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Thursday, June 25, 2015

I've Given Up the Color Chart - Now What?

So the behavior chart has been taken out with yesterday's trash.  But I still have to go back to school and face all those kids and all their BEHAVIORS!!  Now what?!

After the post I wrote a while back about not using behavior charts, I still get tons of emails, questions, comments, stories, pleas, suggestions, etc.  I have really loved hearing from everyone and I have heard so many amazing stories from other parents and teachers.  But since I was replying to so many emails, I decided to write several posts about managing whole class behaviors in the absence of a behavior chart.
You can read them here:

If Chaos is King, the Kingdom Will Fall
Unconditional Love in the Classroom
Respect Isn't Just the Title of An Old Song
Walking Laps and Silent Lunch
Take A Number and Get in the Crazy Line

Oh, but what about those few little people who still can't quite follow directions.  The ones who try your patience, who struggle no matter what you do.  The ones who disrupt every lesson, hallway line, and activity.
We are always going to have kids who have issues beyond what a whole class system can manage, we just need to help them in a different way.

I have been using an individualized goal setting system the last couple of years that I have found to be extremely successful in helping individual students make behavior changes.  It concentrates on the individual needs of the child by setting specific goals and helps him to focus on changing behaviors in small, manageable chunks.

First, we use a goal setting form to focus in on the desired behavior.  We talk about how the child, teacher, and parents will work together to help him find success.

When  helping to create and meet behavioral or academic goals with kids, I have discovered a few basic tenets for praise and goal setting that are helpful to keep in mind.

1.  Only focus on one or two goals at a time.
Really, one goal is best.  More than two is overwhelming and none of the goals will receive enough focus and attention to become internalized or automatic.  Chances are, these kiddos have some attention problems to begin with, so throwing a handful of goals at them is an exercise in futility.
And sometimes it's REALLY hard to choose only ONE behavior goal!

2.  Allow the student to help choose the goal.
He must have ownership of the goal or he will not be invested in reaching it. The child has to really want to make a change and giving him a goal that he is not interested in working towards is a recipe for failure.  You might have to do some resourceful psychological maneuvers to get the kid on board. Be creative!

3.  Make sure the goal is well understood by the student.
The desired behavior should be broken down into each identifiable element and taught explicitly, step by step with very clear expectations. I usually try to meet with the child one to one when the class is busy elsewhere to model the expectation exactly and talk with him about it.

4.  Goals should be very specific.
“Be good” is not an appropriate goal because it isn't clearly defined. ‘Sit calmly with hands and feet to yourself on the carpet during lessons’ is a more specific, definable, and attainable goal.  Be sure to break that down so the student knows exactly what that looks and feels like and how to achieve it.  If the behavior is complex, you might break it up into two or three separate goals and reach them one at a time.
If you've got a kid who is all over the place, talking, calling out, etc. during mini lessons, you might just start with 'stay in your own space' as a start.  Once that is mastered, add in 'raise your hand to speak during a group lesson' and keep working to pull back each undesirable behavior.

5. Accept close approximations initially to build confidence.
When goals are first introduced, attempts and close approximations should be honored in order to provide an initial measure of success.  As the student improves, more complete compliance is expected.  This is how they learn what it takes to get to the expected behavior. Scaffolding, if you will.

6.  Praise the behavior specifically, noticing effort and results.
Again, be specific and praise the behavior, not the child.  Instead of 'You were so good!' be more specific about the actual behavior - 'I noticed that you listened so well without calling out during our math lesson!'  "You kept your hands and feet to yourself during the entire recess time!" 

7.  Allow students to self assess.
Before you pass any judgement or give any praise, ask the student how it went. Most of the time, I find that kids are either too hard on themselves and do not recognize progress or they think they have done very well when they really haven't met the goal.  In either case, asking the child how they felt about it will reveal volumes.

