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Finding the Carrot

I've taught many grades.  I've had a lot of students.  I've had my share of challenging students.  As different as they all are, I've found one thing in common.  They all want something. 

Some children only want to be noticed.  Luckily, there are many students who want to do the right thing.  Some want to have fun.  Some want to do nothing.  Some want to antagonize their teacher.  In many ways teaching is all about finding that thing they want.  It's about finding that thing that will motivate them.  It's about finding the carrot to dangle.

I really learned this lesson many years ago when I was a young teacher who would do anything for some work experience to get me closer to a real job.  Although most of my training and experience was in the early childhood years, I took a job teaching Language Arts in a summer school program with 8th graders.  I was so very much out of my league, but it didn't take me long to figure out what these kids wanted.  They wanted to pass my class so they could move onto High School.

It was a shock for the boys.  (Yes, it was a group of 8 boys.)  Everyone was taller than I was, and they were certainly tough kids.  They thought all they had to do was show up for the class.  They were quite shocked to find out that they actually had to do work and participate in class!  But I frequently reminded them that they were expected to do the work I gave them, and reluctantly, they did it.  After a while they softened a little and almost started to enjoy themselves. 

The second graders I've had these past few years have been somewhat easier to please.  The thing that works for most of them:  beanie babies!  I have a huge collection of them, and if someone does something well, they get to keep a beanie on their desk for the rest of the day. 

It all started a few years back in a moment of desperation.  I had several beanies around the room as decorations.  The class was restless that day, and I was searching for someone who was doing things right and a way to reward that student.  Finally I found a kid who was focused and working, so I grabbed one of the beanies and plopped it on the student's desk.  That child was so thrilled, that I managed to find a few others who "got the hint" and started to work, so I put beanies on their desks, too.  It was such a hit that I kept it going and it still goes on today.

Sure, the kids want to play with the beanies.  I often remind them, if they play with it, they lose it.  ("It's not a toy, it's a tool to remind you to be good.")  And I have to take them every so often to the laundromat for their "bath".  But it's been a hit.

Who wouldn't want an adorable little beanie on their desk to keep them company?

Giving Feedback

I find it is important to give honest feedback to children.  
I won't tell a child he's doing a good job, unless I honestly feel it is a good job.  
I tell the truth.

How do you give feedback? This post explains the importance of giving honest feedback, and how it can be done quickly and easily.

I choose to be honest with children.They know how they're doing. If they're not putting in much effort, and you tell them they're doing a good job, isn't that giving them the wrong message? Isn't that telling them they don't need to try?



I've often found the best way to build self esteem is to give opportunities for the child to work. I'm sure most people, after completing a very difficult project, are beaming with pride. I remember caressing the cover of certain reports in college, simply because it was the result of a whole lot of hard work, and I felt proud that it was completed.



In every day work, I use a simple system. Since I work with young ones, they need feedback within a day if possible.  Since many are non readers or beginning readers, I need to make it simple to understand. I use highlighters and a traffic light system.


How do you give feedback? This post explains the importance of giving honest feedback, and how it can be done quickly and easily.
I'll highlight the child's name in one of these colors:



Green: Go! You're doing just what's expected of a second grader.



Yellow: Caution: There are some things you need to be careful about



Red: Stop! There's a problem here.



There is one more color I use: purple. Purple means "above and beyond the expectations of a second grader." Purple means they are royalty.



I'm very stingy with purple. They really have to go "above and beyond" to get it. And they should be extremely proud when they earn it.



These are the papers I usually show off to the whole class.  Not only do they get the feedback they need, they are now role models for the others. (Of course, it doesn't hurt that I bow to them, and refer to them as "kings and queens".)



And what about the kids who gets yellow or red?  Does this destroy their self esteem? Of course not! They know that if they didn't put in any effort, they won't get much in return.  They also know if they don't like what they got, they have the power to change that. I often remind them:  when the going gets tough, the tough get going!


Once in a while, I have to give myself a "red." 

If a good portion of the class aren't giving me what I want, that's a teacher problem! I tell them honestly that I goofed, apologize for not getting the ideas to them properly, and I promise to do better. (Being a role model matters!) 

I have another post about giving feedback here:


Quick, Easy, Honest Feedback: Here's an idea that will make your life easier, and give the kiddos the information they need to grow!

