Checking In With Feelings Using Emojis

You hear teachers say all the time that they think of things spur of the moment or their best reflections and lesson ideas come while in the shower or driving in the car.  It’s true!  One morning I was sitting at the breakfast table thinking about how to integrate lessons about character and the social-emotional aspect into my lessons. This is when the comment a student made echoed in my head.

He asked, “Can we talk about our feelings again?”

I guess I was unintentionally checking in with their feelings before we started each lesson.  I know that if children come in hungry, sad, nervous, tired… not much learning will happen.  This is not much different with teenage children!  They want to share their feelings of heartbreak, feeling sick, frustration, who they are crushing on (you would be surprised!), nervous about a test, how tired they are, and so much more.  It made me think about what we had been doing. So like I try to do with everything, I asked them if they liked that. Overwhelmingly, the response was YES!

This is how the Emoji Check In was born in room 217.

It is nothing fancy, but they love it!  They sign in the attendance folder and then check in, using an expo marker, with how they are feeling at that moment.  While I pull up Skyward to log in and take the attendance we have a quick class discussion about how we are feeling.

They appreciate that I want to know if they are nervous or if they are not feeling well.  I told them that if I know these things then I can have a better understanding why they are not acting like they normally do.  I understand life is hard sometimes and I want to empathize, as well as celebrate when great things happen!  The kids LOVE celebrating each other’s celebrations in life, school, or just fun things that happen.  Not only does this model empathy, but it has built class community and trust amongst each other where each week more and more kids are comfortable sharing.  I continue to ask them if we need to change things, but so far this is not one of those things!  I have discovered they want to share all the happy, scary, and funny things that go on.  Getting these off our chests before we begin learning has made a big difference in our classroom.  They want to share.  We just need to ask and listen.

Student Voice: A series focused on Social Emotional needs in the classroom

There is something about Saturday mornings that gets me so giddy.  I think it is the opportunity to sit down with my coffee, refreshed on sleep so that I have the ability to think clearly and reflect.

I have been engaged in a sort of “passion project” of my own these days.  It started as just doing what I do in my classroom, and that is getting to know my students.  As a huge advocate of Student Voice, I ask input on a consistent basis regarding lessons, methods, efficiency in workflow, choice of lesson design, seating choices, music for background, etc.  As I began doing this with my seventh-graders this year, I noticed that much of what I was needing to know was centered on the social and emotional wellbeing of the child.  The Whole Child.  The Adolescent Whole Child, which is another whole ballgame.

I thought, hmmm…I might look into this further.  The reason is simple.  Academics are important.  We know students learn more and best when they feel like they have a relationship with the teacher.  We know relationships are built intentionally and take time and effort. We also know that even if you spend the time and effort, building relationships will not happen if we are not super aware of the social and emotional needs of our children that directly affect behavior.  So, in my opinion, this is where it all starts.

If I am going to reflect and go through this journey of really digging into the behavioral aspect of Student Voice in the classroom, I want to reflect about it through writing a series of posts. Hopefully, this will spark conversations about the social and emotional behaviors and how important they are to teaching and modeling these for our children.  If we all share what we know is best, we learn more and we all benefit!  Hope you will share your thoughts with me.

Listening Well To Youth Is A Mindset

I read this quote on the Learning Forward website awhile back and it continues to stick in my mind.

Student Voice is something more and more people are talking about now.

What does it look like?

Do you really just let the students decide?

What if they say something that is not nice?

Just like many teachers, I know that I began doing this years ago, we just never gave it a title.  We thought it was just great teaching because you wanted to do whatever you could to engage your students and let them know you care about them.  I guess this is why the quote sticks with me. Asking my students how I can make a lesson better or seeking input for my own growth has always just been my mindset.  The only difference is it increases and stretches with each year that passes.

This past week after a long, exhausting day full of nonstop activities on my feet, I sat down and thought to myself, “I am so completely exhausted! I just want to cry, lay in bed and sleep until the weekend. I just don’t know how I can finish this work I have and get up early.” (It was one of those hard days where you are too tired to even eat dinner!)  Then it hit me.  These kids are in my same boat, except they have so many new things being fired at them academically, new rules, new social circles, and lots of extra-curricular activities.  I want to know how many of them get up before 6:00am for athletics practice.  I want to know if they eat breakfast.  This will give me a glimpse as to why certain behaviors (positive and negative) are showing up.

I battled with how to ask them because I know that a Google survey is what they see most often and I am trying so hard not to use it, but in this instance, with 150 students and info that I wanted to look at by class, it was the most efficient.

Let me tell y’all, what I got back was more than I could have ever imagined and I was blown away at their honesty and feedback to help me guide instruction and management.  It was interesting how completely different each class period was! I could not make this stuff up, friends.

Not only did I ask when they got home from activities at night, when they normally went to sleep, and things like that which effect their academic learning.  I asked them to tell me how they would like to be rewarded, how they want to move forward with this next unit, and where they want to sit so they can learn best. I wanted them to know I understand sometimes we like to work alone. Sometimes we like groups and sometimes we like partners.  I was going to let them do it whatever way they chose because what is important is the learning, not forcing people to work together. It definitely made a bunch of shy, type A students smile! 🙂

Below is a visual of a few things asked.  Without even knowing I gained insight into their Love Language (if you are familiar with that) by the responses I got! Bonus!

