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Who Invented That?

So I wonder how all of these companies make so much money on their programs?  When you break down some of the programs (language arts, for instance), they are basically all the same.  For example, Guided Reading, Daily 5, Literature Circles have some similar basics: vocabulary study, small groups. teacher/student led discussions, and literature.  It is almost like all you need to make a million dollars is some research and an idea that recycles current teaching practices.  I always wonder, "why didn't I think of that?" Actually, we did think of that.  Certainly not to take away from the research and development that goes into a specific program, I have to ask, why are there so many that are almost the same?  A college professor or a teacher with a good head for business turned what we all do into a brand. Teachers have been doing centers for decades.  My mom taught elementary from the early 1960's to 1995, and she did centers every year of her teaching career.  She had a routine that worked. But really, it's not about the program or the fact that kids are doing different things around the room all at the same time.  It's what goes into those small groups, the discussions kids have, the things we choose for them to practice. The reason districts invest in the structure of programs is that we need a consistent guide.  We need a framework.  I get that.  But honestly, I don't believe it's some magic program that a district chooses to spend money on, but instead, it's what goes on in your classroom.  Your interpretation and implementation of what is determined important and relevant to your grade level standards.  We tweak what we bring back from professional developments to make it our own.  We also tweak the frameworks we've been given.  No teacher I've ever met follows exactly what they've been handed.  We do what works in our own classrooms within the framework we've been given.

My questions are...

  • Are you happy with what goes on in your language arts class on a daily basis?
  • Do you LOVE your lessons?  
  • Do you feel fulfilled as a professional educator after a week of planning? 
  • Do you look forward to coming to school each day so that you can do what you have planned?  

If you answered "no" to any of those questions,  fix that right away.  Find your "thing" that makes it all work.  Create your plans so that YOU love them.  Find activities that you can't wait to share.

My life as an LA teacher went in a new and strongly positive direction when I started Socratic Seminars in my classroom. They've been around for, well, since Socrates. When I heard about Socratic Seminar, I read up and studied it online.  I was a little discouraged because everything I read was geared to middle or junior high and high school.  I saw the simplicity and genius in the method and thought my kids could handle this.  After searching and viewing several sites, I created common rules that would work for younger, primary kids.

In my class, we had the respect thing down for the most part with a few rogue moments.   My kids LOVED to talk (not about books, but they loved to talk,) and they loved things that were not test practice or worksheets.

With the current language arts structure in place (Daily 5...which was really Daily 10, but that's another post  <here>), I still felt there was a missing piece, or lots of missing pieces. I did two things that made me VERY HAPPY as a teacher.

  1. Five stations were totally boring. I'm not nearly as timid to say that as I was five years ago.  I was okay with the Daily 5 at first, but quickly thought, "SERIOUSLY, we cannot stamp spelling words all year!"  What does that do anyway?  I created a form that offered choice with 10-12 activities each week. (TPT and my own creations to the rescue!)  I had a few activities for EVERY topic I covered for the year. I rotated them through the choices my kids had each week. My kids did daily practice of the big objectives we worked on all year.  You know the ones that they need to constantly practice - inferring, summarizing, drawing conclusions - to name a few. I had things they "had to do" and when finished, things they "could do".  One of the things my kids "could do" was states and capitals.  I'm not sure why, but that was a hot item in my stations all year.  It wasn't necessarily in my ELA TEKS (Texas's own Common Core standards), but what a great "early finisher" station! I created Webquests based on those social studies units that were so hard to work into my ELA block. They combined informational texts and Social Studies skills.  (Linked HERE)  You can read my post about how I expanded my stations to give my kids more choice  HERE.  I'm going to link some things below that will be a great start for you if you want some new things in your stations. 
  2. I researched and implemented Socratic Seminar.  It was my finest hour as a teacher when I started the Socratic Method in my classroom.  I'm dead serious. It's the bread and butter of my ELA time.  It's the cream in my coffee.  It's the gift that keeps on giving.  One day, I had a "teacher epiphany."  I was reading a book (which I never read professional books, I'm sorry, but I don't have time.) instead of a blog or some quickly researched article that I skim through.  I don't even remember what book it was.  A quote shot through me like an arrow.  
Let that sink in a moment.  When do we truly focus on oral language? Kindergarten?  Maybe first grade?  In my opinion, it's the "missing link" to our ELA instruction for all grade levels.  Oral Language is the thing we've all been looking at every grade level.  After that revelation, I set out to intentionally and strategically utilize their innate ability to talk nonstop all day long.  I turned that need to talk and share into some heavy duty language arts potential. I learned all that I could about the Socratic Method. It was mostly geared toward older students, sixth grade and up. I decided to modify it to fit younger kids (I was teaching third grade at that time.) 

