Monday, April 25, 2016

Why I'm not afraid to use the word "smart" with my students

My school prides itself on instructing with a "growth mindset" in careful consideration.

mindset, according to Dweck, is a self-perception or “self-theory” that people hold about themselves. Believing that you are either “intelligent” or “unintelligent” is a simple example of a mindset. People may also have a mindset related their personal or professional lives—“I’m a good teacher” or “I’m a bad parent,” for example. People can be aware or unaware of their mindsets, according to Dweck, but they can have profound effect on learning achievement, skill acquisition, personal relationships, professional success, and many other dimensions of life.

 I am completely on board with this mentality.  I think people of all ages who open their minds to new challenges and experiences are more than likely to live a more fulfilling and diverse life.

 However, one of the statements I've been told from time to time not to use with my students (as part of the growth mindset mentality) is to tell them that they are "smart."

I disagree with this statement.

From the time that I was very young, my Dad has used the phrase "Be Smart" with me on an almost daily basis.  He never explained what the word "smart" meant.  He never elaborated on what his expectations of "being smart" meant, yet I think I have a pretty clear sense of what was implied.

"Being Smart" is not limited to a test score.  It has nothing to do with how quickly you finish an assignment.  And it's not because you were able to solve the problem first in your head.

To me, being smart is and always will be, a growth mindset in itself.

Every morning before the bell rings, I am visited by 3-4 former students before they head off to their current class.  They are all boys.  They are all minorities.  Does that part matter?  To be honest, I really have no idea.  I'd like to think they come for an extra boost of encouragement from my assistant and I (who advocates for these children more than I could ever imagine a person is capable of) before they set off to tackle the world of upper elementary school life.

Every morning I tell them: "Have a good day.  Be Smart."  They know what it means.  They know I mean it. No judgement.  No criticism.  Just expectation.

Let me show you:

Student A: "Mrs. Barringer, I've got a big test in math today."
T: "You'll do just fine.  Have a great day.  Be Smart."
I expect nothing from this math test but best effort and perseverance.  I expect you to be smart.  Use your tools, your resources, your background knowledge.  Take your time, check over your answers, don't give up.  Be Smart.

Student B: "Mrs. Barringer, John and I got into a big fight yesterday."
T: "I'm sure you'll be able to work it out.  You two care a lot about each other.  Be Smart."
I expect you to do your best to resolve the conflict.  Be fair and open minded.  Always try your best to be a good friend.  Be Smart.

Smartness is....situational.  It is flexible.  It cannot be defined and put into a tiny box in just one category.

Every time I said goodbye to my Dad (either because I was going somewhere or about to do something significant) his phrase was and is always the same.  Be Smart.

Make smart choices.  Behave yourself.  Study.  Do your schoolwork.  Respect your elders.  Listen to adults.  Clean up after yourself.  Take responsibility for your actions.  Be kind.  Be fair.  Take care of yourself.  Follow directions.  Be open minded to success.  Expect success from yourself.

I have always and will continue to tell my students that they are smart.

  • A student gets a perfect score on an assessment - "You're smart.  I can tell you worked hard to master this concept.
  • A students gets 3/4 of the questions correct on an assessment that they would typically only get 1/2 correct - "You're smart.  I can tell you've really been working to improve on this skill."
  • A student turns their homework in on time, labeled, without having to be reminded to get out their work - "You're smart.  You're showing responsibility and accountability for your own work."
  • A student handles a conflict independently - "You're smart.  That shows maturity and social awareness."
  • A student makes a three-point shot at recess - "You're smart.  I can see you've been practicing."
  • A students waits for 2 adults to finish their conversation before they interrupt with a question/comment - "You're smart.  That was very respectful of you to be patient and wait for me to finish talking."

I don't have any children of my own yet.  One of the things I will tell them when they are old enough to hear it is "Be Smart."  They will hear it often and in numerous types of situations.  They will understand that being smart is not just applicable to intelligence or an IQ score.  It is life skills.  It is common sense.  It is mindfulness.  

