It’s #Playtime!

For years I’ve let my students bring in a snack, but I usually have them eat it while working. I tried that this year, but quickly realized that this wasn’t going to work.

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These kids missed the classroom #playtime, so they took a brain-break in the hall.

Because of an early lunch, my students and I have a very long afternoon. Our math time is from 11:30 to 12:30. Then I have Language Arts time until 2:25, when Special time begins. So, I have students for about three solid hours!

I never even considered playtime before. I figured, that’s what recess was for. But, a class I am taking from Kutztown U changed my mind. During snack time, I have introduced our classroom makerspace. I am calling it playtime, but the idea is that students will be involved in creative creating or building. 

 

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Learning Social Skills

Mission Statement: 

Students will take a break from formal learning every afternoon post Math time and prior to Language Arts learning (12:30-12:50, approximately), in order to creatively construct things with a variety of toys and tools, while snacking.

Philosophy: Hybrid of “Open Space” (self-driven) and “Workshops” (learning/practice time)

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 7.18.01 AMMerriam Webster defines playtime as “a time for play or diversion” (n.d.). The very first time I introduced this idea, I talked all about the concept and went over the parameters or policies prior to math time. Then during math we used connecting blocks to build arrays that  were broken apart, displaying split multiplication problems. When math time was over, I told the students that they could keep using the blocks, but now, they could “Build whatever you want.” They were in heaven. It was like I had taught them the proper way to use the monkey bars, and then told them they could play all over the playground doing anything they wished. Stay within the fence, and follow the general rules, but have a blast and blow off steam. They sure did.

Playtime isn’t relegated to only grade-school pupils; parents and adults can benefit from merriment as well (Chatty Feet Team, 2016). It helps us relax and promotes problem-solving skills. Also, it will help us play with our kids better. Libraries are using playtime to help kids develop literary skills. Parents at a library in Texas get out toy cars, tape, race tracks, and bowls of tiny road signs (Celano, Knapczyk, & Neuman, 2018, p. 68). Playing and building with these road toys helped the kids learn some of the concepts necessary for understanding the read aloud they were about to experience.

Policies

This is NOT a “free-for-all”, nor is it even “free-time”. It is playtime, and it is governed by rules.IMG_6875

  1. No fighting or arguing.
  2. Don’t be too loud.
  3. Share/Play nice
  4. Keep clean; Wash hands first/keep snack away from toys.
  5. Don’t be gross. No licking your fingers and then touching the toys. (I’m not even going to mention picking noses.)IMG_6999

Supplies

I limit the supplies that my students have access to during their playtime. I do this for a variety of reasons. One is that I want this time to be manageable. If there are ten different things out and spread around the room, it will take too long to clean up. Another reason that I limit the supplies is because I want the groups of students to interact. If one group is playing with Legos and another is building with Lincoln Logs, kids will not be as likely to share, collaborate, blend groups, etc. They have to stop playing with Legos in order to work with Lincoln Logs. Eventually, I want to see the class creatively incorporate a variety of building mediums into the same project, but all in good time. I want the kids to have some experience with each one, learning, exploring, and problem-solving with a single medium before branching out and combining.

Here is a list of the mediums that I have so far.

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Abe Lincoln may have carved these, himself. They are from my childhood!
  • Connecting blocks
  • Legos
  • Lincoln Logs
  • Tinker Toys
  • Robotix
  • Thimios (robots)

Potential Future Play Mediums: Video and Music

A future direction of this playtime that I foresee is publishing videos. Students will use the things that they have built to produce films with plots and themes. I imagine these to be silly and fun; Remember this is playtime! I can picture students making Monty Python-esque cartoons, old school Gumby claymation-style movies, and motion-stop videos.

Publishing videos on Youtube is scarily public. Students and kids have no idea what that means. They are lured by the fame of notoriety and the glamour of numbers. The idea of something going “viral” is the new “anyone could be president”. Except that there are serious hurdles to achieving most powerful person in the world, while going viral needs nothing more than a video camera, creativity, and luck… mostly, luck. And, every kid in America is banking on luck, these days. What if one of our videos did go viral? It is important that our movies present an accurate picture of our playtime. 

