Reflections and Resources from Tarheelstate Teacher: 2015
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What's My Error? Extraordinary Math Hack

Are your 4th or 5th grade students learning the array/area model for multiplication and continuing to make common errors? Mine were having some trouble, until I started asking them to "find my error." Today's math hack is so simple, you can have it ready in 5 minutes--and you can use it for just about any concept you are teaching in math.
Are your 4th or 5th grade students learning the area model for multiplication and continuing to make common errors? Mine were having some trouble, until I started asking them to "find my error." Today's math hack is so simple, you can have it ready in 5 minutes--and you can use it for just about any concept you are teaching in math. Learn how I use error analysis to help students understand math models better and solve problems with more accuracy.


I have fallen in love with using Error Analysis with my 4th graders. 4th grade math content can be such a beast as students are required to master larger multiplication, division, and fraction concepts. Plus, they need to master their multiplication facts and become more accurate with all of their computation because almost everything requires multiple steps. In comes error analysis where students examine problems that have been completed with common errors. Students identify where the error was made and discuss what aspect of the concept the person who solved the problem does not quite understand.
Are your 4th or 5th grade students learning the area model for multiplication and continuing to make common errors? Mine were having some trouble, until I started asking them to "find my error." Today's math hack is so simple, you can have it ready in 5 minutes--and you can use it for just about any concept you are teaching in math. Learn how I use error analysis to help students understand math models better and solve problems with more accuracy.

During second quarter, we focus on multiplication. I expect my students to master the area model and the standard algorithm. If you are unfamiliar with the area model for multiplication, here's two quick videos that you can watch to understand how it works:


While I was teaching the multiplication area model, I kept noticing common errors (either within one student's work or across the class in general). Of course, this made me wonder what I had done wrong in my teaching and how I could go about improving students' understanding and mastery of the method. I immediately thought of a way I could work with students' common errors by putting the mistakes on myself. I decided to use their common errors to help them focus on becoming more accurate. I wanted my students to learn to look at their work more objectively and to be able to help them revise any misunderstandings that they had internalized with their incorrect practice.

Are your 4th or 5th grade students learning the area model for multiplication and continuing to make common errors? Mine were having some trouble, until I started asking them to "find my error." Today's math hack is so simple, you can have it ready in 5 minutes--and you can use it for just about any concept you are teaching in math. Learn how I use error analysis to help students understand math models better and solve problems with more accuracy.I grabbed some index cards and students' homework and started looking for errors. I came up with a handful of different errors they had made and created 5-6 cards. At the start of math, I displayed cards on the board with my document camera and asked students to raise their hand when they found my error. After a few practice problems together, I returned students' homework and asked them to find their errors. I noticed a tremendous improvement in students' ability to find their errors and a greater focus on accuracy.

Now when students have an error on their paper, I say "Can you find your error? What's your error?" I love being able to call their mistakes an "error" and hope that they connect that word to the fun way I introduced it so that it's more like a game than a disappointment that their answer is not correct.

While we were identifying errors as a whole group, I realized that I would LOVE for students to work on identifying more errors made while using the area model to multiply and that task cards would be the perfect way to help every student practice and improve their own understanding of the area model. My "What's My Error?" task cards are now ready to go!!
Are your 4th or 5th grade students learning the area model for multiplication and continuing to make common errors? Mine were having some trouble, until I started asking them to "find my error." Today's math hack is so simple, you can have it ready in 5 minutes--and you can use it for just about any concept you are teaching in math. Learn how I use error analysis to help students understand math models better and solve problems with more accuracy.

Whether you are just now teaching students to multiply with the area model or have already taught your multiplication unit, these cards are perfect for spicing up your practice and review. My students actually love error analysis and were so engaged in trying to identify the error that had been made. I will even be pulling these cards out soon for my 5th graders to help them review whole number multiplication! I think "What's My Error?" will be a hit with them as a fun way to make sure they remember how to use the area model to multiply. You can easily create your own error analysis task cards by taking a look at your students' errors, but it's so nice to have these sets ready to go now.

Are your 4th or 5th grade students learning the area model for multiplication and continuing to make common errors? Mine were having some trouble, until I started asking them to "find my error." Today's math hack is so simple, you can have it ready in 5 minutes--and you can use it for just about any concept you are teaching in math. Learn how I use error analysis to help students understand math models better and solve problems with more accuracy.

I ended up creating 80 error analysis task cards on 5 levels, so you have a variety of problems and can differentiate easily. Each card contains only 1 error. I expect students to find the correct answer after identifying the mistake. I created 16 cards for each of the following:

2 digit by 1 digit
3 digit by 1 digit
4 digit by 1 digit
2 digit by 2 digit
3 digit by 2 digit

Each set is color coded so that you can keep them separate, but if you don't print in color, I suggest that you print each set on different colors of cardstock to keep them organized.

Are your 4th or 5th grade students learning the area model for multiplication and continuing to make common errors? Mine were having some trouble, until I started asking them to "find my error." Today's math hack is so simple, you can have it ready in 5 minutes--and you can use it for just about any concept you are teaching in math. Learn how I use error analysis to help students understand math models better and solve problems with more accuracy.
What common errors did I include in these task cards?