8.  Keep it positive, optimistic, and consistent!
Sometimes it's hard to do when they're driving you crazy and you think you can't take it another minute! :)

Once we set a goal, I make sure we have a way to track progress. I use fun tracking sheets with stamps, stickers, bingo markers, etc. to keep track of progress.
And this is where I come to the thing that I think makes this so successful:

I never track failures to meet the goal. They never get a strike, or a sad face, or have something x'd out because they exhibited a negative behavior.  We don't dwell on how often the kid failed to meet the mark or did the wrong thing. This is not about what the kid did wrong, this is about recognizing what the kid did RIGHT.

That's not to say that there are no consequences for highly unacceptable behavior.  What I mean is that when the targeted behavior is not shown during the time period we are monitoring, there are no negative marks on the progress sheet.

The only thing that goes on the sheet is praise for meeting the goal. If the goal was not met, meaning the target behavior was not shown, then nothing goes on the chart.  When the behavior goal was met during the specified time period, the child receives praise for the behavior and we chart the progress on the sheet by filling in one of the circles.

The ultimate goal is to fill in the entire sheet to earn a reward.  The time it takes to complete the sheet is up to you and the child.  I have had kids complete it in half a day and some who take 3 days, depending on the child and the goal.  But when the sheet is full, the reward is earned.
I never give tangible rewards to my students so rewards might be lunch in the classroom with the teacher and a friend, or extra computer time, or maybe something at home that the parents are helping to provide.  

And lastly, try to keep this as private as possible.  I know it can't be a complete secret, but my goal is to preserve the child's dignity.  However, I have noticed that when using this, the other students often become little encouragers and support their classmate with smiles, high fives, and words of support:)


Saturday, May 16, 2015

How to Give A Standardized Test

Just in case you haven't had the sheer pleasure of administering a standardized test in today's high stakes environment, I thought I would give you a peek inside the exhilarating experience.

At least the parts of the experience I am allowed to divulge per my Test Security Agreement.
(Still have the band aid on the wound where I drew the blood to sign said agreement.)

Let's begin at the beginning:

8:15     Students arrive on time after having a good night's sleep and a healthy breakfast :)
            (Except my students, many of whom sleep several to a bed, if they have a bed at all, in a house with two or more families crammed in, and they had breakfast after arriving at school because school is the only place they get food.  But I digress.  My kids arrive and they are super ready to dive into that online, 6 hour test:)

8:16     Take everyone to the restroom.
               "I don't have to go."
                It's testing day, try to go.
               "But, I really don't have to go."
               Look, kid, we're about to be locked away into the great depths of The Computer Testing Lab for the entire day.  Go Pee!!

8:25     Everyone has peed (or tried to) and we begin the absolutely silent, solemn march to The Computer Testing Lab.
Cue the music.

8:30    Everyone is settled into their comfy plastic school chair and I begin reading the verbatim directions from the Test Examiner's Manual.  Just in case you say something wrong, there is a verbatim phrase to use to tell the students you screwed up and you'll try it again.
I am grateful for this phrase.

8:50     Complete the 20 minute long recitation of the verbatim instructions.

8:51     Begin Actively Monitoring.  This means I move unobtrusively about the room, monitoring the testing process but not actually looking at the computer screen, moving quickly so as not to linger too long in one place, but not so quickly to be distracting, not speaking to the students at all except for the four scripted responses from the testing manual, giving no encouragement, making sure everyone is staying seated, facing forward, and absolutely silent.
For the next 6 1/2 hours.

Two laps clockwise.
Two laps counter-clockwise.
Two laps clockwise.
Two laps counter-clockwise.

8:59     Oh My God It's Only Been Eight Minutes!

9:04     Student falls asleep.  Frantically search through the Examiner's Manual to see if I am allowed to wake him up and what the protocol/script is for that.

9:17    Starting to get dizzy from circling the room.  Begin figure 8 strategy.
           Sing Schoolhouse Rock Figure 8 song in my head.

9:20     Student asks for a tissue.

9:21     Another student asks for a tissue.

9:22     Apparently my students are allergic to testing because now every. single. kid needs a tissue.