When kids publish to Youtube or another online video platform, they are taking their play on the road… or information highway. What kids want is for their numbers to rise: They want the number of views to go up. The way to do that is to promote the videos, but more importantly produce something that people want to watch. In the same way that playing the games that others enjoy playing will get more people to join your playtime activity, videos that are attractive will get the views. In the incredibly interesting and informative article on this subject, “Raised by Youtube” author Alexis Madrigal (n.d.) writes about a company that I hadn’t even heard of: Chuchu Tv. This company is dwarfing Disney, Sesame Street, and all the rest of American video producers on Youtube. Their BILLIONS of views make these other companies look like online ants. The Indian-based company uses seemingly lotech imagery–two-dimensional characters to tell traditional nursery rhymes. Madrigal (n.d.) went to the headquarters and interviewed its creators and CEOs. The concept began with an audience of one: The creator’s toddler. The entrepreneur with a background in media began making videos for his young son. They almost instantly took off and went viral. He now employs 200 artists. Compared to Disney’s thousands of employees, this number is infantesmal! The mission of Chuchu Tv is to provide wholesome videos for toddlers that share moral messages. Madrigal spoke with a child development expert who reviewed Chuchu’s videos, Colleen Russo Johnson from UCLA’s Center for Scholars & Storytellers. She told him that the videos were so overly-stimulating that the good message is lost on young kids. Chuchu was born on the concept of seeking the most views. Although its mission is admirable, Chuchu plays to what is going to be viewed the most. Johnson sees this as dangerous, because it will develop viewers who want (need, like an addict) more and more stimulation.

I’ll be blogging about this a lot in the near future, but suffice to say, the app Garageband is a virtual playground of music. We had one lesson with Dylan Peters, and I now have to pry the iPads out of student hands!

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 7.17.33 AMMy students and I are super excited for this new #playtime initiative. I haven’t told them about making videos, yet. But, our creative building has completely revolutionized our Language Arts time. Kids are more attentive, well-behaved, and cooperative in centers, after having a brain break. I look forward to sharing more about this time, how it is working out, and what my students are producing throughout the year. Please share with me articles that you have read that either support this idea, add to this concept, or even contradict my thinking. Thank you.

Sources:

Celano, D. C., Knapczyk, J. J., & Neuman, S. B. (2018). Public Libraries Harness the Power of Play. YC: Young Children, 73(3), 68. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost-com.proxy-kutztown.klnpa.org/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=sso&db=edb&AN=130304856&site=eds-live&scope=site&custid=s3915793

Chatty Feet Team. (2016, June 14). Why It’s Important For Adults To Play Too. Retrieved October 7, 2018, from https://www.chattyfeet.com/blogs/chattyfeet-socks-blog/the-importance-of-play-for-adults

Madrigal, A. C. (n.d.). Raised by Youtube. Retrieved October 6, 2018, from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/11/raised-by-youtube/570838/?utm_source=twb  [No publishing date, but available in the November 2018 print edition.]

Merriam Webster. (n.d.). Playtime. Retrieved October 7, 2018, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/playtime

Student-Owned Education is Classy

It’s not just about giving kids access to computers and the Internet; Teachers must instruct kids how to use technology “innovatively.” It’s all about the SAMR model (Substitute, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition). Teachers should stop worrying about redefining technology, and let it redefine their teaching. Then substitution, augmentation, and modification will fall into place.

What has technology done for our teaching?

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This pic shows my trusty van, the 1st vehicle I ever owned, in front of a flower shop that one of my crews painted during the summer of 1994. (Collegeville, PA.)

When I was in college I had the amazing opportunity to run my own outdoor house painting business through a corporation called College Pro Painters. This company hired and trained college students to operate franchises — reproductions of the original business begun by a college student, Greig Clark, from Canada in 1971. The training did not spend any time teaching us managers how to paint. It concentrated on teaching us how to train our painters to produce high-quality work by requiring seemingly “barely achievable” expectations. We also learned how to hire our workers, estimate prices, budget supplies, and land jobs.

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Here I am getting a crew ready to spray the outside of a house (1995).

I had painted for one of the College Pro Painting franchise owners the summer before I was hired to run my own business. It had been a rewarding, successful, and lucrative summer job. Thus, I knew how to paint, and I could do it well.

There came a point in the summer that I was managing three different crews made up of between three and five painters, each, when I was frustrated by the rate of slow production and low quality work. I confessed to my district manager, my boss, that I wished I could just go out there and paint the darn houses, myself! He told me a story.

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One of my crews painting a twin in Pottstown, PA (1994).

Before becoming the district manager of the entire North Eastern United States, he had been in the same shoes as me. He was estimating, budgeting, hiring, and training with barely time to sleep and eat. Then his dad got ill. His mom had died when he was young. He had no siblings. It was up to him to help his father.

