Sunday, September 25, 2011

Well this past week was a humdinger of a week. On the Friday before last I ended up in the hospital having to have surgery on my stomach. I am just fine but needless to say I am sore. Because the surgery was not that invasive I went back to work on Monday and resumed my normal routines (sort of). I wouldn't even be writing about my surgery except for the fact that there were some repercussions in the classroom. Because they cut through my abdomen I am still very sore and during the week it was pretty bad at times. It was hard to sit down and then stand up. It was difficult to bend over to help the students at their desks, forget about getting down on the floor with them like I usually do. Carrying anything heaver than my beloved Tervis Tumbler was painful. Walking around the campus with the students was something I dreaded every day around lunch time. Another effect was that it was difficult to take deep breaths and in turn I was unable to speak very loudly in my teacher voice. Not being heard is frustrating. That is the reason I am even writing about my surgery/recovery experience. This week was frustrating.
Since school began I have been running my class as a whole brain class. The students are already conditioned to respond to certain call/response commands. We are loud (yet controlled), we move around a lot and use big gestures when we learn, and I am goofy and animated when I teach (I will do anything to keep their attention so they can learn). Well I this week all I could actually think about was my pain. Thank God for whole brain teaching because without that I would have been even more stressed out. That being said, the week still was rough. I found myself using class/yes in a desperate way. My voice was so soft that not everyone could hear the first time I would say class, so I would have to repeat it a couple of times. In my pain and discomfort, the fact that I was having to repeat something (that they usually did so well) made me feel out of control which made me feel emotional. Emotions in the classroom are bad um k. I love my students and think about them often but having emotional reactions to behavior is absolutely the wrong (most unproductive) way to handle things. I am not certain if this was an appropriate way to handle my lack of emotional control but I just talked to my kids about it. I told them how I was hurting and we talked about the surgery. They seemed to understand why I was different this week and for the most part the did what they could to control themselves and help me out. Still. our normally productive, fun loving, energetically controlled classroom was a mess. I did the best I could but I wasn't my best and neither were they. Sweet little angels that they are.
So my point for this week's post is that the Whole Brain Teaching Method is a wonderful tool that has changed my teaching world and makes my class more exciting than ever, but it is only a tool. My classroom management really comes down to me. Wow the responsibility. If I am not at my best the students will not be at their best. Some of my most well behaved students, you know the ones who always want to please, lost their minds this week. I was not doing a good job of controlling myself and they picked up on that. 
I didn't realize that using my microphone would help until Thursday (duh). When I put that thing on immediately the usual classroom atmosphere returned and there was peace. Isn't if funny how much the voice is involved in teaching. Tone and volume matter. With the mic I no longer sounded desperate. I sounded in control and calm and it didn't hurt to project my voice. I wish I had remembered that tool on Monday. Oh well.
Next week should be better, because I have had the weekend to plan and I am now caught up on all the little things that get left behind when you miss two days. Also, I am feeling better so I am sure I will be back to my old self by Monday. Next week is Johnny Appleseed week, we are going to have a blast! We might even do apple bobbing.
On Friday I told my students "You have lost your minds. Please find them, pick them up and put them back in your heads before Monday. We have too much to do and we can't be wasting our time running around without our brains in our heads." They think it is so funny when I say that because then they get to go around  looking for their "brains" and picking them up and putting them in their heads. Gotta love the imaginations of 6 year olds. I love my job and am so thankful that I can reflect and get better at each week.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I have been thinking about something for a few days so I thought I would write about it just to get my thoughts down.
When I make a mistake and am reprimanded I feel awful. I am talking about a mistake, not something done intentionally to hurt or anger someone or something. I can't concentrate on anything else but the reprimand. Negative thoughts and self talk swirl around in my head and I can forget about concentrating on anything else. Also, it takes me a long time before I feel normal around the person giving the reprimand.
A friend of mine was reprimanded in a very unprofessional way the other day. She had not done anything wrong but was being blamed for something because she was around to take the blame. The person doing the reprimanding did not think about her own reaction to the situation, it was clear that she was angry, embarrassed, and probably felt vulnerable. She yelled, pointed her finger, belittled, and bullied my friend with out any regard to the truth of the situation, the bystanders listening, my friends feelings or the employee/employer relationship. Basically she trampled all over my friend's dignity.
Can anyone guess what the outcome was? Well, if I were in my friends shoes I would have done all of the things I mentioned above because that is how my personality works. My friend, however, does not let anyone walk all over her and she (fortunately in private) gave it back to her boss. She had to try to repair her dignity. That is how we humans work.
This incident makes me think of my students. As a human I get stressed, I think about several things at once, multitask, and want perfection. All of these traits can easily cause me to react without thinking in the event of a mistake made by a student. I will be the first to admit that I have not always reacted well to student mistakes like breaking something, making a mess, hitting another student, or whatever it may have been. I have always known that a big negative reaction from me will lead to a big negative reaction from my students but I have not always had the ability to control myself enough to not lash out verbally or by giving every consequence I could think of. Does "change your color, I am calling your mother, you will not have recess and put your head down" sound familiar to anyone. (Wow I am ashamed to even write those things down.) Everyone of those consequences is negative and does not actually teach behavior or thought change. It may have made me feel better in the moment but I think it had little effect on the behavior. In fact I know that is true because those behaviors that "needed" those consequences did not go away so each day I would find myself doleing them out day after day after day.
I am reminded of a wonderful professor that I had, Dr. Bruno, who taught me to stop and look for the cause of a behavior instead of the symptom. When I do this my emotions are not involved and usually I can correct the mistake by teaching the student how to deal with or change the problem.
I am so blessed to have discovered the brilliance of Whole Brain Teaching. Instead of spending my day policing my students and getting them back for not falling in line, I teach. I use the score board to help my students monitor their own behavior. They know my rules well and take it to heart when I remind them of rule 4 (make smart choices). They put their finger to their head and mouth the rule and then nod at like they understand that their previous choice was not smart and that next time will be different. Since I have been using this system, instead of having students change their color for every infraction I simply remind them of the rules and mark a sad face on the scoreboard. This helps them see that their behavior is not appropriate and needs to change. (Alternately when they make good choices they get a smiley.)  I have not had to raise my voice or resort to any of the consequences I mentioned earlier. This is what I know - the change is not in the students, the change is in me. I control how I react by putting myself in their shoes. I would not want to be embarrassed, out casted, told I was "bad", or to think I was not liked. I would rather know what I have done wrong and how I can do better in the future. That is how I want to be treated and how I would treat an adult. Why would I treat my students differently?
Holy moley does this work!                 

