Why I Decided The Clip Chart Wasn’t For Me

Oh, the dreaded clip chart. You know the one I’m talking about. “So-and-so” is being great! Move your clip up! Oh, Jonny, that wasn’t appropriate! Move your clip down!” It’s no secret that teachers have become outraged by these classroom management resources. One quick google search will show you just how unpopular they are. 

The first three articles to come up when googling “Clip Chart”

The first day I walked into the classroom of my long term sub job, I noticed one thing right away on the whiteboard- a clip chart. The public humiliation display. The does-more-harm-than-good tool. I did my best effort to keep the clip chart during my first week taking over the classroom, but I soon realized why it didn’t work. 

  • It was used for negative reinforcement more often than positive reinforcement. It was easier to use it for students misbehaving than to remember to reward those that were behaving. 
  • It didn’t change the behavior of the students who were constantly dropping into the negative. They quickly became numb to it, they didn’t care about moving their clip down, or up for that matter. 
  • I felt like our whole day revolved around the chart. Because I realized how often it was used for the misbehaving kids, I put in extra effort to use it to praise students for good behavior. It took too much time and effort. The best way to manage a classroom is to have an effortless, mindless, mostly positive plan in place. I needed a classroom management plan that was easy and natural for our classroom. 

So what did I do once I realized it wasn’t working? I stopped using it, slowly over time. I moved clips less and less, never making it a big deal or a spectacle that the clip chart was non-existent. I forgot about it and so did the kids. In fact, not a single student ever asked about it after we had fully stopped using it. Even the star students that were always at the top every day didn’t mind me phasing it out, no one wanted their behavior displayed to the entire classroom, including all of our visitors. 

Here’s what we did instead. We started our money unit, so a coin system was easily put in place. Each student had a container for their money and was solely responsible for it. Not very often was I taking pennies from the students, it was used more for positive reinforcement, which made everyone happier. It was incredible the drive the students had to clean up the floor at the end of the day when I would announce, “I have one nickel for every student who brings me ten pieces of trash!” I think we could have won awards for how clean our classroom was each afternoon. The money earned was used to pay for extra bathroom trips, new pencils, and a teacher store at the end of the year. 

We did a group point system on the board. I numbered each group, wrote the numbers on the board, and gave them points for being on time as a team, working together, and having their whole table quiet and ready to learn. It promoted teamwork and gave them an incentive to do better.

What did the point system on the board go towards? Here’s the magic of it- nothing. The points went towards nothing. Once the tallies made it to roughly 10 points per team, I would erase and start over. They were working hard simply for tallies on the board! I had one student ask quietly what the tallies were for. There were plenty of other side conversations happening at the time, so I chose to focus my attention elsewhere. I never heard any questions again after that one incident. 

Since I was teaching first-grade students, passing around a tiny sticker to hard workers was a huge motivation for them. I also kept a box of Cheerios in my cupboard to pass around one Cheerio to quiet, on-task students. After one or two times of doing this, they learned fast. As soon as the box was in my hand to pass them out, every student would be working hard. It amazed me how motivating one piece of cereal can be. 

Clip charts clearly are not a classroom management win. It may work for some and could possibly be excellent personal behavior management tucked away in a desk for one or two students that need it. But as a whole class approach, there are better options out there. Positive reinforcement has been proven to be the most effective for changing behavior, and clip charts do not promote this. Let’s all take a minute to put down the clip chart and pick up a more positive approach for our student’s sake. 

4 Questions To Help You Inventory Your Classroom Wall Space

Every day of 4th grade, I stared at the gigantic poster stretching across the top of the whiteboard: “Common sense is not so common.”

I had not the slightest clue what it meant.

Other than a back-to-school lecture, my teacher never referred to it directly (or perhaps she did, but because of the above-mentioned non-comprehension, it probably just didn’t register).

I spent the year wondering about it to the point of distraction. I sensed that it was important to my teacher, so I spent time trying to crack its cryptic riddle. “Sense. Sense that is common. I think a sense is what you use to smell and taste and stuff. And common means a lot. So smelling and tasting that happens a lot? That doesn’t seem right. Especially since it’s also not common, somehow…

Today, I look back at this memory and chuckle at the sheer bafflement I experienced that year. But as a teacher myself now, reflecting on this does provide a bit more than just a laugh. It makes look inward to examine what kind of experience [intended or not] my walls have given my students.

