Sunday, June 14, 2015

Reflecting on the School Year: 5 Things I Want to Keep

Thursday was my last day with students. It's so hard to say goodbye to my second graders. Realizing that all my chances to reach that difficult student are gone. All my chances to help a struggling reader are behind me.  All the concepts they don't understand will now have to be retaught by next year's teacher.  All my successes seem buried under this year's failures.

During the final month of the school year, I usually find myself reflecting on the past year and making plans for next year.  What could I have done differently?  Why didn't these students make more growth?  Did I meet with my high students enough? And on, and on, and on.  

Can you tell that I'm pretty hard on myself?

For this blog post, I want to focus on the positive.  Some things that I did this year really made a positive impact in my classroom. Since every year brings changes, I want to make sure I keep what works. So these are the 5 things that I want to keep doing - next year and the years after that.

1.  Positive Discipline
Our school started to use Positive Discipline this year to help improve classroom and school-wide behavior. We attended a training before the school year began and then had a follow-up about mid-year. The program teaches teachers to look for the motivation behind student misbehavior and encourages improved behavior through the use of class meetings and social skills instruction.  It de-emphasizes rewards and punishment and increases intrinsic motivation.  I love the way it fosters classroom community and respect for all.

For most of my kids, this program worked wonders. It wasn't perfect, but my students definitely grew in their ability to solve problems and deal with conflict. Even when they made bad choices, they were later able to work through the solutions to their problems in productive ways. They became expert compliment-givers and caring classmates. Our last class meeting had me tearing up as they shared their remembrances of this school year and their hopes for third grade. 

It wasn't a magic bullet. We still had our problems. My most challenging students were slow to adopt the social skills I taught.  I did not always respond to problems in the ways that were recommended in the program. However, I see the potential of this method and I'd like to continue using it. On my own, I plan to continue my professional development in this area by studying this book.

I'm considering hosting an online book study. If you would be interested in participating, please let me know in the comments below.

2.  GoNoodle
OMGosh! If you have not discovered GoNoodle yet, you are in for a treat.  This wonderful, FREE, online resource has brain breaks, movement activities, inside recess, and even yoga!  These activities were eagerly anticipated by my students.  They helped me to provide opportunities for them to "get the wiggles out." Using the activities actually improved on-task behavior and listening.  It was so helpful!  I highly recommend that you check out GoNoodle and register for free before next school year.

Here are some pictures of my kids rocking out with Koo Koo Kangaroo's Pop See Ko 2.0.

3.  Acts of Kindness
This ongoing activity has really helped encourage kindness in my classroom over the past two years. I created my Hearts Full of Kindness activity in response to a very difficult class dynamic.  I won't go into it here, but you can read more about it in a previous post.  Anyway, I needed something to help students just be nice.  The Kindness Cards actually helped a little bit that year, so I expanded the activity and used them again with this class. The students loved them!  They became very conscious of how their behavior affected others and they went out of their way to be kind so that they could earn a kindness card from their friends.  

If you are interested in trying out my Kindness Cards, read my post about my 100 Acts of Kindness Challenge here. Then go to my store to download yours for free.  Here's the link: Hearts Full of Kindness - Encouraging Acts of Kindness in the Classroom.

4.  Math Talks
A math talk is a short (about 10 minutes max.), yet powerful way to help students share strategies, correct mistakes, and teach each other math.  For me, keeping it short is the biggest challenge! Students are presented with a math question or story problem to solve. I would project the problem on our white board and briefly introduce the problem in a way that focuses our learning. Sometimes, we would talk about how to understand the story problem. Sometimes, we would focus on finding and using an effective strategy.  Sometimes we would just share our thinking about the problem. The problem itself can be very specific, like this:

Or, the problem can be very general, like this:
Either way, the focus was not so much on finding a "right" answer, as it was on generating discussions about math that would help students to make connections and deepen their understanding of concepts.  This summer, I plan to create monthly "Math Warm-Up" presentations to facilitate my math talks next year.  I'll let you know once I get them finished and posted in my store.

5.  Poem of the Week
I was in charge of this activity for our grade level this year.  We needed shared reading activities that would give us a lot of learning, but not take up a lot of time.  Poetry was the answer.  We could use it to teach comprehension strategies such as visualization and making connections.  We could use it to teach new vocabulary and the power of word choice in writing. We could use it to help our struggling readers grow in phonemic awareness and phonics. We could discuss how rhythm, rhyme, repetition, and the overall structure of the poem helped our understanding. Through repeated readings, we could practice fluency. So much learning from one page of text!

I wrote many of the poems that we used this year. Nothing felt better than having a second-grader from another class come up to me at recess and let me know how much they liked my poem. My class was actually disappointed when I used a poem I didn't write!  Sharing my poems with our classes gave me the courage to publish them on Teachers pay Teachers.  It's been such a wonderful experience to share my poetry with children.

If you'd like to learn more about implementing a Poem of the Week program, read my blog post here.
If you're interested in my poems, please visit my TpT store and check out my Poem of the Week products

So that's it. These are five of the things that I know I want to continue in my classroom next year.  What worked for you in your classroom?  Please share in the comments below,

Until next time,

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