How do you give feedback?

How do you give feedback? This post explains the importance of giving honest feedback, and how it can be done quickly and easily.

Speaking of Heroes

I had the most incredible morning. The town where I grew up dedicated a road in the name of my dad. 

My dad was a legendary football coach and Phys. Ed. director in my home town. He not only coached many successful seasons, he established a sports program in the town which has been in place since 1953. 

As I walked from my car to the spot for the ceremony, I noticed several sports teams playing on different parts of the field, cheerleaders stretching in preparation for the upcoming game, and an impromptu basketball game. There were signs and banners rooting for the home team. 

I realized, this scene was very similar to the scene I would have seen 40 years ago when I was one of those cheerleaders stretching in preparation for the game. This was the program my dad established all those many years ago. 

Several people spoke about the strong influence he had on the town's sports program, and quoted his incredible record. Former players and colleagues spoke of the way he had with his football players, and called him a great motivator. He truly coached the kids on and off the field. One of his favorite sayings came out today:  "I can, and I will!"

The program ended with my brother unveiling the new street sign.  We all posed for pictures under the sign, and talked to people we hadn't seen in a very long time.  Somehow I managed to keep from crying during the ceremony, but I did shed a few on the car ride home.

It's hard to believe that I could have a lot in common with a man who coached football. Me, with zilch athletic ability.  Me, who prefers to sing or tap dance or teach small children.

But we both have a common theme:  We both would do everything within our power to get young people to be the best that they can be.  We are both motivators.  We are both passionate people who care about kids being successful.  The man has been gone for 9 years, and yet he is with me every day.  He is my hero.

How appropriate for this weekend, the 10th anniversary of 9-11.  A time to celebrate the heroes in our lives.  We certainly celebrated a hero today!

Who is your hero?

Some links:
Bondelevitch Way Open for Travel

Big Blue Football Continues the Bondelevitch Winning Way

David Bondelevitch's blog: I Can and I Will

David Bondelevitch's blog:  Father's Day



Here's my dad (center) with his staff and captains back in the early 1970s.



Celebrate Heroes

We had a great lesson today. My alternative to a full fledged "9-11" Lesson turned into a lesson on heroes, and it couldn't have been more successful!

Celebrate Heroes: September 11th is a tough day to honor with little ones, but this discussion and writing prompt has been a success in my classroom. It includes a freebie!

I modeled looking up the word heroes in 3 different dictionaries and led a delightful discussion on what heroes are and what heroes aren't. The best "child friendly" definition came from Macmillian First Dictionary (Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990) 
 
Here it is:
 

A hero is someone we think of as special because of the good or brave things that person has done.

Celebrate Heroes: September 11th is a tough day to honor with little ones, but this discussion and writing prompt has been a success in my classroom. It includes a freebie!


We discussed what heroes are and why they're not superheroes. We talked about heroes in our families, in our school, and in our town. Then I told them about my hero, my dad. I told them why he's my hero. (because he taught me to inspire kids to be the best they can be.) I told them to think about who their own hero might be, and why that person fits the definition of hero.


While they were at lunch, I typed up Heroes Writing Prompt, available here (or click the image) for free! It has the child friendly definition of heroes, and a lead for the children to write about their heroes. When writing time came, they were ready to write. This was the most focused I'd seen this group of children yet this year. They were so focused, that I actually had a chance to sit down with the children and write about my dad. We ended up with a variety of heroes. Lots of moms and dads, but children also picked neighbors, siblings, teachers, and, of course, firefighters and police officers. Some of their explanations were quite touching! It was the first time we had enough writing for a sharing session, and the children were truly interested in each others' work. I was quite proud of them!


Celebrate Heroes: September 11th is a tough day to honor with little ones, but this discussion and writing prompt has been a success in my classroom. It includes a freebie!


What I Learned on my First Day This Year

Well, I survived and made it through the first day.  My classroom is put together, I made it through Open House and 2 days of teacher meetings. 

Here's what I learned about my students:  I've learned they like to talk, except of course, when I ask them to talk. 

I learned they like to repeat my name over and over and over.

I learned they love to listen to stories, and ask lots of questions that show good predicting skills.  (I read Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse.  Who doesn't love that?)