In my first classroom, the teacher before me had left behind all sorts of posters on the walls, including posters on 6 traits of writing or motivational quotes.

But as the months moved on, I realized that they may as well have been wallpaper for all the benefit my students were getting from them. I did not integrate them in any meaningful way, and eventually, we decided we’d rather make room for student work.

Since then, I’ve found other messages and resources worthy to go on my walls that are the few exceptions to my student-created-only rule. But now I filter them with a mindset that wall-space is valuable real estate; tenants had better pull their weight. I’m not currently in the classroom, but plan to be back in a few years, so meanwhile, here are questions I ask myself as I bookmark, download, & log away ideas for future wall content:

  • Do I find this personally and genuinely inspiring? Some of you may be thinking, wait, aren’t we trying to inspire the kids, here? True. But I’ve found that displaying personally enlightening messages to be much more valuable than any cute monkey-face “you can do it” sign. Here’s why: If it causes me to elevate my practices, and if I regularly communicate to my students how and why it does so, it ultimately inspires students because I’m modeling to them ways I’m trying to become a better teacher for them.  I shared a few examples here, but Brene Brown print-outs are always my favorite:

Via www.BreneBrown.com

  • Is there a trace of lecture involved? If looking at a quote even faintly makes me wonder, “What’s the deal with kids these days!” (ie, the “common sense is not so common” poster) most likely, a) it’s not going to help my students as much as I think it will and, b) it runs too high a risk of damaging relationships with students.
  • Is it an intentional, interactive display designed to help students see themselves as authentic readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, etc? This one is a little more abstract, but luckily, I found the perfect example last week on Nerdy Book Club. It’s bookmarked, tweeted, and had better stay in my memory for when I return to the classroom.

via NerdyBookClub by Jillian Heise

via NerdyBookClub by Jillian Heise

This particular display is meant to share progress on Donalyn Miller’s fabulous #BookADay (also see #ClassroomBookADay) challenge. To me, this isn’t just a bragging-rights kind of display–it’s also a beautiful and handy way to recall individual reads throughout the year that have been meaningful and instructive.

  • Does it bring some rapport-building humor to the mix? In the middle of a grammar unit? This kind of light-hearted and memorable fun would be a must-share.

Whatever you display, remember that there’s a reason that the physical classroom environment is called the “third teacher” — decide now what kind of teacher you want it to be!

What about you? What are your requirements for what goes on your classroom walls? Please share!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

“Perpetual Motion:” The Self Driving Engine of Student Ownership

Take a look at Pamela Kennedy’s “Perpetual Motion in Room 17” time lapse video:

What do you observe?

I notice:

  • Flexible seating choices
  • Variation in working in pairs, groups, or independently
  • Confidence regarding when and where to be
  • Order and efficiency, yet choice and flexibility

Now take a look at Mr. Humphrey’s class:

Choice – Making it Happen with 33 Students in a Math Classroom

Additional observations I make here include:

  • Freedom to set the pace of learning
  • Respect for students’ decision-making in how they explore concepts
  • Individuality

These are both wonderful examples of what can happen when we allow students to drive their own learning. And as students continue to steer more and more of their learning, I wonder what the next steps will be in each of these classrooms in furthering that ownership?

 

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

What is the Ship? What is the Sea? 4 Ideas for Vision #TeacherMom

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These words turn my mind to all the spheres of my life, past and present. What is the ship? What is the sea?

When I look at my children, the ship-building vision comes readily: raising healthy, happy, and competent individuals. It’s why I require them to wear clean underwear, to eat vegetables, to brush their teeth, to say ‘sorry.’

When I recall my 5th graders, a similar ship comes to mind: self-aware and self-driven people who can drive their personal learning and growth. It’s why I asked them to write in complete sentences, to reflect with peers, to study out evidence for thinking, to keep track of goals.