Maybe you think his business suffered. It didn’t. This incredible businessman began running his business from home. He started having his foremen stop by his house in the mornings. They would pick up orders and estimates. Then they would get supplies from the paint store that the manager had called in. The foremen would talk to the homeowners, walking them around at the end of each day, discussing the progress of the project, and even finalize the job, collecting the final check.

phone-2476595_960_720The ground-breaking technology that made all of this happen back in 1990 was the… ready for this? Telephone. Homeowners called an 800 number to ask for estimates for painting. Because the manager was stuck at home, he was able to check his leads several times a day, calling homeowners back nearly immediately. He scheduled all of his estimates on the same day and back to back, rather than spreading them out. By the end of the summer, the manager who seemed the most limited was able to produce far more painting work than any other manager in his district.

This tale resonated with me. Rather than taking over the work that my painters were producing “under par” and slowly, I gave my employees more responsibilities. I stopped running around town like a manager with his head cut off. No longer did I talk to each painter. I only spoke with the foremen. They became the ones who communicated with the homeowners. They were the ones responsible for the job, anyway! The quality of work slowly rose as foremen realized they wouldn’t be able to collect the final payment until the homeowner was happy. It became the leaders of the crews who put pressure on their painters, instead of me micromanaging everyone. Needless to say, I won the Rookie of the Year Award at the end of my first summer running my own business (1994). And, it was thanks to the encouragement of my district manager, who empowered me with vision and leadership.

What does this have to do with teaching?

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Don’t fall into the trap of letting technology innovate you. You be the innovator.

How often do teachers take over the learning for their students? How can technology revolutionize the reach of student-ownership? The technology that was cutting edge in 1994 was the beeper. I got pages when leads called for an estimate. I would pull my painting van over at one of the dozen pay phones I frequented and call the 800 number to collect my lead info. Then I would call the future customer, right away. Nowadays we get instant notifications when a social media message or comment comes in. We must teach the next generation how to manage this barrage of technology. Don’t let it innovate you. Be the innovator.

We have all heard the derisive term used in competition when a competitor conquers his opponent so thoroughly that he is said to have “owned” him. It was made popular during the inception of the Internet by hackers (Savagegump, 2005) gaining complete control over a program. Teachers should stop trying to “own” their teaching. Let students control their own learning. Let technology redefine your teaching, and LET GO.

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My most successful crew was rewarded the best jobs. Here, they are painting the largest project of the summer, 1994… $8,500.

This blog is a byproduct of two experiences: Participation in the “live chat” #MasteryChat on September 27, 2018, hosted by @chadostrowski CEO of @teachbetterteam that centered on “Student-Ownership”…  And, reading Deubel’s (2018) “Technology Integration: Essential Questions” for a class from Kutztown University.

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The #masterychat was an awesome experience. Can’t wait for the next one!

Sources:

Deubel, P. (2018). Technology integration: Essential questions. Retrieved September 28, 2018, from Computing Technology for Math Excellence Web site: http://www.ct4me.net/technology_integr.htm

Savagegump. (2005, February 11). Owned. Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Owned [More than just a definition, this is an etymology of the term.]

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2016, January). National education technology plan 2016: Future ready learning: Reimagining the role of technology in education. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from http://tech.ed.gov/netp/

Classy is Impressive

I am beginning to administer quizzes and collect assessments. Students and parents should understand what it takes to earn a “4” on report cards. It is a mindset.

The Captain of Class

You tell a group of students that you want them to be “Classy.” What is this elusive character trait, and how can a teacher easily communicate it to kids?

Listening GIF-downsized_large There is getting into line, and then there is…

My school district uses a standards-based grading system of one through four when it comes to communicating conceptual understanding. This is how I explain it to my students: If you do exactly what I ask on an assignment, just right, you get a three. This means you have completed the task satisfactorily. If there were some mistakes or the work makes it seem like you don’t fully understand the concept, you get a two. This means that there is room for improvement, which is okay, as long as you step it up and work at getting better. A one is when there are so many errors that it is obvious you are…

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Critical Thinking is Classy

Screen Shot 2018-09-22 at 9.26.39 PMTo be able to critique something, one must have background knowledge. Unfortunately, some teachers focus solely on pouring information into their pupils (Watanabe-Crockett, 2015).

What Does Critical Thinking Look Like?