9:23     Resume Actively Monitoring.  Pray for millionth time that there is no 'testing irregularity.'  Not sure I could endure the paperwork.

9:30     Are you kidding me?  It's only 9:30?!
              Help me...................

9:31     Another kid falls asleep.

2 and half hours later...
Two and a half hours, people.  Let that sink in.  Think about how much you accomplish in almost three hours. And in three hours we get a quick break and we're back at it for three more hours.
Now imagine that you have to walk in circles in one room and do nothing else for HOURS.  It is mind numbing and will drive your mind to all sorts of crazy places.

And what about those kids?  6+ hours taking one test.  That's like taking the SATs twice in one day back to back.  They are 10 years old.

Anyway, after being in the lab for a total of 3 and a half hours, we break for lunch,
I could not be happier because guess who forgot to go pee before the test?

NOTE:  I am quite certain that it has been scientifically proven that in the last 20 minutes before lunch break, time actually slows down.  I'm not too sure time doesn't move backwards.

12:00     Lunch time!  Yay!!
             And, seriously, the Lord has shown mercy on my wretched soul because the cafeteria has ICE CREAM today!

12:01     We begin the silent march to the cafeteria and back to our room where we eat in complete silence.  And where the walls are bare and boring because, God forbid someone see a main idea chart on the wall and get some unauthorized help on the test!  So we eat in silence and barrenness and just so dang glad for it.  After all, it's better than The Computer Testing Lab.

12:03     Listening to 24 children chewing.  Almost longing to return to the computer lab.

12:30     Back to The Computer Testing Lab, also known as the Innermost Ring of Elementary School Hell, just after indoor field day and lice checks.

12:35     Resume Actively Monitoring.

12:40     Try to remember what it was like to teach when I first started two decades ago, before politicians and businessmen decided they knew better than educators.  Start to fantasize that Pearson goes bankrupt and school divisions give teachers a raise.

12:45    Getting angrier at what is being done to my students in the name of  "assessment" and "accountability."  Realize that I am figure 8ing pretty fast and my active monitoring is no longer 'unobtrusive.'

12:46    Take a deep breath, think happy thoughts.  Switch to counter-clockwise.

2 hours later...

Still have 9 kids testing and the bus comes in 10 minutes.  Start calling their parents so kids can stay after school to continue testing.  Die a little inside for them.

3:45     I am home, now.  I'm not even sure if everyone is finished testing or not.  I had to get home to care for my own children, who are home right on time because I opted them out of testing.

Actively monitoring this now...

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Launching Off With Educents

Hooray!  The Educents Marketplace is open for business!

Educents has always offered great daily and short term deals with amazing sale prices.  And now Educents is offering permanant products and deals from seller stores in their new EDUCENTS MARKETPLACE.

To get this new venture off the ground, Marketplace sellers are launching you on Freebie trip though our blogs and stores.  As you hop through cyberspace, you can grab a FREE product offered in our new store, as well as enter a giveaway for $50 worth of Educents Credits. You can buy a LOT of educational materials with that kind of money! And, there are several groups of bloggers who are joining the launch, which means multiple ways to enter!

Here's what you can do:

  1. Click on the pics below to grab my FREEBIE!
  2. When you get to my store, be sure to click the little heart to follow me:)
  3. Enter the giveaway to win $50 to spend on Educents!
  4. Click on the link below to fly on over to the next stop on the hop!

Educents Marketplace $50 in Edubucks Giveaway #6 - First Grade Stores
Now, head on over to Sarah's page for 
the next fabulous freebie and access 
to another great Educents storefront!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Virginia is For Book Lovers Blog Hop

(SPECIAL NOTE TO VIRGINIA TEACHERS!  Make sure you check out 
the info on the SOL FB pages at the very end of this post!)

I am so fortunate to have formed some wonderful friendships with an amazing group of Virginia bloggers! And while we have come to know each other well and found lots of things we have in common, the one unifying interest and topic of conversation is what goes on in our classrooms. Every few months or so we like to come together to share what we love so this time around we choose our love of books.