I find it interesting how easily these tasks and expectations quickly slip from being part of grander vision, down to dreary repetition. In isolation, no one much wants to do any of those things. But when we elevate our sights to that “vast and endless sea,” our days change. A few ideas come to mind when I consider how we can help our children and students catch the vision of the sea, not only for their futures, but for their present daily experiences:

    • Constantly ask why, and help them to do the same. It’s tough because there is always so much to do in a perpetually tight schedule, but it’s worth the effort to slow down. Ensure students aren’t just “getting it done” so we can get it done. I admire the way Katherine Hansen brings the why into a simple yet effective place in her classroom:

  • Deliberately cultivate creativity and inspiration. Show videos of awe-inspiring phenomena, mind-boggling inventions, and stories of perseverance and possibility. Help them find their personal passion to help them drive their daily efforts.
  • Let them experience natural consequences. This is not really about “tough love,” grades, or getting them to see how correct we are in our requests for them to perform the daily tasks. It’s about helping them gradually discover the need for these tasks and skills independently. And it requires a lot of metacognition instruction on our part to help them think more about their thinking process so they can identify what is going wrong and what is going right.
  • Cultivate ownership, choice, and voice. Yes, they still have to wear clean underwear and write in complete sentences. But when we give our kids as many choices as possible and let them in on the learning plan, it makes a tremendous difference in their ability to see beyond the mundane daily to-do list. Check out this fantastic example of student agency by Charlotte Hills.

If we’re not careful, life can become like one long series of “gathering wood, dividing the work, and giving orders.” Elevate the vision. Seek the inspiration. And help all those around you to also “yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

I would love to hear more ideas for ways you help your students elevate their vision! Please share in the comments!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

An Inquiry Into Inquiry Planning…

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to run a few PD sessions at my old school, one of which was a session on inquiry planning–specifically, starting with our students first, rather than the content/curriculum. My first step in preparation, of course, was to consult my PLN:

Here were the responses:

And then, after some additional direct message chatting/advice, Edna Sackson posed one of her trademark call-to-action challenges:

ednas-advice

It made complete sense, so I immediately accepted. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous!

But I knew that to really be there for my colleagues and their concerns about planning this way, modeling was really the way to go.

So we started with the following provocation:

I jotted down a few questions beforehand, including:

  • What are our limitations from an education stance?
  • What if we don’t embrace the “Shake” or what if our students do not?
  • How can being creative within our confines transform ourselves, our students, and our world?
  • What accepted norms do we challenge when we plan around our students instead of content?
  • How is inquiry be seen as “seizing the limitation” instead of “seizing the day?”

Then, knowing the concerns that often surround this topic, I chose to conduct the Compass Points protocol to bring those to the surface (another pointer from Edna)!
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What excited our group about planning from an inquiry stance:

  • Students come up with and create learning
  • Allowing the students to teach their peers as well as me as the teacher
  • Kids are excited and chattering about the concept
  • Student centered
  • New fresh ideas from little minds
  • Freedom for creativity & flexible thinking
  • Kids just come alive and are excited to share their learning in meaningful ways
  • Continue learning trial and error
  • It allows students to be more invested in what they’re learning. Memorable & relevant.

Their worries:

  • Classroom management
  • Getting in content and making it all work together
  • Time limited
  • Kids don’t participate or stay on task. Lose control.
  • Chaos–students putting forth no effort to learn.
  • Students won’t come up with ideas or be silent about the concept.
  • Not meeting expectations. Some failed lessons as wasted time?
  • Lots of planning and unsure where to lead lesson.
  • Having 825 kids for only 30 minutes once a week (specials teachers).
  • Students miss out on valuable time to be active (from the PE teacher)

Their “Need to Knows:”

  • Methods I can take and use right away
  • How to make it all day long and put in the content in a way that can be easily accessed.
  • How to set up behavior expectations without squelching thinking.
  • What counts as an inquiry lesson or activity?
  • The process of guiding and directing the students better.
  • What will excite and engage students.
  • My students–their personalities, limitations/struggles, where they need to go next.
  • Be more familiar with process and what it looks like in my situation

Their Stances (how we might move forward in our opinions):

  • Being flexible and allowing things to get maybe more out of hand than usual
  • Continue learning trial and error
  • Being balanced
  • Ask myself the questions
  • Bring inquiry into more subjects
  • It’s a great idea but often conflicts with how I need to run my classroom

Next, we sorted each of the categories. We focused on the worries for this, and decided we were most concerned about not meeting expectations (ie “covering” curriculum), classroom management, time management, and the logistics of planning this way.