• Student’s partial product does not have enough zeros when multiplying multiples of 10

• Student records too many zeros when multiplying multiples of 10

• Student does not line up place values correctly when adding the partial products to find the solution

• Student makes a multiplication fact error

• Student does not yet understand what parts of the factors to multiply and therefore multiplies a factor within itself vs multiplying by the other factor parts

• Student flips numbers when recording them to add the partial products

• Student did not expand numbers correctly when recording the hundreds/tens/ones

Common Core Connection: 4.NBT.5: Multiply a whole number of up to four digits by a 1-digit whole number, and multiply two 2-digit numbers, using strategies based on place value, the properties of operations, illustrate and explain the calculation by using equations, rectangular arrays, and/or area models.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you can put this Math Hack to use!

I'm linking up again with Rainbow City Learning and my Teacher Talk friends for the December edition of Teacher Talk. Follow the links to find other great ideas!


Building a Reading Life: Supporting Readers

In today's Building a Reading Life post, I'm sharing some of my best approaches for helping "growing" or struggling readers to build a reading life. This is not a post where I share reading strategies, but the ways I target struggling readers' independent reading habits and help them with their reading selections. These may not be only your readers who have difficulty reading, but also those who are capable readers that do not have high levels of engagement. In my last post, I asked you to remember that children are impressionable and that your positive attitude towards reading will rub off on them. At the beginning of the year, I create such an energy towards reading, it is unbelievable that any child would not "jump on the reading train" with me. I was shocked during at least three conferences this year when my students' parents told me that their child did not really like to read last year. Really? They have acted like a wild reader in my classroom since week one. I had no clue!
While I'm proud of the influence I have over my students' attitude, I still have students who do not come around so easily. In all honesty, your motivational reading lessons at the beginning of the year should be considered part of the "sifting" phase. Many of your students will follow your lead and amp up their reading right away--because you asked them to, because they like you, because you inspire them! Bask in the glow of those happy readers humming along as they turn pages...

And then, WAKE UP! Start zeroing in on those readers who are not quite where you want them to be. This is a time where you can identify which students are going to need more than a mini-lesson or two to get them reading on fire! Who has difficulty choosing new books? Who is choosing books that are above their success level? Who's not really focused during independent reading time or always seems to forget their book at home?  Who's constantly abandoning their books? I believe those students are the first students to target during first quarter. {If it's later in the year right now and you still have those students, don't give up! It's never too late!}

My greatest struggle with helping those readers who are reading well-below grade level and who may also have little to no self-esteem for reading left is how to support them while allowing them the autonomy that I believe all readers deserve. How do I careful guide the student to good book choices, while trying my best not to say "Harry Potter is too hard for you! Get that book out of your hands!"? How do I allow them to keep their pride as they stumble from book to book? And how do I get the right level books in their hands so that they can feel good about reading?

I also have to hold strong to what I know about reading growth--to become better readers, children have to read; to become better readers, children need to spend ample time reading at their independent reading level; to become confident readers, children have to read with understanding; to become confident readers, children have to finish books; to desire a reading life, children have to be part of a reading community.
So, how do I begin to work my magic? My third Building a Reading Life Tip is to KNOW WHO YOUR STRUGGLING READERS ARE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE and HAVE A PLAN OF ATTACK. I begin thinking about my struggling readers before the year starts. If you've not heard who the struggling readers are in the grade level below yours, be sure you ask when you get your class list. If you have access to end of the year assessment data, check it out. Who's on the lower end of the data? Who might be on your V.I.R. {very important reader} list? Then start asking questions. Ask the child's previous classroom teacher why they think the child has been a struggling reader. Decoding? Comprehension? Inferences? Attention? Stamina? Motivation? By the way, I call an unmotivated reader a student who just hasn't been led to the right book yet, but you might hear that labeled by teachers as a motivation issue. What was the child's favorite book they read? This probably means the book was on the child's "just right" reading level and they felt successful when reading it.

How can you start building a relationship with the student? When I'm lucky enough to already know who my struggling readers are before the next school year begins, I start priming them for being in my class. "Hey! How are you? You're about to be a 4th grader! I hope you are reading up a storm!" Just making the student feel like you care about them can give you so much power when trying to support their academic needs later on.

As I prepare for readers who need more support and have a round about idea of their reading levels, I start thinking about what books I'm going to lead each child to. Have you ever really stepped back and taken a look at your classroom library? In the beginning of my career, I'd find myself saying "I've talked about just right books so much. So-and-so still does not know how to choose a book on her level." Then one year I realized the problem...my books for "so and so" on a 2nd-3rd grade level were really hard to find and in slim-pickings. I'd have to search for at least 10 minutes to pull them all myself and only because I'm familiar with what's in my classroom library. How did I expect a struggling reader to land their fingers on just-the-right-book? I didn't turn my library upside down or even buy more lower level books, but I did start pointing kids in the right direction, helping them place specific books in their book bins, and attending library time with my kiddos to help get their hands on appropriate level books.