We learned all the norms and pitfalls that first year together.  We dug deeper and learned how to write our own Socratic questions for the Socratic Seminars.   Remember the days when kids had no idea of what they were going to learn and took very little part or responsibility for their own learning?  We were the only ones privy to the standards and we just spooned it out to them. We all know things have changed!  I taught directly about Bloom's verbs. Blooms is not just for the teachers.  It's for the kids.  Teach them how to write their own questions about their reading.  

We started out learning these five Bloom's verbs.  They have served us well in grades 2-5 (remember, I teach GT kids and have multiple grade levels.)  All of your kids can be successful at this with practice. I give them a sticky note while we are reading the text we are going to use for Socratic Seminar.  They learn to jot down their question during or after we read.  They post their note on the board, I go through them quickly and use the ones that are the most powerful.  I don't really point out the best ones, they know if I'm using their question!  It's not a contest, it's an attempt to write a powerful question that the group can deeply discuss. 

Want to learn more about Socratic Seminar?  Here are some links:
The product on TPT

Use the time you have this summer to incorporate great discussion time into your ELA, science, math, or social studies blocks!  


Kids Take Ownership of Their Own Learning

I've blogged extensively about Socratic Seminar.  I love it, it's no secret!  This year during a PD, someone suggested having kids write their own questions.  That was a twist I had not thought of.  Since that PD, that is almost exclusively how I have conducted Socratic Seminars.  Let me explain the process...

Step One

We all know how to use Bloom's action verbs when planning.  I'm sure I'm not unique when I get out the taxonomy page I keep handy and use them in my lesson plans to make sure my kids are thinking at the highest levels.  They are all over the Internet.  Just google it to find a variety you can print and use (linked above is one I really like, especially for the kids!)   
Now here's the twist...teach your kids to use them.  Teach your kids what they mean.  Not all of them, but some of them...the important ones that you use all the time.  Have a whole group lesson on what they mean and how they connect to thinking.  Let the kids read a short, but great story, like Mr. Peabody's Apples. (If you teach 3-6th or even 7th...get this book! You can tie it into your social media lectures lessons. And, yes, Madonna wrote it, but I am not condoning or not condoning Madonna ;) 

You write two or three great Socratic questions to go with that story and share the questions ahead of time.  For example, "Analyze the reason why you think that Tommy shared the information about Mr. Peabody with his friends."  Show them how you pull those verbs into the questions to make your students think.  The reason you want to start with a story book is so that you can get the story read to them and get right into the heart of the story quickly.  

Step Two

Go ahead and let them try their hand at writing a question.  Create an anchor chart that reminds them of some of the Bloom's verbs so that they are always on hand.  

I give each student a post-it note and they come and stick their questions on a piece of paper.  I sort them into similar questions and try to combine them.  Sometimes I give credit on a really good questions by simply saying, "Dani had an excellent question," show it on the projector, make it a big deal, and explain why.  I try not to make it about competing to have the best question.  They know when you are using their question or part of their question.  It's a great way to make them think twice.  They are not only using critical thinking skills to come up with a question, they have to have an opinion about their own response to the questions (remember, Socratic questions don't necessarily have "right" answers!).  I encourage them to write a question for which they could come up with an answer.  

