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Cornett’s Book Corner

November 1, 2017

“Wonder”ful New Book Recommendation  

Welcome to November! Fall is in full swing and it is an awesome time of year to curl up with a good book! I hope you are modeling great reading practices for your students and perhaps even your own children. Keeping up the classroom reading is important, too. Here is this month’s review.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

     I have seen this novel utilized in so many fantastic ways with upper elementary and middle school students, and now there is a younger student version, too. In today’s day and age of selfie photo perfection and judging all that is “different” as wrong or bad, this book is a needed read for discussion of these issues with your students. The main character Auggie Pullman is about to begin 5th grade in a public school after being homeschooled for years. He has a significant facial deformity that causes others to look away in fear. Even though he looks different on the outside, he feels the same as everyone else on the inside. As one book reviewer from Kirkus Reviews put it, “Auggie may be finding his place in the world, but that world must find a way to make room for him, too. A memorable story of kindness, courage and wonder.” For instructional purposes, I love that it is written from various viewpoints! There are many digital resources available to accompany your study of this novel with your students. Check out the publisher’s website to see all of the related texts. This website has many downloadable Wonder teaching resources, too. The author’s page shares some helpful classroom discussion questions, too. There is even a Wonder app! Many teachers use this book at the beginning of the year to foster a classroom as a community environment and have their students take the #choosekind pledge. This month, on November 17, there is even a movie of the book coming out starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. It will be all the buzz, I’m sure, so get a head start and read this novel with your students. If I were you and you were me- remember to keep the tissues nearby when reading this book aloud to your class. Just so you know, this book is based on a child with an actual rare genetic condition called treacher collins syndrome. I leave you with this quote: “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.” I’m not crying- you’re crying! 

 

 

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Celebrating Student Birthdays

September 9, 2017

When I was a kid celebrating my birthday at school was always my favorite part of the year. My mom would always bake and ice sugar cookies and put them in fancy little bags for my classmates which made me feel like a rock-star! Even though I was a relatively shy kid I loved having my classmates tell me how pretty my cookies were and having the class sing to me (even as a kid I liked being the center of attention!)

These days it’s very common to have school-wide policies that don’t allow cupcakes or cookies in the classroom. Whether it is because of allergies or just too many lime green icing stains on the carpet it is easy to celebrate your student’s big day without rainbow cupcakes with those fancy plastic rings.

BIRTHDAY POLICIES

Make sure that your parents know about your policy for birthday treats right away. My first year of teaching I had a birthday during the first week of school and I wasn’t sure what to do when a parent showed up early with a big tray of cupcakes. Setting expectations at open house or within the first week will help make birthdays a fun (not stressful) experience!

Things to think about:

  • Will you allow food treats? If so, do they need to be store bought or is homemade okay?
  • If you aren’t going to allow food treats can parents send in other treats like pencils, stickers, or toys?
  • Or, would you prefer to celebrate by having the parent donate a book or game for the entire class to enjoy?

TEACHER TREATS

Most teachers celebrate their students by treating their students on their special day. I have seen so many adorable (and inexpensive ways) to celebrate your students’ special days. My favorites include birthday balloons which are a paper balloon shape attached to a pixie stick or a curly straw.

Teachers can also celebrate their students without a gift. You could let your student sit at a special birthday chair, give them a birthday badge/sash/button to wear, or even just let them have a special job that day.

CELEBRATING WITH CLASSMATES

In addition to feeling the love from their teachers, classmates also LOVE to celebrate their peers’ birthday. Whether that is by singing, making cards (hello authentic writing experience!) or doing a word bubble like this idea from Tracie Stier-Johnson. Regardless of how you celebrate your student’s birthday I am sure it will be a memory they will have for years to come!

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How do you celebrate student birthdays in your classroom?

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New Crew

August 15, 2017

Getting to Know Your Students Academically

There is a bright, shiny, new school year ahead of us all! It is an exciting time where the possibilities are endless. You undoubtedly have plans to get to know your new students personally and create a positive classroom environment. There might be “all about me” pages or “what I did over the summer” journal entries. How will you get to know your students academically, though? When it comes to literacy skills, the more you know about your students’ abilities and the sooner you acquire that information- the better! Time to hit the road running. The following are ideas to help kick-start your journey.