Do you have a set of HIGH interest/LOW level books? I've always liked the Stone Arch books by Capstone Publishers as a "go to" for boys with word-reading issues. They have silly titles like My Mom the Pirate, My Dad the Dragon, but they also have serious books like Kids Against Hunger. The Stone Arch books come in all genres and have the reading level on the back. The books usually have some picture supports but not too much to make it seem like an easy book, and the chapters are usually fairly short (another PLUS for my readers!). My current school does not have a school library, but at my old school, I would pull as many of these books from the library as I could get my hands on, check the reading level on the back, and identify which books my growing readers had the most success with. I was usually able to get them to read a handful of these books to create successful experiences with reading and build reading confidence.

Like many teachers do, I keep my students in mind while I'm at the bookstore or library. I know we put up with a lot as teachers AND do a lot for kids, but this is one burden of teaching that I am not willing to shirk. I will go to the library and check out books for a student. I'm always on the lookout for just right books for specific students--and keep in mind that I get the most mileage out of a series if I can find one they like. It is super rewarding for me to say "I was thinking about you this weekend and thought you might LOVE this book I found." And, how does it affect a child's reading life to know you care enough to be thinking about them outside of school?

A few years ago, I created a list of popular book series by level {from L-Z} so that I would have a quick reference of books that I might suggest or pull for students. Many of the lower level series touch on so many different topics that you are sure to find ones in a series that your readers will like. Take the Pee Wee Scouts series for example. While a student may not care for mysteries, they may enjoy reading about holidays. The Pee Wee Scouts series has titles focused on Halloween, Valentines, and other holidays, so you can still use these books to your advantage. This list is also great to use when it's time to bump a student up. I have a student who has spent all of first quarter reading The Magic Tree House series. He was reading this series towards the end of last year and I believe that it is no longer challenging him. I can use the series list to try to get him into a series that is just a step above MTH and lead him to other books that he can handle.
I have a strong passion for teaching readers. I could write about struggling readers forever.  Along with my passion, I have a few beliefs that I must share with you in this post.

1)  There are ways to help struggling readers WITHOUT telling them that a book is too hard for them. (You sometimes have to walk on the eggshells, but YOU DO NOT have to say those words.) You may eventually find that after trying many strategies that you do have to tell some students that a book is not just right, but I try my best to teach each child what that means and how to figure it out for themselves before I say those words. I regularly CELEBRATE when a child starts a book that I know is not just right and mid-day lets me know that they abandoned it because it was not just right. YES! You might have to bring how often books are being abandoned to a student's attention and then let them know that you would like to help them find a book that they can finish. When I've worked with a student on choosing a just right book and felt I've had some success, sometimes the student returns to their old habits of choosing a book that is just too hard, spending a day with it, and then abandoning it. I notice these things. I pull the student to chat during independent reading time and say "I noticed you were reading The Series of Unfortunate Events yesterday and today you are reading something different. Tell me about your independent reading." When the child admits that the book was too hard, you say "I like how quickly you realized that you had chosen a book that was not a good fit. Let's make sure that what you have chosen will work for you." You can read together and get the student on the right track again.

2) I DO NOT BELIEVE IN TALKING ABOUT READING WITH CHILDREN IN TERMS OF THEIR READING LEVELS. I have to say this because I'm talking about reading levels today and I've shared a go-to list of series by levels, but I do not want to send the message that I tell a child that they need to read a Magic Treehouse  because they read on an M, N, or O. I NEVER tell a child their reading level and my classroom library is not leveled. I'd like to go into all of the public libraries and school libraries and rip the AR levels and Lexile levels right off the spines. Discussions about reading levels are meant to be had with adults--parents, support staff, teachers, and other stakeholders. Children should not worry about being on an N or O or P. They should know whether or not they are reading books they can comprehend and read with accuracy and fluency. To put it bluntly, you can hardly guide a child to a series where all of the books in the series are the SAME level, so why have them stress out over whether or not a book is a 2.3 or a 3.2? If a child is an above grade level reader, I don't need them tooting their horns about their reading level--I hate to burst their bubble, but even they have a lot of work to do when it comes to interpretation and thinking more deeply about their books. While Lucy Calkins and I disagree on this point and I'm sure many teachers have successfully leveled their classroom libraries, I'm just not willing to tell a child their level until my strategies for steering children to just right books don't work anymore.

Last, I'd like to ask you to have compassion for your struggling readers. It is most likely the case that your struggling readers have not had good experiences with reading, especially of an independent nature. Maybe it took them a while to catch on to letter sounds. Perhaps they are actually dealing with dyslexia or attention disorders that have made it hard for them to pay attention while reading. If students were struggling to get reading to click in the younger years, it is almost guaranteed that their peers have surpassed them in reading. They see their friends choosing thick books, breezing through the Harry Potters and The Lightning Thief series. They pick up these books because they want to read them too or they want to mask that they cannot read those books with understanding. When we have this kind of reader in our classroom (and we all do), we need to believe that it is our job to be the teacher that makes a difference for that child.

Go into your year {or week} with a plan! I know it's November, but you can still commit to getting those kids reading on fire! Get your toolbox ready and convince those readers that they WANT to have the best reading life ever!


