Sunday, August 7, 2016

Using Self-Created Digital Books As Lesson Openers: Hooking Students From the get-Go

Image result for mo willems pigeon     If you read my last post, you might have noticed that I am dabbling in digital story telling (I know, I am on the late train for this one!). I have recently just created my own digital book to read to my class on the first day of school. The purpose of this book is to relay my own fears of the first day of school in order to connect with my students, while easing their nerves. While creating this book, I began to ponder all the many different ways I could actually use digital story telling in my classroom. Books are powerful, and when it comes to read alouds, I have my students' attention like no other time during the school day.
     Though I don't yet know all the ways I will use digital story telling in my classroom, one way for sure is to use it as an attention grabber in the beginning of a lesson. What better way to open a lesson? Obviously not every lesson can be done this way, but I think it's such a powerful way to hook students and really get their attention. The exciting part is that with so many digital tools out there, we can be as creative as possible with these books. In addition, when you include real pictures of people and images that your classroom is familiar with (you, the classroom, students, etc.), you get kids excited!
     I have now created my second digital book, entitled Don't Let the Pigeon Touch the Books. This book is obviously based off of Mo Willem's "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus". We all know how much students LOVE Mo Willems' books, and specifically Pigeon. This will be the attention grabber to my lesson about how to treat our classroom books. What better way to reel them in and get them excited about taking care of our classroom books?
    In the past, I have always used read alouds as a means to either deliver information (such as in social studies, science, even math), connect to a value or theme we or exploring, or just for the pure joy of sharing a story. Using a read aloud as a way to hook students into the beginning of a lesson will be new for me, but I am excited to try this out because it's such a great way to add more time for reading, and to get the kids really paying attention to a topic.
     Have you used read alouds to get your students' attention at the beginning of a lesson? I would love to hear about it.

Friday, August 5, 2016

First Day Read Aloud- A Digital Book About You?

As I was making a list of read alouds that I want to be sure to read during the first week of school, I began to fantasize about a read aloud that depicted me! Okay, this sounds very egocentric, so let me explain. I wanted to read a book about my own fears and nerves on the first day of school. A story that would show a little bit of who I am, while comforting and reassuring my students. What a perfect icebreaker, but done so in a way that would really pull all kids in (and kids just love read alouds!).
    So, I began to explore the internet to see what I could find. That was when I came across "Story Jumper". This digital tool allows you to create digital books for free (you can optionally purchase the digital books as well). I was very quickly able to create an account (again, for free), and then easily write a book. That was the exciting part! I wrote a book, loosely based off of "First Day Jitters", all about me being nervous for my first day. It even has pictures of me within the book, which I think my class will love!
    This digital tool has so many possibilities, but I wanted to share this with all of you because I think this could be a great read aloud for the first day. Just imagine how your class might react to a book where you are the character! How fun is that? If you are interested, you may read my book here.  I'd love to hear from anyone who decides to create their own read aloud.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Digital Teacher Tool- Sticky Notes

