…the most valuable untapped resource in your school! Is YOUR library media specialist on board with you? If not, why not? This blog will explore ways to take your next steps.

Turn the Monitors Off!

I’ve not said that during my past four years of instruction during computer class. But today I discovered it’s importance.

I have found that having the monitors turned off directs students’ attention to the large screen displayed in the front of the room. When the monitors are on, I am competing for students’ attention. With the monitors off, their attention immediately comes to the front of the room.

I found this strategy useful in two situations:

1. When we are learning a new skill. I can demonstrate, then they turn on their monitors to try it.

2. When we are sharing our work. Students put their work into a folder that is shared with me. When we want to share their work with the class, I simply pull up the desired document and display it on the large screen. Each time we share student work, I focus on one or two skills: for example, how to use contrast in presentations, or how to resize photos without distorting them.

Students know when it is time to go back to their own work when I say, “Turn your monitors on and try that.”

With the monitors off, students are listening and watching instead of grabbing their mouse to make changes on their computer while we are still sharing and discussing. If your students have their attention on their computer instead of on instruction, have them, “Turn the monitors off”.


Why Teach Keyboarding?

In addition to the usual reasons about developing efficient typing skills, I have these additional reasons:

  • Self Control: in this culture of immediate gratification, students have few opportunities to develop this critical life skill. Teaching students to keep their eyes on the screen when keyboarding builds their ability to resist temptation.
  • Stamina: Students need to slowly build stamina in reading and writing for extended periods of time. Likewise, keyboarding practice provides students with an opportunity to train their brain to “stick to it” and avoid distractions.
  • Perseverance: keyboarding can be frustrating, and students often want to give up. Frederick Douglass said, ” If there is no struggle there is no progress.” With proper keyboarding instruction, students can succeed even though they struggle. They need to learn to not give up when the going gets tough!

I believe these are key skills we need to teach our students. I also believe they will transfer these skills to other areas of their lives throughout school and beyond.

What other reasons do you have for teaching keyboarding?

Citing Sources

We realize students need many opportunities and experiences in citing their sources. Today, a fourth grade teacher and I discovered a simple little motivator: stickers!

Her students are finding information to include in their Maine packet. It includes an overview of the state’s animals, seal, geography, famous people, etc. Most of the information can be found on the http://www.maine.gov Maine Kids page.

Even though we have covered how to cite sources several times this year and in the previous two years, most of the students still have trouble correctly citing sources. Sound familiar?

Since they were all using this site, I wrote on the whiteboard the format for citing it, but wanted them to find the segments to write down themselves, instead of just copying what I wrote. This would give an indication of which students understood the process and which students were still confused or too inexperienced.

Since we are co-teaching, we did not want both of us going around and around the room checking and rechecking the same students over and over again. I might check someone she had just checked. Not only would it be a poor use of our time, but would be an interruption to the students.

Solution? When one of us checked a student’s citation, we gave put a sticker on the upper corner of their computer monitor. Voila! We could both easily gaze around the room to see who still needed help and who we could ‘leave alone’.

They were so proud to ‘earn’ their sticker! When the lesson was over, they took their sticker and put in on the cover of their packet. Now the teacher can easily see that each student has their citation correct, and she does not need to spend time to check it again!

How Much Is Too Much?

When I come upon a strategy or some simple technique that works with one class, I get enthused. Maybe I saw it on a blog. Maybe I read it in a professional book. Maybe I observed another teacher doing it.

My enthusiasm usually takes on huge proportions as claim it, make it my own, and implement it with subsequent classes. Then, I consider how I can step it up and take it to the next higher grade level, and simplify it a bit for the preceding grade’s classes. My next step is to expand it as much as possible into other content areas, and there is a certain euphoria that comes with such widespread success.

My most recent strategy is to ask a lot of thinking questions, “Why do you think that?” or “What do you see that gives you that idea?”  The idea of having students tell what they think and why is not new. It is part of the Common Core, and also the basis for our new phrase, “critical thinking.” I really started thinking about how I could implement it after reading “The Teacher’s Guide to Media Literacy: Critical Thinking in a Multimedia World” by Cynthia Scheibe (2011).

So what’s the problem? I think I have maxed out on it with a number of my classes. Today I found myself asking, “Why do you think that?” “How do you know?” and so on and so forth over and over as we explored each step in “Today’s Task.” Then I looked at the clock and realized that over half of the class had slipped by!

Sure, the students were engaged. Sure, they were thinking. Sure, they were proving their statements. But now they had little time to DO the task! All that thinking left us all, including the clock, worn out!

When this scenario played out in the third class I conducted this morning, I started wondering, “Where’s the balance? When have we asked them to think enough? When do we give them time enough time to practice and show what they know?”

It reminds me of my favorite peanut butter fudge. A little makes me want more, and soon, I have to put the brakes on and eat something healthy to balance my diet. I love tasting new strategies, but still have to be careful not to overuse them.

On what strategies have you overeaten? How did you pull yourself back to a balanced teaching diet?

Acknowledging Overgeneralizations

How many times have you found yourself reminding your class to put a period at the end of each sentence? At what age do students consistently and unconsciously add a period at the end of a sentence? Second grade? Fifth grade?  Do you find that they over-apply the concept before they finally use it appropriately?

Recently, I noticed a change in my first-graders use of periods. They have been adding a period at the end of their username when signing in to BookFlix!   BookFlix is our favorite online reading experience for our k-2 students, and It pairs fiction and non-fiction texts. We have been using it this month to study various winter holiday celebrations, so they have been signing in regularly.

