Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Engaging Our Students: Reading

Language is probably the most frequently taught subject in school. Yet, it's probably one of the most challenging areas to engage students. TRULY engage every.single.student. The reason-- everyone is literally on their on boat. Some kids are flying and riding waves and others are in a row boat.... some with no oar. 
This topic can be discussed a million and times, and it still would not cover all realms. 

So let's just take a peak at one area in particular. 

How do we make reading engaging? How do we meet the needs of all students? How do we motivate kids to like reading and in turn, enjoy it so much they may just pick up a book during their free time?

Primary teachers have the challenging task of teaching beginning readers. They are setting the foundation for years to come. Junior & intermediate teachers have the task of keeping reading fun and engaging, all while battling kids who have potentially already fallen 'in hate' with it.

The first discussion I want to engage in is the topic of "autonomy" (freedom and independence). 

A fearful idea for many.

Why are we so darn fearful of letting kids have choice? Choice doesn't have to mean chaos. Is it not perfectly o-k to use the curriculum, but allow kids to choose? 

A few months ago, I read the book "The Book Whisperer".

It's a book that requires you to think about your reading practices as a teacher.

Donalyn Miller begins with sharing her enthusiasm about teaching reading, followed by her failure--using whole class novels, comprehension worksheet and key vocabulary terms.  

One portion of the book she identifies some students as "dormant readers" or what we would call "reluctant readers". These are the students who are disinterested and apathetic when it comes to reading and are usually overlooked because they are just getting by. 

Without giving the book away too much, one of her key ideas is to establish high expectations for your students by creating a time and a place for them to interact with their texts and the freedom to choose and also abandon their books as they work to meet a 40 book requirement (with various genres) by the end of the school year.  *So instead of dictating which books students read, they work at their own pace and are challenged to choose books within various genres. 

In terms of schooling, I think we are falling behind when it comes to reading. We are forcing books into the hands of students, when they are not interested in them. We say "oh but it's a classic! You must read it to appreciate the past!" 

I know many will disagree with me, but really? Yes, they are great (I majored in English in University, and they are).... But does a student really need to read "Great Expectations" or "The Catcher in the Rye" to appreciate books?!?!

I love this quote by Maya Angelou.....

This idea never hit home for me until I taught the upper grades, but it's a thought for all. I didn't realize how many kids hated reading  by the 6th grade. We must ask ourselves WHY WHY WHY?

I started reflecting on my past practices. Have I made reading fun? Have a I offered a variety of reading material and choice?

Here are a few of my past pics....Maybe a few ideas.

iPad/Digital Book Reviews

Christine's Main Character Gallery Walk 
(w/treats to nibble on as they walked around)

Digital Stories. Love the app called 3:15 to listen to some simple suspense stories.

Making Ice-Cream-Sundaes according to the info we read in our partners reading summaries. Did they have all the ingredients?

Summary Coffee House
Students read each other summaries and provide feedback. All while learning about other books and authors. 
Click here for more info. 

Winter Reading Challenge. The students are challenged to set goals throughout the winter months and earn stickers in their snow globe for each response they choose to do.
Click here for more info.

Independent Boxes (Personal Choice of Book and some teacher picks, as well as reading duo).
Click here for more info.

 Using reader theater packs! Students don't feel as hesitant reading in from of others. It also allows them to get into character, inflect their voice and hear others read.

Using music videos and reading and analyzing their lyrics.

 Reading Response Cards (found in our Independent Reading Boxes)
Allows students choice on how they would like to respond. 

I won't dive into Guided Reading, Read Alouds, Shared Reading etc..... I think you get my drift. 
If you are reading to your class, how are you engaging them?
Are you sending them back to their seats to fill out a response time and time again, or are they being asked to engage in something interesting and creative? It doesn't have to be everyday. But every now and then, make reading an adventure.

 We can riddle through the curriculum all day long, but it's up to us to make it practical, useful and engaging. 

Those are just a few of my thoughts.
Have a great week :)


Monday, 26 October 2015

Looking for Engaging Science Units?

I have received a few emails about Science Unit suggestions and favourites.

There is definitely a lack of quality science units/packs/ideas out there. We seem to focus a lot on Language (speaking to some teachers, many say that teaching Language is their strength). When we neglect Science, we neglect a large chunk of our students who would rather eat dirt than read and write. Many are students who love and benefit from hands on activities. Science is that outlet!