I learned when the story gets long, the children get restless. I learned that some of the children don't follow directions until they have eye contact.

I learned that the children believe me when I tell them they're the best class in the school.  I learned they enjoy each other and care about helping each other. 

I learned they want to do well, and need to be told they're doing well.  I learned they love having a beanie baby on their desk.  They really love trying to earn a second beanie baby for their desk, and even a third.

I learned they get tired by the end of the day, just like their teacher.

In a way, they're like most other kids I've had.  In other ways, they're like no class I've ever met before. 

I learned this is going to be another year that I love my job.

What has your class taught you?

The Brain, Memory, Emotions, and Hurricanes

I've been in the mood to tell about my very first day of school. 

Yes it was a very long time ago, but if you recall, the memory is connected to emotions, and I had some VERY strong emotions that day.

The Brain, Memory, Emotions, and Hurricanes. Here's a story about my very first day of school, and how the brain is closely related to emotions.

My mother was a teacher, my dad was the Phys Ed director in my town, and my older sister went to school. I had to stay home with the babysitter while everyone else in my family went to school. Needless to say, I wanted to go to school just like everyone else in my world. 

I kept asking when I could go to school. My mother showed me on the calendar how many days had to go by before I could finally go. I counted, and counted, and finally, the day came.

School was cancelled because of Hurricane Donna.


The Brain, Memory, Emotions, and Hurricanes. Here's a story about my very first day of school, and how the brain is closely related to emotions.The Brain, Memory, Emotions, and Hurricanes. Here's a story about my very first day of school, and how the brain is closely related to emotions.
"But you promised." I was inconsolable. I remember my mother bringing me out to the front porch, trying to convince me that they wouldn't let children go to school when the weather was that bad. 

I must have gone to school the next day, but I really don't remember!

The Brain, Memory, Emotions, and Hurricanes. Here's a story about my very first day of school, and how the brain is closely related to emotions.The Brain, Memory, Emotions, and Hurricanes. Here's a story about my very first day of school, and how the brain is closely related to emotions.
It was the intense emotion that I remember to this day.  Yet another lesson on the brain and emotions.  And another hurricane story.
 
Here are couple of videos about Hurricane Donna, if you're interested!
 

Hurricane Donna Newsreel:

This is pretty old, but interesting! Apparently Hurricane Donna caused a lot of damage because it hit so many different places and kept going! The newsreel does end rather abruptly... technology has improved a lot since then!
 

Track of Hurricane Donna:

This shows why Hurricane Donna caused so much damage: it hit Puerto Rico and several islands, the keys and up the coast of Florida, then the entire coast of the US through New England (where I lived.) Luckily, Hurricanes don't always follow that path!



Click HERE for more information about Hurricane Donna. (This one contains a slide show if you find "please click here" near the bottom of the text. Very interesting stuff, if you're fascinated by weather, as I am!
 

Do you remember your first day of school?

The Brain, Memory, Emotions, and Hurricanes. Here's a story about my very first day of school, and how the brain is closely related to emotions.



Perfect is the Enemy of Good

"Perfect is the enemy of good".  It's a quote I heard years ago, and I truly understand it, as I am the queen of perfectionism.  No one is harder on herself than I am.  I like things to be "just so". 

What's wrong with that?  Well, nothing is ever really perfect, so therefore, I'm constantly disappointed in myself.  When you're aiming to be perfect, you'll always be disappointed in yourself.

I worked in my classroom all week.  We couldn't get in until Monday, and we had to leave early on Friday.  We have meetings all day on Monday, so we won't get any time in there Monday before we have company at the Open House on Monday night.


I did manage to clean the stuff off the desks, but there's a lot I didn't do!
I got a couple of bulletin boards up.   I picked up most of the clutter.  I have all the math materials arranged for the first day.  I sorted the individual supplies. I put down my mat in the large group area. I got most of my signs up.  I ran off almost everything I'll need for Open House.  I washed off the desks before I left today.

I really did a lot this week.  I pretty much burned the candle at both ends, preparing signs, cutting out laminated stuff, writing out letters and forms and materials I'll be needing. 


But all I can focus on is all that I didn't do:  label the individual supplies, arrange the beanies, put nametags on desks, assemble homework folders, schoolwork folders, and writing folders.  I still have an empty bulletin board and I haven't put up my favorite poster. And I still haven't planned for the first day of school!

