Sunday, September 5, 2010

Back to School: Getting to Know My Students

In addition to teaching my classroom policies and procedures the first week of school, I also take time each day to get to know the learning needs of my students.  I recently read The Handbook on Differentiated Instruction for Middle and High Schools by Sheryn Spencer Northey.  This book contains several great ideas for learning about your students the first weeks of school.  One of the activities highlighted in the handbook is called the What Kind of Fruit Are You? activity.  In this activity, students fill out a worksheet with four columns - each representing a different fruit or personality type.  The column with the highest total is their fruit.  Once students are finished totaling their scores, I have them write their first name on a post-it note and place it on a the poster with their assigned fruit located somewhere in the room.  I then use this information when placing students in cooperative groups - making sure I truly have a mix of different fruit within a group.  Too many melons in one group for example would be a recipe for disaster!

Another activity from Northey's handbook is the Brain Scan Activity - a way to determine how many left and right brained students are in your classroom.  For this activity, students are given a worksheet with words associated with left brain tendencies in one column and words associated with right brain tendencies in another.  Students place a check mark next to all statements that apply to them.  Students add up the checks on both sides and the side with the most checks is their dominant side.  I have students write their first name on a colored sticker (a different color for each of my five class periods) to place on the Brain Scan poster.  From this information, I can determine how many of my students have a left hemisphere style of learning:
  • Responds to verbal instructions
  • Problem solves by logically and sequentially looking at the parts of things
  • Looks at differences
  • Is planned and structured
  • Prefers established, certain information
  • Prefers talking and writing
  • Prefers multiple choice tests
  • Controls feelings
  • Prefers ranked authority structures
And which of my students have a right hemisphere style of learning:

  • Responds to demonstrated instructions
  • Problem solves with hunches, looking for patterns and configurations
  • Looks at similarities
  • Is fluid and spontaneous
  • Prefers elusive, uncertain information
  • Prefers drawing and manipulating objects
  • Prefers open ended questions
  • Free with feelings/emotional

In order to determine which students are auditory, kinesthetic, or visual learners, I have them complete the Learning Channel Preference activity.  Students fill out a worksheet by reading each sentence carefully and considering whether or not it applies to them.  Students then write the number on the blank to the left of the sentence. I use this information to determine how to adapt my classroom for the best learning environment possible.  For my visual learners, I make sure there aren't any visual distractions in the classroom and display directions in addition to just verbally giving instructions.  I also tend to color coordinate just about everything in my classroom - including the desks.  For my auditory learners, I incorporate reading aloud or audio books and encourage spoken answers to questions rather than just written responses.  For my kinesthetic learners, I incorporate movement around the classroom and often put a countdown clock on the SMART Board to keep these learners on task.   

Finally, I give the students a Multiple Intelligences Checklist.  I use the results to aid in choosing novels and writing prompts that appeal to each of the seven intelligences.  In addition to collecting this data, I also administer interest, reading, and writing assessments.  I truly believe that taking the time to get to know my students in this manner helps me not only to become familiar with my students' various learning styles, intelligences, and personality but also empowers me to create meaningful and effective lessons tailored to their individual needs.   

Monday, July 12, 2010

Teacher Moveable Feast Day 1 Overview

Today I attended day one of the Teacher Moveable Feast at Bloomington Junior High located in Bloomington, IL. A Moveable feast is a one-week summer project based technology institute organized by the Office of Educational Technology at the University of Illinois. In addition to the Teacher Feast geared towards K-12 educators who are interested in technology integration, there is a kidsfeast for students entering grades 6-8, a techfeast for technology coordinators, and several others. The idea for the name of these series of summer institutes is derived from an Ernest Hemingway quote, "If you are lucky enough to live in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." (quoted in A.E. Hotchner, Papa Hemingway, part 1, ch. 3., 1966).

In the first session, Feast 101, we began by logging into Windows 7 Professional.  This was my first experience with Windows 7 and I absolutely LOVE IT - the shortcuts are awesome!  We further explored Windows 7's  Shake and Snap Features, and learned about Gadgets and Ease of Access Center.  We then explored the Feast Moodle and set up Twitter accounts if needed to follow the TeacherFeast Twitter Feed throughout the day. After spending some time discussing the educational benefits of Twitter as a tool for communication and professional development, we learned how to shorten long URLs with tinyURL,, and MiniURL

During this session we also explored the following nine web 2.0 tools:  delicious, dimdim, skype, jaycut, prezi, flickr, cacoo, glogsteredu, and jog the web.  