Students need to hear that they are smart.  It makes them feel good.  It jump-starts their self confidence.  They also need to know that there are millions of ways to be smart.  It has nothing to do with a report card, an EOG, or data of any kind.

It is, and always will be, a mindset on how they work towards success.  In all aspects of life.

Be Smart.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Up Themed Classroom

Hi guys,

It's definitely been too long since I've updated, and a viewer reminded me the other day that I never posted the final product of my UP Themed classroom.  I've had it as a theme for the past 2 school years now, and depending how much I like the new "Inside Out" movie expected to come out in June, that will be my next theme.  Otherwise, next year will be an INCREDIBLE year!!! :)  I may still stick with that just based on pure principle that that would make an awesome theme.

Anywho, I hope you enjoy the UP tie-ins.  I'm also planning my upcoming wedding for October and will be adding some UP touches to the reception. Very exciting :)

Posted above my smart board to remind students of sentence starters when we have class discussions.

I had a hard time tracking Carl & Russell stuffed dolls down, but I did manage to find some on eBay.

Dug is posted in the corner of my bulletin board where "Dug's Dog-Gone Great Work" is posted :)

Just for decoration :)

Content-based Word wall with words sorted by subject.

Posted by the front entrance of my room on a rolling shelf.

Classroom Helper Jobs.  The kids' names are posted on grape soda Ellie :)

Classroom door!

I also have a wall of various 5x7 pictures that include different minimalist posters from UP and character posters.

Hope you liked :)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Creating Your Own Classroom Theme -- ON A BUDGET

Carson-Dellosa, Oriental Trader, LakeShore Learning and ReallyGoodStuff are all great, but they also can be famous for breaking the bank for those who aren't careful.  And when I say those, I mean myself.  My first year teaching I can bet I spent an upwards of about $300 just on pretty decorating supplies.  Yes, they looked great and made me feel like I was a student shopping for supplies all over again.  But, after some further thought my funds could have been better spent, or not spent at all. 

I quickly realized I also didn't like the cookie cutter themes that most teaching supply companies offered.  I wanted something different; something I hadn't ever seen in a classroom before.  I also wanted something both genders of students could enjoy and relate to but wasn't too kiddish.  So, from there it was settled.  Toy Story became my theme. 

First, I started thinking about all the different stations I knew I would need to think about in my room.  I knew I would need a helper chart, a good behavior chart, a calendar, a reading corner, a welcome sign outside my door, student names displayed, and organization labels.  From there I started thinking about how the characters from Toy Story could fit into this.

This is what I ended up with:

Welcome Sign:                                   

Outside Door Sign:

Helper Chart:

Behavior Chart - Students add Mr. or Mrs. Potato Head pieces to their potato for positive actions in school  When they fill up the potato, they earned a personal reward.

 Birthday Chart

How To Make These
The steps to creating decorations like these are below.  This past year, I changed my theme to UP and needed to make all new creations.  I used my SMARTBOARD to create the outlines for the pictures I wanted.  If you don't have access to a SMARTBOARD, you can use a projector to project the image onto the wall.  

What You Will Need:
-SMARTBOARD or Projector
- White Poster Board (I found mine at Dollar Tree)
-Sharpies (Thick tipped)
-Colored Pencils or Crayola Crayons (I suggest using colored pencils.  But, if you do use crayons, buy the Crayola brand because the wax in the cheaper brands will melt when you laminate them and then your images are all smudged)
-Scissors (The expensive brand will pay off when cutting through thick poster board)
 -Access to a Laminating Machine

 Step 1: Choose your theme.  Google coloring page images of the theme you choose.  Coloring page templates are MUCH easier to trace and then you can go in to color them how you like.  For example: This year I just put in a Google Image search for "Up Coloring Pages" and found tons of images I liked for my theme.

Step 2: Project that image onto the wall or your Smartboard.  Next, hang the poster board so that the image is directly on top of it.  See below: 

Step 3: Trace the entire outline of the image.  Use a Sharpie with thick, clean lines.  Make sure you are careful to trace even the smallest details of the image.  If you leave them out, it looks like something is missing from the picture.   Remove the poster board from the projection of the image and check to make sure you included everything.  

