3 Ways to Use Art in the Classroom

Thursday, March 16, 2017
Art in the classroom may not be a new idea, but it's a great one! Read on to explore how art can improve instruction, engage students, and bridge the home-school connection.

In honor of Youth Art Month, I had the chance to interview Dr. Rebecca Wiehe, Academic Curriculum Director of the American College for Education, about the benefits of using art in the classroom.  Below are some highlights of our interview.
Everyone Deserves to Learn (EDL): How can teachers, administrators, and counselors use art to help students express themselves?
Dr. Rebecca Wiehe (RW): Planning deliberate and systematic ways that students can interact with art is a way to allow students to express themselves.  Classroom lessons, field trips, school assembles, etc. are all wonderful ways to incorporate art into the school day and the students' lives...Art should not just be an add-on...but rather it should be used in a deliberate way to enhance the students' learning experiences.  Whatever the method, teachers need to find ways to have their students interact with the art....to figure out how it can become part of their lessons, and how those lessons can be different from classroom to classroom and year to year. 
EDL: Describe how English Language Learners can benefit from creating original art.
RW: Art is a language, a way of communication, that everyone speaks.  It also takes the focus off accuracy of language and allows students to express themselves in other ways than through just words.  Having students share their art and provide some explanation or description is an activity that can connect the use of art to the four domains (reading,writing, listening and speaking). 
EDL: How can teachers use this activity as a way to bridge the home-school-community connection?
RW: Displaying student created artwork around the school, either in individual classrooms, offices, or hallways, is a wonderful way to give pride and a sense of accomplishment to students.  Displaying their work in the community extends that pride outside of the school building and helps to build relationships among all stakeholders in the district. 
EDL: Explain the background for Youth Art Month.
RW: Youth Art Month is celebrated in the month of March and administered by the Council for Art Education.  It emphasizes the value of art education for all children, and provides an opportunity to discuss the skills that visual arts experiences can have in helping children develop.  This year's theme is "United through Art." In honor of this event, American College of Education is putting on a contest for teachers to submit their students' art work.  We encourage teachers to share their students' artwork by simply uploading a photo to Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook using the hashtab #ACEYAMContest.  We'll gather the photos and upload them to our Youth Art Month board on Pinterest to celebrate how art inspires the students in your classroom! For more info, please visit the contest page

Thanks for reading! I hope you'll join me in posting student artwork to the contest, using the hashtag #ACEYAMContest.

Technology Hacks for Teachers

Monday, February 20, 2017
Logging grades, managing conferences, volunteering with the PTA, scheduling dentist appointments, paying the bills... balancing the duties of home and work can be like walking on a tightrope! I'm sharing three of my favorite technology hacks that help keep me organized at home and at school.

1. Google Keep

I've never been the type to carry a planner or agenda, but Google Keep keeps me organized and in the know.  I used to keep important dates and times in the Notes feature of my phone, but I think Google Keep is a lot easier to edit, plus you can see it across all devices!  I can see my work to-do lists at my work or home computer, update my shopping list on the run, and share calendar updates and reminders with my husband. I love being able to move and edit the boxes to reflect priority, too.  

2. Screencast-O-Matic

Did you ever wish you could record yourself giving instructions and replay it on multiple occasions? This program helps you do just that! I've used it to record directions for students completing an individual project.  I've also had students narrate their own presentations.  If you need to record yourself giving direct instruction for an IEP student, this is a great (FREE) program to use! 

3. Snipping Tool

The snipping tool is permanently pinned to my taskbar, and I use it all the time to take screenshots both at home and at school.  You can drag the parameters of the snip to just the shape you want, and then edit the photo right in the tool itself.  I love it for adding diagrams from the internet into student worksheets, or coping important home information (like an order or reference number) without having to print a page. 

 These are just a few of the technology teacher hacks I like to use.  What are some of your favorite technology hacks?

Teaching ESL Kindergarten

Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Need some ideas to spice up your kindergarten ESL intervention time? I'm sharing some 20 minute listening and speaking activities that I use with my kindergarten ELL students.  

I pull my kindergarten ELL's out of classroom for 20 minutes in the morning, while the rest of the students are doing their morning work.  During that time, I focus mostly on listening and speaking skills, since their phonics and reading instruction takes place in the mainstream classroom.  Here are some ideas to get your kinder kids listening and speaking!

Warm-Up (5-7 mins)

We start our lesson the exact same way, every single day.  Even if I've already said hello to the students, I say hello again and ask how they're doing.  By doing that, I'm creating the expectation to respond in full sentences, as well as enforcing the societal norms of responsing to greetings.  As the students become more proficient, I add to our daily questions by asking what they had for breakfast/lunch, or what they did the night before. We then move into a warm-up game such as picture Bingo, which takes about 5-7 minutes to complete. 

Picture Bingo is one of my kids' favorite, if not THE favorite game to play.  It improves vocabulary and speaking skills, teaches game-playing skills and reinforces those social norms that many students are missing.  The game often starts out as a teacher-directed activity, but as students gain proficiency, they take ownership and begin calling out the names on the cards themselves.

Guided and Independent Practice (10-15 mins)

In the beginning, when students have very low proficiency, I tend to stick with flashcards for direct instruction.  There are SO many ways to use flashcards.  We can describe attributes, listen and point, and discuss likes and dislikes.  That's just a few!  I like to use cards that are seasonally appropriate, as well as objects they're interested in.  As students gain proficiency, I teach them to use 10 Finger Sentences to describe a picture or prompt. 

