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The Year of Change

The weather is getting warmer (hot actually if you live in the south), the children are growing restless, the teachers are looking tired...yep, it's the end of the school year.  As I sit and reflect on my year, I have decided this has been the year of change for me.  From a new superintendent with new ideas and approaches,to the website changes at Scholastic, there have been numerous changes this year.  Change can be a good thing and I do look back at this year as a great year where I have grown and learned a lot myself!  Where I thought of myself as a flexible teacher in the past, I have had my flexibility put to the test.  I have learned to roll with the punches more than I have had.  I have so enjoyed sharing some of the things we do in our classroom with you and I hope that I have inspired someone to try something new or different.   This was my 11th year of teaching and as I now look back Isee what I need to strengthen and what my goals are.  I love being in the classroom and do not see myself leaving that roll.  This fall I will begin to complete my master's degree (it was put on hold while the family was growing).  I have learned through this year that I want to change the original path I was on to  a technology-based one as I see a need for it in the district I work in.  However, the summer break is calling and that is exactly what I plan to do this year...take a break and a much needed vacation!  I am looking forward to next year (which has elephants in itthanks to my cohort).  I will anxiously await the beginning of the new bloggers for Scholastic.  I know they will bring new ideas to bring into my classroom.  I hope you all have had a fabulous year and have a wonderful summer.  Ta-ta for now...

Spring Fever

As the end of the year draws near, I find that no matter what grade I teach the kids get "senioritis" (including my own personal child).  My idea this week is to share an idea and then open this blog up as a forum.  We could all use some fresh ideas to survive the end of the school year!

One of my good friends shared with me what she did with her regular education classroom of first graders and I loved it!  They were studying plants.  Instead of planting the lima bean she took the kids outdoors and they planted a garden.  They included vegetables and plants.  They took care of their garden everyday.  When the plants were ready, they dug them up for a plant sale and used the money for charity.  Her students can now tell you all about plants and they learned a wonderful life lesson as well!  What a great idea!!!!

I'm a big believer in getting the kids outside as much as possible.  Not just for recess, but for teaching.  Especially at the end of the school year when the weather is beautiful.  I create an outdoor classroom relevant to what they are learning.  My second graders are learning about eggs.  My co-worker and I are creating an "egg"stravaganza.  We are going to have egg experiments, egg races, egg drop, etc.  We'll spend the morning outside and having the students participate in activities to culminating our unit.  Let's hear some of your tricks of survival...

Writing Carousel

We began by teaching the class as a whole using a PowerPoint we created.  We found a fabulous song in the professional book Memory-Boosing Mnemonic Songs for Content Area Learning called The Writing Process.  I found this resource in the teacher store on Scholastic.com.  We acted the song out as a class (we love to sing and dance).  We then divided the students into six different "rides" on the carousel.  I'm going to focus on two of our favorites.  The first one was jump rope jingles.  We used books on jingles (Miss Mary Mack) and listened to double-dutch records (yes, the old vinyl kind).  We practiced jumping as well.  The students paired off and researched the rhymes and patterns.  They picked one to mimic with their own words.  After they were done, they performed them for us.   The next ride started with us practicing using a thesaurus to learn bigger words to replace our baby words.  The students kept up with nouns, adjectives, and verbs they researched in a mini-journal.  The activity was writing a descriptive paragraph.  We wanted to have them write newspaper articles.  We found great games for the students to play to build their writing skills on Scholastic.com .  We really liked  News Hangman (under the Social Studies tab), but they also played Pick the Perfect Word and Clean Up Grammar at the Beach (both under the Language Arts tab).  The main project was also from the computer lab favorites (called, Story Starters).  Each student went to the computer, clicked on Story Starters where they could pick the parts of their paragraph.  The only requirement was they were to pick the newspaper article as their form.  The articles turned out fabulous and the kids loved it!  It was one of their favorite activities.  It made it simple to differentiate for the class. 