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      Recently I stumbled across a virtual tool that I am excited to start to use in the classroom. It is not anything complicated or difficult to use, but a tool that we teachers are already familiar with, just presented in a new way: sticky notes! Yes, I said "sticky notes". Okay, so it is definitely not a new tool (what teacher does not use sticky notes?), but believe me when I say these sticky notes are different than the ones you have been using. These sticky notes are virtual, and when you write on one of them, it will post to your desktop. How clever is that? If you are anything like me, you always have three to four sticky notes with important reminders, posted on your computer screen. I do this out of necessity, but that does not mean I don't feel a pang of guilt about how much paper I am wasting just to write a little note.
     Now, I come across many tools that could potentionally be used in the classroom, but it is not every day that I find one that I really feel will work for me, or be one that I really need (and I'm not one to use a digital tool just for the sake of using it; the digital tool really needs to enhance my life in some way, no matter how small). This tool is different, because it is a tool that I already use, just in a slightly different format. I have already started to use this tool at home, so I am excited to bring it into the classroom as well.
     Sticky Notes is a free tool that can be found at the Chrome Web Store (if you have not already explored this site, do! There are tons of free extentions and apps that can potentially make your life easier). Once you download it, you will be able to open it from your desktop. You obviously use it like you would use any sticky note. In my case, I write important notes of things I need to do that day, (call so and so's mom, send _____ an email about ____, etc.). I do not think that launching the app and typing your note on it will take any longer than the time it takes to take a real sticky note (that might include finding your sticky notes first) and write on it. The nice thing is, is that once you write your note, it gets posted to your desktop (and you can change the font, font size and color of the sticky note, which is nice). The only downfall with this is that it is not immediately in your view, unless you have your desktop showing. This is not all bad, though, as it keeps your computer screen looking clean and less messy. You will just have to remember to look at your desktop to check your sticky notes.
     Another great feature is that your sticky notes automatically save until you delete them. So, the next time you start your computer and launch sticky notes, those same sticky notes will appear. They will not post back to your desktop automatically, however. At that point, you can launch them back to your desktop, or delete them if you just have not gotten around to deleting them yet.
     Is this a tool that you think you can use in your classroom? If so, I would love to hear about it.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Effective Strategies to Making the Most of the End of the School Year

     It's that time of year once again. That time when we realize we have almost made it to the finish line. That time when we begin to feel the exhaustion from a year full of learning, laughing, caring, and maybe even some crying. The time when some of us are tempted to lean off the gas pedal just a bit and feel the breeze, marvel at what was and what's to come. If you haven't already guessed, I am referring to the end of the school year. That time of year when everyone is itching for their summer vacation to begin. When students and teachers alike can literally taste summer goodness, rich in its promise of late mornings and days full of pajama wearing. What a sweet, sweet vision.
     So, how do we teachers make the most of the last weeks of school? How do we make every minute count, even though state testing is complete and we have reached the end of our curriculum map for the year? How do we end the school year with a bang? While some would argue that this is the time to ease up and relax a little in the classroom, I would argue that strictly holding on to your routines is the best way to finish the school year. Allow me to explain why.
     When we begin to loosen the reins, as it were, even just a little, our students really feel this freedom. Not only do they feel this freedom, the begin to push for further loosening, and this is where behavior becomes challenging. They see us as backing away from what we had previously stood firm on, and this gives them silent permission to do the same. However, this will only result in a classroom atmosphere of challenging behavior, conflicts, and even chaos for the last days.
     Okay, so what should we do? I firmly believe that we teachers should not do anything differently than we have been doing during the school year. If you practice The Daily 5 or reading workshop, I encourage you to continue with it until the very last day. Keep your math routines the same, as well as anything other routine you have in your class that make up the threads of your classroom structure. In other words, the day-to-day structure in your classroom is business as usual. You'll thank me later.
     Keeping tight reigns on your classroom structure doesn't mean that you can't do anything fun or celebratory of having arrived at the end of the school year. Instead, I always look for ways to incorporate special activities into our normal classroom routines. For example, I usually have one to two small groups occuring while my students work on literacy. While this group time is normally set aside for guided reading, or social studies or science integration, at the end of the year I can use that structured time for end-of-the-year special activities. It allows us to do something slightly different without compromising the structure of our classroom routines.
     In closing, by continuing your class as normal, you will minimize the misbehavior that inevitably comes at the end of the year. In addition, you will make things easier on yourself. You will not have to come up with ways to get through the last days. Instead, the days are essentially already planned because you aren't changing the structure of your day. You will be making every day and, in fact, every second count. Your students will benefit from maximized learning in the classroom because there truly is something to be learned every day. Here's to making it count.

Starting Strong: 6 Things to Keep in Mind as You Begin the New School Year

         The beginning of the school year is such a special time of year. Teachers excitedly get their classrooms set up, organized and d...