Friends, even third graders can do this.  Maybe not all of them all of the time, but some can most of the time.  Here are a few my kids just wrote from The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  

Step Three

Conduct your seminar.  If you've never done a Socratic Seminar and would like to know how, I have an introductory product you might find helpful in elementary school.  Click <HERE>.  You may have to supplement some of your own questions at first, but your kids will get the hang of this.  It's great for differentiation.  It allows those kids who can think on these levels to express themselves.  The Socratic Seminar itself is the great equalizer, in my opinion.  It allows those kids who can't put their thoughts on paper to speak their thoughts.  

I always tell the story of my struggling student who could never pass the state tests or even the district practice test.  His mother, who is a teacher, came to me so worried about him. Desperate tears.  I had video taped my Socratic Seminars quite often that year.  I started showing her her son's parts and what he had to say in Socratic Seminar.  Happy tears.  She said, "He CAN think.  He does know the answers."  SO then we both cried happy tears. The end.  


Have a "Brain Day" in Your Classroom!

I planned this before Christmas, and as our first day of the new year grew closer, I was more and more excited to do this with my kids.  I named it "Brain Day!"  I like to follow the precept that "If I don't love the activity, the kids won't either."  When that motto is my guide for coming up with fantastic lesson plans, I find that I look forward to each school day.  I can't wait to teach and implement what I've planned.  I admit, there are some plans that are WAY more fun than others, but like the kids, I hate to be bored.  Meaningful and engaging are our code words - all the time, right?!

With that in mind, I planned a back to school, ice-breaker type of day that was met with enthusiasm and talkative kids (the good kind of talkative!)  I wanted to trigger critical thinking and eagerness to start thinking.  Since that day may have come and gone for you, I'm thinking this could be a "Brainy Friday" idea.  I gave them some ground rules, AND  I provided lots of "choice."  Choice is the key to success for all students in the room, in my opinion.  First, I found all those great and challenging books I had collected over the years from book fairs and Scholastic Freebies!  Mine probably aren't the same ones as yours, but you know you've got em.  I bet you hardly ever use them because who has time?  Some are consumable and some aren't - but since I have so many- I just let them write in the consumable so that the copyright police wouldn't arrest me.  I have a solution for those copyrighted pages...keep reading.

First, I took a couple of fabulous non-fiction books.  I thought up writing activities for each one.  I have this wonderful primary encyclopedia called Very Important Things. I simply told them on a little notecard to research something from the book they are interested in and write a short paragraph about what they learned and add a question they still have about the topic.  (Encourage curiosity, always!) I provided a notecard to write down the information.

Next, I have this ADORABLE nonfiction poetry book about animals called, Animal Ark. They simply wrote a line of poetry to replace (think: SCAMPER) one in the book (using a sticky note) and stick it on the page where their line can be substituted for the original text.  Easy, peasy.

I laid out the books they could write in.  I also have some amazing optical illusion books that I am in love with.  We seldom have time to look at optical illusions, but they are so fascinating!! If you ever have time, go look at http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/ (pre-screen the text on the site first, but the illusions are so much fun!!)   The kids who chose the illusion books to look at didn't switch activities once.

Ok...here's the tip on what to do with books that you don't want the kids to write in.  First, find the best book you can for this (interactive magazines work well).  I use the Puzzlemania and Highlights books that come as samples to my teacher box in the office.  Rather than letting the kids write in them, I cut the pages out and put them in sheet protectors so that the kids can use dry erase markers on the pages.  I had to "lose" a few pages for it to work out.  I even put the answers in an envelope so the kids can check their work.  I've used this one for about 4 years! Still perfect.

One of my FAVORITE things of the whole year (I already know this :D)  is what I call my treasure jars. They are like "I Spy" in a jar! I saw these at the store and I thought they were pricey!  These are filled with rice and beans, but could be pretty sand or whatever you think will work.  The ones at the store were filled with white beads, but I found beads were so expensive.  I found "trinkets" on Etsy.  They were the most expensive item for the project, but I got a TON in the bag (about $10), and I can make several treasure jars with this small bag of trinkets.  Next, I found some clear containers.  I used a Mason jar and a plastic container with a good lid.  I have a cool olive jar I'll use for my next jar.  Here are the images of my supplies and finished project.  Be sure to list what you are putting in your jar and later type it up for the kids to check off with dry erase markers.  