I tried something new this year to get kids to introduce themselves to each other. The class visited the art room outside of their typical art time. Kids were told that they were going to make a self portrait. The catch was that they could only use scrap paper and glue; no drawing utensils, no scissors, only their hands and glue. They had a blast tearing the paper and sticking it together. Making shapes round was tricky. Some students made their art three-dimensional. Some used nonconventional colors.

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Polite Pirates of Room 207 Make Self Portraits

After making the self portraits, students composed “Who Am I” riddle poems. They had to write down a list of sentences telling information about themselves that makes them unique from others in the class. They wrote their names on the back of the papers. I attached them to the self portraits. The kids got to read each other’s poems, guessing who fit the characteristics listed. The portraits were little more than clues, since they were not very realistic.

The project was not only presented several facets of critical thinking, but it also dressed up my room for Meet The Teacher Night! Parents loved trying to figure out which portrait/poem combination was their offspring:)

How to Foster Critical Thinking: Don’t Settle

When I have students figure out a math problem, I tell them to solve it multiple ways. This forces them to rethink the math. They are required to analyze the problem. My students are asked to not only “show their work”, but also explain how they arrived at their answers. When they share the process with a partner the two of them evaluate each other’s work. Having to find other ways to solve a math problem causes students to be creative, looking for novel ways to think about the numbers.

A way to inspire critical thinking during a writing assignment is through allowing students to view their peers’ written responses within Google Forms. When I administer an assessment through giving a quiz from Google classroom, I instruct my students to click on “See Previous Responses” upon submitting their quizzes. They are to read their classmates’ writing, evaluating the responses and comparing them with what they wrote. They may go back and add information to their own writing, then, adapting new ideas to the answer.

One More Thing: Call it what it is.

Watanabe-Crockett (2016) suggests actually using the term critical thinking. “How to Develop A Critical Thinking Mindset in Elementary Students” supplies a graphic aid from Andrew Churches that shows Bloom’s Taxonomy applied to technology. It has long lists of verbs under each thinking skill. It isn’t a bad idea to make a poster of this and put it on the wall.me

In order to critique something, one must create an opinion. With this end in mind, educators can work to teach students how to think critically in order to complete the task.

Sources:

Watanabe-Crockett, L. (2015, July 24). The Importance of Teaching Critical Thinking. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/the-importance-of-teaching-critical-thinking

Watanabe-Crockett, L. (2016, May 28). How to Develop A Critical Thinking Mindset in Elementary Students. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/critical-thinking-mindset-elementary-students

 

Stories Are Magic Potions: Use With Care

 

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The Fourth, Ever, Newbery Award Winner, 1925

I’m back to reading the Newbery Award winners. The fourth-ever winner, published Julyimg_8887.jpg 9, 1925 (according to the information provided on the dust jacket) was a curiosity to me because, rather than a novel, it is a collection of stories collected from the native people living in South America.

 

As Dr. Rutledge points out in The Psychological Power of Storytelling (2011),

Stories have always been a primal form of communication. They are timeless links to ancient traditions, legends, archetypes, myths, and symbols. They connect us to a larger self and universal truths.

I was looking forward to reading these tales, thinking that they would connect me to a deep string of humanity that would be tied to nature. Instead, the first story alarmed me with a message of self-destruction.

 

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Initially, I hesitated writing in this old copy of “Tales From Silver Lands”, but it helped me engage with the text. 

As is normally my custom, I began my reading, writing notes in the margin of the text. I immediately loved the description of setting and character development, so I marked the IMG_8015text to share with my third grade students who are just beginning to learn how to “set a story” in a place and time. The author begins his book speaking of his experience visiting a tiny village in Honduras. Although the buildings and road differ greatly from the homes and streets that his readers of 1925, and even today, know, the children playing in a cool stream on a hot day resonates with all. In fact, I was greatly inspired by the use of the inclusive language, “…as any other little chap of his age, white, brown, or yellow” (p. 2), connecting his readership with the people he was writing about.

 

All of this served to butter me up to appreciate a terrific tale that had been told and retold for hundreds of years by the indigenous people the author was visiting. The amazing literature had cast a spell on me. I was bent on learning what would happen to some of the first humans to inhabit the jungle. There were birds singing, animals meeting and talking in harmony, and hardworking, talented, and powerful human heros. Just when you think that this sensational salve is a love potion promoting literacy, irony cuts through the beauty like the machete that the two young men in the story use to level every single plant of a part of the jungle.

The premise of this first tiny tale is that there are two talented brothers who are told to clear land in a forest to begin their adult lives. The father of these youths tells them to do all of the work within seven days. A wise owl discusses the problem of losing his habitat with a wizard of the jungle. The two hatch a plan to thwart the sons by deceiving the father.