Coming to our Senses

Face to face In my first grade classes we have been studying the five senses.  This activity focused on using their eyes/sight.  The students were divided into partners.  They sat facing each other.  They were to use their eyes only to observe each other for about 5 minutes. Next they turned back to back and quietly changed three things about themselves.  Then they faced each other again and tried to identify the three changes.  They loved this activity and begged to change partners and try it again.Faces

In the second activity, the students sat face to face again with a partner.  One partner was the "mover" and the other partner was the "mirror".  The mirror tried to keep up with the mover and do what they were doing.  We started by making faces showing emotions.  We slowly added hands and gestures.  We had a lot of fun focusing on sight.  We will be researching the eyes and creating models of the eyeball.  Pictures of the partner activities will be posted Monday!  Feel free to share what you do when teaching the five senses...Mirro

100% Student Participation!

Ever spent hours planning and preparing a unit review game only to realize during play that just a handful of students are actively participating at a time? When this happens, a good teacher realizes that he/she is unable to accurately assess the students' retention rates because some are not engaged. I have finally found the solution!

Jeopardy4

Years ago, I found a PowerPoint template for "Jeopardy." I experimented with different ways to manage this game, but I was unable to devise a plan that didn't involve individual players or teams where the more assertive students overran the shy ones. Then came the paddles - not the old-fashioned kind that were used to enforce discipline, but the newly engineered ones with dry erase material on each flat side. The set that I use even came with 4 different colors (yellow, blue, red, and green) of 5 paddles each, making the use of teams very easy to setup and score for the teacher. These paddles also have a holder for the dry erase marker, which comes with a cap that has a little eraser pad attached - so no extra eraser is necessary. These are SO easy to use!

The best part about this strategy is that ALL students in the class have to participate in the learning games. While playing "Jeopardy," for example, after calling out the question, I say aloud, "1, 2, 3, UP!" Students have to put their paddles in the air by the time I say up. I believe in the "three strikes and you're out" method, so after three wrong answers or strikes (given for players whose paddles aren't in the air by the up announcement,) the player is "out." You can decide what "out" means. In my case, students keep playing, but they are no longer eligible for winning bonus points on our next quiz or test. I do this as further incentive for students to study for assessments ahead of time instead of waiting until the night before to review.

Jeopardy2So, how does this apply to gifted education? All gifted students NEED a chance to respond to questioning, an opportunity to participate in an academic way, a chance to practice healthy competition, and a technique to make all of the above fun and exciting. This strategy has allowed for all of these things to happen in my classroom. It's amazing the response I get from students when I say, "Bring out the paddles!" I don't have anyone falling asleep or nervously predicting the question that will come on their turn. Instead, all students are listening to ALL questions, answering ALL questions, and analyzing ALL answers. For once, we have 100% student participation!

Professional Development in Your Pajamas

Have you seen Scholastic's videos online? If you go to this page, you will find the videos arranged into categories, one of which is "Professional Development." I was intrigued by the video with Roger Essley on using visual tools because I LOVE using storyboards with my gifted students. When we read stories, the best tool to use to explain elements of plot is the storyboard, which I call a comic strip with a purpose. Students are required to identify only the main pieces of the plot because they can't fit ALL the action into only 8 or 12 boxes. Gifted students struggle with narrowing down details as they see all the action as important, so a storyboard helps them target the main ideas.

I also use storyboarding to demonstrate to students how to take notes and create study guides in their content area classes. Especially with cause and effect elements of history and steps in a scientific process, storyboards enhance the student's level of understanding the sequence of events. Math teachers should consider using storyboards with gifted students who often work problems in their heads because this strategy requires them to illustrate or notate all steps involved in the mathematical process.

When you have some time, watch this great video - or find another that fits your area of interest. There are many from which to choose. Just browse around the site!

Dr. Maya Angelou

I am SO excited to see Scholastic featuring Dr. Angelou on their website. Have you seen these videos? Check this out: Celebrate Diversity with Dream in Color

I always target February for our annual poetry unit because of the many perspectives and cultures I can explore with my students. Maya Angelou is the centerpiece of part of my unit because of what a great example she is for gifted girls. I believe Dr. Angelou has a very high IQ, based on the fact that after some of her trauma early in life she stopped talking because she saw a cause/effect relationship with the power of words. Not many kids would make a connection like that. So, I believe, had she been born in a different time and maybe in a bigger town than Stamps, AR, she would have been included in a GT program.