Whole Brain Teaching
Five Rules

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Grade Writing

For as long as I have been studying education I have been baffled by teaching writing. For each grade level that I have taught I have wondered where to begin and what the students' writing should look like. I have tried several approaches and it has been the topic of most of my questions to fellow teachers. Still I felt like there were pieces missing and that although I was trying hard there were gaps. I have never taught Fourth grade so I have never felt the Florida Writes stress that so many educators and administrators are concerned with. However, knowing that one day my students would face this I want to make sure that they would do well by laying a solid writing foundation. This has been my concern and goal, but until this year I was just unsure of what to do.
This year my school is using a curriculum called CRAFTPLUS. I love it! CRAFTPLUS teaches target skills that will turn the students in to great writers and will allow them to be creatively free. The teacher's guide is so easy to read and understand. It does not make you jump from one page or book to another. All of the information is right there in a thin book (that is important when you have so much to do). The pacing guide is more like lesson plans laid out for you. In fact I don't even see a need in writing my own lesson plans because they do such a great job of laying it out. With this curriculum comes a pacing guide (lesson plans) for every day of the school year. WOW! Each week the focus changes and my favorite part is how well it scaffolds the information. After a three day weekend my students were able to tell me about everything we learned last week, even the ones who struggle to focus. Last week was all about verbs and this week they are learning about descriptive attributes. We had so much fun describing our Leo the Lion puppet. Isn't it a beautiful thing when students are jumping out of their seats wanting to contribute to the lesson?
Another reason I really like CRAFTPLUS is that the lessons cause the students to use higher order thinking. For example, last week they were writing sentences using verbs. I gave them pictures from a magazine and they had to write three sentences (I added a little bit to the lesson). Each sentence had to include a verb that matched the picture. Not every picture showed an big action, some verbs were as simple as smiling, or holding. Its easy to come up with running or kicking but they had to think deeper to come up with three verbs for one picture. The sentences were complete and orderly and they all had verbs. Even those students who are not yet strong in writing complete sentences did a great job. It was magical. This year I am loving my writing class!
Oh and by the way, the curriculum is complete but you can easily add your own teaching style and favorite writing activities. I love feeling like I know what I am doing and that I am doing it well. Watch out for those 4s, 5s, and 6s on our end of year writing assessment!