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We were at the “where do we go next” juncture, and together, we decided to look at examples of individuals who are addressing these concerns in their teaching:

  • A couple of first grade teachers examined this literacy example of Jessica Lifshitz allowing her students’ questions to drive the planning.
  • The art teacher read Taryn Bondclegg’s A Class Misunderstood because she was especially interested in what it looks like when issues arise in an inquiry approach, and how we deal with them.
  • Some first grade teachers also looked at Taryn Bondclegg’s summary of her first month of all-in inquiry.
  • A couple of second grade teachers looked at math examples from this grade 2 class and Simon Gregg’s class.
  • Several others browsed Kath Murdoch’s downloads, particularly her “What do Inquiry Teachers Do?”

Unfortunately, we ran out of time to have a proper wrap-up (it was only an hour session and they were in the thralls of exploring the above resources), but I heard some wonderful conversations happening, ranging from how teachers really use their students’ questions, to realizations that giving up teacher control does not mean allowing chaos to rule in the classroom.

And I learned/reaffirmed…

…a solid provocation and relevant visible thinking routine are powerful tools to elicit serious thinking.

…deciding “where do we go from here?” with our students is an act of trust in them and in ourselves as professionals.

…collaboration and curation are essential skills for inquiry teachers. We can lean on one another both for our initial planning (a huge thank you to my PLN!) and subsequent decisions on where to go with our learners.

I think the next step for this group involves a closer look at the daily process of student-responsive planning. What do you think?

featured image: shehan peruma

4 Reasons To Add The Seventh Wish To Your Upper Elementary Shelves

 

Nothing made me want to read Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish more than when I first heard it had been censored from certain schools. Plus, having witnessed the devastating effects of drug abuse in loved ones myself as a child, I was anxious to see her approach to such a difficult subject for younger readers.

And she exceeded all expectations. Here are four reasons you should add this book to your elementary school libraries and read aloud lists this year:

It’s a realistic fiction with a touch of fantasy your kids will love

One would be justified in worrying about how to address drug addiction in a realistic fiction for kids–how to avoid dwelling on its dark and all-encompassing realities while also avoiding an overly light-hearted tone that minimizes those realities? Messner masterfully achieves this by weaving the subject through other realistic and highly-relatable themes: feeling noticed by parents, helping friends who struggle with school or home, and pursuing dreams in sports. And to cap it off, she gets readers imagining what would happen to these if you found a magical wish-granting fish. She goes on to illustrate the impact on all these when a family member gets caught up with drugs, including a powerful parallel depicting the dangers of believing there’s any silver bullet that can solve our problems.

For the many lonely kids for whom drug addiction in a loved one is already a reality, it gives validation, hope, and courage.

Messner shared one librarian’s reasoning for pulling the book from her shelves:

“It’s not that I don’t think heroin addiction is extremely important. Our community has faced its share of heartbreaking stories in regards to drug abuse but fourth and fifth graders are still so innocent to the sad drug world. Even two years from now when they’re in sixth grade this book will be a wonderful and important read but as a mother of a fourth grader, I would never give him a book about heroin because he doesn’t even know what that is. I just don’t think that at 10 years old he needs to worry about that on top of all of the other things he already worries about… For now, I just need the 10 and 11-year-olds biggest worry to be about friendships, summer camps, and maybe their first pimple or two.”

But the devastating truth is that we can’t control what our 10 and 11 year-olds’ biggest worries are–and it’s unfair to ignore that drug addiction in family members is already the reality for far too many.

In the story, Messner validates those realities young kids face: the loneliness and embarrassment. The deception and theft. The pain of watching your loved one slip away. We cannot know how many of our students face this daily. But the real question is how many could be encouraged by this story’s message to know that they are not alone and that they can find a safe place to talk about how they’re feeling?

Furthermore, in the event that drug abuse has thankfully not yet touched the life of a younger child, this book will help him/her develop both awareness and empathy for their friends that have or will feel its impact.

It helps kids catch a glimpse of what true resilience looks like.

“But there’s no answer for this one. Mom didn’t do anything wrong.