This is a "Revisit and Revised" post that was originally shared on Tarheelstate Teacher's first blog, Life, Love, Literacy.

Building a Reading Life: Revisit and Revise

Quite a few years ago at Life, Love, Literacy, I wrote a little blog series that I called "Building a Reading Life: Tip Time." I have always wanted to teach those students who have a history of not enjoying reading. When the previous grade-level's teacher says "This child hates reading." I always say "BRING IT!" I believe I turn almost all of those students around within the first two weeks of being in my classroom and I love the challenge of turning ANY and EVERY child into a reader. Even during those years when I've felt like my students came to me as wild readers, many parents still tell me that they noticed a tremendous change in their child's attitude towards reading after spending time in my classroom.

I'm starting a new blog tradition called "Revisit and Revise" where I revisit and update some of my best posts from Life, Love, Literacy to share with you here at Tarheelstate Teacher. First up, I want to share some of my best tips from my Building a Reading Life series. It's November, and if your students have yet to fall in love with reading, right now is the time to make some changes to see if you can turn those uninterested readers around. Make it your personal challenge!

I first learned about Building a Reading Life from the Lucy Calkin's Reading Units of Study that were published in 2010. Since then, I have launched my reader's workshop with a unit focused on making our reading lives the best they can be. You too can create an environment of thriving readers in your classroom!

Tip # 1: Remember that your students are mold-able and that you are their greatest influence. If you demonstrate a love of reading, share amazing books with them daily through read alouds and book talks, and help guide them towards books they can independently read and enjoy, it shouldn't take long before your students are wild readers with amazing reading lives! You cannot create a love of reading if you do not model it yourself! I create an environment in my classroom where not being a reader is not acceptable. We read independently every day and if you are going to be doing something every day, you ought to be enjoying it!

Tip # 2: Address your curmudgeon readers head on! (And we can all be curmudgeons from time to time about reading). Lucy Calkins talks about being a curmudgeon towards books. What's a curmudgeon? Make a scowling face, pick up a book, and have a grouchy attitude, furled eyebrows and all. Overdo it so that a curmudgeon is laughable and not something any of your students would ever want to be. Teach students that we have a choice in our attitude towards things that we do in our lives. We can read books like curmudgeons or we can read books like they are GOLD.

We have all had great times with reading and terrible times with reading and it's important that you share those stories about your WORST reading times with your students. I have two stories I like to share--one about when I lied to my 1st grade teacher about finishing a book over night. It was the 80's and children's literature just wasn't what it is today. She had given me a book that was totally not interesting to me and I just wanted OUT. My other story is about how hard college science and history courses were for me because of the huge nonfiction reading load.

Students can relate to having a negative attitude about "school" activities and hopefully see that they shouldn't give up on having an amazing reading life just because they have had bad experiences in the past. When I see students having negative reading attitudes, I can always remind them not to be a curmudgeon. Discussing the curmudgeon attitude also gives you the opportunity to teach students that they should be reading books that they enjoy, and that if they are not, abandoning an independent book that is not a good match is always an option. The first time I taught students about being a curmudgeon, I felt like I not only had the goal of making them all into readers, but that I invited students on board to help me with that personal challenge. You can read more about my curmudgeon discussions with students in my original post.

I've got more Building a Reading Life Tips coming your way!  Tip # 3 is chocked full of ideas for how to reach those struggling readers and Tip #4 and 5 address classroom and school libraries and how you can use them strategically to your advantage, especially for struggling readers!



This is a "Revisit and Revised" post that was originally shared on Tarheelstate Teacher's first blog, Life, Love, Literacy.

New Blog Series: Extraordinary Math Hacks

Sharpen your pencils, pull out your 10-sided dice and base-10 blocks, and get ready for some math lesson hacks that you can use right away! I’m going to show you some Extra-ordinary Math Hacks that take my math time from *yawn* to "da-Bomb!"

Why are these math hacks extra-ordinary? Well, some of my ideas are going to have you saying "That's so simple and ordinary. Why didn't I think of that?" I’m always making a little something “extra” to supplement my math instruction. Maybe they aren't that ordinary, because if it were already out there and easy to find, I wouldn’t be making the activity or worksheet myself. The resources and ideas I share for math hacks will add a little something extra (or better) to your typical, "everyday" approach to 4th and 5th grade math. Today's Math Hack is focused on modeling place value and writing numbers in different forms. These materials would also work for 3rd grade! 

Don't forget to follow Tarheelstate Teacher on bloglovin' or through email so that you don't miss any future Math Hacks!



I'm lucky enough to be teaching a block of 4th and 5th grade math this year. It’s been amazing to get to spend more time teaching one of my most passionate subjects, but it sure does mean that I spend a lot of my time thinking about math. Last year, I taught math without a textbook and with limited resources. This year, we adopted Math Expressions. Having had previous experience with Math Expressions in my former district, I was really excited to get my hands back on the teacher manuals, Homework and Remembering books, and the student workbooks. While I am NOT a textbooky teacher, I love having it as a guide to help me pace my lessons and to see different approaches to teaching math concepts and skills (especially since I’m teaching two grade levels).