  • If students attended your school last year, try to talk to their teachers. Even if a child did not attend your school, many times his or her records will contain previous teacher or school contact information. A quick email is all it takes to reach out. Try to focus on strengths and weaknesses in reading or ways to motivate and challenge the student. Do not let this turn into a gripe session. It is meant to give you some ideas of how to best meet the academic needs of a student.
  • Do not forget about support teachers, too. If your student receives any type of specialized service in the school such as speech or intervention classes chances are that teacher may have loads of insight into ways to help the student succeed, too.
  • Look at your students’ records. I cannot tell you how many times I was filling out the end of the year reports on my students’ permanent records and thought- this information would have been extremely helpful to know at the beginning of the year! Do not make the same mistake I did. I know it takes time during a very hectic part of the school year. However, just think about the time it could save you in the long run!
  • Speak to the parents about their child’s literacy skills. Get their opinion and a bit more of the child’s academic history here. Find out if they have any concerns going into the new grade level or if there are any ways their student needs to be supported to succeed. For example, parents may know their child has testing anxiety and may not perform as well as they should on beginning of the year placement assessments. Let parents know upfront your expectations for literacy work in the classroom and at home.
  • There will be the beginning of the school year diagnostic tests, too. Several are required now for every student in the school. Beyond universal screeners and waiting for that data to get back to me, I always have a few quick assessments I like to do with individual students to give me a better understanding of their performance levels. It would depend on the grade level, but this might include having them read a vocabulary list, a fluency probe, or perhaps participating in a phonemic awareness assessment. Assessing the students personally gives me a better idea of where they are academically. It is much more valuable than just seeing a score on a spreadsheet.
  • Last but not least, ask the students about themselves and where they see their own skills flourishing or lacking. Here is where you will get some very honest answers! If you need some guidance, I recommend giving the Garfield reading or writing surveys to your students. Get to know your new crew and help them succeed from the start!
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Practical Ways to Incorporate Whole Brain Learning

May 21, 2017

Why Whole Brain Learning?

I recently completed my doctorate.  As a student as well as a full-time teacher, I gained a new perspective and empathy for my students.  My classes met each Friday night from 6-10 and from 8-5 on Saturdays.  After teaching all week, I was exhausted on Friday night classes.  Lecture after lecture usually lulled me to sleep by 8:30.  One particular Friday class, we received a text from our professor that asked us to wear a coat and comfortable shoes.  She went on to inform us that we were going on a scavenger hunt around the campus.  I remember dancing for joy that I would not have to sit the whole night.  Then it hit me, if I felt this way as an adult learner, how much more must my students feel?

What is Whole Brain Learning?

The human brain and its ability for retrieval have been a new frontier in education over the last few decades. Whole Brain Learning is the engagement of strategies based on principles derived from an understanding of the brain (Jensen, 2008). It encompasses multiple learning modalities that produce higher retention and engagement of students. In order for learning to occur, the brain must fire thousands of neurons.  These neurons require activation to fire, or it will remain dormant and activation of memory will not take place.  Whole brain teaching fires more neutrons in the brain for learning.  Plainly put, the more ways you introduce new learning, the additional pathways a student has in the retrieval process. When learning encompasses multiple learning styles, the information will hold a better chance for retention.

How Do I Incorporate Whole Brain Teaching into my Classroom?  

 For additional information, see Teaching the Unteachable Blog.

  1. Experience the Standards-More experts and research than I care to list, maintain that when students have authentic, tangible, and meaningful experiences, student retention is 65% compared to 10% through lecture or didactic learning (Bannerman, 2009 & Garner, 2007). For example, rather than instruct measurement through a worksheet, give students real world practice by taking them outside to find the area or perimeter of the playground or flowerbed or teaching about D-Day by playing a structured capture the flag game.
  2. Move to Learn: One of the best pathways for memory is to learn by doing. Anytime you can get students up and moving, they are more apt to engage and therefore retain information taught.  A simple way to add movement into a lesson is by adding hand motions to an otherwise boring topic.  For example, when teaching the aspects of narrative writing, teach students S.T.O.R.Y.  S-Starring duh da duh da…my characters (dramatic with jazz hands)

T-Talking or Dialogue (hands talking to each other)

O-Opening and Closing (using hands opening and closing a door)

R-Rising Action (start at the bottom and rise up)

Y-Yummy Details (rub belly and use Sumo Wrestler voice).

  1. Proximity Learning: Location, Location, Location….Each time you teach a particular skill or standard, try standing in the same location each time.  After a while, students will remember the information simply by the location.  I had a student that had difficulty with memory.  When I asked him to retrieve information, he first said he did not know, but knew it was in the right corner of the room.  He shut his eyes, visualized me standing there, and was able to remember the information.
  2. Trick Kids into Processing: How many times have your students blurt out the answers without thinking through it?  What typically happens is the higher achieving students shout out the answer while other student’s thinking is effectively shut down.