It’s not fair. Life has rules, and if you follow them, things are supposed to work out.

If you place in all your dances, you get to move up to the next level.

If you brush your teeth, you’re not supposed to get cavities.

If you love your kids and take care of them and send them to a good college, they’re not supposed to stick needles in their arms.

But I guess it doesn’t work that way. None of this is working the way it should. Because Abby was stupid enough to try drugs.”

So much of what happens in life is out of our control–a fact kids know better than most. If we try to perpetuate the “fairness” of life in the name of protecting our kids, we only rob them of a developed sense of resilience when that false dichotomy is challenged.  

It breaks away from the stereotypes of drug abuse users in typical D.A.R.E. programs

“We learned about heroin in the D.A.R.E. Program, when Officer Randolph came to talk to all the fifth graders about drugs. We had to watch a movie, and in the heroin part, these raggedy, greasyhaired people were sitting around a smoky room, sticking needles in their arms.”

Charlie keeps returning to the fact that that as a great sister, student, and athlete, Abby had never looked like the people in those videos, which makes the entire situation much more shocking and difficult for her to understand. But Messner’s decision to depict a user from a stable, loving family helps readers gain broader perspective that drug abuse doesn’t just happen to “those people,” but that it is a choice made by individuals everywhere.

I believe that sharing books that provide such a perspective would have a more powerful and long-lasting effect when it comes to drug prevention.

Have you read The Seventh Wish yet? Please share your impressions below!

featured image: John Liu

Resources for More Authentic Reading Comprehension Strategies

As a freshly-graduated educator, I had been extensively drilled on reading comprehension strategies. Excited to try out my research-backed literary stockpile, I whipped up beautiful little guided reading packets that featured multiple copies of each comprehension strategy, complete with instructions and fill-in-the-blanks.

So I was shocked to discover that my students hated those packets. No matter how much support I offered, all I seemed to receive in return were lost pages and careless responses. After months of toiling in futility, we eventually ditched those packets and sought other ways to cultivate reading comprehension strategies.

Years later, my reflections have revisited those packets. What went wrong? Why were even my advanced readers disengaged?  Why didn’t they help students see the value of the strategies?

After further reflection, I realized we need to put ourselves in our students’ shoes. Imagine you’re deep in the thralls of your novel when someone comes up to you and asks you to synthesize the perspectives and settings so far.  Or to make an inference right now.  Or to come up with a question about your last chapter. Maybe you’re able to give adequate responses, but how likely are they to be genuine, meaningful reflections that enhance your reading experience?

Both my packets and this not-so-hypothetical example are missing one crucial element:  authenticity. As we examine practical ways to increase authenticity in our reading comprehension strategies instruction, we should consider how metacognition and ownership can work in this setting.

Metacognition

Research has instructed us to focus on the “what good readers do” angle as we explicitly teach these strategies.  But does that really mean telling them that good readers constantly pause for outside-mandated reflections at arbitrary times?  Of course not.

We need to build on this instruction by teaching them to notice the natural moments of self-conversation and wonderings as they read, and then to learn how to identify the strategies that are already at play. This awareness of their own thinking will enhance their authentic use of these comprehension strategies because it will gradually strengthen their ability to consciously utilize and articulate them.

Ownership

Fifth grade teacher Jessica Lifshitz shared what happened when she shifted from merely teaching the what and how of comprehension strategies toward the why (1/12/17 edit: She’s also constantly using Google Apps to create student checklists and self-assessments that packed with ownership and metacognition, such as this Revision Checklist). These conversations help students internalize the real impact these strategies can have on our individual lives, which is crucial in using them in more authentic, meaningful ways.

To further help students take the reins on their own reading experience, I realized that we need to rethink how we ask students to express their thinking, being mindful of flexibility and choice. So I created the organizer below, which encourages them to consider which strategy they’ve used and how it improves their personal understanding.  Click here for the pdf!

FlexibleStudent-CenteredReadingComprehensionPracticeAs researcher Brene Brown summarizes, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen” (The Gifts of Imperfection).  Let’s give our students the chance to make learning more honest and real for them, for reading comprehension strategies and everywhere else.  What are other measures you’ve taken to encourage authenticity in your classroom?

Featured image: Hazel Marie via flickr