Thursday, January 19, 2017

Classroom Libraries

I recently reread a few sections of The Daily 5 (Second Edition) by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser; it reminded me of the importance of classroom libraries in a Title 1 school and the challenge it can be for teachers to build those libraries over time. The book cites a variety of research, which all boils down to one idea: "children in classrooms with the most books consistently outperform their peers who are in classrooms with few books or no library"(58).

With that in mind, here are some tips, links, and resources to help you build and add to your classroom library.

General recommendations:

  • Boushey and Moser cite research that recommends primary-grade classrooms should have 700-750+ titles and upper grade classrooms should have 400+ titles (Allington and Cunningham 2007). The authors state they actually aim for 1,000 titles in each classroom.
  • Books should represent as many genres as possible, and should include a variety of fiction and non-fiction books. Scholastic has a variety of grade-level book lists organized by core subject (you can also order sets that include all the books on each list). I've linked each of the grade level lists here:
  • Have clear check-in/check-out procedures if the books can be taken out of the classroom. 
  • Use an organization system that works for you. Some teachers use shelves; others have bins of books sorted by genre or reading level. At the younger grades, you will likely have one book box per student for literacy time and an organized classroom library (that feeds into those book boxes). This blog is a good example of how one teacher organized her 2nd grade classroom: Creating a Classroom Library.

Ways to build your classroom library:

  • Send a letter home encouraging parents to donate any unwanted books to your classroom.
  • Set up a project. During my time at OPA, I successfully funded 5 projects and two of the projects were for classroom library books. While it does take some time to initially set up DonorsChoose, it is worth the work!
  • Pair your classroom budget or legislative monies with discounted books such as First Book, used books on Amazon, The Book Outlet, Thrift Books, or books from second hand stores like the DI. 
  • Supplement your growing library with books from our school libraries. If you are a newer teacher who is just building your classroom library, take advantage of the excellent resources we already have available at the school. The librarians are happy to help and are a wealth of knowledge. 
  • Reading Resource Program: Order grade-level sets of 100 books. The books are "free" - you pay $0.88 per book for shipping. So, it's $88 per set of 100, which isn't bad if you split it among grade level teams. 

Classroom libraries for subjects other than Language Arts:

  • At the middle school grades, it's common for classroom libraries to be found exclusively in Language Arts. However, having a classroom library in your math, science, social studies, or elective class serves many purposes. For one, it helps with the perennial issue of what kids should do if they get done early - with a rich classroom library, one of the choices can always be to read a book related to your content. In addition, having these books available helps students see the real world applications of you subject area.
  • Include biographies of famous people who were successful within your subject area. 
  • Consider fiction books that relate to your subject. For example, Michael Crichton is great for 9th grade science and the 39 Clues is excellent for social studies. See more recommendations via the Scholastic links in the General Recommendations section above. 
  • Use alternative texts like the Guinness Book of World Records, newspapers, magazines, and other reference books. These can be quick, entertaining reads for kids and correlate to your subject area. Trivial Pursuit cards and other resources like ACT in a Box can engage reluctant readers. 
In the process of writing this blog, I came upon a variety of other grants and resources. If you have specific wants or needs, please talk to me to see what may be available. In addition, if you have other resources or tips, please leave them in the comment section .

Friday, January 13, 2017

Checking for Understanding

Checking for understanding is when you shift your focus from what you, the teacher, taught to what the students learned. It is a way to formatively assess students to see what they know and inform your next move as a teacher. Ideally, checking for understanding should take place frequently (multiple times per lesson) and with variety (visual, verbal, tactile, and written opportunities).

(As a side-note, Checking for Understanding is also a CAFE reading strategy students use with the Daily 5 activities Read to Self and Read to Someone. For this blog, we'll just focus on how teachers can use check for understanding to guide their lesson.)

The idea of checking for understanding relates to many things we have been working on as a school over the past few years. It connects to Feedback, Opportunities to Respond, and Teach Like a Champion - just to name a few.

The following video gives a great overview of Checking for Understanding with a variety of examples from World Language teachers:

Checking for understanding can start with something as simple as a hand signal, as it does in the clip below from Teach Like a Champion. That hand signal reveals to the teacher that many students solved the problem incorrectly, which leads to the teacher breaking down the problem in detail so students can see where they went wrong.