Perfect is the enemy of good.  My room looks good.  I have to take time to breathe.  I have a great Power Point planned for the Open House.  My room is clean, and I'll get the nametags cut out and placed on the desks by the Open House.  That's what the kids really want to see.  (Plus, which friends are in the class!)


I need to learn to work faster.  I need to learn not to spend so much time on details that don't matter, like those home made desk name tags.  I need to learn to be proud of my accomplishments.  I have a lot to learn!

After all, practice makes perfect.  (Perfect?  <shudder>)

But I sure am proud of my class Library!





Getting to the Fun, Not the Tedious


Almost empty!
Well, I'm making progress! I spent several hours in my classroom again yesterday, and I'm beginning to see my actual classroom unearthing itself from the "explosion" it's been!

I've emptied out most of the stuff from the cubbies and coat rack area that was stuffed there last June, and found a home for most of that stuff. 
Matching baskets!


I've rearranged my class Library so that all the books are organized in coordinating baskets!  This was no easy task, but I'm feeling mighty proud of this!  There are still a few labels in the laminating process, but it will be ready for Open House. 
I even have my calendar bulletin board up, and the large group area set aside.  Once a long time ago, I remember young teachers (I was one at the time) making fun of older teachers because they put the same furniture in the same place every year.  I vowed then that I wouldn't be one of "those teachers." 
This year's change:  Large group area to the right
I understand now how, after being in a classroom for a few years, there are certain arrangements that work.  My computers have to be on a certain wall.  My desks need to be near the whiteboard, since we do so much board work in Reading Street and Everyday Mathematics.  I like my reading table near a bulletin board, since I usually post vocabulary and learning targets on that bulletin board.  But I try to "shake it up" every year by putting different things in different places.  This year, I've moved my whole group area to the area right behind the computer table.  I'm excited about this change!

Today's tasks:  find the classroom!
Today's plan:  put up the rest of my bulletin board, put down the "mat" (sort of like a rug, but rubber), and start sorting the supplies for the students.  I have a ton of laminated stuff to cut out, and folders to put together for homework, classwork, math tools, and writing.  Whew!
But at least my classroom is starting to look like my classroom.  The stuff I have left is the fun stuff, the most tedious stuff is complete, whoooo hoooo!

How to Have Them Happy When They Walk Out of the Classroom

It's important to have the children leave happy for so many reasons. For one, you want them to feel good about school so they'll want to come back tomorrow. 

How to have them HAPPY when they walk out of the classroom. Of course we want them happy. Here are some ideas on how to do just that!


Maybe even more important, if they're feeling bad, that's how they're feeling when mom asks, "How did school go today?"  This can lead to bad feelings and/ or bad communication, which we just don't want to happen. 


I start my day on a high energy note (see my previous blog post:  How to Have Them Ready to Learn When They Walk Into the Classroom) I prefer for the kids to leave on a calm, reflective note.

I play soft music as the children are packing up. (They tend to have trouble focusing by the end of the day, and the music calms them down and helps them focus on their responsibilities.) When they are all packed up, we meet in a circle for "High Low". While they are waiting for the others, they reflect on their school day.

When most of the children are ready, I usually start "High Low". I pick up a beanie baby. (Whoever is holding the beanie is allowed to speak.) I tell the class my high of the day and my low of the day. It might sound like this: "My high of the day was how everyone enjoyed the story I read. My low of the day was that someone hurt Susie's feelings at recess." As the children decide their high/low, they raise their hands. I'll pick one child and toss the beanie to them. And so it continues.  

A few procedures I've followed during "High/ Low".  


  • No one can be raising their hand while someone is talking. 
  • Don't raise your hand until you've planned what you're going to say.  
  • Say the person's name BEFORE you toss the beanie.  
  • No one has to have a low, you can do two highs instead. If you want to participate, you have to have at least one high.  
  • No mentioning names if it's not good news, just say "someone". If it's good news, use names!  
  • Don't toss the beanie to the same person every day. 
Often people wonder why I even do a "low" for the day, why focus on the negative? Well, I've found that sometimes things bother the little ones and it's important to let it out.  As long as it's anonymous, letting it out is a good thing. I also find that when I tell my low, it gives the children an idea on how much I care about them. My lows usually have to do with someone who is absent or someone who got hurt. A lot of thought and "modeling" go into my "high/ low".