Even with access to a high-quality textbook this year, I still constantly find myself coming up with ways to get the kids up and moving instead of just completing a worksheet. Just about every morning before math class, I create a new thinking sheet to go along with the manipulatives we will use or to give students a way to learn a new skill through a game. I want my students working HANDS-ON as much as possible and I'm always sure to use a recording sheet to keep them accountable and to allow me to follow their thinking as I'm rotating around the room.

I find myself "hacking" math lessons with games and manipulatives so often that I thought sharing some of my ideas and hacks with you would make a great blog series. I hope that some of my ideas and resources will be beneficial to you as you teach these concepts. You might even find ways to apply my ideas to create your own math hacks!

Math Hack: Create your own task cards in minutes! 
Earlier this year while teaching Place Value to my 4th graders, I came across these free "modeling place value" worksheets at Common Core Sheets and immediately thought of a way to hack these into a more engaging lesson. First, I printed three different versions of the sheets onto cardstock to make 30 cards. (Each worksheet is numbered 1-10, so I just wrote 11-20 on one sheet and 21-30 on the other). Printing a good set of math problems that's technically a worksheet onto cardstock and snipping the problems apart to create task cards is a math hack you can use any time to get your students out of their seats and "scooting" around the room!

Next, I moved on to figuring out how I could have students do more with the cards than simply write the number that's represented in the picture.

At this point in our place value unit, we were deeply focused on using different models to represent place value and writing numbers in different forms. So, I made a recording sheet that would have students engaging with the number on the task card in different ways. For each Place Value task card, students had to create the number with their Secret Code Cards (more info later), write the number in expanded form, write the number in standard form, and model the number in a different way than shown on the task card--the one we use when drawing whole numbers is a small square or a dot for the ones, a straight line or stick for tens, a larger square for hundreds, and a vertical rectangle for thousands. 







Math Expressions comes with a set of manipulatives called Secret Code Cards. These cards can be stacked to create a number and expanded to show the place value of each number and expanded form. Secret Code Cards provided us with yet another way to physically represent a number. You can check out a teacher modeling the use of Secret Code Cards in the video below. Although it's a number in the 10's place, I think you will get the idea!

I'm sharing the recording sheet with you today and have included number cards in the ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands in case you want your students to model the numbers in expanded form. (I really think that's what took this activity over the edge and helped solidify their understanding of the meaning of place value). I've also included another version of the recording sheet in case you don't use the expanded number cards or "secret code cards."

I hope this is a math hack that you can use right away or put in your file for next year! I look forward to sharing more hacks with you! 

I'm linking up again with Rainbow City Learning and my Teacher Talk friends. Follow the links to find other great ideas!


Justifying Your Classroom Meeting {Series Post #10}

While it is great to have a principal who understands, encourages, and supports teachers in having a morning meeting {or community meeting} in our schedule, I have worked under circumstances where I felt that I needed to be prepared to justify my classroom meeting as part of my daily schedule. I never had to explain how my community meeting fit my goals, but it has always been one of my personal “best practices” to know why I am doing what I am doing and be able to point to content standards that are supported by the instructional choices I make. Today, I'm sharing ways that you can justify your community meeting, the last post in my Implementing the Community Meeting series.


Take a look at the standards you are required to teach. When I was thinking about a classroom meeting based on themes in literature, Common Core Standards had also just been adopted in NC and theme kept popping up as a really important literature standard. I have created a reference tool of the “Common Core Connections” for 3rd-5th grades based on my literature-based classroom meetings. In addition, perusing your social studies standards and your guidance standards is a great way to see how a classroom meeting complements those content areas.


Common Core Standards Met through Implementing a Theme Based Community Meeting

3rd Grade
RL3.2 Determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.
RL3.9 Compare and contrast the themes of stories written by the same author about the same or similar characters.

4th Grade
RL4.2 Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text.
RL4.9 Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics.

5th Grade
RL5.2 Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem, including how characters in a story or drama
respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic.
RL5.9 Compare and contrast stories in the same genre on their approaches to similar themes and topics.

6th Grade
RL6.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.
RL6.9 Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.

Examine how you are called to build character, career and college readiness, and 21st Century Skills in your teacher evaluation. In our state’s teacher evaluation, we are called to “demonstrate leadership by taking responsibility for the progress of all students to ensure that they graduate from high school, are globally competitive for work and post-secondary education, and are prepared for life in the 21st Century. Teachers communicate this vision to their students…They establish a safe, orderly environment, and create a culture that empowers students to collaborate and become lifelong learners.” community Meeting helps us communicate our vision for students' current and future lives.

We are also called to “incorporate 21st century life skills into our teaching deliberately, strategically, and broadly. These skills include leadership, ethics, accountability, adaptability, personal productivity, personal responsibility, people skills, self-direction, and social responsibility.”