Each of us will share a book and resource that we LOVE to use in the classroom for this very special hop. Not only that, but you'll find a book giveaway on each page of the hop, with a super huge giveaway at the end!

Since I can't make a decision to save myself, I am actually going to share 2 freebies and books! The first freebie is derived from my Scaredy Squirrel Literacy Pack for one of my all time favorite books. A school year would not be complete without Scaredy Squirrel:)

The second book is a special treat because it was written by a teacher! As a matter of fact, the teacher who teaches just down the hall from me! The book, Kevin and the Seven Lions, is the first book in the Kevin series written by Martin Tiller.

I'm giving away a copy of both books in the Rafflecopter below! And the Kevin book will will be signed with a personal message from the author!!

First up - Scaredy Squirrel

Scaredy squirrel is a neurotic, obsessive little creature after my own heart.  He likes things just so and gets really nervous when things stray too far.  I love this book for the classroom for so many reasons.  
It sure is nice for the kids to see a book character they can identify with.  All kids have fears and some of them are irrational - just like Scaredy - but that doesn't make them any less real.

And in the end, Scaredy doesn't make some earth shattering 180 degree turn around and all of a sudden all is right with the world like some books.  He makes a change for sure, but it is a slight change.  Kind of like real life.  We rarely make full 180 changes when we are working on our issues.  We chip away at them little by little.  Scaredy makes us feel good about moving towards a goal even if it's a baby step:)

I also use Scaredy  as a mentor text.  We label pictures, make lists, schedules, and step by step instructions.  The illustrations in the book are wonderful catalysts for our writing!  I have compiled a bit of a sample of my Scaredy Squirrel pack so you can learn to love Scaredy as much as we do:)
Click on the picture to grab the pack.

Next up - Kevin and the Seven Lions

Kevin is a typical third grade boy, bright and capable, but VERY distracted!  He would much rather daydream about lion taming and aliens than do multiplication facts.  But his teacher has a solution - she channels Kevin's creativity into a notebook and he begins to write about all the things he imagines.

I created a small pack of activities to use with with this book so your students can channel their creativity, too:)  Of course, I threw in some comprehension activities, too, so we can use a fun book to hit those skills!
Be sure to check out the two sequels to this book because your kids are going to love Kevin:)

Don't forget to enter the giveaway below for 
Scaredy Squirrel and Kevin and the Seven Lions.

Also, one lucky winner will win ALL of the books (that's 20 wonderful books) in our hop! Imagine receiving 20 wonderful books for free on your doorstep and sharing them with your lovely students! Enter at the end of the hop for the chance to win!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks so much for hopping by! 
Click below to turn the page to see what The Meek Moose has to offer:)
The Meek Moose


Recently, I moved to fourth grade and found that without 20 years of materials in my cabinets like I had in my first grade classroom, materials to teach the SOLs were often hard to find.  So I set up a series of private FB groups just for VA teachers.  They are a place for Virginia teachers to share ideas, resources, links, and ask questions of each other specifically related to teaching VA SOLs.  There are 5 groups for different grade levels and the links are below.  If you would like to join, just click on the join button and I will add you to the group!  Please feel free to share this link with teachers in your schools.  The more teachers involved, the more sharing there will be!


Monday, February 16, 2015

What Invented Spelling Can Teach Us About George Washington's Birthplace

My own children wrote before they read.  When they were 3 or 4 years old, they wanted to write their name or label a picture they had drawn or help with the grocery list.  Since they already knew letters and most sounds, they used invented spelling to try to get a word on paper.  All before they could read a word.
Watching this unfold was a profound experience for me as a teacher.

As a teacher, I can only see a small portion of a child's learning begin to unfold, and I see the same short, 10 month portion of development year after year.
It's like watching tadpole after tadpole grow two back legs, but never seeing the frogs leap from the pond.

But as a mom, I got to see the whole process from the very start.  And it was amazing!