At lunch, we found our group members with the color indicated on our name tags.  I am assigned to the Indigo group for the rest of the week.  Once at our table, we were to come up with a group name and a trainer assigned as our group leader led us in a discussion on how we communicate with students, parents, other teachers, and administration.  Our group had a great discussion about using current technology (IM, Share Point, email, websites, Powerschool, Skyward) and some archaic yet still effective modes of communication as well (phone calls, face-to-face conferences, and sending paper notes home).  

The next and last session of the day was entitled Media Feast. The goal of the first session was to learn the basics of digital photography, file types, and an overview various applications for management, editing and distribution. We were given a digital camera and video camera to upload pictures and video to use with ComicLife – An application that allows you to add comic strip attributes to any photo (see my example on the left I created using pictures of my son I upload from my iPhone), Paint.Net – a FREE application for photo editing (like Photoshop) and Windows 7 Photo Tools.  We also explored blabbarize, aviaryPicnikDumpr, Artsonia, and Picasa.

We did not spend much time on the audio component of the Media Feast session, but we were to create a recording using Audacity, set up devices for recording and playback, record audio, import music files, explore the basics of audio editing, export files to .mp3 for playback on portable devices and computers, and explore various technology and ways to acquire and share audio.

Resources for the audio session:


Free Music

More Resources

Finally, for the video component of the media feast session, we practiced uploading videos and digital storytelling with Photostory and Windows Live Media Maker.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Quick Write Activity: The Piano

Quick Writes are daily short writing activities I ask students to respond to upon entering my classroom.  While I'm taking attendance, collecting homework, etc., students are responding to a writing prompt, quote, video, or a picture. I require students to provide a creative title, the date, and a response that should be a minimum of 7-10 sentences long. Recently, I had students respond to The Piano - an animated short film in which an old man shares his life story with his young grandchild.  Here are a few responses from my 8th graders:

"The old man plays the piano to connect with the music in a way that comforts him. The expression he plays with is portrayed through the various characters, or people in his life.  The somber music takes him back through his life and all of its tragedies until he reaches the time when he first learned to play the piano.  Then, looking back, you can see that even through his bad times, he still continues to play so that he is able to travel back and once again become a child through his music."

"The first woman was the grandmother, or his wife who passed away.  The army man was his close friend, the first boy was him, and the second boy was his grandson.  All of them, with the exception of his grandson, were love ones he had lost.  When his wife kisses him on his cheek, you can see that he deeply misses her.  When his friend is shot he feels a great sorrow and maybe guilt that he couldn't do more.  Then he remembers the stick horse and his grandson who makes the pain of the ones he lost vanish."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Homeworkopoly for SMART Boards

Back in 2002, I started playing Homeworkopoly with my students each week as a way to reward them for doing their homework. This is a game based on the traditional monopoly game. I printed off the game board, had it laminated, and used post-it flags as game pieces. Since obtaining a SMART interactive white board this year, I found a skeleton template online and adapted it to my class/school.  Click here to download my version. I typed up the text for the chance and community lunch box cards into a word document, used the screen capture tool to create images of my text, and put them into the random image generator from the SMART notebook gallery.  I then linked the brain binder space with a website with grammar exercises for my language arts classes. This can be easily adapted to any subject.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Taking Attendance Using Your Smartboard

A few months ago, I came across a blog by Byron Davis, a chorus teacher from Knoxville, TN, on how to use your Smartboard to take attendance using an excel file.  I downloaded the file, adapted it to my class, and began using it in my classroom the very next day.  This file allows students to “tap in” next to their name on the Smartboard as they enter the room.  After downloading the file, you’ll need to follow these steps to adapt this file for your own classes:   

1.      Take note of the original tab names.  You will need these later when you edit the macro.

2.      Go the “View” in Excel

3.      Click on the Macros button in the menu

4.      From the macros drop down list, choose “View Macros”

5.      The Macro list pop-up menu should be visible now, Click on “Edit”.  It doesn’t matter which Macro you choose to edit.  This is just to get you into the Macro Editor.

6.      In the Macro Editor Menu, choose Edit | Replace
Macros -4

7.      In the Replace dialog box

a.       In the “Find What” field, type in the first tab name from the original. (See #1)

b.      In the “Replace With” field, type the name that your want for your tab.

c.       Under “Search”, be sure to choose “Current Project”

d.      Click “Replace All”

e.       Repeat for each tab that you want to rename.