We had "Brain Day" for more like a Brain Hour...but they had a blast.  Were they thinking? Oh, heck yeah.


Have You Tried education.com?

I am featuring a post sent to me from education.com just for you!  I was approached by education.com to see if I'd like to offer YOU a freebie from their website.  Who doesn't love a freebie...so that was an easy "yes!"  Below you'll find a great idea for a math station - adaptable to several grade levels.  There could be a "make it" station where you have copies of various coins for them to glue onto index cards to create their own set of cards.  You could use them for a station to offer as much practice as needed.  How about if students traded sets of cards and practiced each other's cards?  Awesome!  There are several variations and extensions below to differentiate this idea. 

Follow the link and look at the fun work pages for  extra practice.  I see some great games on there as well for computer stations in your classroom!


Thank you education.com! :)

Check it all out here!

What you need:
Index cards (3” x 5”)
Printed copies of U.S. coins
2 pairs of scissors
Tape or a glue stick
What you do:
1. Together, cut out images of the coins.
2. In third grade, you will want to include at least three coins on each flashcard. On the back of each card, write the correct total amount.
3. Continue making flashcards with different combinations of three or more coins. Program the cards to appropriately challenge your child.
4. Once you have at least 20 different flashcards, you can play one of the following games:
How many can you name?
Choose a short time frame like two minutes. How many flashcards can your child correctly identify?
Greater or less than?
Select an amount like 60 cents. Your child must tell you whether the amount on the flashcard is greater or less than the amount. How many can he correctly identify in one minute?
In the Range
Select a price range like 50-75 cents. Your child must decide if the amount on the flashcard is in or out of the range. How many can she correctly identify in two minutes?
Continue to update the flashcards as your child becomes more proficient at adding the coins. You can add more coins onto future flashcards, making cards with four or five coins on each one.


Two Freebies for My Readers!!

Choice Board

I was really good about making choice boards for my students in the spring.  This fall, different story!  I think we are all feeling the heavy load of the beginning of school and don't recover from that until sometime in January.  Here's a fun choice board for October/November.  Kids will need a QR reader and a journal or paper! :) 

Follow this link to my TPT store for your free download!!

Pumpkin Attribute Activity

Your students will enjoy this sorting activity!  There are three different pages for them to try and figure out a system for sorting them.  Several grade levels would enjoy this...I'd use it up through 3rd grade or maybe even 4th grade!  

Follow this link to my TPT store for your download. 

Happy Fall y'all!!


Teach Them to Ask Questions

We've all experienced this.  Children typically don't ask great questions.  Of course there is the occasional opportunity to say, "THAT was a great question!"  Don't we love those moments? It means somebody is listening; somebody is thinking!  What if kids were compelled to wonder? When it becomes a classroom norm for your kids to ask good questions, you, as the teacher are their model, you get the ball rolling. Lots of times questions are "off the cuff" (and there's nothing wrong with that because our teaching is fluid), but we might consider ramping up our own questioning strategies.  If we raise the level of our questions in our classroom, we raise the level of thinking. Kids will catch on to how good questions sound and look.  I use verbs from Bloom's Taxonomy every single time I plan (modeling questions for students.) From that list of action verbs come great questions, plans, and ideas. To up your question game, I suggest one great starting point...


In the same way that publishing children's writing improves their writing, children improve their thinking, understanding, and confidence as we verbally praise and encourage good questions.  

Here is a link to a free "Planning Pal" I have created to give you a reference for planning great questions.  

Click here


Freebie For My Readers!!

I love keeping track of my student's progress. This set of forms allows you to keep up with who you've worked with, what you worked on, and for how long.  There are also forms for students to assess their understanding (before and after your lesson.)  I highly recommend allowing them to be a part of the process!  There is a graphing page as well. I hold onto these at my small group station, but I let the students fill in the graph themselves.  They love seeing their score, and if they didn't meet the standard, they reassess after reteaching. They can color their new score in right next to the first score.  The kids were highly engaged in their own tracking. It meant something to them to be involved.