Step 4: Color the image in.  I Googled further pictures of the outfits of the characters above so that I would know what colors they wore.  I did have to improvise a tad, but the end result is usually all the same.  Like I said previously, I used color pencils or Crayola brand crayons for my colors.  Next, I cut out the image.

Step 5: Laminate the cut-out image.  If you don't have access to a laminator, you can also use clear contact paper.  You can find rolls of that at any Target or Walmart with shelf-paper in the Home Goods section.  After you have laminated the image, cut it out again and you're done!! 

Step 6: Find a good spot in your classroom to hang your themed image.  :)

This is a picture of a finished poster of Russell, from "Up."  I hung this near my classroom library section because he's holding a Wilderness Explorer guidebook.    

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

10 Things They Don't Tell You As a First Year Teacher

As much as we'd all love to believe that we emerge from our college courses and teaching internships with fresh ideas and the preparedness to jump right in and be a successful teacher, it's far from the truth.  Sure, we gathered invaluable amounts of knowledge on how to write a 6-step lesson plan and individually assess a child based on their singular needs, but there are just those minute details that go unforeseen as rookies.  I try to always keep a running mental list of tips to pass on to a fellow first year when needed.  Going into my third year this August, I feel reasonably prepared to offer a few words of wisdom to those that seek it.  

So, to simplify....I've narrowed down a list of 10 things we should all be told as first year teachers:

10. Keep every receipt to EVERY school related purchase you make
Even in those summer months while you are racking up things for your first classroom and haven't been introduced to the PTA or district administrators...those funds with be there.  They won't be on any grandiose scale...but every little bit helps.  You are even able to write a certain amount off on your taxes.

9. Always make a master copy of every unit you plan
Keep all the masters in a Manila folder and file it labeled in a file cabinet.  Binders go missing and are too time consuming to flip through.  When you get to that unit the next year, all you have to do is pull it out and see what worksheets and activities you previously did

8.  Try to establish a solid relationship with your mentor
This person will be your life line the first few years, and you're also mandated to meet with them for an hour a week and discuss your progress.  Their feedback will be essential to your growth.  I always took the time to get thoughtful gifts and thank you cards for my mentor this year.  She was super supportive of every aspect of my teaching and I wanted her to realize how valuable she was to my growth.

7.  When exchanging emails with a parent or other professional that may involve any negative,  have a more experienced teacher look at it BEFORE you send it
I made this mistake a few too many times, and it also came back to bite me more than once.  We sometimes send emails home to a parent about a student that may have gotten the best of us that day, or may even be heated with the parent.  CALM DOWN 100% before you send, and make sure another teammate approves of the wording.  

6.  If you are fortunate enough to have an assistant, appreciate them 
My first year teaching second grade, I had no assistance other than the 45 minutes I was granted to send my kids to specials each day.  This past year, I moved to another school and had a full time assistant.  I CANNOT tell you the impact that this woman had on my growth as an educator.  I've had other friends complain about their assistants before, but at the end of the day that person is your partner and teammate.  You are grateful for the work they do as your second in command.  Don't ever go over their heads and change the decision they've made with another student unless you feel it's unprofessional.  (For example:  if a student asks you to go to the bathroom and your assistant has already said no, that's the final word.  It will make your assistant feel unappreciated and of no value if you change the decision).   It can also be hard to delegate with someone who is older than you if that's the case.  My assistant is almost my mothers age and I never felt comfortable telling her what to do....but that's because I never TOLD her, I always ASKED.  Kindness and humility goes a long way.

5. Make a spreadsheet with students names and helper jobs
Each week when you change the jobs, check off what student has had what job.  That way,  every kid will get a new job they haven't had yet and you won't have repeats or any complainers that they've never gotten to be the paper person but Susie has done it twice already.

4. Make a point to develop a first name basis relationship with the following people:
The lunch staff
The front desk secretary
The bookkeeper 
The attendance (NCWISE) manager
The librarian 
- You would really be surprised at what a difference it can make to have good relationships with these people.  Even if they're not always the friendliest to you, they will appreciate your kindness and be more likely to put you at the top of their list for a request.

