the important part, not the product.

The inspiration for this post came from my own reflection as to where I am this year as an educator, and as a mentor, to all of my students. They each share their own unique individual needs and are the most amazing, inspiring group of students. 

Genius Hour/Passion Projects-Reflections of a Fifth Grade Teacher



I decided to take the plunge this year and implement Genius Hour/Passion Projects in my fifth grade classroom. I did my research and found resources I could use, but I still did not feel 100% confident about implementation. Finally, I decided to give myself permission to go forward anyway and learn as I go. (If you need a background on what exactly Genius Hour is, this is a great resource http://www.geniushour.com

A summary of how we run Genius Hour/Passion Projects in our classroom. 

  • We spend an hour a week dedicated to this process. Some weeks it is two, half-hour sessions a week, and others we can do the full hour on one day. This time is non-negotiable. I always honor this time and never take it away as punishment.
  • There is no due date because some projects can be completed in a few sessions and others are very extensive and need more time.
  • I keep track of their essential question (which is approved by me) on an excel spreadsheet with the date started and the date completed.
  • I allow students to abandon a project (just like I allow them to abandon a book) after we discuss why they want to change their essential question.
  • When students are ready to present, they let me know and I schedule 5-10 minutes out of our day to have them present.
  • If I notice a student is not making progress on their project, I ask questions and provide feedback to help the student meet their goal.

Changes I Plan to Make

  • Some students struggle with not having a due date and need more guidance and scaffolding. I need a better system in place for these students.
  • Possibly incorporating outside mentors/experts in the future for students.
  • Involve students in creating a rubric/criteria around the question, “What is a quality product/presentation?”

Take-aways after being involved in this process weekly with my fifth graders for five months.

  • I have learned more about my students’ strengths and interests through this process than ever before. 
  • Since students are learning about something they are truly passionate about, the non-writer writes and the unmotivated student is motivated.
  • Students learn about themselves through this process as well. The tech savy student who always made PowerPoints with the coolest effects (not so great content) realized he could make a PowerPoint on HOW to make a PowerPoint. (Future tech teacher or computer programmer??) He is our go to expert now!
  • Students learn more about each other through this process. When students present their project, the class sees a side of a peer they might not otherwise be aware of.
  • As a teacher, Genius Hour/Passion Projects allow me to give feedback to students as they tackle roadblocks or make a personal discovery about themselves. Some are realizing talents they never knew they had.
  • I cannot name how many Common Core State Standards are being met through this process! (Research, evidence, opinion, reading for information, etc.)
  • Students utilize what is learned in class to gather data for their project. One student used a line plot (from Math) for her survey on when kids should be able to have a cell phone.

As you can see, I could go on and on about the positive outcomes this one hour a week has had on our classroom. Yes, there are a few changes I need to make, but the positives definitely make it worth it. Just think, I almost didn’t attempt this because I was worried about not being an “expert” on implementing Genius Hour/ Passion Projects in my classroom. What are you waiting to try out? Just do it!!!

Students Devouring Books-How I Accomplished this in our Classroom



Reading makes us better readers. Writing makes us better writers. As educators, we all know that. But do we provide the independent practice daily?

This school year I decided to make 30 minutes of independent reading time my top priority after reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller/Jeff Anderson and Reading in the Zone by Nancie Atwell. 

These two books provided enough guidance to successfully pull off independent reading time that fostered the LOVE of reading, helping students recognize and discover who they are as readers.

Changes I made in our classroom that made the most impact.

  • Thirty minutes of independent choice reading is a non-negotiable. It happens EVERYDAY!
  • We started the 30 minutes of independent, self-selected books, the first day of school and discussed the expectation of reading 30 chapter books for the school year.
  • Taught the independent reading time expectations from day one. Silent, stay in one spot, and read the WHOLE time!
  • Discussed what it means to be in the reading zone. (Like a movie playing in your head. You feel like you are living in the book. You cannot put the book down) This is our daily goal.
  • Taught that it is okay to abandon a book and discussed the criteria to know when to abandon a book.
  • Keep a reading log of books abandoned and completed.
  • Keep a list of books we want to read in our own reading log. We call this our “someday” list.
  • Weekly book talks by students who want to share books they love.
  • Book talk new additions to our classroom library.
  • Individual conferences with students weekly about what they are reading. I document (via my Upward app on my phone) reading behaviors I notice or need to teach, what book they are currently reading, what page they are on, etc. Sometimes students are so excited they come to me to discuss their book! I count this as a conference!
  • Current, new books that students can relate to, are in our classroom library. I keep up on the latest popular books for the students’ age group and I have read most of them. 

Continuing to keep these things a part of our classroom has created a classroom culture of reading. I hear students groan when the thirty minutes is up. I have students gasp in the middle of a silent room when they read something unexpected. These students truely KNOW who they are as readers. They know what types of books they love. They know how to talk about books. They know how authors can tug and manipulate your emotions as a reader. These are not the same students they were in September. 



All Things Smart-Insight from my Students

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Image from kizoomlabs.com

After participating in another Twitter chat on Saturday, #satchatwc, I knew I had to survey my students again. This time I gathered their thoughts on the word smart. Most of the educators participating in the chat believed there are many forms and definitions of the word smart. All of us have a talent/gift to contribute. All of us can be smart. But I wondered, does it really matter how we, adults, view smart, if the message is not getting across to our students? Here is what my fifth grade students had to say.

What do you think the word smart means?

“Someone who knows a lot of things.”

“You are good at all subjects. Intelligent.”

“Make wise decisions.”

“You get everything in Math, Reading, everything!”

What do you think makes a person smart?

“Learning, research, and also reading.”

“Practice. Lots of training the brain.”

“They know lots of things.”

“Learning.”

“Trying hard. Not giving up. Practice.”

“Mistakes.”

Do you think there are different types of being smart? Explain.

“Yes. There is street-smart and smart-smart.”

“Everyone is smart already in their own personal way.”

“Yes. You can be techy smart or life smart and that means you can manage your money.”

“I do not know really but if there is I did not know.”

Do you see yourself as a smart person? Explain.

“Ummm, no. I really don’t get math and science and stuff and it makes me really mad.”

“I’m in the middle because I don’t always get everything right.”

“No, but I have street smarts.”

“Yes, I know many things. I know a lot of math but especially technology.”

“Yes, I can build.”

Any other comments on the word smart? Thank you for being honest and open with your comments!

“I don’t like the word smart.”

“Why is it called smart?”

“Everybody is smart.”

“Would you consider me smart? Please be honest too. Thank you! (I promise not to cry. I just want to know what you think.)

My Reflection/Take-Away

As I sat down tonight reading over the surveys, I was pleasantly surprised at how many students understood there could be different types of smart. Many spoke of effort and practice to help get “smarter.” One even said mistakes make you smarter! I do not know if this message was gleamed from me, previous teachers, or parents, but I was excited to read their thoughts.

On the other hand, even if students viewed and accepted different types of being smart, some did not view themselves as being smart. They could not identify something they were smart, gifted, or talented in. This troubles me tremendously! I try to notice and recognize the successes in all my students, yet some do not see this in themselves.

I intentionally set those surveys aside. I’m making it my top priority to help those students discover, recognize, their own unique gift(s) they bring to our classroom and the world. If I can do that, I have succeeded as a teacher. Just maybe, I can help foster a life-long learner. A passion for learning. Hoping to plant the seed!