Grammar Lessons: A Time and A Place

Beth Moore has written a wonderful summary here on how to realistically implement grammar into our classrooms. I also really like “Mechanically Inclined” and “Everyday Editing” by Jeff Anderson for the upper grades. His lower elementary version will be coming out soon.

Learning through YouTube: Mission Possible?

BLAH hair

A regular BLAH hair day.

I’ll be honest with you: I’ve never known how to do my hair. Sad, I know. I’m thirty-three and wear my hair the same way I did in high school since I don’t know what to do with it. It’s very long, but it’s always…blah. If there was an award for ‘Most Boring Hairstyle’, I would probably win. This doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement because I know my hair has potential…there are people with long hair that look put together all over!

The hairdressers and stylists at the salon seem to know how to make it look oh-so-beautiful. HOW can I make my hair look as beautiful as they do? I have tried. Oh, how I have tried. I have bought the hair dryer, the curling iron, the straightener, the hair spray. I’ve spent upwards of forty-five minutes curling or straightening my hair to realize, only a few hours later, that either the curls have gone limp or disappeared, or that my hair magically gained a random curl or two when I wanted my hair to be straight. Since my amateur efforts have proven worthless, I have relented to just letting it air dry or doing a quick blow dry, leaving the house looking ‘blah’, and ending up with it in a ponytail or matronly bun by the end of the day. I never put any effort into it during the week (and let’s be real, weekends too).

I have always wished that I knew how to make my hair have that salon oh-so-beautiful look and was just given the gift to learn how. Believe it or not, my graduate class has assigned me a project to research something I have always wanted to learn (hair styling counts!) using only YouTube and discussion forums. So, let the games begin!

On YouTube, I have found a number of great videos that show women curling their hair with curling irons. Already I’ve learned some new techniques: holding the curl after you’ve removed it from the barrel, when to hairspray, and the different ways to hold the curling iron. My coolest discovery, however, is heatless curls. Apparently, I can wrap my hair in special twist braids and wake up with perfect curls! I hope it works because that will be a crucial time saver for those weekday mornings. Here we go!

Learning and Understanding in the Classroom


Computer artwork of a frontal view of the brain with a neural network of nerve cells firing in the back. (Getty/Science Photo Library – PASIEKA)

Being an effective teacher in the classroom requires great skill at being able to recognize where your students are coming from to facilitate the learning process. While reading the first three chapters of Bransford, Brown, and Cocking’s (2000) How People Learn for my graduate course, “Teaching Understanding with Technology”, I was reminded of the importance of always being aware of a student’s understanding throughout the learning process. In my essay, I clarify the differences between learning and understanding and show that both are constantly changing. By examining the differences in techniques experts and novices use to learn new information, I have outlined a few practices that should be present in our classrooms so educators can ensure their students are able to apply/transfer the information they have taught them to future situations.

Improve Our Students’ Reading: Part 1

The question, How do we improve students’ reading?, is not a new one, but more and more is learned every year as to which practices are most effective. I can summarize the strongest key factor in one word: teachers. Teachers help students learn to read and grow as readers, so improving teaching practices in the classroom and moving away from activities that promote READICIDE are key to making the most progress in the seemingly short time that we have with our students each school year.

“Read-i-cide: noun, the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools.” (Gallagher, 2009, p. 2)

kids readingThe second biggest thing that influences the success, or lack thereof, a student has in reading is the amount of time they spend actually reading, in and out of the classroom. In school, this includes reading and writing in the content areas, but today I am going to discuss the independent reading portion of a balanced literacy program. To develop lifelong, independent readers, we need to increase three things: students’ time in class reading voluntarily, their motivation to read on their own, and their ease of access to quality and engaging books. All are seemingly obvious, but how to get there may seem abstract, daunting, or downright unattainable. Here are research-proven ways to reach those three goals:

  1. Give students choice. When students are interested in the books they choose for themselves, it has been documented that their reading proficiencies rise. Providing students choice in their book selection for their independent, voluntary reading material is fundamental (ideally, there would be choice in the texts students read in the content areas, as well). Adults primarily read texts that they choose on their own, rather than reading material that is assigned to them. We need to help children learn how to choose books that interest them and that they can read on their own. If teachers are consistently directing them to certain books or levels, or even choosing books for them, they will struggle with reaching the ultimate goal: becoming lifelong, independent readers. To assist students that are consistently choosing books that are too easy or too hard, teachers can help them attain independence by giving them a choice of books and showing them why those particular books were chosen for the student, eventually eliminating their guidance.