8.      In the Macro Editor Menu, choose File | Save

9.      In the Macro Editor Menu, choose File | Close and return to Microsoft Excel

10.  Rename each class hour tab with its new name.

11.  Be sure to save when you are finished.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Poetry Rocks

I decided to introduce a "Poetry Rocks" project to my 8th graders. Since many songs are poetry put to music, I proposed this project to my students:

1. Find a song that you like. No sexual references, no profanity, no discrimination. If you are not sure if the song will be okay, then DON’T USE IT. Find another song.

2. Get a CD or Mp3 of your song (You may bring in your iPod or Mp3 player on the day of presentations)

3. Type or copy and paste the song lyrics in a word processor and underline or highlight examples of at least three elements of poetry (in addition to repetition and rhyme).

Your song must have at least one example of three different elements of poetry (in addition to rhyme and repetition). The highlighted copy is due prior to the day you present.

4. You will give a presentation about your song in class. During your presentation, you will play the song while displaying the lyrics on the document camera or in a presentation format of your choosing. Do not choose a song that is extremely long (no 10 minute guitar or drum solos!) You will then give a speech about the poetic elements in your song. The entire presentation should be about 10 minutes long, with the actual speech portion of the presentation being at least five minutes long. During your presentation, you must do the following:

Introduce the song title.
Tell about the writer and group/singer.
Play the song.
Show the highlighted copy of the lyrics.
Fully explain the poetic elements your song contains.

As an example, I used the picture book Don't Laugh at Me by Steve Seskin and Allen Ramblin. The book comes with a CD of the song sung by the writers:

I'm a little boy with glasses
The one they call the geek
A little girl who never smiles
Cause I've got braces on my teeth
And I know how it feels
To cry myself to sleep

I'm that kid on every playground
Who's always chosen last
I’m the one who’s slower
Than the other’s in my class.
You don't have to be my friend
But is it too much to ask?

Don't laugh at me
Don't call me names
Don't get your pleasure from my pain
In God's eyes we're all the same
Someday we'll all have perfect wings
Don't laugh at me

I'm the beggar on the corner
You've passed me on the street
And I wouldn't be out here beggin'
If I had enough to eat
And don't think I don't notice
That our eyes never meet

I was born a little different
I do my dreaming from this chair.
I pretend it doesn’t hurt me
When people point and stare.
There’s a simple way to show me
Just how much you care.

Don't laugh at me
Don't call me names
Don't get your pleasure from my pain
In God's eyes we're all the same
Someday we'll all have perfect wings
Don't laugh at me

I'm fat, I'm thin, I'm short, I'm tall
I'm deaf, I'm blind, hey, aren't we all?

Don't laugh at me
Don't call me names
Don't get your pleasure from my pain
In God's eyes we're all the same
Someday we'll all have perfect wings
Don't laugh at me

A version of this song was also recorded by the country music singer, Mark Wills in 1998. I showed the picture book beneath my ELMO document camera as I played the song. Once the song was finished, I then put my highlighted copy of the song lyrics beneath the ELMO and discussed the poetic elements that the song contains. I'm hoping my students will be unique and creative with their song choices and presentations!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Llamas, Zombies, Ninja Deer, and Chuck Norris

Today I had my students get into groups of four to compose sentences with complements. First they were to create a sentence with a direct object.

Example: James ate a sandwich.
Then each group was to create a new sentence using that complement as a subject and introducing a new complement, this one a predicate adjective.

Example: The sandwich was delicious.

In the next sentence, because an adjective cannot be the subject of a sentence, the groups used the complement from the last sentence to modify a new subject.

Example: The delicious juice is sweet.

Then the groups were to repeat the pattern with a sentence using a direct object. If they created a sentence such as "The sweet kitten scratched me," the object pronoun (me) becomes a subject (I) and the next sentence could be "I play soccer." They completed several rounds and recorded their sentences on a large piece of paper with markers.

For the most part, students successfully practiced using complements correctly, but as 8th graders often do, created some pretty crazy sentences:

“The happy llama met the sad llama. The happy llama was very dirty. Dirty llamas run the plains. The plains were filled with milk. The milk cleansed the filthy crias (baby llamas).”

“Brock killed the zombies. Zombies are tough. The tough zombies tasted good. The good citizens killed the zombies.”

“The deer ate corn. The corn was salty. The salty corn was delicious. The man hunted the deer. Dead deer taste delicious. The delicious deer tastes good with corn. The man attacked a ninja deer. A ninja deer is extremely dangerous. The dangerous ninja deer jump kicked Chuck Norris. Chuck Norris chin-punched the ninja deer. The ninja deer lost its ninjaness. The ninja deer is dead. Dead ninja deer have been revived to zombie ninja deer.”