At this point, I am wondering who I am to route for; the humans who seem to have an IMG_2687impossible task, who I empathize with, who are set up as the heroes of the tale; or the owl/wizard team who are about to lose their homes. The way the wizard attempts to stop the sons is through turning the father against them. The father is told that his hard-working sons are lazy and not clearing the land. Each time this happens, the father increases the amount of land that they must level. Now, this seems to go against the owl/wizard’s plan, and yet they continue their scheme until the sons are finally asked to do more work than they can handle.

Here, I want to tell you that it is only because I am planning on blogging about this book 6280907548_55d7291e4a_bthat I am reading it so carefully. If I hadn’t, I am sure that I would not have been able to shake the spell of the story. I like the hundreds of people who heard the story told by the elderly woman of the Honduras village that Charles Finger visited, who, incidentally, was depicted as smoking a cigar when Finger found her, and then threw it down to tell the tale; I, also, would have been completely mesmerized by the plight of the young men who wanted to please their father, earn their inheritance, and be successful in life. Just like a character in a fantasy fiction who has a spell broken awakens, realizing that his love had been an aberration, I found myself shaking my head at the human-size iguana who helped the human youths by showing them how to harness the power of the forest animals to clear every plant from the land that the very same forest animals use to make their homes, find food, and live.

Another reader and endless listeners of this tale would surely be swept in by the poetry, “I must do what I can, Is the thought of a man,” the seeming teamwork between human and beast, the defeat of evil in prevailing against the efforts of the wizard, and proving oneself to elders. I can easily imagine the recipient of such powerful storytelling being completely sucked in. What is the problem with this? Only that the storyteller was misleading listeners. Granted, the themes of working hard, never giving up, being ingenious, and listening to nature are all valuable lessons, but curtained in this spell of a story is the theme of humans enslaving the earth. It isn’t a surprise that the two youths are victorious in the end. The old iguana who “climbed into a tree and stretched himself along the branch of it where he could best see, and the birds gathered in a great circle, and matchless melody going up to the sky” would rest there until the next human cuts his tree down, also. Then more humans would cut down every tree that those singing birds occupied. When the magic of this wonderful story melted from my brain, I was aghast at the horror of the animals who were depicted as happy to help the humans destroy their habitat. The storyteller was sharing a tale that convinced listeners that nature wants humans to destroy her. In the end of the tale the brothers plant fruit trees on their newly cleared land. Do you think that they would tolerate the singing birds, who helped them clear the land to plant the trees, eat the fruit that grew there? Certainly not.

Again, I recognize that the themes within this tale were useful to previous generations. Humans struggled to master technologies, easing their existence on this planet. We have benefited from the inspirational stories of our elders motivating us to assimilate the best character traits for growing into the mature species we are today. Rather than this blog ending on a negative note, I’d like to challenge future storytellers to use their power for positive change. It is time to harness the magic of terrific tale telling to empower youths and adults alike for creative, innovative aspirations of helping humans come together to live harmoniously. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for the “love potion” of storytelling to be transcendent than amorous, anyway?

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I couldn’t even believe what I was reading! Be careful with the power of storytelling. Use it for good. 

 

Rutledge, P., Phd. (2011, January 16). The Psychological Power of Storytelling. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/positively-media/201101/the-psychological-power-storytelling

5 Classy Listening Lessons

Have you ever had a conversation where you felt like the listener was not paying attention? Is there anything less classy than bad listeners? Listening is not natural. Teachers should not assume that their students come equipped with good listening habits. I ALWAYS begin every year with teaching listening skills.

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Listening Is a Partnership

Almost before I tell students my name, I am explaining the top three listening strategies. These are a mantra that we say to ourselves all year long: Stop moving, make eye-contact, and smile. In addition to the mantra, I teach the students the importance of being able to repeat the message you are listening to back to the speaker and ask good questions to clarify meaning and show that you care.

First, Make it a Mantra: “Stop moving, make eye-contact, and… smile;)”

Stop Moving

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Listening takes loads of practice.

Don’t “Freeze” because that is silly and uncomfortable. Kids like the idea of “freezing” because it allows them to stop with feet in the air, weird expressions on their faces, etc. In fact, I have witnessed students standing or sitting perfectly normal get into contorted positions when they hear the word “Freeze!” Then they laugh, fall over, do everything but listen. Just stop moving.