Notice how the teacher asks a variety of targeted questions in the follow-up to see the specific aspects of the math problem that students did or did not understand. She also gives them chances to show agreement or disagreement with others. By the time she finally reveals the correct answer, many students have changed their answers to the correct one.

Edutopia has published a great resource called 53 Ways to Check for Understanding. One of my favorites on this list is called 5 Words. It asks students to select 5 words that describe a subject, concept, or skill they learned during the lesson. What they describe could be anything from a scientific concept to a mathematical operation to a physical education game. You can take this a step beyond the 5 words and have kids compare their lists and justify their choices.

Teach Like a Champion emphasizes one more important point about checking for understanding: master teachers work understanding checks into their lesson plans by identifying several times per lesson when they will check for understanding and selecting the specific method ahead of time. A master teacher may even create multiple paths within a lesson plan with one path to take if kids understand right away and a different path to take if a check for understanding reveals gaps in learning.

So, I challenge you to look over your lesson plans for next week. If you have not already identified specific times and methods to check for understanding, then plan them in.

Do you have a favorite or unique way to check for understanding? Describe it in the comments.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Procedure Reset: Teach Like a Champion Strategies

As we return from Winter Break and close out second quarter, it's a great time to think about the procedures in your classroom. Do you need a new procedure? Do you need to tune-up the way your kids complete a procedure? Are there procedures you want to eliminate?

Teach Like a Champion 2.0 gives some great tips for a classroom reset, which works best after an extended break or when a grading period changes.
  • Connect the change to important news: Maybe your classroom is about to start meditating after recess. Perhaps you are starting math centers to try and make sure all kids are mastering the Engage New York curriculum. Give your kids an attention-grabbing "headline" or a goal when you explain the switch or the new procedure. One recommendation from the book is to tie it to a countdown. For example: "We only have 92 days left of school, and I want to make sure you are ready for 7th grade when you leave my class." 
  • Be transparent: Explain to kids why you are making the change or tuning-up an existing procedure. If you don't explain things, students may become confused. Be sure to emphasize for kids that your reset isn't a punishment, but is based on the fact that the procedure is important to their learning and that you know they can meet your expectations. 
  • Model and describe: If you're tuning-up a procedure, have exemplary students model it as you reintroduce the process. You can also let an outstanding student observe the class completing the procedure and then discuss what was done well and what needs to be improved. 
  • Use precise praise: Praise students with affirmations of the specific things they are doing correctly. Pay particular attention to students who have shown growth throughout the year in their ability to meet your expectations with the procedure. 
As you are doing the procedure reset, don't forget about the 4 stages of creating any classroom routine: 
  1. Number the steps: Chunk the procedure into small, easy to remember steps. Use verbal or visual cues as students connect these steps together. The younger the students, the more steps and cues you should have.
  2. Model and describe: It's important to both tell students and show students how to correctly follow the procedure. Also, anticipate common mistakes and describe how to avoid those mistakes before having students practice. 
  3. Pretend Practice: Have students practice the procedure multiple times. While they do this, narrate with precise praise and corrections. 
  4. Transfer ownership: As kids master the procedure, you can transfer more responsibility to them. Perhaps a student leader replaces the teacher and walks up and down the lunch line checking for nametags. Maybe calling out "Step 1: Go....Now, Step 2: Go..." becomes unnecessary and the teacher can simply say: "Take yourself from Step 1 to Step 4: Go." Be sure kids have earned their autonomy by performing the procedure to your expectations before rewarding them with more independence. 
This video shows several teachers going over a common procedure: lining up for the hallway. Almost every one of the techniques described above is used at some point in the video. 

Below is a clip of a teacher going over the procedure of tracking the speaker. She goes through each of the steps for teaching a new procedure. 

This is a great time to do a quick reflection on the procedures in your classroom. Which will you keep? Will you add any? What procedures need a tune-up? Select one or two procedures to introduce, tweak, or tune during the first week of second semester. Feel free to post any ideas you have in the comments!

Source: Teach Like a Champion 2.0 by Doug Lemov (366-371).