Here are a few I have used. Christine and I also created a few, as we couldn't find anything to purchase and needed some Canadian (Ontario Curriculum) content. If you come across any fabulous science resources, please feel free to comment below :)

I am in the process of creating some upper grade science units, as I am not a fan of the generic worksheet books from teacher stores.
Upper grade science is lacking out there.....

These below, are geared more for primary/junior. Click on the cover page of the unit/pack for more details.


Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Engaging Our Students- Science Class

As previously mentioned in my last post, I am devoting some of my blogging to addressing the need for engagement in the classroom. I hear to often "I hate school", "I am bored", or "I can't wait for the weekend" (when it's MONDAY). Yes, we all have THOSE students who would say that they were bored even if we stood on our heads and passed out money! But it doesn't matter. Students are students. Easy ones, tough ones, vulgar ones, kind ones,.... they are all ours. 

So what will we do to keep them ALL engaged? How will we make the year memorable? How will we get them excited to come to school? 

Now, some may be reading this and might be saying "Kaitlin, I teach grade 8. These kids are going to grade 9. No teacher in high school is going to make sure they are having fun. The real world isn't all about fun!" And ya know what, that's a shame. Think about your memories from grade school and high school. You remember the good times,..... the times you had fun.... the teachers that were engaging. Kids can learn material and it doesn't need to be painful. 

Think about it- Do students really need to come to class if they are being asked to read a textbook independently and then answer the questions underneath, every day? Can't they do that at home? Where do we come in? What is our role? What is our duty?

Ok, rant complete... HAHA....
Here is my first engaging thought. I hope some of these ideas and/or questions make you think about your instruction.

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I am starting off with an easy one. Science--- It is a subject that screams for "creativity" and "hands on" capabilities. Yet how many teachers are still "talking" about the example in the front of the chapter or photocopying a kabillion reproducibles for kids to fill in? Yes, it's ok to do that from time to time, but what else are we doing?? 

When kids walk into your Science class, are they captivated? Do you have experiments or labs set up? Are they wondering what they are going to learn, before you even begin? Do you see excitement? You should!! 

Here are few ideas/pics to get you thinking:

I love watching TED talks...... Here`s one for Upper Grade Teachers.

High school science teacher Tyler DeWitt was ecstatic about a lesson plan on bacteria— and devastated when his students hated it. The problem was the textbook: it was impossible to understand. He delivers a rousing call for science teachers to ditch the jargon and extreme precision, and instead make science sing through stories and demonstrations.

Get them excited to learn!
When they walk into your classroom after recess or lunch, what will they see and will they be excited?


Monday, 19 October 2015

Engaging Our Students

The other day I was walking with my daughter to get the mail, and I ran into my neighbour. He was out skateboarding and stopped to say hello. I proceeded to say hello and ask him how school was going. His response, "I hate it. I can't wait for June". I asked why. He said "it's so boring. We do the same thing everyday. I just want the year to be over". People, it's October!! He has 8 months until the year ends!! :(

Ugh! My teacher heart......

Now, many educators would chalk his attitude up as "being a teenager" or "being a boy". But in my eyes, somewhere down the line, one or more of his teachers began following a script. 

Something like:
* take out your textbooks
*turn to page such and such
*follow along
*here are the questions you are responsible for

And it's not just teachers of teenagers.....it's adults who teach various grades and levels. 

The question is, what are we doing in our classrooms that is making kids want to come back day after day? Does everyday feel the same? If we're teaching the same grade again, are we repeating lessons from the year prior because they were awesome, or just because we already have the materials and it takes little or no planning?

Comments about educators are always in/on the news or on blogs. 
Ugh teachers...."Wanting more money".....or...."in it for the summer vacations".... or...."glorified babysitters". It infuriates me. But then I have to think about why some people feel that way. Are kids in schools getting a good teacher 1/3 times or 1/5 times? Is every teacher giving 100%? Are we keeping our students engaged?

Or, are the kids we are teaching counting down the days until June?

Yes, we all have our days..... But there is no excuse. 
Teaching is a huge responsibility. 

So, how do we engage?
Within the next few weeks, I want to post different ideas help you kick the "mundane funk". 

No, I am not an expert. No I am not perfect. 

But I am tired of talking to kids who "hate school" and sad to hear parents who tell me their kids don't want to go. 

Times are-a-changing.... Are we?