The connection between writing and reading that I saw my own preschoolers make at home was the connection I wanted my students to make at school.  Unfortunately, at that time, the educational pendulum was swinging away from a language arts program which included a balance between phonemic awareness, phonics, literature, and writing.  Everything was chopped up into separate bits and taught in isolation.  Ugg!

So, like all of us do at some point in our teaching careers, I closed the door, and did what I knew what right:)

Reading and writing is a complicated matter, but kids really need to make their own connections and discover relationships between sounds, letters, words, and writing in their own way.  That requires that kids get to play and explore with reading and writing outside of he implicit instruction they receive during lessons.

Hence, invented spelling found a happy home in my first grade classroom:)

Of course, embracing invented spelling leads to some interesting writing.  Aside from the discovery learning aspect of invented spelling, it can also be entertaining for teachers:)
I leave you with a few papers from former students containing noteworthy examples of invented spelling that I have kept over the years...
 George Washington's birthplace.  Hmmm - still true, I suppose...

Peanuts. Maybe we should have worked a bit more on ending sounds.

Translation: You shouldn't have scared Goldilocks like that. 
Be nice to Goldilocks. Papa Bear, you should work on your anger issues!

Ok, so no invented spelling on this one, but I just 
had to share this amazing drawing of a spaceship:)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Challenging Kids? Yeah, I Got A Couple of Those

Yep, I've got one of THOSE kids this year.

A doozy.  A handful.  High maintenance.  A kid who not only requires my extra attention and support, but often demands it in her her own special way.  A kid who needs my hand on her shoulder, my presence near her desk.  Redirection, reassurance, praise, consequences, love, tough love, compassion, aggravation.

We all have at least one kid like that every year.  And Lord help us during those years when we have several (or lots) of THOSE kids.

Now before you get upset with me for being insensitive in calling out kids with issues, you must know that not only do I teach kids who are super needy, I gave birth to at least one amazingly high maintenance kiddo.  He is a doozy.  A handful.  Sometimes disruptive.  And definitely requires extra time and attention from his teachers.

And I send him off to school each day knowing that his teachers now have at least one of THOSE kids.

Now, I have mixed feelings about this whole thing. I get so aggravated that I have a kid in my class who monopolizes my time.  I also get how important it is to challenging kids and their families when teachers invest that extra bit of time, love, and patience.  But, I have two other 'typical' kids who go to school, don't cause any issues, are well behaved, do their work, and get along just fine.  I feel for them, too.  The ones who have to wait while the teacher once again stops to deal with the kid who is melting down or disrupting class.  Trust me, I get it on all fronts.

Now What?

This leads me to the ultimate question - what do I do about it?

For my son, I have tried to be a partner to his teachers and provide as much support as I can.  I do what I can even though I got an email today that said, " Jonathan is sharp with his computational accuracy and number sense and can solve most of the problems we are doing quickly.  I have tried to explain that the goal of the lessons is not only that he can determine the numerical answer but that he understands the process to solve more complex and abstract problems that he will see in high school math courses.  A couple times he has become argumentative about writing his work and refused to do it on the assignment despite  working with him." 
Now, I know enough teacher speak to read right between those lines! :)  All I can say is Bless that teacher's heart!
(If any of Jon's teachers are reading this - THANK YOU! You are appreciated beyond your wildest dreams:)

For my other boys, I have tried to teach them to be tolerant, patient, and kind when others are having trouble.  And always keep a book handy just in case it takes a while:)

And in my own classroom, I must find a way to balance the need of my special kiddo with the needs of the rest of my class.  How can I help her find success and make progress while being there for everyone else?  I don't think there is any one right answer to that one, but I do my best to make it work.

Goal Setting Focus

One way I have found helpful is with personal goal setting and systematic praise.  I use very simple, fairly open recording sheets to help kids focus on a specific target goal and keep track of each time he or she met the goal.

The one piece of this that I have found to be the most helpful, the most powerful, is that nothing is taken away for not meeting the goal, only praise for success.  The child soon begins to feel those happy, warm feelings of success without the sting of failure clouding the focus.