Get set to listen. This is the opposite of freezing. Students should sit down, put down their scissors, pencils, papers, etc., and turn to face the speaker.

One of the things I do in my class for management is I teach everyone to Listening GIF-downsized_largestand at attention. This is great for getting my line nice and straight. I also use it when kids are listening to the announcements. [They are less distracted by things in the room, and my room can be pretty distracting! I have a 9-inch pleco swimming around a 75 gallon fish tank, for crying out loud!] To stand at attention simply means heels together, standing straight, shoulders back, chins up, and I also teach the kiddos to look straight ahead without smiling or even “focusing” on anything. In fact, their gaze should be a little out of focus. They are tin soldiers, waiting for action… passive… lifeless. If this sounds horrible, don’t worry, I only do it when we line up. During the announcements, we stand this way because rather than making eye-contact, kids are putting all of their energy into their ears. They try not to look at anything in the room.

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In addition to the giant pleco, there’s 7 jeweled cichlids in this bad boy.

Now, this attention business is NOT conducive to listening to someone. An alternative reason that I teach standing at attention is so that I can teach the contrast of “At Ease”. Students are instructed to separate their feet shoulder-width, put their hands behind their back (holding them)–this forces their posture to relax and shoulders droop a little; Then can now move their heads around, smile, and make eye-contact. The “Ten Hut” is like saying “Freeze”, but there isn’t the silly element. On the contrary, it is super serious. Then we relax, so that listening is comfortable and focused.

Stillness communicates that you are taking in the information. You are a carefully held container under a spigot in the desert, collecting valuable water that you don’t want to spill.

Eye-Contact

You know what this is and how powerful it can be. Some school thoughts, though…

  • I teach the students the importance of locking each other’s attention through the eyes. We practice with our turn-and-talk partners. I have the students move as little as possible; They should just turn their heads or pivot, slightly. Eye-contact is a hand-shake of vision. It is a commitment to listen.
  • In the classroom it is impossible to make eye-contact with every single student at the same time. I teach my students that they should be looking at my eyes so that when I turn toward them, our eyes meet. I demonstrate, and whenever I give instructions, I survey the room, looking students right into their eyes.
  • paying attentionIf the communicator is directing the listener’s attention to an object or place, the listener should look at what the speaker is referencing. In this instance that place or object is like the eyes of the speaker. It is all about connecting. If you keep looking at the speaker when he/she wants to show you something, you become “disconnected” from the message.

    This is what impressed me so much that I had to write this blog. My students were sharing last night’s homework with their turn-and-talk partners, and the listeners were riveted to the task.

Elyse Rycroft teaches “Whole Body Listening” in “TEACHING LISTENING SKILLS IN THE CLASSROOM”. She suggests students use not only their eyes, but turn toward the speaker. Listen with your ears, your eyes, your nose, your cheeks, etc.

Smile

After really serious speeches about posture and eye-contact, this one is a relief. And, it is supposed to be. They all laugh when I keep the same serious tone while instructing everyone to “Smile!” I act like I am angry at anyone who does not smile effectively. This gets everyone cracking up. It lightens the mood and does exactly what I want to teach: Listening should be inviting information into your brain. You will be more likely to accept something if you are smiling. You project onto the person you are listening to the idea that this information is nice.  

Smiles foster warm/fuzzy feelings. I don’t’ think I need to explain this.

Active listening; kids can look at you like zombies. Forcing them to smile wakes them up. At “Meet The Teacher Night” one of my student’s parents told me that her son came home on the first day of school complaining about his cheeks hurting. Her inquiry lead to his explaining that his new teacher (me) has everyone smiling all day long. This gave me a laugh. The parent told me that she explained to her son that his teacher wasn’t being “literal”. I assured her that I was. You cannot smile too much! Smile until it hurts! The pain will make the information that you were listening to that much more memorable;)

Second, Put Information Into Your Own Words

  • Listen purposefully, so that you can retell the main points of the message to someone else.
  • Be able to summarize the message of the speaker back to him or her. This will help assess understanding. Did you get the message of the speaker correct? If not, then the storyteller can clarify or even add more detail to support understanding.
  • At the beginning of the year, this provides a fun reason to learn summarizing. You can play games where students practice recounting details of stories back to one another.
  • And, a good listener transitions very nicely into a good reader.
great listening
Listening should be inviting information into your brain.

Third, Questions Show You Care.