Try this instead.  Have the students think about the answer.  You may drop hints such as it is a long word…or the synonym is …Then have students close their eyes, visualize it, open their eyes, blow the answer into their hands, and when the teacher says 1-2-3-they throw the answer.  This gives all students an opportunity to think through their answer as well as giving all students an opportunity to learn.  For example, the teacher may ask what is the process in which all plants receive their food through the sun.  The teacher may ask what letter it starts with…or describe this as a long word…have them close their eyes and picture the word very bright….and have the students make camera clicking noises….by the time you have them blow the answer in their hands, most students have visualized it, made movements with the word, and verbalized it.

Still Want More:

 There are so many more whole brain-teaching techniques; I couldn’t possibly list them all in this blog post.  Start with a few activities and reflect what worked.  There are thousands of YouTube videos on the subject including my own.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K40svSVYqTY

For a list of great books and resources, feel free to email me.

Classroom Community Featured New Teacher

Creating a Culture of Kindness in the Classroom

May 7, 2017

As a first year teacher, I was blown away by how much time I needed to dedicate to teaching social skills in the classroom. For (most) adults the concepts of kindness, fairness, and respect are no brainers. But, as I spent more and more time with my students I began to realize that these habits do not always come naturally kids.

I was nervous to dive into the world of teaching social skills in the classroom because I was worried about what I would put on a lesson plan, but after a few months I decided to put my worries aside and made a change. Sure, social skill concepts don’t show up on standardized tests but in order to make my classroom a positive and inclusive place, some explicit social skill instruction was necessary! With the help of my school social worker, I developed some short lesson plans and classroom routines to creature a culture of kindness in my third-grade classroom.

To fit in my new lessons, I used my morning meeting time and reading block to help my students form connections with each other and read books that show characters dealing with common elementary school issues. Here are a few of my favorite activities that I did with my students this year. I did these with third graders, but they could easily be adapted for any elementary age classroom!

Making Connections

To help my students make connections with their classmates I challenged my students to find something in common with someone they don’t talk to on a daily basis. This activity was simple but very meaningful because my students realized that they have a lot more in common with their classmates than they thought they did. Many new friendships formed as a result of taking the time to form connections with classmates.
Juice Box Bully- To help teach my students about bullying I read aloud the book “The Juice Box Bully” by Bob Sornson. This book does an excellent job of showing children how to stand up to bullies. At the end of the book, there is a promise that students can follow to prevent bullying. After reading the story my students asked if they could take the pledge (all on their own!) and we copied the pledge and the students signed their name to hold them accountable for their actions.

Shout Out Wall

As a class, my students brainstormed positive behaviors that you can display in the classroom. They came up with words like respectful, hardworking, and kind. I displayed these words on a blank wall in the classroom. Throughout the day my students write “shout outs” to students who are displaying one of these positive behaviors. At the end of the school day, I read the shout outs to the class and the kids get to keep their note. This has become their favorite part of the school day and they BEG me to read shout outs at the end of the day. I have learned that my kids like being recognized by me for good behavior but they LOVE being recognized by their classmates even more.

Students write “Shout Outs” on sticky notes to recognize their classmates for showing positive behaviors.

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I Love You Because You’re You

April 30, 2017

One night while I was putting my daughter to bed, I read her the book I Love You Because You’re You. I grabbed it off of her shelf of board books and thought it would be a quick, sweet read. Right away I was moved by the simple message – no matter what you do or how you act, you are loved. You are loved by your teacher, by your family and by God.

Educating students in academic subjects may be our job. But so many times students come to us without their basic needs met and we have to fill in the gaps. It’s important for our students to know that they are loved and are safe in our classrooms. Whether you’re teaching in the public/private school setting, a Sunday school class or at home with your own children, this companion for I Love You Because You’re You has everything you need to help foster a loving and welcoming environment.

What’s Included?

I LOVE to use cross-curricular activities. I always saw the greatest results when I used one book or topic to shape our week’s lessons around. In this companion you’ll find the following skills:

– Reading Comprehension – compare/contrast and text-to-self connections

– Writing – brainstorming and composition (What Makes Me Feel Special)

– Grammar – adjectives

– Phonics – rhyming words

– Bible Study – love

– Social Studies – how to make others feel special

– Craft – self w/adjectives

How Can I Use Them?