All of that to say, I'm giving you the forms that I used for years, tried and true!  Here ya go!



Target Finds

My tradition on this blog is to share my yearly Target finds each summer.  This summer may require two posts because they don't have their entire teacher aisle stocked.  Why blog about school supplies and teacher stuff?  Because I love school supplies and teacher stuff.  :D   Here are my favorites from today!


These happen to be the best pens around...hands down...for $3.50.  I use these constantly.  When was the last time you actually ran out of ink in an ordinary Bic pen?  I go through these down to the last drop of ink on a regular basis.  I especially use the blue and black, but the hot pink, purple, and light blue are great for taking notes at a boring professional development.  My love of school supplies comes on strong when I see these.  Cristal is your KEY word with you are looking for these.  They are medium point, so if you like fine point, they have those to, but they don't hold a candle to these.  Get em. 


These pencils aren't really second to the Cristal pens...they just happen to be second in my list.  They are numero uno in the great pencil competition that I have held in my mind.  Yes, it's Ticonderoga all the way for kids.  I don't really like for my students to use mechanical pencils.  They break constantly, kids are always messing with the extra lead, and they cause more trouble than they're worth.  However, if I worked at a swanky private school where parents could buy whatever their kids need, I'd have them get these. They are superior to all mechanical pencils.  Just as I love a medium ball point pen, I love these "fatty, fatty, 2x4" pencils.  They are triangular, so that part is super comfy.  The lead is the key here.  This lead does not break with regular use.  It's hefty and writes like a medium ink pen (but in pencil :) Get them.  They are worth every penny...and you get eight of them for about $3.50.  

Let me also suggest that if you teach any sort of professional development or host a meeting in your room, grab some of these for your friends in attendance. They make special gifts - because we all love cool supplies!    


My next find is a bunch of cute cards.  The Thank You card is HUGE.  It has a huge envelope!  This was $1!!!  I thought it would be awesome for a thank you to a group or from a group at school. I also bought another one for an unknown occasion that says "Get It Girl!"  So cute.  I keep small note cards on hand all of the time.  These little round ones for $1 (8 in a pack) are so cute.  There's a little foil edge and cute colors.  I know I'll use them.  


This pack of paper and dividers will come in handy for meetings.  The pages all say the same thing and are 3-hole punched for the binder.  I thought they would be cute to take notes during PLCs, etc...  There are 3 dividers included with the paper to divide up your notes.  The notebook and the paper/dividers were $3 each!  Super cute colors.  

These cute file folders are always part of my professional developments as a "gift".  I usually have smaller groups at my own campus, so it's not too expensive.  I couldn't do it if I had a ton of people.   These are nice to have for special files you use all  the time.  I like to give them away to give my friends to provide a place to put the papers they get at my pd.  The colors this year are really cute.  

This is the beginning of their flashcard/activity book section.  It's not completely different from last year.  I am on the lookout for a box of cards called "Good Questions."  It is an amazing set of critical thinking questions that I picked up last year for $1, not really knowing how great they were.   I do like the basic flash cards, especially the states and space cards.   They can be used for stations or reports, etc...

That's all I have found so far.  I will update as Target puts out more.  It's still early, and July should be much more entertaining!!!  


You Gotta Believe!

What Was...

     As I finish my 25th year of teaching that actually started in 1982 (subtract ten years spent being a stay at home mom), you have to understand that I have seen teaching transform.  I have participated in transformation, and again, and then again...some little changes and some really big ones.  I have gone from only teaching whole group lessons to classes of 39 kids, only using worksheets, to using fancier, cuter worksheets, to becoming convinced that small differentiated groups and Daily 5 are the best things since sliced bread.  We at least can agree that a combination of quality whole group lessons in combination with research-based small group instruction and engagement are the gold standard in teaching elementary today.  I truly hope that this system of mixing the two, working with small groups to meet needs,  and finding quality, engaging activities for students stays around for awhile.