Picture telling a friend a story about something that happened to you. It doesn’t have to be all that important. When you are done, your friend turns and walks away without saying a word. What?! That would be sooo rude! Why? We know it is, but can you put it into words? What if your friend waited a moment and then launched into his or her own story. That happens a lot, and sometimes it is no big deal, depending on the conversation. But, if you were telling a significant story about something truly important to you, you’d expect your friend to inquire just a little. There are few better or easier ways for a listeners to show some class and communicate a caring persona than asking poignant questions.

  • “How long were you there?”
  • “When did this happen?”
  • “How did that make you feel?”
  • “What happened next? Or, after that?”
  • “Why did you do that?”
  • These kinds of questions show that you are interested. It flatters the speaker with an attentive audience.

Also, questions can clarify.

Fourth, Analyze the Difference Between Listening and Hearing

Hearing is passive, while listening is active.

Hearing is a park that everyone and anyone can visit at anytime. There are dogs barking. Kids are running around, screaming and playing. Bicyclists pedal through the middle of it. A couple relaxes on a blanket only to have a teenager trip over them while trying to catch a frisbee…

Listening is a birthday party. Specific people are invited. Everyone plays a game at the same time. Together, we all sing “Happy Birthday”. No one talks while the birthday boy/girl blows out the candles. Gifts, pleasantries, and well wishes are exchanged. There are no bikes passing through or frisbee catchers crashing the canoodling.

In the same way that you can take all of this listening thought and apply it to reading actively, for fun, you could turn it around and try using reading strategies on listening attentively.

  • Visualize what the speaker is telling you.
  • Identify cause and effect within the storyteller’s message.
  • Use questioning to deepen understanding.
  • Predictions make reading and listening fun and rewarding
  • Summarize the main idea.

Fifth, Assessment: Google Form (10 Questions)

My students loved this! I put together a ten-question, multiple-choice quiz using Google Forms that I read to the class. This was the first time that the kids signed into their Google accounts, so it took some time, but it was worth it. They had to access their Google classroom, and then click on the “Listening Skills Quiz” assignment. Once everyone was logged in and looking at the quiz, the fun began. I read the questions out loud to the class. I also read the answers. I told them that this was not supposed to be tricky. “I am assessing your listening, so listen up: I will tell you the correct answers. If you don’t do well, it is because you weren’t listening.” Their heads nearly exploded. Now, I did not just say that “The second choice is the correct answer,” mind you. I read the quiz with emphasis on certain answers as I circulated the room. If I saw kids wavering between two choices, I’d read it again and give an example. We laughed. The kids were successful. At times I did just say, “The answer to this one is the last choice, your welcome!” They loved it, and quiz-taking began with a super positive experience.

There was a student who did poorly. This was a clear indication that we needed to revisit some of the listening skills. I simply had the kid take it again during recess, and he did fine. This showed the significance of the assessment, however. Here was one child who wasn’t ready to move on with our listening “program”. Now, he is on board.

Post Script(s) for Teachers

  • Only have your students “listen” when they are able to do it properly.
  • Make listening significant. Don’t expect students to be listening to you all of the time. Students shouldn’t be hanging on your every word. In fact, one of theScreen Shot 2018-09-09 at 8.40.37 AM questions that students struggled with on my “Listening Skills Quiz” concerned how often they should listen. I will need to adjust this question for next time that I administer the quiz. [Maybe I won’t, and use this as a teaching tool. We’ll see.] I make such a big deal out of listening; It makes sense that students would think it should take precedence over everything. But, this would be exhausting. You hear everything… but listening is work.
  • Have a bunch of ways to get the class’s attention. No matter how interesting your method, kids eventually tune it out (Daniels, n.d.). The clapping works, but gets old. “Touch your nose if you can hear my voice,” whispered a few times is fine once in a while. I started one that  makes kids look around and is fun to say: “Look at the ceiling, look at the floor, look at the windows, look at the door.” It gets them moving and looking. I then change it up “Look at the ceiling, look at the floor, look at the board… now look at me.” They laugh, because it wasn’t what they expected.
  • Give them time/empower them to be classy listeners. For example, don’t tell everyone to listen, and then start talking before they stop moving or make eye-contact. I usually pause and compliment smiles. This gets everyone’s attention and makes listening fun and attractive.