Community Meeting gives you an avenue for teaching:
  • Social Responsibility: how can we be more kind to one another? Who’s job is it to reach out to someone who needs us? Who should take responsibility for issues in our community?
  • Problem-solving of real issues {those that come up in a learning environment} through discussion, idea generation, collaboration, and learning to compromise
  • Personal Development through goal setting and your focus themes
  • People-skills as students negotiate wants and needs in the school environment and have a voice in the meetings
  • Self-direction as students receive some freedom in making decisions about how the classroom will run and share ideas for improving their classroom experience
Community meeting sets the tone for your classroom environment, it provides an opportunity for you to bond with your students and for them to bond with one another. It gives you and your students an opportunity to voice frustrations and problem-solve issues that you are having in the classroom and it allows you, as their trusted guide, to respond to their needs. Community meeting gives you a routine opportunity to embed personal goal setting and reflection into your yearly plan. Not to mention, it allows you to meet some of the academic standards that you are required to teach without students really even realizing it!

Thanks for following along with this series! Would you like to receive the entire series in an E-Book format? Just click subscribe!








Community Meeting as a Structure for Solving Classroom Issues {Series Post # 9}

Utilizing community meeting as a platform for solving classroom issues continues to be one of my top reasons for maintaining a community meeting structure in my classroom. Today I'm sharing the simple process that I use to improve poor student behavior in the context of our classroom environment. I'm talking about those times when it seems that the class in general is falling apart. 

Other Posts in this Series:
Introduction to the Series
Series Post # 1: Why I Devote Time to Community Meetings
Series Post # 2: The Design: An Overview
Series Post # 3: Why a Theme-Based Community Meeting?
Series Post # 4: Community Meeting: Materials and Resources
Series Post # 5: Launching Community Meeting at the BOY
Series Post # 6: Day by Day in the Community Meeting
Series Post # 7: Scheduling the Community Meeting
Series Post # 8: I Still Can't Fit it all In


Teachers often spend a lot of time setting expectations for classroom behavior, helping students develop and improve relationships with one another, and reflecting with students about how things are going at the beginning of the year. We work really hard to fine-tune our machine...And then we get busy and that ball that is so important often gets pushed aside. I realized that dropping community meeting was problematic and blogged about it at Life, Love, Literacy a few years ago. In that post, I shared how we had stopped reflecting on classroom behavior and had stopped setting new goals. See:


This led to a week's worth of community meetings focused on problem-solving and developing strategies to improve overall behavior. You can read more about that journey in the post (and even pick up the FOCUS freebie that I designed based on our classroom meeting discussions). 

Recall that one of my reasons for maintaining a classroom community meeting in my schedule is because I have found {again and again} that my students need it? When I drop community meeting as a routine, behavioral issues are soon to follow. The moment I realized that students truly needed our "beginning of the year" dialogue to continue all~year~long, I dedicated myself to figuring out how to continue these important conversations. If I wanted to create true change in my students, I had to be dedicated to that goal all year long. Morning Meeting was the perfect fit for our needs. 


Based on students behavior and needs, you will have times when you need to step away from your “theme-based” community meeting plans in order to address classroom issues.

Examples of Typical Classroom Issues that Pop Up:
  • too many students are blurting out, making it hard for others to learn 
  • students are saving seats in the cafeteria 
  • during independent work time, some students are chatting off-topic, goofing off, and/or not having a high level of focused, on-task time
  • students are arguing about rules for games at recess and bringing the drama back into the classroom 
  • during group work, students are excluding, being rude, or taking over 
and countless others that I’m sure you can think of!

How do we use community meeting to improve on these behavioral issues? 

First, I choose a student leader to guide the discussion. I find that strategically choosing a student who would benefit from having a leadership role focused on behavior and allowing them to lead the meetings for a few weeks is extremely beneficial as I try to correct behaviors. If my students are overall behaving appropriately, I may choose to allow a different student to be the leader each time I go through this reflection process. Students sit in a circle during this time so that they can see one another and look at the speaker.

I provide my student leader with question stems to help them guide the discussion. (I wrote these on an index card at first and also post them in the classroom by our meeting space.) Here's a typical student-led dialogue:

“As a classroom community, we are working on: walking down the hall silently and in a straight line.

"How did we do yesterday?"                

Students raise their hand and the leader calls on them. I step back from the conversation, but early on, I make sure to model how to encourage students to elaborate on their answers. I often chime in, "Rebecca, make sure they tell you WHY they think we did a good job yesterday." Elaboration is key in this process. You really want specific examples of how they did or did not do well on their goal so that the whole class hears what worked and what needs to change. 
"What can we do today to make improvements?”

It truly is that simple and the power is in having STUDENTS verbalize how things are going. Often, the culprits speak up and admit they need to improve. Students who are frustrated get an appropriate outlet for airing their frustrations, and while this may not immediately change their classmates' behaviors, I do think it helps them deal with the stress of a less than perfect learning environment.

I love this reflective routine and have needed to use it regularly with some groups of students. If you have a lengthier block of time for morning meeting or your students show you that they need consistent reflection in order to make improvements, you may find it beneficial to implement this strategy daily.

I encourage you to choose no more than two goals to focus on as a class. If possible, stick with the one that is most detrimental to your classroom environment until that issue improves. At some point, I will ask students if they feel that we are ready to move on from the goal we are working on. I remind them that we can always come back to it later in the year if needed.

