Saturday, November 20, 2010

Grouping Kids Easily

The past two years I have been trying to be very intentional and strategic about how I group my students. First of all, I want my kids to be able to form into groups quickly. Second, I want them to meet with a variety of classmates. Last, I want there always to be a natural leader in each group.
To get kids to get in groups quickly can often be a task. If I let my kids choose a partner, I see the same thing happen over and over. I will watch the smart, responsible, and dependable kids get swallowed up in a quick wave. I will then watch 2-4 kids wander like lost prom dates around the room. They use the corner of their gaze to eye their eventual partner as they think, "Him again." Letting my second grade student pick their own partners is chaotic and inefficient. To help with this problem, I start the school year off by creating a bunch of groups by a category.
For example this year every kids has a number group, color group, shoe group, shape group, president group, and state group. Then under each group I have the labels that divide the kids. So with the state group, some kids are Pennsylvania or New Jersey, others are New York or West Virginia. When I say meet with your color group, everyone is already divide and they meet quickly.
Each of the groups is a mix of different classmates, so that all kids learn to work together.
My last goal of trying to place a natural leader in every group is hard because I often make the groups before I get my students. I sometimes have to cheat and talk to the first grade teachers. Sometimes this part of my goal can fall through, and I have a dead-beat group that no one will take ownership in. This is the group that doesn't get done. This is the group that needs remixed!

One new thing I have added this year (just in the last week) is to create a dangling reading strategy sign above each group of students. I know have created a new category for each kid. The groups I create are now inferring, summarizing, making connections, and visualizing. I often have the kids sit with their reading strategy group when we meet on the floor for read aloud time. I then can direct questions to a certain group. The plan for the future is to move a few kids at a time to new reading strategies. I also plan to switch up some of the signs to new skills.

How do you group your students? I would love to hear your ideas.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Scott Maxwell Lumax Art

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Setting The Bar As High As You Can

I expect a lot out of my students. In fact, sometimes I have to sit back and evaluate if I am pushing them too hard. "They are only in 2nd grade...." It is easy to see when I have expected too much out of them. I create an assignment I think will be really great. Two minutes into the work and my desk is surrounded by questions, doubts, and confusion. Right away I can see all the holes that I overlooked before. This is the Homer Simpson moment of "DOH!"
Sometimes we can be right on target for our expectations. Expectations can and should be higher at first than what a student believes they can reach. When the doubt creeps in, it is our job to infuse a belief that will drive them to achieve. It is amazing what a child will do if someone believes in them.
The past couple weeks we have been working on leaving meaningful compliments for each other. I will never forget the first week when one little boy only had one comment left for him (it was from me). He came up to me and said, "This is dumb. I only got one and it was from you." This opened a teachable moment for me to push this little boy to go higher. I asked him how many compliments he had given other people. When the truth came out, he had only given one half-hearted note to someone else. Then I asked him, "How can you expect to get back more than what you have given?" At the next opportunity I saw him sliding a couple of notes behind a few names at our Compliment Central. When they collected their compliments this past week, he rushed up to my desk and said, "Look, I got three this week." He was beaming with joy. That little boy just learned in real time the impact kindness to others can have.

How do you set the bar high for your students? Post your success stories of helping kids go beyond where they thought they could.

Photo Credit:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Failing as Teachers

Friday morning a young 14 year old boy took his own life. The root of the problem was bullying. As I read the article, I couldn't help but feel that as teachers we need to do more. My school is starting to implement a bullying policy, and I have witnessed many schools doing the same. This a great top down approach for the administration to lend a hand, but I also think there needs to be a ground up approach that can join in the middle. On the ground needs to be students caring for students. The truth of the matter is, kids do not care for each other if not led to. It is part of our responsibility as teachers to teach children how to care for each other. I see enough in 2nd grade alone that reveals just how self-focused we naturally are.
I teach in a very rural district and driving home today I was looking at the carved out hillside that gave space for the road I was on. To the my left was an edge that led down to the river, and to my right was the rock facade that had a few scattered trees. I traced along the line of the road thinking again about this young boy. As my mind scattered around thoughts of the family and friends, I caught sight of a large stone from an old rock slide. Holding up the large stone is a small tree piercing out from the side of the hill. As I looked at that scene in my quick passing, the weight of this matter of bullying became much more clear for me. That single solitary tree is a picture of this 14 year old boy. It is also a picture of hundreds, maybe even thousands of kids across our country who daily face ridicule, abuse, and loneliness. The large rock is the weight of bullying. Day after day so many kids are stuck in a situation where they just try to survive and get through.
As teachers this is where we must step into the scene. We need to focus on easing the pressure by removing the strength of the oppressing. We do this by creating classrooms that are inviting and accepting. We also do it by being active in the lives of our students. As Yogi Berra said, "You can observe a lot just by watching." As a teacher, I strive to make at least one meaningful conversation with my each of my students everyday about their lives. It could be one minute about their morning, what they did last night, how they are getting along with their siblings, etc. Try it out, and you will be surprise how much a kid will reveal about themselves. From here you have laid the foundation for respect and rapport. You have also gained access into motivations, strengths, weaknesses, and fears.
As teachers we also need to focus on strengthening those being picked on. It is a little known fact that all kids want to be liked and known in some sense. Your job know may be helping that child connect with others. Getting them connected is most easily done by finding the least common denominator, I mean interest, between that child and one other. Facilitate the relationship by making it about all three people, then slowly step off the scene as the students connect. Your goal is to connect kids to kids by teaching them to make quality relationship choices, and the job is never over. I facilitate relationships with my old students in 3rd and 4th grade still. I only have access now because of the ground that was laid when they were my students.
There are so many great things being done by teachers all over the country to battle bullying. My focus this year has been a large dose (may even a bit too much) of kindness. My students from day one have been mastering the art of complimenting each other. For the first couple of days, this was done by finding a matching playing card and complimenting them. After that, we moved to a few weeks of free choice compliments. This period was filled with, "I like your shoes, etc." Getting kids to think about others was the goal. Last week we made a major shift. We now created, "Compliment Central" which is a large pocket chart with a name card of everyone in the class (including teacher aides). Now the students have been asked to write out their compliments, and they can no longer compliment about material items. It was amazing to watch them work. Last week that pocket chart was like a bee hive with little workers eager to do a good job. The kids were begging all week to take their cards, but I have them wait until the end of the day on Friday. With excitement they all snatched up their cards on Friday and big smiles were all over the room as kids cared for each other. When students all filled up with kindness there is little room left for being hurtful.
How do you teach your students to take care of each other? Please share your great ideas.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bring Giving to Life....We Skyped

Today we had the amazing opportunity to use Skype for the first time. My students and I have been talking the past couple weeks about changing the world. We read, Miss Rumphius, we watched a video on Blood:Water Mission, and have been talking about how giving a goat through Heifer Project can multiply to touch many lives. Today we got to hear and see the book, Beatrice's Goat, as the caring and giving Joanne Kaminski gave up time in her day to give us a Skype read aloud. Mrs. Kaminski brought the words and ideas to life for my students. They walked away being stunned that they had just connected with someone in Wisconsin while we sat in our small Pennsylvania town. They also walked away with a sense that they could change the world, and I know they will! Read what Mrs. Kaminski thought here. Contact her about how she may be able to connect with your students too.