Classroom Word Game

You know that buzz of collaboration and learning that you hope for everyday? It happens when we play this game. Every. Single. Time. If you like Boggle, you’ll love this game. Word Wrangle is a fun classroom word game inspired by my love of Boggle and also my love of quiet. Once upon a time, I bought SIX Boggle games for my first year teaching sixth grade. I let my students open the shrink wrap (for effect- because this was going to be so awesome)… and then I heard it. The sound of 25 solid letter cubes banging around in a hard plastic echo chamber, multiplied by six. After that, the Boggle games went away.

Why I Love This Game

This is absolutely my favorite game to play with my class. I make it a point to teach this game early in the year as we are learning procedures and routines. As a result, this is an amazing back up plan, sub activity and party game in my classroom. We start by playing as a whole group until students understand how to play. After that, I group students in so many different ways! I often think about their spelling success as I group them. The game is more fun when kids play against others with similar skills. When this kind of grouping is done- every board is challenging to every student! I never see my strongest students work as hard as they do when they are Wrangling Words against other students who are just as strong in reading and spelling. Likewise, students who often give up on challenging tasks, expecting they won’t have the skills to succeed- LOVE this game. I group them thoughtfully, so that they are playing against others with a similar skillset- and they are always begging for one more round. Lastly, every year I am surprised to find some struggling learners who excel at this game. So, mix up those groupings often, and you will learn so much about your kiddos!

Teacher Hack

I print out my game boards on different colors of card stock. When my class plays in small groups, every group plays with the same game board. at the same time I do this so that after each group has determined a winner, we can share out some of the winning words from each group. As they share, players’ eyes dart around their card searching for each word. I hear lots of “oh man” and “how did I miss that?” Every minute of this game is a learning experience. Usually, I place two game boards at each group so that in a group of 4-6, no one is looking at an upside down card. I do not give students their own game boards because I think managing the materials and sharing is an important part of this game. I set a 3 minute timer for students to hunt for words. When the timer goes off, we switch gears and start the the share out and cross out part of the process.

5 multicolored word grids, game boards
Color coding my Word Wrangle boards helps me manage multiple groups at once with ease!

 

DIY Projector Screen

You finally have your own classroom!!! No more shuffling around on a cart, lugging your whole life with you every period of the day… no more “borrowing” other teachers’ classrooms and hoping you left them as neat as you found them.

Now What

Now, you’re ready to make this new space work for you. One of the biggest challenges to classroom set up is that projector screen. It’s no one’s fault. It was hung uniformly, matching all of the other classrooms… probably with an antique overhead projector and transparencies in mind. More importantly though, moving it is not topping anyone’s to do list… there are much bigger fish to fry- from a property services standpoint. But, in your world- a thoughtfully place projector screen could make ALL the difference. It did for me! When I added this DIY projector screen to my classroom, things changed- and FAST! No more distractions for kids working on the class warm up. The problem wasn’t just that occasionally a classmate would block someone’s view while walking to their seat- it was that staring at the warm up on the screen in the front of the room at the start of class, provided an unintentional “social check in” for my easily distracted kids. empty classroom with projector screen in front

It didn’t matter if I moved their seats- it didn’t help them to “pay attention”… they were! But- every minute or so one of their besties walked right into their line of sight. That’s REALLY HARD for a middle schooler to ignore. For weeks I had joked with Distracted Danny that if he could pick where the screen went it would be better for everyone. Every couple of days he’d remind me, “you know, if you just move it up high and in the corner, we’ll all be able to see it better…” He was right. But I would never get anyone to hang a screen in the corner!

projector screen in classroom hanging from ceiling

So What

So, I tried a white sheet. I tried chart paper. I tried a regular sized piece of foam board… and finally this. An extra large piece of foam board from the Custom Framing department at Michael’s Crafts. I stuck some Command strip hooks on the back of it and used string to tie it to the ceiling tile spacers in my classroom. About $10 and 10 minutes to make a significant impact on student learning.

messy papers behind student reflection sheets              Projectable slides in front of book shelves base ten blocks on student worksheets