What I love from this is that the next day I showed them the visuals and talked through what the class chose.  I said, “The people have spoken.”  I did not show any info that was sensitive so they will continue to trust me when I ask.  They were in awe of the pie charts and data.  We all loved it! (I might be a little nerdy over data!)

As I read through their responses as to how they know I care, they revealed clearly what is important: “You ask us and listen, like this survey. You want to make us own our learning.  You care and want to give us the best so we can learn by asking us to tell you. You ask us how we are doing, and about our day. You check on us to see if we need help. You smile at us. You let us choose our seats and have a snack.”

So yes, there was great data revealed around their learning needs from this survey that was extremely helpful.  However, the sparkling, bright light shined completely on RELATIONSHIPS!!  ASKING them and DOING it!

That is key when you think about Student Voice.  There is not a certain way it must be done because each class needs different options, but there is one rule.  If you ASK them and they take the time to respond, you MUST act on it, one way or another.  Even if that means saying, “You know, I heard your idea, but here is why we cannot do this. Is there another way?”

When we stop to listen to our students, their words speak so loudly and give us such a deeper look into their little lives and what they crave. It almost always gives me a new perspective about my students.  I seek to understand first before I even try to be understood.  For the teens I teach, I could not spend enough time asking their input because it is soo important to them to feel like they matter!  So this survey provided me with so many incredible things to take and put into action for each class period.  It makes my heart overflow when I see them smile because I honor their individuality or hear them say, “She said she would do it and she did.” You cannot pay enough money to hear that being said, because that means you have their trust.  When trust is there, you can move mountains!

I continue to try to push myself to ask for my students’ input, even if what I am asking may have an answer I do not want to hear or it is out of my comfort zone.  I know this is the time when we will all grow the most!

Shifting The Notion of Writing

As I began thinking what I want my seventh graders to walk away with this year from the content that I am teaching, my mind continually goes to, “How will I get them to love writing?”  I feel confident that I can get them to love learning in my classroom.  I can build strong relationships to transform these students into empowered learners, but loving writing is a different challenge, a more personal challenge.

As a child, I loved writing things.  My parents lovingly remind me that at the age of three I asked every person I saw their name, how to spell it, and I would write it in my journal.  In fourth grade, I won a cultural arts award in the category of Composition from a story I wrote about my move from Illinois to Texas. I am writing this to say that as a child I enjoyed it, but somewhere along the way that enjoyment stopped.  Somewhere along the way I got the idea that I could not write, I was not as good as others, I did not have anything to say, and I was being told what to write.

This feeling lasted many, many years.  Actually, it wasn’t until two years ago when listening to an inspirational educator speak about blogging and the many reasons why that I began to write for me. (Thank you, George!) Yes, I was thinking about an audience as I wrote, but I felt inspired because I had found a way to get all of the thoughts that were spinning around in my head out.  It was blogging!  And it relaxed me.  I enjoyed it!   Even if no one else read them, I had found a way to share my thoughts, feelings, and have my voice heard.

It is this last reason that I feel is most important and I want my students leaving my classroom with this imprinted on their hearts.  I want each one of them to know that they can write to let their voice be heard.  They can do this as a kid, a teenager, and as an adult.  It should never stop.  It is hard being a kid, but especially hard during these teenage years when they have so many emotions and feelings that they are learning how to deal with and not sure who to talk to or if they even want to.

Side Note: It takes me back to when I was in middle school writing in my diary that I kept under my mattress, until my boyfriend discovered it. Gasp!  Then in high school the diary I wrote in every single night was on a computer like this!

I have always loved typing, and until recently did not even realize that this was writing.  This was my way of sharing my voice and feeling heard. Thankfully, a real person never heard it.

This is where I think the disconnect is in teaching writing and developing the love of writing in our students.  Similar to reading, when we tell them what to write it becomes a job. When they are given time to write in meaningful ways to them, they learn all of those things we are required to teach them. And they actually remember them!  I hope to share my love of writing for reflection and letting my voice be heard this year and that my sweet, precious students learn to do the same!

 

 

 

The Lesson Anchor Charts Taught Me

Today I realized I need to share something that I see happening over and over in my classroom.
                 Very simple.
                          Very important.

      Kids really do ANCHOR back to Anchor Charts!

Weeks ago I was teaching a dyslexia intervention lesson and asked the students what approach stroke we would use for this new letter we were learning how to write in cursive.  They all (including myself) looked over to the spot in the top, left corner of my whiteboard where I had the approach strokes sketched out. Nothing fancy, but we knew they were there.  Except-they weren’t. They were cleaned over the weekend!

What got us laughing was the fact that we ALL looked there and then at each other in surprise. Doesn’t take very much to crack us up!  All fun aside, this meant something.  As a classroom teacher, my colleagues and I would always whine about how after we moved on from the concept on the Anchor Chart that the students created we didn’t have space to leave the charts up.  Okay, okay… if I am really honest, I do NOT do clutter.