I do find the children love it, and it's a great motivation for them to finish packing up so they can participate. I also find it's a great way to learn what is important to the children. And, of course, sometimes I find out things I didn't know were going on in the social circles of my classroom. This is all valuable information for me!

How to have them HAPPY when they walk out of the classroom. Of course we want them happy. Here are some ideas on how to do just that!

How to Have Them Ready to Learn When They Walk Into the Classroom

Everything I've read about brain research and memory tells me that there are strong ties between the memory and emotion. 


How to Have Them Ready to Learn When They Walk Into the Classroom: Here's a little trick I learned that can be used with any age group. It's great for Open House nights, too!


As an experienced teacher, it's clear that children will remember events that are associated with emotional events. Personally, I prefer to keep that emotion a happy one while in the classroom. (Although I'll bet everyone reading this remembers events from extremely unhappy times, I'll leave those negative emotions to a power higher than myself... hopefully it's not the principal!)


I remember, a long time ago, I walked into a workshop after a long day of workshops. It was a long morning, and we were fed a good lunch. This was mid afternoon, the time when many countries like to take a siesta, and the rest of us wish we could. 



As I walked to the room for my next workshop, I was seriously thinking of sneaking out to find a place I could slip in a little nap. I walked into the room, and I heard music playing. Not your typical "little kid" music, but fun music, the kind you'd hear at a party. Immediately I started smiling and happily found a seat, smiling at the other teachers in the room, who were also smiling. I saw lots of other people do the same... looking around, smiling, moving to the music, chatting happily... can you picture it?


When the workshop started, we were all in grand moods. I still wonder if I would have enjoyed that workshop as much, or even been able to stay awake, if it weren't for the "feel good" music while we were arriving. 


I've remembered this moment many times. I've collected a number of classic "feel good" songs that I like to play when the children enter the classroom. These songs always bring smiles to faces. Even though they hate to see it end, they settle right down ready to work after the happy music. 


I find this music is great for Open Houses, too. It's nice to see those parents smiling. I'm preparing my music for this Monday's Open House... it's their first impression of me, and I want it to be a good one!




What music makes you feel good? Here is one of mine! I can't help but smile when I hear Aretha!



HERE's a freebie with a list of many of the songs I use:
 
How to Have Them Ready to Learn When They Walk Into the Classroom: Here's a little trick I learned that can be used with any age group. It's great for Open House nights, too!

What music do you like to play that makes people feel good?


How to Have Them Ready to Learn When They Walk Into the Classroom: Here's a little trick I learned that can be used with any age group. It's great for Open House nights, too!

Three Quick Math Brain Activities

There are lots of quick things teachers can do to activate the brain while teaching math.  Remember, the brain needs movement and active engagement in order to activate those dendrites.  
Three Quick Math Brain Activities: Here are three quick ideas for getting children to think about math, while keeping the brain engaged.


Keeping things fun along with social interactions are putting the brain in the best place for learning to happen.  Here are some tricks I use.
  1. Skip Count beanie toss:  Skip counting is big in second grade.  Beanie babies are huge in my class.  Pairs of children pick up a beanie and start counting.  The children say a new count every time they catch the beanie.  They keep going as high as they can until time is up.  This could be done with Math facts, too!
  2. Musical Math Facts:  Work in groups of 4 or 5.  Put one less fact card on the desk or table.  As the music starts, they walk around the table.  (Dancing is optional!)  Works just like musical chairs, but when the music stops, each child picks up a math fact.  The last person to say the correct answer to his/ her fact becomes the "cheerleader".  (I use cheerleader rather than loser, as I insist they say positive things to their classmates, even if they're out.  I always remind the boys that, in my class, "cheerleader" doesn't mean wearing a short skirt and shaking pom poms, it means supporting their team mates.)  I like to have several groups going at once, since more kids are practicing more frequently, and it goes more quickly.  The teacher can keep an eye on those kids that need more guidance. 
  3. Calendar March:  My students need to practice the days of the week and the months of the year until they know them by heart.  From their desk position, they all chant the months of the year and march in any direction.  (Of course, I remind them to keep their distance from furniture and people.)  Then I challenge them to find their way back to their seat by marching to the Days of the Week. 