     I have seen state testing become high stakes testing.  In Texas, it has gone from TABS, to TEAMS, to TAAS, to STAAR. Testing has become the be-all, end-all in our classrooms from third grade through high school, as you all know!  We've gone from being terrified to "teach the test" to blatantly teaching to the test through district standards.  We have no choice. The TEST is ever in the forefront of our minds.  Teachers have honed strategies that work for them. Some of the strategies are good, and some, who really knows.  Still, I've watched some of my teaching friends hold on to a strategy like it was worth millions, and sadly it's just an "ok" strategy that the teacher loves and can't part with.  I have a few of those myself.  They become our lifelines, like friends we rely on, year after year! And please, nobody come along and make us change that teaching strategy for something else! Don't move our cheese, right?! We all have one way that works well for us. So, yay, strategies!  We do need them sometimes, but we can't solely rely on those.

What Is...

     Next cool thing to rock our teaching world...critical thinking. How many times have you heard a co-worker say, "they just don't know how to think!" That's right, they don't.  They may not even know they're smart!  We have to teach them that they can think.

Cue: QuadrantsBloomsActionVerbsRigorandRelevanceDepthandComplexity

Reading Rockets website defines it like this:  
          "In layperson's terms, critical thinking consists of seeing both sides of an issue, being 
           open to new evidence that disconfirms your ideas, reasoning dispassionately, demanding                 that claims be backed by evidence, deducing and inferring conclusions from available 
           facts, solving problems, and so forth."     

Further clarification about critical thinking and higher order thinking: 
       Our district is working hard to bring critical thinking to front and center of our planning, PLCs, and PD's.  THIS makes me happy!  I am a GT teacher, so critical thinking is "where it's at."  Yet another mandate coming down the pike stresses teachers out.  It takes a great deal of extra planning and thought to weave the quality activities using Bloom's, rigor, relevance, depth and complexity into a daily lesson plan and implementation.  The teachers in our district have a huge heart to do what is best for the kids, as most all teachers do. There is that buy-in aspect that we are working on!  I think we are better than we were a year ago because of it.

What's Missing...

     So here's the disconnect. We are busy planning for our small groups...which by law need to be guided by research-based instruction. We are busy making sure we use technology and keep them all engaged while thinking critically, at all times. Then there's the constant focus on testing that permeates our days and nearly every meeting, lesson, and lesson plan we are involved in. When we rely on practice strategies that teach the tested skills, where does the critical thinking component come in?  We're busy! There is not 100% buy-in from teachers that the critical thinking activities can replace direct instruction of strategies and will bring about the desired skills needed to pass a standardized test. Direct instruction and critical thinking can and should go hand in hand. Time is too precious for another experiment or program to help us teach better!
     There is possibly a lack of trust, and understandably so, on the teachers' part that bringing in large doses of critical thinking is actually going to bring about desired results, and who has time for the extra planning?  If I need to teach main idea and details, I have a direct strategy for that.  How can I be sure that using open-ended activities and critical thinking will get the students "test ready?" First, I think you have to hit a skill from several angles.  The critical thinking activity might be an introduction and then again as a review.  It might be part of the practice phase of a new skill.  I believe if we use the critical thinking components and plan intentionally to consider students' thinking skills in our planning and implementation, we will see results.  We will see more confident students who believe in their abilities. (Kids grow when they use their brain in more ways than answering multiple choice questions.)  Then the next step could be your tried and true strategy.  Next could be the practice in a small teacher-led group for those who still don't have "it." We have to learn to make Blooms part of our lives and our plans...again.  Plan your questions/discussions ahead of time.  Allow the kids to talk and give them something important to talk about!

