Have You Heard of the Hotel Bell Strategy?

  
Have you heard about the Hotel Bell Strategy? 

  
Any time students read or write one of the designated vocabulary words during their independent work, they ring the bell. Three dings, nonchalantly, and then back to their seat. I make eye contact with my students, smile, and then we’re both back to work. Afterwards, I ask them to show me the word. 

  
The purpose, of course, is to get kids actively engaged in noticing or using the words. They love it! What kid doesn’t like to ring the bell? 

  
What strategy do you use to get your students to notice vocabulary words?  

  

How To Get Your Students to See You As a Reader

  

Every year I share the books that are in my book bag, in order to help my students get to know me a little better, and to see me as a reader. Some titles include How the Brain Learns (I’m a teacher, after all), Eats, Shoots & Leaves (I love grammar!), The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World (WDW fanatic here), Why Dogs Are Better Than Cats (yeah, I went there), Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck (I love to laugh), Marley & Me (I love to cry, too!), National Geographic magazines about teen brains and twins (I needed help getting through those years), and Scream-Free Parenting (a LOT of help!).
Then I had my students bring in their own books to share with their classmates. Some found common interests that brought them together, others had a chance to stand out by sharing a completely unique book or background story. And I got an opportunity to learn something new about each student. 
It takes an investment of time (we shared out over the course of three days), but SO worth it!

What do you do in your classroom to introduce yourself to your students?

  

How Little Green Men Solved My Chatty Class Problem 

  
Teachers Get It

After I pinned this idea last week, it got repinned over 300 times. When teachers rally around an idea, attention needs to be paid to it! 

I’ve been struggling with a very chatty class this year, and have tried everything, to no avail. I typically use call and response techniques, explicit teaching of rules in September, natural consequences, brain breaks, and above all, consistency in my classroom. 

The Trouble With Novelty

“Give an inch and they’ll take a yard.” Sound familiar? That’s been my struggle. I like to incorporate a bit of novelty to keep things fresh, but this particular group has some difficulty regulating their impulses. A simple, quick, fun GoNoodle video becomes complicated, time-consuming, and frustrating for me when I try to settle them back down. Call and response can easily spiral into a gaggle of giggles. And although they generally work initially, keeping my students’ attention can be difficult. Brain gym exercises must consist mainly of focusing rather than energizing skills. Energizers? I have to be careful with how I implement them. A lack of energy is not a problem! We do a LOT of mindfulness techniques. But no matter what I do, all of this takes time. Something of which I don’t have endless amounts. 

Classroom Management 

Going into this year, my tenth, I felt rather confident in my classroom management skills. Having taught special education for eight years, I’ve collected a plethora of techniques to use with a variety of students. Being able to manage an entire class of kids who have attention issues, I might even say I was cocky. 

It only took one class to remind me that no one has all the answers. 

I have used Class Dojo (another fabulous find on Pinterest!), but because this class was such a chatty group, taking points away from individuals just wasn’t efficient. Plus, my students need to SEE their progress as a reminder of their behavior. 

Beat the Teacher? Nope, Beat Zurg!

  

When I saw this idea on Pinterest, it caught my eye right away. The changes I made were to take away the “teacher versus students” concept, and add The Little Green Men and Zurg. 

  

The idea is to always give kids time to settle down by counting back from five. By the time I get to one, my students should be quiet and their attention should be on me. If everyone is silent, the Aliens get a tally. But if anyone is still talking, Zurg gets a tally. 

  

That’s where the Little Green Men came in. (How adorable are they??). I added the Aliens after I was given this tub of Little Green Men by a sweet teacher I met on IG through a Secret Teacher event promoted by Chris from Famous in First. 

  

I placed 19 Aliens in a candy jar given to me by a former student. For each group of five tallies that the “Aliens” (aka my students) earn, the Claw (me) removes one Alien from the jar. For each group of five tallies that Zurg gets, an Alien is replaced in the jar. After all 19 Aliens have been removed, the class earns a pajama and hot chocolate party! 

  

On our first day, two aliens were removed, so we’re headed in the right direction! I’m not kidding when I tell you that I want another pajama party just as much as they do!   

-Amy

 

Have You Tried a Book Pollyanna?