In spite of her hardships in life, Dr. Angelou has achieved her greatest life goals. She has taken conflict and allowed her spirit to grow from the journey. What a superb example for our gifted girls who struggle with perfectionism on a daily basis! Many gifted girls take their fear of losing control to the extreme of self-inducing issues like eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, underachievement, and more. When I can use Dr. Angelou as an example in the classroom, my students are in awe of all she has accomplished. If you decide to use her in your own classroom, here are a few tips I would like to share based on my years of trial and error:

1. Be sure to show the video of her Inaugural Address for President Clinton, "On the Pulse of the Morning." Especially after our recent Inauguration, it'll give you goosebumps to see how our country has grown - plus, it's not often students get to see a poet read aloud one of his/her own poems. So special! (I found the video on YouTube.)

2. Discuss the title of her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and teach the poem by the same title. Discuss the extended metaphor of the caged bird to any person who has limitations, not just people who were enslaved at some point. Middle school students can also relate if they've ever been grounded. Be sure to include a comparison of this poem to the poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar called "Sympathy," as this poem inspired Angelou's poem.

3. My favorite project of the year is done during this unit. We read "Woman Work" by Angelou, and I read a parody of the poem that I wrote called "Teacher Work." (You can get a copy on Teachers Pay Teachers in my Angelou unit if this project sounds interesting to you.) I have the students write their own parody called "Student Work." These are SO much fun to read!

Most importantly, showing a video of Angelou will help the students relate to her and see her as a person. Sometimes students don't realize writing comes from a person - or the writers seem "dead" to them. Use one of the videos on Scholastic - the "Why Do You Write Poetry?" video is only 2 minutes long. Your students will love studying Maya Angelou, and she is such a great role model for all of us.

Which Level? Which Topic? Which Book?

As reading teachers of adolescent students, gifted or otherwise, our most daunting task is choosing the novels to teach during the school year. Those with teaching experience know that there is a difference between books students will read independently and books students will use for guided reading and literature circles. For summer reading, students are expected to be reading on their own, deriving meaning from the text at his/her own speed. During the school year, however, students are supposed to be challenged by a richer text, as a teacher guides understanding by modeling reading strategies and assisting with vocabulary instruction.

 

So, here is the dilemma. Gifted students often read books on a higher reading level than their contemporaries, but higher reading levels tend to yield subject matter inappropriate for classroom discussion. Then there are books that have perfect characterization, drama, and historical ambience that are on a simpler reading level, but these tend to negate the instructional objective of improving the student’s reading ability. On top of that, teachers are faced with students and parents that gripe about the choice of novel or text regardless of what is chosen anyway because you can’t please everyone all the time.

 

What do you do in this situation so that you can meet the needs of gifted students in your classroom?

 

I spend hours researching options that may not always entertain students but will at least intrigue them throughout the development of conflict up to the conclusion. During the first semester of the sixth grade school year, I tend to choose books between the reading levels of 5.5-6.5; during the second semester I aim for books ranging from 6.5-7.5. My focus is on making sure that the activities I use to guide the exploration of the novel render the higher level thinking needed to capture the focus of gifted students. I mean, let’s face it. Even in my class that is made up of 100% gifted students, I have some who are below reading level because they qualified for gifted services based on their math ability. I have to meet their needs too.

 

So, what do you do? Is there one right or wrong answer? What other methods or philosophies are out there? Does it depend on your clientele, your region or state, your level of experience, or even your district-mandated curriculum? What guides your selection of novels to study? I’d love some more ideas, as this is such a timely topic of discussion with my colleagues right now, especially as we finalize our summer reading choices. Let me hear from you!

Gifted Learners in a Regular Classroom

2nd_grade_08_004 Welcome back from the holidays!  I hope everyone enjoyed some time off.  I know I did.  Little Johnny has been sitting in your class for a while now.  You have noticed he is a bright student.  He always gets his work done.  However, during your teaching he tends to question your knowledge on certain subjects.  He asks questions the other children aren't interested in or just don't understand.  Now he is becoming a behavior issue.  What are you going to do with this child for the remainder of the school year?  We've all had a Johnny in our classroom.  As we begin again in January, I thought I would toss out some strategies for the gifted learner in the regular education classroom.   I would also love to hear what you are doing for your gifted learners in your classroom!

Continue reading "Gifted Learners in a Regular Classroom" »

Tis the Season to be Giving

With times being so difficult for so many people, now is the time to instill the value of giving.  We put a different spin on our charitable event this year.Holiday_store

Continue reading "Tis the Season to be Giving" »

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Strategies for Gifted Learners are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.