This is a first for me. I have been contacted by SmileMakers to preview one of their products, of my own choosing. As an avid writing teacher, and a writer myself, I chose to review their Story Starter Word Cubes.
It looks like the blue cubes are characters; the yellow ones are settings; and the reds are events or actions. I imagine rolling the cubes and creating an outline for my story first, and then developing the story elements in rough drafts.
Inspired by Mr. Salsich’s 3rd grade class, the Magical Minds and I endeavored to show the world that we, too, read fluently. And, as Mr. Salsich writes,
Reading fluently means:
Reading smoothly at the right PACE – not too slow, not too fast, and notchoppy.
Reading with EXPRESSION – changing your voice to make the reading sound interesting.
Paying attention to PUNCTUATION -stopping at periods, slowing down at commas and line breaks, and sounding excited at exclamation points.
Read with good PHRASING – make the reading sound like natural talking.
I showed this list to Magical Minds and read them two poems. They thought I was mildly interesting. But, when I showed them how Mr. Salsich’s class records their readings and then votes on the most fluent reader – WOW, the class was on fire. “Can we do that?” I point to a pile of poem books and the group bursts into independent readers, practicing poems in all corners of the room.
A few of the Magical Minds actually recorded their voices today, and I was going to post them here, but… Well, I came home and while talking to Eric about our lesson, I felt as if it all happened too quickly. The kids barely had time to hear themselves. I want them to HEAR themselves, and think about their fluency. I want them to monitor themselves, and give feedback to their peers. Thus, I think it’s time we made a rubric.
Tomorrow we will practice assessing different readings, grading them on pace, expression, punctuation and phrasing. And, the first readings we will assess… Eric’s and mine. Enjoy!
We started a new unit today on natural resources, and I invited the kids to answer a question: “How can we support a sustainable planet?” They have three weeks to create a project that answers that question.
Whoa – I thought their heads would explode. But, I had anticipated that, and came up with a sub-question to help them understand the big idea: “When is a natural resource a renewable or nonrenewable resource?” Again, heads exploding in front of me. To relieve the pressure, I suggested to the Magical Minds they write down their wonderings. The kids flocked to a basket of sticky notes. Mostly they wanted to know, “What does renewable mean?”
After looking over their notes, I asked, “Do you want me to tell you what it means, or do you want to figure it out on your own?”
“No!” They holler at me. So, I step back. I pull out my clipboard and start taking notes. N and S head over to the computer and Google “renewable.” J knows right away she wants to write a haiku poem about natural resources and begins counting syllables. A begins a story about a bear who lives on a planet with no sun. K and V get on my laptop to translate renewable into Swedish and Finnish. As K and V begin to understand what the word means, I ring the musical triangle and call for a “pause for learning.” I ask the girls to share what they understand.
Within the next twenty minutes these initial inquiries give rise to a comic book, two keynote presentations, an illustration and the potential for a stop motion video.
This is new to me, this unstructured inquiry. I am taking a risk, trusting my kids and even though I am a bit terrified, I think we are all having a pretty good time.
Conferences are over. Portfolios have gone home (for a week or two). The last two weeks were filled with groans as the Magical Minds slaved over their reflections for their portfolios. This isn’t what I want. My greatest hope as an educator is to inspire and empower life-long learners. Reflection is one of the best tools I can offer them.
How do I make reflection engaging? I begin with reflecting on how I reflect:
I talk, a lot. These conversations allow me to process events and make mental connections, which lead to insights and fresh ideas.
I have a persona journal, which I write in maybe once a week with my more emotional ramblings
I have a work journal, which holds notes from meetings, ideas for lessons, thoughts on kids, etc…
I have a to-do-list journal, which is primarily a record of what I have accomplished and what I hope to accomplish
I have a blog, where I challenge myself to match my teaching methods with what I know about best-practices.
I use twitter to ask questions, share thoughts and engage in digital conversation.
Ok, so I am a bit of an uber-reflector. But, it’s authentic. This comes from me, and my need to evaluate and improve. Thus, this is what I am thinking about trying next time with portfolios:
Digital Pieces / Works: The most amazing things my kids do cannot be captured on paper. The kind of learning that is taking place in our classroom is best caught on video, pictures and audio. Their best works are digital. For those who love paper, keep the paper. But, take a photo, too so that kids can reflect on it digitally.
Digital Reflections: It’s tough for most of my third graders to think and write at the same time. I want the quality of thinking to shine through, not penmanship. Digital reflections have the potential of freeing kids from the writing, and thus focus on the thinking.
Capture “I Did It” Moments on Video: Teach kids to use the built-in camera to share an “I Did It”moment. I’m thinking about putting a toy monkey on top of the computer, and asking the kids to “tell Mr. Monkey about what you learned.”
Choose the Learning, Not the Work: Right now my kids choose what to share from a pile of materials that I have returned to them (with feedback on sticky notes). I want to turn the process around. I dream of a weekly schedule where on Fridays the kids and I review the goals set out for the week and list what we have learned. From this list/mind map the kids would choose a photo/video/recording that captures what they learned.
Blog It: I am totally sold on kids having blogs. Granted, I am still figuring out the best way to use them in class, but using them for reflections seems like my next experiment. With a blog, portfolios can build gradually and authentically. After choosing a work on Friday, kids can use the weekend to write their reflections on the blog.
Online Photos and Videos: The kids and I should be constantly adding photos and videos to an online source. I can teach the Media Specialist how to do this, and then also teach the kids how to access this media and use.
Options and TIME: I can model for kids where I keep my reflections, and then give them options of how they would like to keep their own. Finally – TIME. This is the rarest of resources, and most valuable.