     We have to change our mindsets when it comes to critical thinking.  It takes work to plan an activity that has both real-world relevance and requires higher level thinking. Here is a tool shared with me by one of my wonderful coworkers (thanks Stephanie H.!)  It is a tool from Byrdseed (LOVE HIS WORK) that will help you to come up with real objectives that take kids deeper with focus on process, depth, and products.  I simply LOVE this tool!  What a help with planning! You're welcome.                http://byrdseed.com/differentiator/#

      Here are some questions to ponder as you move on a determined path to teaching your students to think more critically:

  • How are our classrooms structured?  In what ways is thinking encouraged?  (Of course you encourage thinking...but is it presumed that your kids know that they can think beyond a right or wrong answer?)
  • Do kids know what you mean when you say "create," "propose," "evaluate," and etc...
  • Do kids read with the idea of being responsible for sharing their thoughts about the story or article? (e.g., not just answering multiple choice questions to prepare for "the test") 
  • Do students know how to look at a topic through multiple perspectives? 
  • Do you provide time for them to think?  Time to discuss with their peers?
  • Do they know how to disagree with each other appropriately?
  • Do they feel free to disagree; do they even care to disagree?
  • Can they defend their positions; do they want to defend their position?
  • Can they change their minds if they are persuaded?
  • Are they passionate about their thoughts and ideas?
  • Do you give them consistent opportunity to use oral language to express ideas?
  • Do they automatically know to back up their ideas with evidence from text or other sources? 

That passion is partly up to you, teaching friends. Using oral language goes beyond just answering a single question out loud.  I like to use Socratic Seminar to teach kids to think critically while they read fiction or nonfiction. It has all the opportunities for oral language that I need to incorporate and critical thinking is built right in.

What's Practical... 

     Inference is naturally a critical thinking skill.  Maybe that is why it's so hard to teach. Maybe that's why kids struggle with it, because they have yet to learn how to think critically.  I teach the definition of "inference" explicitly at the beginning of the year.  We never stop working on it all year. They understand that an inference is not just what they think, but requires text evidence.  To teach inference, I use a pre-reading activity in combination with Socratic Seminar.  In the pre-reading activity, I may give them excerpts from the story and have them use the text to make an inference about the story or characters. They then confirm those inferences while reading. We underline clues that led us to the inference.  Socratic Seminars bring in the oral language and critical thinking every time!  I also like the idea of using Critical Friends (free from Ms. Furnas on TPT!) when students present a project or have researched a topic.

     Teaching summary seems straight forward enough.  How do we provide critical thinking opportunities for something so basic as characters, problem, solution?  How about assigning students at tables/in groups a writing assignment after reading a story?  Assign students to write three answer choices for "best summary" of a story you have just read.  Instruct them to create one of them to be "the best",  another the "pretty good", and the third one "not so good."  They then could share their work and the class chooses the correct summary from each group!  What if students had to combine pre-written sentence strips to create a good summary. Include some sentences that didn't belong at all. They would have to distinguish between the sentences that belonged and those that didn't.  This works well with main idea/details too.  So many ways to get higher level and critical thinking into our day!

     I am convinced that keeping a Blooms list of verbs in your view at all planning times and intentionally planning for critical thinking in our classrooms are the best ways to get results on those stubborn tested standards.  (BTW, if you do nothing else today, join this website and get some great information on critical thinking and serving gifted students! http://www.byrdseed.com/

     The good news is teaching critical thinking goes even beyond our classrooms. Adults who can solve problems and work collaboratively are the people employers want to hire.  We become an even more integral part of a child's future when we teach them to think.  I'm certain that teachers are the hardest working people on earth.  We just have to believe that teaching kids to think is going to produce the results we dream of for them. BELIEVE!

Smith, Vernon G., and Antonia Szymanski. "Critical Thinking: More Than Test Scores." ERIC - Education Resources Information Center. NCPEA International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, Oct. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.


Interactive Note-Taking...Made Easier

Is it sometimes hard to help kids take notes.  I believe that many times it's good to allow kids to "go free-style" on note-taking.  Sometimes, you want to get the information down and keep it super-organized.  If we have tools that work over and over again, our student's notebooks are useful for referring back. It keeps kids on the same page, literally!  This product will work for so many topics and subjects. There are a couple of general note-taking pages that include a pre-assessment, math note-taking, fiction and nonfiction pages!  Just {CLICK HERE}

Hope it works great for you! 


