Sunday, February 17, 2019

Student Checklist = Student Choice

STUDENT CHOICE! Can you hear me in the back??

I cannot stress enough how important choice is for kids. Choice is important because it's a skill that we use every single day. When I was younger, everything was decided for me. My mom told me what to do at home, chose my clothes, food, etc. At school, I was told what to do and when to do it. So now as an adult, I struggle with making decisions. It's so frustrating because I was never taught how to make choices for myself. That's why making sure my students have choice is one of my top priorities as a teacher. So, I will get off my soap box and tell you how I help my students embrace their power of choice in my classroom.

At the beginning of each week, my students receive a checklist. I can't take credit for the checklist idea. I'm sure many teachers out there use it, but I got the idea from a fellow third grade teacher from another school in my district, Chasity Beatty. She only teaches science and math. In her class, students have tasks to complete on that day, and they can complete them in whatever order they'd like. So if they want to do math first and then science, or science first and then math...they can! That was a mind-blowing moment for me. I realized that students could do math during reading time, and reading during math time. According to the state of Texas, students just need to practice a skill until mastery.

How does the checklist work?
I do not have the pleasure of teaching just two subjects. My students get their core subjects from me. My checklist only includes math, reading, and language arts. Here is what it looks like:

On Monday, I pass out the checklist and explain to the students what exactly is due by Friday. Students cannot work on the items that are due on Friday until they have finished the work for the current day. For example, if it was Monday, students would need to complete all the work that is listed for Monday before they can work on the assignments that are due by Friday. 

How do you introduce it to the students?
There is a bit of a learning curve in the beginning. The students are confused because, for the first time, I am not telling them exactly what to do and when. Mind blowing! I explain to them that they must do the current day's work first. When they are finished with those assignments, they can move on to the assignments that are due by Friday. When I first introduce the checklist, I only give the students one subject. Then once they get the hang of it, I add on another subject to the checklist.

What do I do while students are working on the checklist?
I'm teaching, guys. I really try not to teach in whole group. It makes me anxious. When you are teaching to the entire class, there are some students who got it after 5 minutes and are bored. There are some students who are completely lost and aren't listening to anything you're saying. And there ARE some students who get it and need some more practice, so they are following along with your lesson. I prefer small groups. I can teach every student at his/her level. I have also found that I have less issues with students who struggle with paying attention because I'm working with them in a small group. Even though students can work on any subject they'd like, when I'm pulling small groups, I teach according to our school's master schedule. If it's our math block, I'm teaching math in small groups. I follow the schedule, but the students don't necessarily have to.

What happens when they finish their daily assignments and the assignments due by Friday?
On the back of the checklist, there is a list of activities that students can do if they finish everything before Friday. I like listing their choices for May Dos on their checklist because then I don't have a million kids running up to me saying, "I'm done! What do I do now?" 

Why do I love the checklist?
1. Differentiation! I have some students that don't need to stay in a center for 15 minutes practicing a skill that they already understand. Once they show mastery in something, they can move on. I also have so much more time to work with students in small groups and on an individual basis.
2. Choice! When completing their daily tasks, students can work on math, reading, or language arts whenever they want to. I really don't care what order they choose to do their work...I just need them to get their work done. Am I right? 

Do the students like it?
Most of my students love the checklist. There are some students who have a hard time managing their work and their time and those are the students who struggle with the checklist. So for those students, I check in with them more often. I ask them what tasks they have accomplished, what they are working on, what they plan to work on next, etc. In some cases, I have highlighted for students what they should work on first so that they don't get overwhelmed. 

Checklists have seriously changed my life, and I think they've helped me to become a better teacher for my students. 

FREEBIE TIME! You can get an editable copy of my checklist here: 

Do you have any questions about the checklist? Drop them below, and I'll try to answer!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Classroom Transformation: Mock Trial

Last week, our weekly story was The Trial of Cardigan Jones. If you are a third grade Texas teacher, you are very familiar with this story. I wanted my students to make a deeper connection to the story, so I decided that a classroom transformation was the way to go! I turned my classroom into a courtroom, and we had a mock trial. When my students entered class, this is what they saw:

...and they went crazy over it! I think teachers feel that classroom transformations have to be elaborate. This one was so simple. I remember leaving school the night before thinking that my classroom wasn't very "transformed," and I felt that I needed to do more. But the next morning, the students made several comments about how amazing the classroom looked and how it was the best day ever. I just love kids. Want to do this transformation? Here's how:

1. Black tablecloths (you can buy these from Dollar Tree, but I was near Party City so I bought them there for $2 each)
2. Gavel (my husband is an attorney, so one of his coworkers let me borrow his)
3. Dictionary (or some type of book that the students can put their hand on when taking the stand and swearing to tell the truth)
4. County crest (I found this online and printed it in poster size)
5. American flag (I borrowed this from our school gym)
6. Black robe (I used my husband's robe from his law school graduation, but you could use any graduation robe)
7. Nameplate (I made mine in PowerPoint)

Total Cost: $12! Most of the items were either borrowed or I already had them!

I set up the classroom as close to a courtroom as possible. I had the stenographer/bailiff to my right. I had the witness stand to my left. I put the two witnesses (milkman and the rabbit) to the left of the witness stand. In front of the judge's bench, I put the plaintiff (Mrs. Brown) and defendant (Cardigan Jones) on different sides with their lawyers. I know in the story there are no lawyers, but for the mock trial I gave each character two lawyers. I assembled the jury behind the parties in rows.

Day Before the Trial:
I asked students what characters they wanted to play, and took those choices into consideration when assigning roles. Once I made my decisions, I told the students and pulled different groups of students to explain to them how they should act during the trial, depending on their assigned roles. For example, I told Cardigan Jones and his lawyers to come up with questions to ask all the witnesses and that their goal was to prove their client's innocence. I gave each party 15 minutes to create questions that they could ask all the witnesses.

Day of Trial:
When the students entered in the morning, I told them to reread the story so that they could get into character and act just as the characters did in the story. For example, the jury did a lot of murmuring throughout the trial. The stenographer took notes, and he also acted as the bailiff. Every time a witness came to the stand, the bailiff told the witness to place one hand on the dictionary and say, "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" We were very official šŸ˜†
Once both parties gave their closing statements, the jury deliberated. We actually had a hung jury with 10 for guilty, and 4 not guilty. So the trial was dismissed.

Our classroom transformation was a blast and so easy to set up! Do you have any classroom transformations that you've done in your classroom? I would love to hear about them in the comments below!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Throw Kindness Like Confetti & FREEBIE!

Every year I try to find a new way to build a classroom community that is safe, inviting, and friendly! My first year teaching, I had A LOT of behavior issues. I think that I wrote 10 office referrals that year. That is a lot of office referrals to me, especially since the past 3 years I've had 3 office referrals. One of the biggest issues that I had that year was kids being mean to other kids in the class. The reason why I had so many behavior issues is because I didn't take the time to build a classroom community. So many teachers say, "I don't have time for that!" Am I right? I was one of those teachers. I thought that if I kept the kids busy, then they wouldn't misbehave. BIG MISTAKE. But once I took the time to build a classroom community, my behavior issues were few and far between.

 I use a lot of different positive behavior strategies and community building in my classroom. One of my favorites is my classroom shout out wall. I'm sure you've seen doors and walls like this on Instagram or Pinterest:

Credit: Kindness Kit (FREE!)

As soon as I saw this, I knew I wanted to do this on the wall outside my door. Problem? I didn't want to cut out all those little squares and glue them on my wall. I just didn't have the time. So I thought, how can I implement this by getting my students to do the work and it being more meaningful to them? Then I saw this on Instagram:

Credit: Shout Outs Using Sticky Notes

And I had a great idea! I put the shoutout notes on every table group. My kids write shout-outs throughout the day to their classmates. Once they give it to their classmate, the person who received the shout-out sticks it on the wall. The kids are creating their own confetti, and it's literally made out of kindness! The students LOVE it, and they are always on the lookout for nice and helpful things that their classmates do. It's a WIN-WIN for me. Here is what our wall looks like:

FREEBIE TIME! This is one of my best sellers in my TpT store, but the first 10 people will get it for FREE! Comment below with your email address to receive these Meet the Teacher: All About Me EDITABLE flyers! They are the perfect way for parents and students to get to know you. You can put them out at Meet the Teacher, Open House, Curriculum Night, Parent-Teacher Conferences, information meetings, and more!

Meet the Teacher Editable Flyer