One of the great things about book companions is that they have just as many uses as they do components. You have so many choices! My favorites are for leaving with a substitute, using for a multi-day study, or as an enrichment project for my higher students who can work independently. Below is a picture of the companion as an enrichment project. (Click on the picture to find this product in my TPT store!) Simply store the worksheets and activities ready to go in a storage container with the book and allow students to work at their own pace during station or intervention time!

Sometimes we leave these important character building activities out of our plans because we think we don’t have time for them. But with some cross-curricular connections, there’s always time to teach our kiddos how to love and appreciate each other. Enjoy helping your students feel loved!

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Making Parent-Teacher Conferences Painless

April 4, 2017

As a first year teacher, I was terrified of a lot of things when I started my job. I was scared of random observations, overwhelmed by lesson planning, and stressed out by my students’ unique behaviors. I was most intimidated by the thought of holding parent teacher conferences! At my school, every parent is required to attend a 20 minute conference in November…YIKES! I was afraid I wouldn’t be prepared, that they would ask me a question I couldn’t answer, or that they wouldn’t take me seriously.

However, I managed to survive my first round of conferences with the help of my coworkers (and a lot of coffee). Their ideas for running each conference, preparing in general, and some scheduling tips saved my sanity that week.

Here are some of the best ideas I learned and applied during my first year.


Schedule – I was very fortunate that I had flexibility in planning my conference schedule. I allowed the parents to select two days and I assigned them an exact time to arrive. Giving the parents some say in their time slot helped with my attendance (95% of my parents showed up!) and this also allowed me to schedule my conferences strategically.

When placing parents into time slots I made sure to leave myself breaks. I planned to have a break at the halfway point to eat a snack and, let’s be real, use the bathroom! I also made sure to “sandwich” my tougher conferences between my easy ones.

Preparation – To prepare for each child’s conference I created a folder to showcase their important work, their test scores, and the child’s self-assessment. If you use portfolios in your classroom this is easy! I made sure to have important assessments, a writing sample, and the child’s reading score readily available for the conference. I also included a copy of their report card and their standardized test scores to review.

The best thing I included in the child’s folder was their self-evaluation. Before conferences, the children rated themselves in different academic and social areas. These scores showed the parents how their child viewed themselves and we were able to talk about what their child feels they need to work on.

The day of conferences – When a parent arrived I made sure to start with the same question each time…”Before we begin, do you have any questions for me?”. It may seem silly but by asking the parent first I was able to save myself a lot of time.  Without asking first, I could spend 20 minutes blabbing about their child’s test scores and the parent could care less because all they want to know is if their child is making friends. Starting with a question helped me focus the conference and left the parent feeling informed about the issues that concerned them.

The little details – The cute details weren’t necessary but helped make a good impression.

  • In the hallway, I set up “cute” lined paper and pens with a note to write their child a letter to put in their desk.
  • I put coloring books at a table for younger siblings that tagged along.
  • In the hallway, I set up a “donation tree”. The donation tree had die-cut apples with supplies we needed for our classroom. Conferences are a great time to stock up on kleenex and gluesticks!
  • At my conference table I had pens available, notes about upcoming events, and a box of tissues – luckily the box came home unopened. 🙂

Even though parent-teacher conferences are not exactly what I would consider a fun time, being prepared helped make the experience more enjoyable. My coworkers’ advice helped me feel confident enough to talk to my student’s parents and have productive and painless conferences. Even if you have been teaching for many years I hope that you can use some of these little tricks as spring conferences approach.

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Shout Out!

March 30, 2017

Doesn’t it feel SO good to be shouted out for doing something amazing? Your mood instantly improves and you feel yourself smiling from ear to ear. What better way to get the children to call out other students for having outstanding behavior than to create a Shout Out display. The idea of celebrating other students will become second nature for your kiddos. This can look like a million different things. Here is how it looks in our classroom:

 Take Fun Pictures

Take pictures of the students pretending to yell or shout! This makes the display way more entertaining. It’s so funny to see how each child interprets the idea of “shouting out!” Let them be a creative as possible. Our students held their hands to their mouth and said the word, “shout out” as I snapped their picture.

 Create a Fun Display

Pick a space in the classroom or hallway where the display will be seen ALL THE TIME! You want to show off this space and let your students know how proud you are of them for lifting up their classmates. This could look like a bulletin board, a classroom door, etc. The possibilities are endless. Pick a theme, such as “Kindness is Cool.” In our class, the classroom door has a fun background and seven page protectors. We slip the Shout Out template and a picture of the child into the page protector to be seen by all.