Sources:

Daniels, N. (n.d.). Listening Exercises for Kids That Actually Work [Web log post]. Retrieved September 9, 2018, from https://www.anxioustoddlers.com/listening-exercises-for-kids/#.W5Rq4ZNKjUI

Rycroft, E. (n.d.). TEACHING LISTENING SKILLS IN THE CLASSROOM [Web log post]. Retrieved September 8, 2018, from https://proudtobeprimary.com/teaching-listening-skills/

Five Ways to Classy-ify Assessments with Google Forms

I haven’t read it yet, but I look forward to tackling “Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways To Go

pile of books
My pile of reading is bottomless!

Gradeless In a Traditional Grades School” by Starr Sackstein (2015). From what I have seen from tweets, this text lines up perfectly with my transforming attitude about tests and assessment. I have been leaning away from right/wrong assessments the past few years. Google Forms have helped me all but completely stray from formal testing into the land of forging understanding through creative assessments.

Provide clear instr for taking the quiz
Provide clear instructions for beginning quizzes.

I teach third grade, so the following examples may have too much text for your students, or be too simple for your grade level. Obviously, you are going to make your own quizzes to fit the needs of your classroom. I present concepts, here to help you make your quizzes a little more classy. Here’s five ideas. 

First of all, I use the potential answers to continue teaching the concepts. Does this point kids in the direction of the answer, making it obvious which one is correct? You bet. Not only

Answer 3 negates the second
The feedback points out what I do in the quiz; pointing to how the answers are structured to “give away” the correct responses.

that, but you should hear me read the questions and add anecdotes to the answers! The only kids who should be getting these questions wrong are the ones not paying attention, and, so, that is being assessed as well. 

Second, only assess what you are teaching. Because I was not teaching reading comprehension, I am not going to expect my class to be able to read and understand these questions. I had that in mind when I designed and typed the quiz. I plan to read this entire quiz to my class. I might administer it in small groups, because I do not have enough digital devices at this time for every kid to have one. That works, too. If I were assessing reading, I would have the kids take the quiz independently, and I would have made it on their reading levelS–That is right!! Tailoring the quizzes to meet each kiddo’s needs is great with Google Forms. You can copy and paste things. You can make a copy of the entire quiz and only change things as you need to, also.

Third, use the feedback to provide students with not only why answers are correct and

With google forms be sure to copy and paste answer feedback into correct ans feedback
For this particular quiz I want even students who got the answer correct to see my feedback, so I had to copy and paste the response into the “Correct Answers” window, also.

incorrect, but as a teaching space. I often instruct students within the feedback areas on how to evaluate answers. I show them what I was doing when I typed the quiz. In the same way learning how to write from an actual published author will enhance a budding writer, I hope to help my students become better test-takers. That’s right! I said “test-takers”. Guess what; No matter how much you hate it, life is full of taking tests. I want my students to be great at it.

Fourth, let go of grades. This is where I think my methods lineup with  Sackstein’s “Hacking Assessment” (2015) book thesis. When creating my quizzes in Google Forms, I allow my students to “Edit after Let students view each other's responses and answerssubmit” and “See summary charts and text responses”. I do this so that students can assess themselves. They can revisit the quiz with their peers, seeing what other people chose as answers. (https://youtu.be/ZZ65RwKOsPA) You have to instruct your students in how to analyze these pie charts. They are pretty easy to figure out, but it is important to recognize that just because more people chose the second option as an answer, does not guarantee its correctness. If everyone else chose an option that you didn’t, however, may lead you to reevaluate your choice. I love having my students read each other’s written responses, too. Kids go back and dress up their own answers with better information. Teachers, you have to be willing to allow students to correct themselves. So what if they get a better grade than the one that they initially “earned”. In every other area of life kids are allowed to improve what they do without getting penalized. Why are our tests a once and done, black and white, the moment you click “submit”, your assessment is up experience?

Fifth… This is going to seem like a contradiction to the previous point, but I actually like grades. They are measures. Parents want to see how their children “measure up”. Grades are goals. Without some sort of measurement, it feels like we didn’t get anywhere. It is important to understand that the grades are artificial; they are made up; they are relative… but they do exist. Also, kids like getting good grades. The way I see it, my job is to help each kid get the best grade possible. I provide opportunities for bonus points. I let students retake quizzes. I allow students to see what everyone else did. They can all but copy and paste answers. One key idea is that, even with all of this help, it is important for students to feel as though they earned their grades. Assessments can be teaching tools

And, now I am going to end this blog by doing what I all but scream at my students for doing: I hope that you found some of this useful. Thanks for reading! Ugh, I hate it when they do that;)

Sackstein, S. (2015). Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways To Go Gradeless In a Traditional Grades School. Cleveland: Times 10 Publications.