Webquests...Your Best Tech Activity for 2017

"Webquest" is flagged by with Spell Check because it's actually a new word.  It is a fabulous way to fit more than one subject into your ELA block while they read informational text.  It holds students accountable, allows them freedom to explore a site, requires them to read carefully, answer questions (you are in control of the level!!), and use a QR code. Advanced groups may begin to create their own webquests and QR codes!

Here is how it works...
Step 1: Choose a specific topic, such as a person or social studies topic.  I have found that people work really well.  Certain topics in history are a great choice as well.  Science topics would be excellent as well as online stories for ELA.

Step 2: Find a student-friendly website about your topic/story.  I like Duckster's  for social studies topics.  If it is just for your class, you could use an online encyclopedia site that your district has purchased licenses for students.

Step 3:  Read the article and write your questions using Word or Google Docs. Don't forget to consider some higher level questioning such as analyzing and inferencing types.

Step 4: Copy the web address from your browser and you will paste it when you make the QR code. I like this QR Code Generator page...it's simple and free. You simply paste your web address into the area that says, "Website URL".  Click on "Create QR Code" and BOOM, it appears to the right of the screen.  Download it and save the image.

Step 4: Copy/Paste or insert your QR code onto your question page. Make sure your iPads or devices have a QR reader app downloaded. (see step 5)

Step 5:  You now have a great set of your own questions ready to run off for a station. All you need are your students to be trained on how to scan a QR code, and it's very simple. I like the i-nigma QR scanner app because it's simple, free, and it works great.

Ok- so you may not have time to do that - so here are a couple of ready-to-go sets of Webquests for social studies.  These are geared for third grade, but second graders can do this, and I have fourth grade teachers who have used them as well. Since I teach GT first and second graders, I have no doubt they could handle these webquests with a little training. 

This set includes: Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, The American Flag, The Turtle, and Boston, Massachusetts.

This Mini-Biography Webquests set includes: Ben Franklin, George Washington, Helen Keller, Harriet Tubman, and Alexander Graham Bell.
Note: Liberty's Kids is not supported by PBS Kids any longer.  The QR codes in my products still work, but don't look like they have the Liberty's Kids full site.  I did find the site, and it was a different web address.  Here is the site where I located the original information I used for several of my quests. http://dhxretro.jp/arch_who.html


Getting into Fiction

As students move from first, second, and on to third, summary of fiction becomes extremely important.  Sometimes summaries become a "retell" of the story, which is not the same thing.  Kids need to be confident in what makes a good summary. State tests require that students can summarize and eventually pick summaries out of several choices of answers.  Summaries basically consist of the name(s) of the character(s), the problem in the story, and the solution.  It's shorter than a retell.  It is important that they can recount the events of a story, but writing a summary does not include all of the details.  I have created a unit that will help you teach this and other concepts.  There are symbols the students can familiarize themselves with in order to make deeper connections to these parts of the story by using them to become more interactive with their reading. While the unit has students think through and write about a favorite fairy tale, use an excellent fiction story to extend through the entire unit.  Some ideas might be The Recess Queen or Ruby the Copycat. Any fiction text you use as a touchstone text would work with this set of activities!

Have you ever asked a student or a small group of first or second graders what the most important part of the story was?  There may be more than one acceptable answer, but the "turning point" of the story will usually fit the description of the most important part.  This section of the unit specifically teaches "turning point."  This important skill is more solidified when a symbol is involved.  They can code their reading and take notes in journals using these symbols.  With practice each time they read fiction, they can learn to identify when the action begins to change into a potential solution.

The final component of the unit deals with teaching students to understand character feelings and how they change.  By comparing how the character feels during different parts of the story, students notice how feelings may change throughout the story.  There is a foldable at the end of the feelings section of this product that enables students to combine their summary and character feelings skills.  

Click here to see Primary Fiction Analysis in my TPT store!