Classroom Teacher: Reality Check

The view from down here.
“It all falls on the classroom teacher, it always does” she reminded me. This was my mother. A retired elementary school teacher, who had made it the long haul. In the classroom for her entire career, advocating for kids, mentoring new teachers- reminding me when I express frustration in the system that, I shouldn’t be surprised because “other people just don’t get it. Everything is the responsibility of the classroom teacher.” In other words- s#!t rolls down hill. I’ve been hearing it for years. But, honestly I didn’t quite get it until recently.
I’ve spent most of my career as a middle school teacher. I guess I have that genetic mutation that appreciates the sass and limit-testing of the adolescent. Continue reading “Classroom Teacher: Reality Check”

Reflection: Ain’t nobody got time for THAT!

For the last two years I have been welcomed into many classrooms as a coach, or as my favorite mentor Jan so accurately describes: a thought partner. When she used that language two years ago during our first New Teacher Center Mentor Academy, I had no idea just how connected I would feel to that phrase today. I have partnered with some incredible thinkers over these two years. Some of these thinkers have been my fellow coaches, the teachers I support and their administrators.

Continue reading “Reflection: Ain’t nobody got time for THAT!”

Teachers Respond to National Tragedy

Dear Teachers,
This morning I reflected once again, on the important roles we all play in the lives of so many children. This past week was an emotional roller coaster for so many of us. Glued to the news, many of us saw images and scenes play out that seemed more like clips from a film (set anywhere but here) than breaking news.
As educators, we do our best to control our students’ experiences… to set them up for discovery, inquiry, and success. One variable that remains out of our control is our students’ experiences outside of school.
Many of us tomorrow, will return to our students and to our schools after a week away.
Know that each of your students, and each of their families experienced this week Continue reading “Teachers Respond to National Tragedy”

Week 3 Challenge: Creating an Environment of Respect & Rapport

‘An Environment of Respect & Rapport’… This is an area I find myself discussing quite often with teachers. At least once a week, I have conversations with teachers about how tricky they find this particular domain/ standard to assess. Recently, I attended a presentation about how some teachers and mentors are tackling this very topic. Before we think about how to improve our practice, let’s think about where we are beginning…

Level 1: Patterns of classroom interactions, both between the teacher and students and among students, are mostly negative, inappropriate, or insensitive to students’ ages, cultural backgrounds, and developmental levels. Interactions are characterized by sarcasm, put-downs, or conflict. Teacher does not respond to disrespectful behavior. -> Level 2: Patterns of classroom interactions, both between the teacher and students and among students, are generally appropriate but may reflect occasional inconsistencies, favoritism, and disregard for students’ ages, cultures, and developmental levels. Students rarely demonstrate disrespect for one another. Teacher attempts to respond to disrespectful behavior, with uneven results. The net result of the interactions is neutral: conveying neither warmth nor conflict. -> Level 3: Teacher-student interactions are friendly and demonstrate general caring and respect. Such interactions are appropriate to the ages, of the students. Students exhibit respect for the teacher. Interactions among students are generally polite and respectful. Teacher responds successfully to disrespectful behavior among students. The net result of the interactions is polite and respectful, but impersonal. -> Level 4: Classroom interactions among the teacher and individual students are highly respectful, reflecting genuine warmth and caring and sensitivity to students as individuals. Students exhibit respect for the teacher and contribute to high levels of civility among all members of the class. The net result of interactions is that of connections with students as individuals.

Level 1-> Level 2

Moving from level 1 to 2 on this rubric means that interactions in the classroom become generally appropriate. In level 2 the teachers attempts to respond to disrespectful behavior.

Level 2-> Level 3

Moving from level 2 to 3 on this rubric means that interactions in the classroom become generally friendly, caring and respectful. In level 3 the teacher’s response to disrespectful behavior is successful.

Level 3> Level 4

Moving from level 3 to 4 on this rubric means that interactions in the classroom become highly respectful, genuinely warm and caring. Students contribute to the high levels of civility among members of the class. (Notice that the level 4 refers to student contribution to civility as opposed to teacher’s response to disrespectful behavior. I read: classroom runs like a well-oiled machine or a mini-city between the lines here)

How would you rate your typical daily classroom experiences?