One challenge students face when using BookFlix is the act of signing in. The user name and password are posted in many places around the room so students need only copy what is on the posters. Easier said than done! For some students, this is a lesson in copying text exactly. Some students try to capitalize the letters. Many confuse the lower case “b” and “d” as well as tapping the upper case “I” when they intend to use the lower case “L”. And this month, I noticed a number of students adding a period to the end of the user name.

What do you say to a student when they place a period at the end of a username? “You’re doing it wrong!” or “That’s not correct!” or rather, “You put a period at the end of the username, just like we do when we write a sentence. When we type a username, we don’t need a period.” Which comment will help them learn better?

“They Can’t Read That!” Part 3

To take our vocabulary exercise to the next level at the beginning of class, I drew a table on the whiteboard. It had three columns, and I asked students if they remembered the headings we gave them at our last class.
I added the titles, “Word Wall,” “Computer,” and “Science”. One student even offered, “Fruit”!
Then I asked them for Word Wall words and wrote them in the column. I moved on to Computer words and wrote those in as they provided them. And, finally, we found the Science words to add to the table.
Again, we are finding engagement, enthusiasm, and an increased vocabulary!
And, we are discovering, they CAN read that!

Using BookFlix to Study Colonial Days

First grade classes have been studying Colonial days. This lesson extended their study as they made connections with selected books on the online reading program, BookFlix.

1. To start our writing activity, we began by brainstorming words they remembered from their classroom discussion. As always, they love seeing their words appear on the white board!

Having the teacher present allows us to more fully cover a topic. The teacher adds to whatever discussion we are having by prompting students on key points they studied in the classroom. Brainstorming is easy with the teacher calling on students while I write the words on the whiteboard – we get a larger number of words in a shorter period of time. Students love seeing their words appear on the white board!

2. We then logged in to BookFlix and examined the menu of categories. Students were prompted to give reasons why various categories might be selected to find books about colonial days. We pointed to words on the white board that would help them make connections – we were supplying them with the language they needed to express themselves. They were giving evidence for their choices.

3. Students next selected any category they wanted, and searched through that category for a book that might make a connection to Colonial times. Several students were called upon to again give their reasons for their choices (Common Core made easy again…)

4. The signal was given to put on their headphones and select a book to read. They were given a purpose to read: “As you read, find a connection to colonial days. When you finish reading, you will share with us what your connection is.”

5. After reading, students were asked to share how the story they heard/read connected. Examples: “Snowflake Bentley” connected because he died in the snow and lots of the Pilgrims died in the snow.”  “The Voyages of Christopher Columbus” connected because he was brave and went on an adventure sailing on a ship and so did the Colonial people.”

6. Amazing how easy it was to extend a classroom lesson in the computer lab!

Strategies for Reading Online Bio’s

Using online biographies from http://www.maine.gov/sos/kids/about/people/people.htm fourth graders were reading for details about their chosen famous Maine person. Here are some strategies we developed as a result of difficulties observed while students were copying their information:

1. Start with recommended, trusted web sites. When asked, “How do you know you can trust this site?” students replied, “Because our teacher gave it to us!”

2. Only copy words you know and understand. If you don’t know what ‘native’ means, don’t write it, or ask the teacher what it means. This would be a great mini-mini lessons, for students to understand what ‘native’ means when reading biographies. One girl had trouble understanding it because she has moved over four times during her life already!

3. What does (1920-1989) mean when it follows a person’s name? What does (1987-present) mean?

4. Jot down any wonder questions that pop into your head! They might provide leads later, and you might find the answers as you continue to read.

5. Copying vs paraphrasing: students need continual practice on this in all grades. *One way to prevent this is to have students read for a few minutes, then “turn and talk” to tell another student what they learned. Take it a step further and then have Student A tell the class what Student B told them! Talk about Common Core skills!

*Big 6 Research Model: This in part of Step 4: Use of Information: 4.1 Read, view, or listen to the sources

“They Can’t Read That! Part 2

Once students started identifying more and more words from “Today’s Task,” I noticed something. The words fell into one of three categories:

  1. Word Wall words (a, you, and, we, will, do, etc.),
  2. Technology/Computer words (TuxPaint, TextEdit, print, open, save, etc.) and,
  3. Content words (this month they were science words because we were studying nocturnal animals).

Last week, I wrote the words in three invisible columns, then told the students that I wrote them in ‘columns’ and had them repeat the word. Next, I added vertical lines between the columns, and a horizontal line across the top. I added a column, wrote the words ‘apple’ and ‘banana’ in it. Then I invited the students to come up with a name for that column. It did not take much prodding for them to figure out ‘fruit.’

At that point, I invited them to also come up with words for the other columns. It was like opening a present! We all got so excited at their success!

“They Can’t Read That!”

…said a teacher to me when her first grade students were asked to read the web page, “Today’s Task.” I have a tendency to set the bar high, so here’s how I encouraged them to find the words they do know, and how they can increase their vocabulary.

I simply asked the students to “Find some words you know.” Up went their hands, and onto the white board I wrote the words they knew, scrambling to keep up with their quick responses. We repeated this exercise at the beginning of each class. Each week the lists grew and grew, and now I have to shut them off after 10 minutes!

It warms up their brains and engages them immediately. It creates enthusiasm and increases their vocabulary.

Can they read the whole page? No. Does that mean we shouldn’t ask them to try? NO!

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