   
If not, I highly recommend it! It was truly the highlight of our winter break party! The kids asked when we could start exchanging gifts the minute we walked into school, knowing full well that they would receive a book — a BOOK — in return!! How awesome is that?!? To get kids excited about reading books is the best gift I could have!!

   
I asked parents to bring in a wrapped, non-gender specific, gently used or new book (up to $5). They wouldn’t know who would receive their book until the festivities started.

   

We used a holiday variation of the Wright Family game that I found on Teachers Pay Teachers that has them sitting in a circle with their wrapped book. As I read the story, every time they hear the words “right” or “left,” they must pass their book in that direction. When the story ends, they get to open the wrapped book they’re holding.  

  
I had a few books ready for any dissatisfied recipients, since one well-meaning family donated a kindergarten level book, and another brought in a book about princesses that ended up with a boy. Only happy smiles here!

This was the best way to celebrate the holidays!! -Amy 

  

The Simple Solution to Helping Your Students Find Their Own Writing Mistakes 

  
Have you struggled with students not finding their own mistakes in their writing? 

Even after checking CUPS, there are still errors, and peer editing isn’t any better. Plus, editing for your students only feels like spoon feeding the answers and they’re not really learning from them. 

One of my strongest readers struggles finding her own errors. So what’s the solution? 

  
  
Color-coded tallies! 

  

I tally in the margin for each mistake I find in CUPS, color-coding them so my students know which type of error they’re looking for. 

  
A much better way to focus their editing (and still make them do the work)! 

#SummerPD: Student Growth vs. Student Grading

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DATA. One little word can strike fear in the hearts of many teachers.

Actually, not really. Not anymore. We’re a data-driven society.

With pressure from administration to provide data on everything from math fact automaticity to reading literature comprehension, teachers are always on the lookout for ways to measure student growth and achievement. (Data Binders, anyone?)

But there’s a difference between student growth and student achievement. Whereas achievement is a student’s performance as a snapshot in time, measured against a standard (i.e. state testing), student growth is his progress measured over time, and only against himself.

the only person

This is a fundamental debate, one that educators will see for a long time, but as a former special education teacher, I truly believe we should focus on our students’ progress, not just proficiency. One reason is that the two top predictors of student success are entirely out of teachers’ control: parent education, and socio-economic status. The other factors? Reading frequency [lots of independent reading in the classroom!]; vocabulary [lots of academic vocabulary in the classroom!]; writing [lots of opportunity for writing in the classroom!]; and student collaboration [lots of discussions in the classroom!]. The common theme here is in the classroom, where teachers can monitor and facilitate.

Grading Is Necessary

However, we can’t deny that grading is necessary. Accountability is also an influence in student performance. Which brings us back to data.

What are teachers doing with all that data? In many schools, by the time teachers receive the information from state testing, their students have already moved on to the next grade. So the real attention should instead be on formative assessments that are ongoing throughout the school year. The results are usually instant, and can be used to make decisions about future instruction.

Classroom Example

I’ve struggled with writing instruction, and have sought out strategies to make it more tangible for my students. Writing instruction is a process, and different kids need a unique timetable for taking over control. Not only that, but we emphasize the process, and how it takes first, second, third and even more drafts to get it right. So I’ve been left with how to measure their growth. With all of the grammar rules we cover, all the spelling lists, and all the writing skills throughout the year, there’s no way to independently produce a perfect piece of writing in one or two hours. Not to mention the number of hours it takes to read and respond to every student’s writing every day.

The Solution? Be More Strategic

In order for students to gain any benefit from my feedback, they need to hear it within a day or two of submitting their work. So I have decided that I need to be more strategic in how I provide that feedback.

  • A student does not need to submit a 2-page essay (or even a 5-paragraph essay in 3rd grade!) to demonstrate learning. A shorter piece will suffice.
  • I will give my students specific “Look Fors” before they begin writing. That is, I will tell them exactly what skills I want them to target, and I will only look for those skills in their submitted work.
  • I will have my students highlight within their writing where they feel they’ve demonstrated the concept that we’re focusing on properly. This emphasizes their learning and ensures that students are as attentive to the concepts as we hope them to be.

By being consistent with my expectations and how I practice them in my classroom, and by giving focused feedback, my students will better understand what is required off them, and they’ll be more able to demonstrate their learning. It’s a grading versus growth win-win!

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