I attended an excellent session at the New Teacher Center’s Symposium last month called, Using Student Perspectives to Enhance Mentoring Conversations. As part of the presentation, teachers of a variety of grades shared how they administered surveys to their students, what they learned from the surveys, and what types of adjustments they made to their teaching as a result. It was incredibly inspiring to hear teachers share the impact of their willingness to be so vulnerable with their students! I can’t wait to use a student perspectives survey in my classroom!

How might you use this survey to guide your work? Do you think it would support your work in this particular domain of the Professional Teaching Standards?

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Dittos & Worksheets & Packets, Oh my!!

So, your school department actually has a manual for you and it’s full of printables… They were designed by educators and statisticians… and people that must know more about teaching this content than you do… so why aren’t you students engaged? Well, I am writing this post to make sure you don’t “throw out the baby with the bath water!” Before you throw away every workbook and ditto in your classroom… let’s put our heads together.

You are right, experts did design these materials, so there’s probably something that works in here…

 Don’t reinvent the wheel- Re-purpose it instead!

Here’s a template for a cube (as well as other amazing ideas- amazing wiki). Why not put the best questions from your packet on the 6 sides of the cube and let students roll and discuss in pairs? Your goal (with the packet) was for students to think about the questions, right? Imagine all the ideas they’ll get from their partner when rolling the cube??!! Two heads are always better than one.

You could listen in on student conversations and assess their Speaking & Listening Skills or their content knowledge. Another idea is to assess student learning with an exit slip at the end of class. When you encourage students to have conversations, arm them with sentence stems and accountable talk to make it as productive as possible.

What will you re-purpose this week? Let us know in the comments & you may inspire someone else to take a similar risk!

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PS… I’m looking to give away a TpT gift certificate to a lucky blog commenter this week! Spread the word- bring a friend!

Student Engagement… Strategy #1

Jigsaw it! jigsaw

Regardless of the subject, brain research tells us we need many rehearsals (+20…yikes!) for new learning to stick! Learners rehearse learning when they are actually engaged in it. And, just to be clear… a worksheet with 20 math problems does not equal 20 rehearsals…( awwww, maaaan!) So, let’s consider the value of a jigsaw!

Continue reading “Student Engagement… Strategy #1”

Student Engagement… Buzz Words Demystified

According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), the 4Cs: Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and Innovation are infused in learning.

Watch and listen to how ASCD describes 21st Century Skills. 21st_Buzz_word

In the video P21’s video library, the section titled “In Practice,” features sample lessons incorporating 21st Century Skills for any grade level/ content area. This is a video jackpot! I’d love to know what videos you found most valuable and to which you made connections. Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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Carol Ann Tomlinson writes, “The idea of differentiating instruction to accommodate the different ways that students learn involves a hefty dose of common sense, as well as sturdy support in the theory and research of education (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000). It is an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms.”

The teacher in this video creates an opportunity for all students to be successful with a very challenging written assignment. Watch this 5 minutes video to see what he does to support all students. Any ideas or questions come to mind for your own teaching? Share in the comments!

In my upcoming posts, look for go-to strategies to ramp up already planned lessons and ways to re-purpose assignments, lessons and resources that need a 21st Century kick! Also during this challenge, a lucky teacher who supports readers by sharing his/her experience in the comments will receive a TpT gift certificate!!

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Student Engagement- Week 2 Educator Challenge

If you are back for round two… congratulations on your successes during week one! If you’re just joining us, welcome~ we’re thrilled to have you here and hope you join the conversation! Let’s think about where we are starting!

Level 1: Projects, activities and assignments lack challenge, are inappropriate, or do not cognitively engage students. -> Level 2: Projects, activities and assignments inconsistently challenge all students appropriately and only cognitively engage some students. -> Level 3: Projects, activities and assignments are appropriately challenging for all students, require 21st century skills, and cognitively engage almost all students in complex learning. -> Level 4: Projects, activities, and assignments are appropriately challenging for all students, require 21st century skills, and cognitively engage student in complex learning.

With these descriptors in mind, which level would you say best describes your daily teaching experiences? Continue reading “Student Engagement- Week 2 Educator Challenge”