And my absolute favorite of the day…

“Little Timmy danced a ballet. The ballet was difficult. Difficult ballets are little Timmy’s favorite. Susan, little Timmy’s mother, cried and covered her eyes in the back of the theater. The eyes were blue and filled with depression. Blue leotards are little Timmy’s favorite to wear on stage. Stage fright cowers at the sight of little Timmy. The children at little Timmy’s school tease him, but he doesn’t care. He refused to follow the narrow-minded rules of society. Susan has never attended a parent-teacher conference. Conferences always lead to uncomfortable situations and questions concerning little Timmy’s clothing choices. Clothing choices are important to little Timmy because he insists on looking fabulous. Important designer shoes are little Timmy’s most prized possessions and fill him with happiness.”

Ah, it’s May….what else can I say?

Monday, April 26, 2010

SMART User Conference Reflection

Saturday, I attended the first annual Central Illinois SMART User Conference (SMART Feast) held at the Bloomington Junior High School in District 87.  Bloomington Junior High is well on its way to becoming a SMART school, with Smart boards in most classrooms.  In addition to getting to play around with a SMART Table, I met some amazing local educators that are just as excited about integrating technology as I am. 

The first session I attended was entitled ENGAGE:  ENcourage, Grow, Achieve, Gain understanding, Expand - Using SMART capture tools in Grades 3-8 Classrooms.  Here, I learned about a few free websites used in conjunction with the capture tool on the Smart board.  The first websites are EduPic  and Pics4Learning.  both contain an online library of free photographs and graphics for educational purposes.  A really cool site is, which allows kids to create avatars of themselves.  The teacher presenting then used the capture tool on her Smart board to capture the avatars they created and made a seating chart out of them. Another really neat website is  You use the capture tool on your Smart board to capture any image you want and then import it into JigsawPlanet.  This site then breaks up your picture into a puzzle.  You can then recapture each individual piece to use on your smart board for your kids to manipulate. Another example of the capture tool was to simply use it to capture any image you discussed in class (bar graph, math problems, maps, etc) and use that exact image on the test over the material.  Another free tool discussed in this session was Wordle - a site used to generate “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. Finally, this session talked about KissYouTube - a site that makes downloading and importing YouTube Videos easier. 

The second (and best) session I attended was entitled "SMART boards and Web 2.0 tools."  The presenter was Jim Hollis, education consultant and author of a famous blog called "Teachers Love Smart Boards." He discussed how Web 2.0 tools are the future of education and showed us several fantastic tools highlighted in his blog. 

The third session I attended was on how to use the Smart board to teach 6 + 1 Trait Writing. The instructors showed a few premade notebook files where students used pull tabs to reveal editing marks...a waste of time and not worth mentioning further.

The final session was a networking session.  Here, I met an English teacher from Bethel Lutheran and quickly began discussing our language arts curriculum.  This teacher mentioned how it would be nice to network with other local language arts teachers to collaborate and share ideas.  As a result of this conversation, I went home and created a message board/ forum called the Tri-County Language Arts Educators (trila for short).  I hope this becomes a local learning network where 5th - high school level language arts teachers from Woodford, Tazewell, and Peoria counties come to talk about their craft.  So far, there's only member besides myself  (thanks Jeanenne!) but I hope it catches on!

The closing session was the prize giveaways.  Throughout the day, presenters handed out Bradfield Bucks that participants could put into drawings.  The prizes included a Smart board, response clickers, a Smart ELMO (all my bucks went into a chance at winning this one), best buy gift certificates, and much more.  I didn't win a thing, but walked away satisfied about the day.  Overall, the first Annual Central Illinois SMART User Conference was a success.  I hope to be in attendance next year!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Adapting the Four Blocks Literacy Model to the 52 Minute Class Period

This year, I formatted my language arts class based on a modified  Four Blocks Literacy Modelin attempts to create a balanced literacy program that meets the diverse needs of all my students. Although the true four blocks model takes place in a single block class session, I am forced to teach my blocks throughout the week within 52 minute class periods. In a typical week, we study these four basic areas of language arts: guided reading (Monday and Tuesdays), writing/grammar (Wednesdays and Thursdays), self-selected reading (Fridays), and working with words (Daily).