If you find that students are continuously reflecting that the class as a whole did not make improvements, please look for additional strategies and tools to offer them to help change happen. I’m not a big fan of rewarding students with parties and such for good behavior (although I have, of course, resorted to setting goals for earning reward parties in my classroom). If it takes offering something that you believe students will strive for, then go for it! If they improve on a classroom goal that was challenging for the whole class to work together on, then perhaps a celebration is due!

Do you want to make goal setting a regular part of your classroom meeting routine? Each Morning Meeting Made Easy set contains a header for setting a goal within each theme unit and a header for general classroom community goals. I print these on colored paper. We design a goal together and write it on the header along with the date that we set the goal. It would be great to post your goals somewhere in the room as a record and timeline of all you have strived to improve during the year and as a reminder when it seems like students have fallen back on old habits.
I hope this {easy} reflection process comes in handy for you this year! It surely helps me keep my sanity when things are not going so well in the classroom. I love to hear students' reflections. Realizing that students are still learning to control themselves, I am appreciative when they are able to reflect on their mishaps and focus on improvement. I can give them grace, they can verbalize their desire for improvement, and we can turn our attention back to learning!



I'm excited to be linking up with some great blogging buddies for the October edition of "Teacher Talk." See below for more great ideas!
   
    http://www.inlinkz.com/new/view.php?id=569881" title="click to view in an external page.">An InLinkz Link-up

Community Meeting: "I Still Can't Fit it In!" {Series Post #8}

I’m going to tell you a secret today. When I started this school year, I wasn't sure how community meeting would possibly fit into my schedule. I've had a number of challenges that make adding something "extra" to the schedule even more difficult this year. Last week, I shared with you the basics of adding a community meeting to your schedule, but what do you do when you have a tricky schedule to work around? Read on to as I share my challenges and the creative ways I found to overcome them!



“I just Can’t Fit it in!!” I think this all the time about just about everything I teach. We develop and learn about so many good ideas, and then we have to figure out how to make it work for our schedule or simply toss it aside because we decide we really don't have the time.

My scheduling challenges: The challenges feel especially grand when it's early in the year and I don't feel like I've got a good grasp on my basic schedule yet. Well, we just wrapped up our 6th week of school and it took me until the 5th week to feel like I understood the chunks of time in my day. My schedule stayed pretty much the same this year when it comes to special area classes, lunch, and recess. I usually have to do a little tweaking to make the schedule work for my EC and AIG students.

My school also has a STEM program, so they attend 1 hour and 15 minutes of special area classes each day AND have a 45 minute STEM class three days a week. The program is valuable and worthy of our time, but this makes for a different schedule every other day and uses some of the time I'd use for writers workshop or social studies.

To add to my scheduling challenges, I'm doing a math/science switch with another teacher, which means that my 4th graders now have science every day of the year and I will have less time in my schedule for other things. I'm ecstatic to be teaching math for two blocks of my school day, but it has created a few scheduling challenges that I did not expect--like less time for other things.

I've had to really think about how I'm going to fit in all of my required subjects, forget about adding a community meeting to our plate, right? {Now's a good time to go back and review why I devote time to theme-based community meetings before I decide to completely throw it out the window!}

Although I've included a theme-based community meeting in my schedule for years, I was probably in the same boat as you if you wish you could have one but.still.don’t.know.where.to.put.it. I knew it was going to be a squeeze and a stretch this year—especially to include all the in-depth discussions, written reflections, and comparing and contrasting that I want to do with my students. Unless…unless I get creative! I’m going to tell you what I’m doing, but I’m also going to give you two other options that may work for your teaching situation.

Put your community meetings smack-dab into your reader’s workshop (at least for a little while). Have you come to the realization that “theme-based community meetings” that are rich in literature, writing opportunities, discussion, and common literacy goals are perfect to include in reader’s workshop?

This year, I decided that my community meeting lessons would be my first readers workshop unit for the first month of school. We will still have time in the schedule for independent reading and conferring, completing assessments, learning how to use our classroom library, and setting the foundation for teaching many important reading skills. I will still be creating a love of reading, but most importantly, I'm building a community that learns life-lessons from reading books together. {You can read more about what I did during my reading block as I focused on my belonging theme.}

Implement the community meeting themes as mini-reading units all year long. If investing more time in community meeting works for you at the beginning of the year but not so much as the year goes on, I have a way that you can continue your community meetings as you shift your reader’s workshop to focus on the other reading units you have on your agenda. Why not go back and forth between your other reading units and mini-units for community meeting themes? All of the themes that I teach through our community-focused lessons come up in our chapter book read alouds throughout the year. You should feel fully justified in teaching theme-based mini-units that have a community meeting and community building spin on them as reading units!

If you’ve been reading all of the information and ideas I've shared in my Community Meeting series and still think “I just can’t fit it all in,” I want to encourage you to take the ideas I have shared and pare them down. You can surely keep it simple—introduce the theme, read aloud a picture book, have students complete the self-assessment, and complete the discussion page. Be sure to display your themes on a bulletin board and you will get more mileage out of your shorter lessons as students refer to the themes and vocabulary during other parts of your day. I shared how I launch community meeting at the beginning of the year by using picturebook read alouds. Quick introductions to a theme and a short read aloud could be the primary teaching method in your community meetings if you have a cramped schedule and are short on time. Remember, this is HOW I GOT STARTED!