“Learners who lose the ability to make decisions are disempowered.” (Brian Cambourne, Toward an Educationally Relevant Theory of Literacy Learning: Twenty Years of Inquiry)

  1. classroom libraryImprove classroom libraries. The fact that, over history, only two books (both by Jack Prelutsky) are found on both the International Reading Association “Children’s Choices” and the American Library Association “Notable Book List” proves that adults and kids have different ideas about what constitutes a good book. More interesting and engaging books for kids that we have in our classrooms will allow for more voluntary reading to occur. It’s a direct correlation. We need to increase access and exposure to books on a daily basis, and that means bulking up our classroom libraries. Students need to be able to SEE these attractive books every day, HEAR about why their peers or teacher love them, and GET the books quickly and easily into their hands. A weekly trip to the school library is not sufficient, but a refreshed and stocked classroom library is.
    • Use exciting fiction and non-fiction texts to teach strategy lessons; have them on display in the classroom library.
    • Fill your library with books that kids want to read (conduct student surveys, keep up with new series, add magazines and graphic novels)
    • Have a section for recommended books BY students
    • Make your classroom library as Barnes and Noble-like as you can (books organized by subject, cozy places to read, low noise-volume)
    • Organize your 1,500+ books (Allington’s recommendation) by genre and topic, not by reading level
  2. Talk to them! While students are reading these self-selected books, teachers should monitor their progress through conferences. Sometimes readers choose books that are too easy or too difficult, sometimes they prefer fiction over non-fiction or vice-versa. That’s okay for them to do in the classroom…sometimes. Teachers need to ensure that students are not only learning how to choose books that they find interesting, but also that they are comprehending them and reading a wide variety of books. Reading conferences are integral informal assessments. You may not have read the book your student is reading, but you can surely get a grasp on their understanding of it. Talk to them about the book as you would a friend reading a book: “Hey, how is the book going?” If the student understands the book, awesome! Go ahead and teach them something new. If not, use the opportunity to talk about the importance of reading ‘just right’ books and help them learn that skill.

“Not all students automatically improve their reading just because we give them time to read.”(Routman, 2002)

kids talking about reading

  1. Create a classroom of readers. If our goal is to support real readers, then we need to treat them as though they already are readers and are only working to get better. Take away all those READICIDE resources and activities from your classroom. No more worksheets, book quizzes, and busy work; they kill a person’s love of reading. Instead, incorporate authentic activities for students to share with others while they are reading books and after they’ve finished: book talks to sell their book, podcasts, blog posts, discussion forums and groups, buddy reading. Kids love to interact with each other, so give them that opportunity. They also love to hear from you and learn about your own reading life. Share with them the books that you’re reading or have read and have those books available for them to read.

In summary, there are many components of improving our students’ reading abilities, but the teacher is the primary and strongest factor. They are the ones who can ensure students read profusely, so let’s step it up and eliminate the age-old question of, How do we improve students’ reading? It truly is up to us.

Philosophy of Education

The ultimate goal of education is, of course, for learning to take place.  It is the job of every teacher to increase learning in each of their students, while also fostering their students’ natural desire to explore, question, and learn independently.  I believe my task is to create an environment where students feel comfortable to take risks, in addition to choosing sound learning goals and recognizing the path to lead students towards reaching them.

For students to feel comfortcommunityable, it is essential to lay down the foundation of respect for one another.  This is made possible with their knowledge that I respect them and am sincerely interested in their lives.   Students in my classroom find me easy to approach with their personal celebrations and concerns they have.  The unguarded feedback they give me regarding their classroom experiences complements my desire to instill democratic values in my students. They know their comments are almost always taken into consideration while planning future instruction.  They are fully aware that I, too, am imperfect, but strive to be better every day.  My respect and heartfelt enthusiasm for the class and subject matter is contagious, so I take it seriously.

In order to be successful, my planning begins with clearly defined learning goals in mind.  Taking into account students’ current knowledge, interests, and learning styles, I select the ideal means to pass on information.  My vision of ‘ideal’ is expected to change as lessons are taught and more is learned about my students through my observations of their discoveries and interactions in and out of the classroom.  Having to alter my lessons is not looked upon as a failure, rather a success in forging productive relationships with my students; I embrace these newly-found challenges to modify and tweak future lessons and plans.

Students are not merely ‘sponges’ that will soak up information I expose them to.  It’s a fundamental necessity to provide my students with active, multi-sensory learning experiences and opportunities to discuss information and ideas with one another.  By connecting the curriculum to student’s lives and interests, they are more likely to retain the information and develop an interest in the subject area(s) I teach them. 

I believe in whole-child education because my job is more than teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic.  To fully involve each student in the learning process, I must make sure that all of their needs are being met: physically, intellectually, emotionally, and socially.  Each child deserves to feel they are safe, supported, and challenged.learning

My skills as a teacher are constantly evolving; I feel that my accomplishments as a professional are measured through my attempts to improve.  By seeking and attending professional development classes or workshops, observing colleagues, and keeping up on professional articles or books, I will not find myself in an idle position in which my students would be the ones who ultimately suffer.

This is my personal teaching philosophy that I created to guide my current and future practice as an educator.  New developments and future knowledge in education and child development will maintain its status as a working document.  I cherish and respect the opportunity to support students’ growth as individuals, life-long learners and model citizens of our world. Teaching is my passion; I view it as a gift and a responsibility.

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