In the Guided Reading block, I choose material for my students to read, designate a purpose for the reading, and then guide them to use reading strategies needed for reading the text with the assigned purpose. I provide guidance focused primarily on reading comprehension strategies in a variety of whole class, small group, and partner formats.

In the Grammar/Writing block, I teach  grammar or writing mini-lesson that provide the students with a model of what good writers do. My students engage in various writing activities from starting a new piece, finishing a piece, revising, editing, or illustrating. Another component includes weekly conferences that lead to a final published piece. In the Author's Chair, students have the opportunity to share their writing and respond to each other's writing at various stages in its development.

In the Self-Selected Reading block, students have silent reading time each Friday to read a book of their choice at their own independent reading level. Students participate in the Accelerated Reader program in the 8th grade at our school, but do not require that their book of choice be an Accelerated Reader book.  I also conduct daily teacher read-alouds.

In the Working With Words block, students conduct a spiral study of Greek and Latin roots, as well as high frequency words we encounter as we read different texts. I chose the roots study to help my students better understand English vocabulary since more than 70 percent of English (and 95 percent of upper vocabulary) comes from Latin and Greek word origins.

In retrospect, this has been a great way to fit everything in that we language arts teachers must teach in the confines of a single school year, but at times I felt like the subject matter was disjointed. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Just Call Me the Post-It Queen

I LOVE post-it notes!  I have students use them in all shapes and sizes for a variety of purposes.  They’re not only a quick way for students to share ideas when working in collaborative groups, but they also help to add a bit of color to my otherwise white classroom walls.

Parking Lot

I got this idea from a conference I attended this summer.  I have an area on a wall in my classroom I call the "Parking Lot."  It's a place where students can "park" their ideas, concerns, or questions about my language arts class.  Here are some of the student responses from my 8th graders currently in the lot:
  • Can we arrange our desks in a big circle?
  • I dont' understand how to find an adverb when it's in between verbs.
  • How many AR (accelerated reader) points do we need this quarter?
  • I think we should read graphic novels for lit.
I then use this as a way to measure what concepts I need to reteach or just simply as a means to get ideas for class. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Internet Safety

Protecting Reputations Online Video

This video discusses the long-term risks of sharing inappropriate information on the Web. It encourages viewers to “think before you click” and offers tips for being responsible with photos, video and stories. Point include:

Why photos are permanent on the web

Future consequences of sharing inappropriate info

Tips for protecting reputations (personal and friends)

What to do when inappropriate info is shared


Today I found it necessary to have a talk with my students about cheating. Together we came up with this list to clarify the definition of cheating.

You are cheating if you:

1. Copy someone else’s work and claim it as your own.

2. Allow someone else to copy your work and claim it as their own.

3. Work on assignments with others when the assignment is meant to be completed individually.
4. Allow one person in a group do all the work for a group assignment and the other group members just copy down the answers.

5. Steal or otherwise view a test before it's given.

6. Write notes on flash cards, clothing, or skin to look at during tests.

7. Pretend you're sick on a test day and get the test questions from other students before taking the make-up test.

8. Use websites to purchase or get free essays/research papers.

9. Write down answers beforehand, get answers from other students, or help others students answer questions during a test.

10. Do not grade your own paper or a classmate’s paper honestly by marking answers correct that are wrong and/or changing the score.

11. Copy text, images, sound files, etc. from a website, paste it into an assignment or a personal webpage and claim it as your own.

12. Copy the ideas of another person and claim them as your own.

13. Turn in an assignment for credit in two different classes or school years.

Seat Pockets

With the help of my mother-in-law's superb sewing skills, I created seat pockets for each student desk in my classroom. I have five rows with five student desks in each row labeled with a number and a letter A1-A5, B1-B5, C1-C5, D1-D5, and E1-E5. I gave each row a different color seat pocket. This is an efficient way to form collaborative groups based on any data you wish (MAP scores, high-low reading levels, personality, etc). All the kids know is that they are in the purple group or is an A or a 4 that day.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Classroom Rules

As this school year draws to a close, I'm starting to reflect on my classroom rules:

1. Be in class on time and prepared (with supplies and completed homework).
2. Respect the rights and property of others.
3. Follow directions the first time they are given.
4. Raise your hand and wait for permission to speak.
5. Stay in your assigned seat unless you have permission to do otherwise.

I've had these rules since I began teaching in 2001. What is absolutely important for my classroom to run smoothly? Do I care if a kid gets up to sharpen his pencil without permission? Maybe I'll change it up a bit next year. I'll put it on my summer to do list.