3. Don't be afraid to give your kids the responsibility of learning how to handle technology
By the end of the year, I had one student who knew how to take my laptop and hook it up to my SMARTBOARD, sound speakers, and document camera.  Then she could go to the correct website and pull up our morning newscast each day.  All of my students knew how to email me a document from a laptop and also find something I put in their dropbox.  These students will learn how to navigate around technology when given the chance to trial and error.

2.  NEVER tape down name tags to desks at the beginning of the year
As soon as you realize that Judy doesn't work well next to Sammy, you're going to need to move someone.  Then you have the task of pulling up all that tape and getting new to transfer to another desk.  I used Velcro and my kids just pulled up their tag anytime they needed to find a new desk home.

1. If you're fortunate enough to find out you have a job early enough, go to work in your classroom as SOON AS POSSIBLE.  
It will take you HOURS to set up your room and you will need all the time you can get.  Go work in your room before those teacher workdays start.  Don't be fooled by the fact that it says Teacher Workday.  What that really means is "spend hours of your time in professional development and meetings before school."  The PD is definitely needed, but so is the time in your room.  Go early, save yourself the stress and frustration. 

Hope this was helpful!!!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How to make Monsters U your classroom theme

I finally had the pleasure of seeing Monsters U with a friend of mine recently.  I have to say I had my doubts about how Pixar was really going to create the "essence" of college into a children's movie.  Not only did the company provide a warm, charismatic and comical flic for the kiddos, they also managed to reach a group of current university students and alumni with their nostalgic reminders of what a great experience college really is.  It also is a great foreshadowing for current high schoolers of the experiences to come.

This movie helped me to stomach the Greek system and even get to the point where I appreciated the comradery. Pixar presented sororities and fraternities in a way that was fluffy but also realistic enough to make them believable.  Of course, the classic underdog story of the underrated frat Mike and Sulley join (Oozma Kappa OK) to overcome the big monsters on campus (Roar Omega Roar ROR) really pulled on my heart stings.  

With all the thematical and visually stunning animated elements tied together, this movie makes for nothing short of an amazing theme for your classroom this year.  Here's some ideas to get you jump started with your deco's:

Door decoration signs & slogans:
-Roaring over (k-5) grade!
-The Smartest Monsters on Campus (each students named displayed on a different kind of monster)
-Marvelous/Magnificent Monsters of (Mr./Ms.)'s Class
-Scare Schools in Session!
-The University of (k-5) grade!

Brag board/Student Work post area
-Our work's so great it'll scare the socks off ya!
-Sulley's Showoffs (have a character cut out of Sulley posted next to the board 
-Sulley's Semester Showoffs

**use coloring pages as your template for the characters, then color, cut out, and laminate**

Helper Chart 
-Wazowski's To-do


Lunch Choices
*Some schools have their students make their lunch choice at the beginning of the day so the cafeteria can prepare how much they need of each entree every day.  My students use sticks with their name on it place in a cup each day for their choice.*
-Monster Menu   & use Scare Sticks

Name Tags
Students will need name tags for special events at school and field trips. Make then their own special monsters U ID card by taking each students picture at the beginning of the year and then go to this website to create/print out/laminate their name tags

Motivational Signs and Posters to hang around the room for the year:

1. Make an Unlikely friend

2. Always put forth your best effort

3. Treat your classmates with respect and kindness

4. Be courageous. Stand up to your bullies

5. Celebrate each other

6.  Partner up.  Collaborate. Two heads are better than one.

7. Be a team player

8. Dream BIG.  Work your way to the top!


Monday, June 17, 2013

How to help you pick your classroom THEME

I've had lots of friends and colleagues ask me multiple times: "How did you ever settle on a theme?"  Isn't it hard to just pick just one?  Isn't it a lot of work to make your own? The answer is YES and YES!  But is it worth it?  ABSOLUTELY.