 Switch It Up

Switch out the shout outs and students frequently. The more you switch, the more chances you have to celebrate the positive. There can be rules to how often you switch, who can give a shout out, etc. Make it a huge deal to be celebrated on the wall!

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Get Your Groove On

March 29, 2017

Flowing Through Fluency

There is a movement happening in classrooms right now- a music and movement movement. As a dancer and supporter of all things performing arts- I LOVE it! Educators really desire to connect to our students on a personal level and establish good relationships by simply relating to our kiddos. In Tennessee, teachers also have a law that requires students to get at least 90 minutes of physical activity per week. An hour is actually the preferred amount of time that students should be involved in movement per day based on the researched correlations between students’ positive academic performance and exercise.

As a practitioner, you get it. Kids become restless with too much sitting and lecturing. They just do not pay attention to the lessons or get off task. You may have even been guilty of this yourself. Just think about your last faculty meeting. The human body craves movement! Adding kinesthetic aspects to your lessons will further tap into students’ memory and help them better store the information you are trying to convey. You may even reach some of your reluctant learners as well when you begin to get your groove on in the classroom!

 The weather can sometimes make it more difficult to get as much exercise outside with your students. However, there are easy ways to add some movement into you reading routines and transitions. Let’s start with an easy topic for adding music and movement: fluency! Fluency is my favorite aspect of reading and one that rarely gets enough practice in the regular classroom setting.

Make class fluency folders and change out what you are practicing almost weekly or as soon as your students have mastered the passage you are using so they do not get bored. Even my first graders could help with the management of updating the folders by sliding new pages to practice into clear page protectors when needed. Print out students’ favorite songs and sing them while reading the lyrics. Just make certain the songs are school friendly! Or you can always do what the teachers did in the first two videos I linked below: make up your own class song. Add poetry to your fluency folders and have students help create appropriate movements to accompany the poems. Students can even add a mini performance time to the weekly classroom routines. Dr. Timothy Raskinski, the fluency researcher guru, says that kids need authentic reasons to want to practice reading, and a classroom performance time provides just that! In my classroom, I offered performing fluency passages on a volunteer basis as not to force students who may be uncomfortable reading in front of their peers. Once it caught on, even my shy students were wanting to read and perform in front of the class. With fluency folders, struggling readers have had time to practice the passages (I let my students take these folders home nightly) so they are less afraid of messing up in front of their peers. This can really boost their confidence to have their friends cheer them on and support their reading.

Here are my two favorite music and movement videos for introducing the concept of fluency to students:

Give music and movement a moment in your classroom today!

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Teamwork is Dreamwork

March 27, 2017

Working as a team can be hard. There are always the students who do the right thing. On the other hand, there are always those students who seem to know exactly what to do to push your buttons and do the opposite of what you’ve asked. Teamwork can be a tricky concept for students to grasp. At a young age, children are learning to cooperate and share with their friends. Creating a whole class reward system can really invest those students in “getting on the team” and helping to work together towards a common goal. Here are a few ideas:

Brownie Points

Place a real cookie sheet on the board or somewhere visible in the classroom. Create fake brownies using brown construction paper, etc. Laminate and place magnets on the back. Show the students what it looks like and sounds like to earn a brownie. Give examples so students have clear expectations of how they can show teamwork. Each time the entire class works together and follows directions, place a brownie on the tray! Celebrate! Make it a huge deal! Let them know how proud you are to see them working together! Once you fill the tray, think of a fun reward the students can earn. To make it more personal, have the students come up with their own appropriate rewards to go in the bank of possibilities.

100% Jar

In our class, we have a 100% jar. We bought tiny basketballs and a miniature hoop. Each time the students are displaying teamwork, the class earns a “slam dunk.” Once the hoop is full, we earn a playground party! We let the students choose what their reward will be. We have clear expectations of what it looks like to show teamwork and how they can earn basketballs!

Mr. Potato Head

Just like the “Brownie Points,” you can build a Mr. Potato Head, earning pieces along the way. Tell the students what it takes to earn a piece. Once you have added every piece to Mr. Potato Head, your students earn a reward! It’s up to you if you want the system to be both positive and negative. You can take pieces away for students who display un-sportsman like conduct in the classroom. Those friends who did the right thing will be motivated to help those students step it up and show some teamwork.