There is definitely a time and place for noting when kids don't do as expected, but this isn't one of them.  This is only for helping kids to internalize a new target behavior.  Here are a few helpful guidelines that I have discovered to be very effective.

I have seen this work wonders with a kid, even in as little as one day.  They can't wait to fill in those circles and fill up that sheet.  It may take an hour, or a day, or a couple of days.  It all depends on how often you see the desired behavior.  And once that sheet is filled in, start another one right away with the same goal.  Keep going until you see that the goal has been internalized and will be met without constant reinforcement.  Then, you can start on a new goal.

In terms of rewards for completing a sheet, you just have to look at each individual kid for that.  I do not give tangible rewards to kids as a rule, but there is always one kid who responds really well to that, so just be open.  Last year, I had a kid who wanted to call home.  The student I am using this with this year really likes a note home to mom or lunch with me and a friend in the classroom, or even a couple of fun pencils.  She has an amazing voice and once her reward was to sing the National Anthem on the morning announcements. 

I hope this can help with some of your challenging little people.  They're the ones who need us most:)

If you are interested in the goal setting and behavior sheets, they are available HERE.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Do you Understand? Umm, I think so...

Our school is moving towards standards based report cards next year.  I had no idea what a contentious and multi-faceted subject this was until I put a 'what are your thoughts on standards based reporting?' post on my FB page.
Oh my gosh, there are a million ways to do standards based reporting!  Some love it, some hate it, and some have, at least, come to accept it.

At any rate, I know I will have to go there next year and I am glad my school system shared with us in advance instead of springing it on us next August.  (I know you've all been to one of THOSE meetings!)

One of the things they have told teachers to do in advance is to ready the kids for the change over. They want the students to understand and use the system before it starts, so we have been asked to begin using a common language based on the standards rubric.  It is a 4 point scale ranging from 1 (no or little understanding) to 4 (mastery).  We are to ask the kids to self assess after lessons using this scale.

I thought about how to make this whole thing work without spending a ton of time or causing even more confusion, so I decided my kids needed a visual of the rubric.  I made a chart that serves both as a reminder of what the scale means and as a reminder for me to actually use it.

I must admit that it has been very helpful for the kids and for me.  Sometimes I use it as an exit ticket and have the kids write their number of understanding and a quick sentence explaining why they chose it.  Sometimes I just have kids hold up their fingers to show me their number.  In any case, I get a quick overview of how the class feels about their understanding the concept or the lesson.

I also made small, quarter sheet copies for the kids to keep in their desks and to share at home.  If you would like a copy of the rubric (it is in both color and black and white), click on the picture:)

And if you have any advice to share to make our transition any easier - please leave a comment!  I need all the help I can get!
Clip art by

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fall Fun with the Virginia Teacher Bloggers

As sad as I am to see summer go, I must admit that autumn in Virginia is beautiful.  We are so fortunate to have four distinct seasons, each one with it's own beauty and benefits.

Autumn in central Virginia is usually still rather warm, with temps in the 70s and even the 80s some days.  My children wear shorts right on into November most years.  The nights cool down a bit and it's nice to sleep with the windows open.  No AC and no heat, just nice breezes blowing through open windows, frogs and critters singing throughout the night.

This weekend, all my boys and I will hit the pumpkin patch and bring home our jack-o-lantern fixin's.  Here are some pics from previous pumpkin trips:

We went to the pumpkin patch on Saturday morning!  
Here is this year's pic:)

And now to share a little pumpkin fun!
Word problems are so important for our kids.  They need to have daily opportunities to solve all different kinds of word problems.  And not just any old problem we come up with on the fly.  

Did you know there are four different types of word problems?  
And 11 subsets?  Take a look...

But who has time to come up with several new problems every day?  And to make sure all the different problem types are covered?  I do!!  And I am sharing a part of the new October Daily Word Problem packet.  I hope you can use it and if you like it, the whole 60 page packet is available on TpT HERE, as well as several other Daily Word Problem Packs.

Click the picture to get the freebie:)

And now on to the next stop in the hop for another Fun Fun Treat:)
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