The truth is, I love to go to local teacher stores and browse through the different themed decorations they put on display (owls, turtles, monsters, monkeys, etc.)  But, there is something really cool about having something true to your own personality in your classroom.  Your theme (if you so choose to incorporate one) should really choose YOU.  I decided on the PIXAR companies more so because their core values and movie topics always seem to mesh really well with what I feel is most important to push in my character and peer development values in my class.

It also really is more fun to make decorations than to buy them.  I love Carson-Dellosa, Learning Resources, and Creative Teaching Press as much as any educator...but the amount of money they pluck out of teachers' hands right before the start of every school year is almost sickening.  I think after purchasing all of the poster board and using coloring resources from my room, I will spend no more than 10-15 dollars on all my decorations for the entire theme I chose for this year.  Later, I'll have a tutorial on just how I do get those characters into poster size and hung up.

The main point of this post today, though, is to help you narrow down your buzzing mind on what kind of theme would be a "just right fit" for your classroom setting.  Here's some things to keep in mind:

- What kinds of movies, books, or TV shows do your students find most interesting?  Of those topics, which could be friendly to BOTH genders?
- How much wiggle room does your district provide you with in decorating?  (for example, can you come up with your own PBIS theme or are you required to do a school wide program?)
- It's fun to be original and try something new...have you ever heard of your theme being done before?
- What kind of central messages does your theme set heavy on?  (Ex: friendship, academic success, perseverance, family, etc)
- Do YOU enjoy the theme?  Your kids will know if you aren't into it.  Anything you find incredible and innovating, they will too.  You set the example.

So, after some heavy thought and consideration, I decided on my theme this year to be "Up." I'll share with you some of the reasons why I narrowed it down to the story of an elderly man with no heartwarming intentions at first, and a clumsy overweight boy scout who changes your whole perception of bravery.

+ Carl & Ellie embody the entire definition of loyalty and dedication.  Throughout the first 15 minutes of the movie, we see these characters evolve from unlikely childhood friends to two people who devoted their lives to making each other happy and accepted.  A child like Ellie should have never tried make a quiet, introverted kid like Carl feel he belonged, but she stopped and saw something in him that brought out all his best qualities.  Even after Ellie had passed, Carl still carried on the promise they had made to one another to travel to South America on their ultimate adventure.

 + Very similar to our free-spirited friend Ellie,  Russell saw something in the elderly and bitter version of Carl that no other character tried to find the depth in.   After they embarked on their adventure to Paradise Falls,  Russell had every reason to want to turn back and return home.  He pushed Carl to let him stay, partly because I think he knew Carl needed him.  He could have immediately written this man off as ornery, non affectionate, and hateful...but Russell chose to have a little faith in the situation.  This is something I love to push on my students with one another.  To trust each other to try to find the good in everyone, and have a little bit of faith that everyone has their own quirks that make them loveable. 

+ After we meet Dug's character (who is 80% of the reason I adore this movie so much) we are introduced to a type of personality we don't often see as much as we'd like.  Regardless of the fact that Dug is a dog, he shows quite a long list of character traits that I found invaluable.  Dug is bullied by his peers and separated from them just by the sheer fact that his temperament is considered "different."  We hardly notice that Dug is affected by any of this because he stays optimistic and positive. He marches to the beat of his own drum could care less how he is viewed.  Later in the movie when Dug's loyalty to his master (Charles Muntz) is tested, it would have been a much EASIER decision for him to fight alongside all the other dogs and help capture Carl and Russell.  He instead shows bravery and loyalty by helping his friends and not backing down even when he was outnumbered.  

+ Lastly, I just love how visually stunning this entire movie is.  From the views PIXAR captures at Paradise Falls, to the scenes of the house floating across the sky with the thousands of balloons, I was mesmerized for the entire film.  I thought this would flow over well into a bright and colorful scene for my classroom.  

More to come later on HOW to incorporate your own homemade theme into your classroom, for almost no cost!  :)

On the "Up" and Outs!

Here's a sneak preview of what's to come for Ms. Hall's class 2013-2014.  Let me know your thoughts/suggestions.