(Side note: There are so many ways now to store them: Google Slides, Google Drive, Live Binders, etc. One way I chose that worked best for my classroom of students was the Magnetic Curtain Rod. This saved space and still allowed the students to anchor to a place they knew, and quickly.  Click here.)

Here are a few examples of how I used the magnetic curtain rod to hang anchor charts when we had limited space.

So this is why I must write this blog.  This morning while teaching another dyslexia lesson, when it came time to write our words I noticed the students anchoring back to the place where my writing letters used to hang.  At that moment it hit me.  I need to move them back to the original location.

Even though they have been in the new spot the entire year so far.
Even though I thought they fit better on the other side of the room.
Even though I was sure they could see them better on the other side of the room.

The truth is, once they had their anchor in a certain spot, this is where their eyes went back to every single time.  There is something to be said about the visible learning, visible thinking, visual aspect in remembering things.  Think about it, how many times have you covered things up and witnessed students looking up at that spot? How many times have you done the same thing when trying to recall information?!  I could go on forever about the research, but I just wanted to share a quick A-HA moment!

After moving them back to their original location during my lunch break my afternoon kids did smile a pretty big smile when they saw them. I noticed (even if they won’t admit it) that they looked right at them while writing!

This is not rocket science, friends.  I knew this, but I guess I never truly knew HOW important these Anchor Charts were until I found myself anchoring as well while teaching! I won’t even stop with Anchor Charts, ALL Thinking should be VISIBLE!

I will leave you with this advice: Don’t ditch the charts. 🙂  They may not be beautiful or clean looking (does this really matter?), but they really do make a difference in recall and securing the learning!

Just sharing my A-HA moment from my literacy room on this fabulous Tuesday!

Differentiated Instruction and The Whole Child

If you know me, you know I am the biggest advocate for Differentiated Instruction.  I am also a huge advocate for The Whole Child.  Recently, The Whole Child Blog posted on DI. It was like educational Christmas for me! 🙂  If you have a chance, it is worth your time to explore this site.

They mention how and why it is important to differentiate, and how it can be done through content, process, product, and learning environment.  I think the ones we are most familiar seeing in classrooms are content and product.  

For example: We are comfortable pre-assessing to determine where a child is and meeting them where they are to challenge them. (Content)  We are comfortable giving choice and allowing students to show their learning in multiple ways. (Product) 

That got me really evaluating, are we this comfortable in the Process in which we are presenting the information?  Are we this comfortable in the area of Learning Environment? I think this is where it gets a little muddy.  When we think about the definition of Process, ASCD defines it:

Process. Process is how the learner comes to make sense of, understand, and “own” the key facts, concepts, generalizations, and skills of the subject.  A teacher can differentiate an activity or process by, for example, providing varied options at differing levels of difficulty or based on differing student interests.

Differing student interests – this one stuck with me.  Unless you are completely new to the world of education or have been in hiding, you have heard about Genius Hour and Passion Projects! You have probably done these in your classroom to some degree.  So many times we think this concept is taught in isolation from our core subjects.  We allow one hour to let our kids create in school.  Imagine if this is the only “hour” they feel in charge of their learning and passionate about what they are learning.   

What if we looked at integrating this concept of Genius Hour/Passion Project into our everyday teaching?   Are you crazy…you might be thinking, but think about it.   If WE are interested in what we are learning, we will do anything!  Right?  Our students will rise to meet the expectations we have for them.  I truly believe that we can collaborate with other creative teachers and find ways to teach the content we are required to cover in a way our students will feel in charge of their learning and passionate about it!  We want them leaving us each day inspired to do more and craving to come back for more!  This will happen when we differentiate around the needs of the whole child.



Differentiating the Learning Environment is one that I never really listed with differentiation, but was always something I considered. So much of this goes hand in hand with knowing your students. Knowing their interests, their goals, and knowing who they are as individuals. When we stop and really consider the whole child, we will see it is very clear what learning environment they need in order to thrive.  And sometimes… just asking the student will give you insight you might never have imagined!  🙂

When I think about my own classroom, sure…I had the varied seating, lighting, and choices to work at the solo desk or group tables.  The students were always allowed to choose where they sat depending on their need for that day.  I didn’t always do this.  I first started it when I asked myself, “What would I want if I was my student?” I would want to have choice.  



Yes, it is hard to give up the control.  We have a list of excuses as why it wouldn’t work for us and it can work for someone else.  I’m not even saying it was the best thing for each class I had each year.  This is where we come full circle to asking ourselves, “What is Best for THIS learner at THIS time?”  

I am writing this to share my huge passion for The Whole Child and Differentiated Instruction, not to say this one way is the best way. I hope that I will always think about The Whole Child and Differentiate the Learning Environment just as much as I do Content, Process, and Product.  

I will leave adding this great list from ASCD of how to differentiate in response to the learner profile.  Do you….

  • Allow students to choose to work alone or with a friend?
  • Balance perspectives and acknowledge the ones less popular?
  • Build a strong class community?
  • Provide opportunities for authentic learning around talents and interests?
  • Focus on teaching Character Education?
  • Present information through kinesthetic, auditory & visual modes?