Another helpful suggestion is not to think about your community meetings in terms of one-week endeavors. Begin by deciding on the most important themes you want to target, set aside the time that you are able to (15-20 minutes), and just work through that theme until you feel it is time to move on. Take the pressure off of yourself to "get more done." You just want to enjoy your theme-focus with your students, be in tune with their needs and what future lessons and discussions will be really helpful to them. You might stick with a theme for two or three weeks depending on how many days you have been able to meet together. Remember to have ideas for resources that can be used when you are really short on time (5 minutes with a video) and be ready to go deeper on the days where you can extend the lesson a little longer (with a picturebook and discussion for example).

Next weekend, I'm sharing a structure for problem-solving classroom issues that pop up throughout the year. It's important to allow students to voice concerns and brainstorm ideas for what's NOT working in the classroom. Community meeting is the PERFECT place to remind students of the vision you have for your classroom community and to allow them to problem-solve and I want to make sure that I share what I do in community meeting when things aren't going so smoothly with my kiddos. I'll see you next week!

Scheduling the Community Meeting {Series Post #7}

In August, my friend Kara from Making Playtime Count shared some ways to creatively squeeze character building into your classroom routines. In today's Implementing the Community Meeting, I'm addressing the basics of how you can add a community meeting to your class schedule.

How Much Time Does a Community Meeting Take?
During the first few weeks of school, my classroom meetings with read aloud and discussions may take up to an hour. I embed lessons into my “getting to know you/back to school/setting expectations” routines and into readers workshop since each theme has a touchstone picturebook to read aloud. As we get further into our year, it would be ideal to have at least 25 minutes for community meetings each day, however, 2-3 days a week still makes a strong impact on students and your classroom community. I try to get my meetings down to 20 minutes knowing that our discussions will continue during future meetings. One year, I had 15 minutes in the morning before my students went to special-area classes and I was able to make that work for community meeting.

When Does Community Meeting Happen? 
While “Morning Meeting” is the perfect way to start the school day, sometimes schedules do not allow for our meetings to be first thing in the morning {or even every day of the week}. In this case, I call it a “Community Meeting.” Find a time of the day that works for your schedule. Do you have a small window of time when students return from recess or a special area class? Can you get everyone to your meeting space more quickly in the mornings by being in your chair ready to begin and inviting students over as they get unpacked? They can grab their journals and get started on a reflection page while waiting for classmates. You can even get some personal time helping students as they work at the carpet and wait for you to begin your meeting. Somedays, working at the meeting place with you and classmates may be all your meeting requires! Think of the organic discussions that will ensue about kindness, compassion, and perserverance as students are allowed to work with one another on the journal pages. If your schedule is tight, I encourage you to find creative ways to chisel out the time for community meeting throughout your week. {I've found a really creative way to fit it into my busy schedule this year! I'm so excited about this new idea and I'm sharing in next week's post!}

How Can I Keep the Momentum when I'm Not Able to have a Daily Meeting?
If you are unable to have morning meetings daily or first thing in the morning, one way you can continue to embed the theme into your week is to use the journal pages for morning work and play related music in the background as students are getting settled so that they become familiar with the song more quickly. Can students accomplish one part of classroom meeting for morning work while students are getting settled to save time and lead into what you will be discussing during your meeting later in the day? Of course, using your morning work time to build on community meetings will be more effective after your current theme has been introduced and you students have had some experience with community meeting.

Things come up throughout the school year---picture day, field trips, early release and other interruptions. If you don’t have time for a full community meeting on certain days, you can still try to squeeze in 5 minutes by using a quick video from YouTube related to your theme. I’ve listed a number of connected videos in my Community Meetings Made Easy sets, but there are thousands of other great ones out there if you do a quick search! I’ve often stumble upon some of the best videos this way. Students love to be engaged through video, so allow yourself the video option as a back-up plan when your day is packed to the brim. A heartwarming and inspiring message or song is a great way to start your morning together. If your students LOVED a song or video that you have already shown, reward them with a repeat on a busy day so that you don’t drop community time altogether. My go-to videos for playing again and again come from Kid President and the "One Day” Kindness Boomerang video/song. It’s impossible for your students to hear the messages you are trying to impart too many times this year! 

If you have spent the quality time upfront launching your classroom meetings, shorter meetings as the year goes on (depending on your goals) will still feed your classroom community and allow your students to thrive. You may even find yourself getting into a long-short-long rhythm, planning for your initial launch of a theme to go on a little longer and building upon that in the days ahead. 

I am personally convinced that shirking community meetings altogether results in lost class time later on as student behavior and treatment of one another declines and I have more issues to problem solve during my instructional time. And, don’t forget that classroom meetings structured around themes help me meet many of my literacy objectives, so I never feel guilty. When I set aside time for community meeting in my daily or weekly schedule, I am not “giving up” class time for community meeting. Community meeting is giving meaningful class time to myself and my students.

Start small and believe it is worth your time!
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