Of course, feel free to adapt any of these ideas to your own grade level.  I use most of these as a warm up at the beginning of math, or as a break to keep the brain focused.



Of course, these three activities can be adapted for anything that needs to be reinforced.  Rather than skip counting, math facts, or days of the week, try the same activities for some other subjects.  Here are some ideas
  • Spelling:  practicing their spelling words, or "igh" family words
  • Reading:  Name all the characters in today's story, or tell the main events in sequential order
  • Social Studies"  Name the 7 continents, or name as many states as you can
The possibilities are endless.  And this is only the beginning of Brain Based Learning in the classroom!

Three Quick Math Brain Activities: Here are three quick ideas for getting children to think about math, while keeping the brain engaged.

September 11, 2001

What do you remember about this day so many years ago?

September 11, 2001: What do you remember? This post compares my experience in 2001 to another experience, way back in 1963.  What do you remember about this horrendous day?
 

This is one of those events where people would always remember where they were, and what they were doing. (Again, brain research tells us that memories are associated with strong emotions!) 

I remember where I was when Kennedy was shot. (Yes, I really am that old!) I was 8 years old in my third grade class.  The principal got on the intercom and told us to pray. She didn't tell us why, she just told us to pray. (Yep, Catholic School!)

I got home that afternoon to find my mother watching the TV, talking on the phone and crying. I watched a little bit of the TV to find out what was happening. I saw that clip in Dallas of the famous motorcade, with President Kennedy falling over and Jackie reacting... I saw that over and over. 

I sensed the huge sadness of the event, said something like "aw, that's too bad", and went out to play with my friends.

Almost 40 years later: One beautiful September morning, I was in my second grade classroom. My student teacher was about to have her first evaluation by her supervising teacher, and one of my students was about to get a baby sister. 

One of the teacher assistants in our school stopped into the classroom and said she'd cover the classroom, both my student teacher and I should go to the office. She quickly whispered something to me about a plane crash.

I went to the principal's office to find several teachers watching the TV. Some were crying, some looked quite shaken. The first tower had just collapsed. They kept showing the second plane hitting the second tower over and over. Then the second tower collapsed. It was surreal. Teachers came in and out to find out what was going on.

We decided not to tell the children. They were rather young to "get it", and this was the sort of thing that was best coming from parents. Before going back to class, I stopped into my daughter's classroom and gave her a big hug. (I never did this! I tried very hard to stay out of the way of my daughter's class, so she was quite surprised... but her teacher understood.) I told her, "I just needed to give you a hug today."

We took the kids out for an extra long recess that day. The teachers all huddled together, trying to stay strong. The kids all played on that beautiful September day in New England. A couple of children were dismissed early that day. We gave them all a break from homework that night.

When I got home, I told my daughter about what had happened.  I watched it on the news over and over. I called my sister and we talked and cried. My daughter went outside to play. History repeats itself. 

What happened over the next few weeks was interesting. Flags flew everywhere. People were warmer to each other, even total strangers. Patriotism became stronger. People were proud of their country. 

About a week later, I was at a local apple orchard listening to blue grass music and celebrating fall on yet another beautiful fall day in New England. I remember one man pointing to the sky and saying, "a plane". The crowd was silent. Seeing a plane in the sky wasn't unusual, but this was the first one we'd seen since September 11th.  We all watched the plane go by silently, then turned and smiled at each other. They were hopeful smiles. 

Fast forward to the present. Right now is one of the roughest times our country has been through that I can recall in my many, many years. People are angry. Unemployment is high and morale is low. People are doubting the strength of our government. People are doubting the strength of our economy. People are scared.

But I still believe. Maybe it's that Catholic school upbringing in the 60s or living through the Vietnam war protests of the 60s and 70s. Or maybe it's something that my parents taught me. But I believe in my country. I believe we will work out all the problems and be a stronger country in the long run. And I'm still proud to be an American.

No matter how many times I hear this song, I'll end up weeping by the end: 



What do you remember?

September 11, 2001: What do you remember? This post compares my experience in 2001 to another experience, way back in 1963.  What do you remember about this horrendous day?


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