We also use some iPad apps, but I am very picky about what apps I use for instruction.  Many apps have "robot voice" narration and dictation, which is not the fluent speaking I'd like to model.  One app I do like for kindergarten language learners is the English First High Flyers Game.  Students learn 5 related words at a time, then take a short quiz to assess. 

Another one my kinders love is the Disney Princess Story Theater app, where you can move the princesses around, add accessories, and then narrate a story and play it back.  My little girls love it! The younger boys love it too, but for older kids, I'd recommend the Sock Puppets app.  

You can save your stories and play them back- what a great way for kids to hear their progress!  There are lots of possibilities for creating speaking and listening tasks, too.
We will also use whiteboards and dry erase markers to play a modified pictionary game.  I'll show a card (secretly) to one student, who starts to draw the picture.  The others try to guess the name of the card.  That's a fun game for warm-up or review, too!

 Closure Activity

We usually end with a GoNoodle activity or a youtube video.  The movement helps my little kids get their wiggles out, and they are great for listening skills! ELF Kids Learning channel is my favorite, hands down.  We also love to do the Starfall Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes video- great for practicing the tricky /s/ sound at the ends of words, and it's quite a challenge!

While I introduce new activities, songs, or videos every few days, our general intervention time runs as you read above.  Having a structure and routine really helps my students to stay focused and on task, and helps to establish a safe space for trying to speak.

If you're interested in more kindergarten ideas, check out my pinterest board!

Thanksgiving Day Parade Books, Lessons, Videos and Activities

Friday, November 11, 2016

One of my most treasured traditions happens on Thanksgiving morning.  I pop the turkey in the oven, brew a cup of hot apple cider or cocoa, then cuddle up on the couch and watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade.  It's full of fabulous performances, spectacular balloons, and is the advent for the joy and cheer of the upcoming season. I love to share the cultural tradition of the parade with my students right before Thanksgiving . There are so many great ways to incorporate the parade into your reading, math, science, or social studies lessons!  Below are some great ideas for teaching the tradition of the Thanksgiving Day Parade!

Activities for Little Kids

You may have a few students who have never seen a parade or even heard of one before.  Build their background by showing them a few videos.  YouTube has hundreds of clips and videos of prior parades! There are so many opportunities for great discussion topics during and after watching each video. In my room, we talk about why some videos are black and white, what people used to wear, what the balloons looked like, and how many there were.  Here are two options to share with your class: the first video is of the parade in 1935, and the next is the full video of the parade in 2015.  *Note* Please preview all YouTube clips for suitability prior to showing them to your class! 

For young students, I really like Thanksgiving Parade, which is a rhyming book that tells the story of the parade from a child's point of view.

You can't go wrong with Clifford! In this easy reader, Clifford gets to watch the parade with all his friends. 

The Little Engine that Could is a great book for students who are reading independently! You can discuss problem, solution, and working together during and after reading this book.

Don't forget to check YouTube again!  There are some great Parade read-alouds that you can add to a listening center or technology center. This one is Huggly's Thanksgiving Parade, by Ted Arnold.

For math integration, students can use the Macy's Parade website to count, tally, and graph the number of floats, performers, bands, and balloons.  Compare this year's number of balloons to last year's, or even to the number in 1930! 

You can share the process of inflating the balloons and have students write an expository piece or have them sequence the events using first, next, then, and finally. 

Activities for Older Kids

One of my favorites to share with my students is Balloons over Broadway, by Melissa Sweet.  It tells the story of the first balloon puppeteers and is SO interesting! Below is a YouTube video of the read-aloud that you can add to a center or even use during your whole group lesson.

The history of the parade is so cool! I love to open my lesson by showing this video: 

I follow that video with an informational text article called Diary of a Balloon.  It centers around the story of the three oldest balloons in the Macy's parade, and covers topics like balloon design, balloon history, and balloon safety.  It's a great cross-curricular resource! My students love the writing activities and the chance to design their own balloons.  It's great to send home for a light and fun Thanksgiving homework assignment as well.

After reading about the history of the balloons, I get my kids excited for this year's parade. Have students take a look around the amazing website that Macy's has created.  Students can practice cardinal directions while they read about where to watch.  You can have them use Google Earth to virtually navigate the parade route, while taking in some of the sights of New York City. 

Engage students in the wonders of science by showing them the design process for the giant parade balloons.  Here's a great video all about how it's done! After watching, have students answer questions about how the scientific method and engineering process were used to create the balloons.

There are so many ways to share the tradition of the Thanksgiving Day Parade with your students! How do you teach about the parade? Share your ideas in the comments!

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Vocabulary Strategies for English Language Learners

Saturday, October 29, 2016
Vocabulary acquisition sounds like a big fancy word, but really, it just means making sure your students can understand and use a word in the appropriate context.  Many English Language Learners struggle to acquire vocabulary at the same rate as their English speaking peers, which widens the achievement gap and frustrates the teacher and the students. Now, there's no magic spell to close the achievement gap, but there are some ways to narrow it!

Handing students a list of words and definitions is not effective, especially for English Language Learners.  Students need exposure, repetition and authentic practice with a word before being held accountable for it.  ELL's need to be able to use a word across the four domains of reading, writing, listening and speaking.  One strategy I use is the six-step process by Marzano.  It is a framework meant to provide the background knowledge and scaffolding that students need to use a vocabulary word.  I've outlined how I use the steps using examples from my science class, but these strategies will work for words in any content area.

1. Teacher introduces vocabulary
I start off by teaching each word explicitly, using pictures, videos, songs, and lots of student friendly examples.  I give each student a word card after I've explained it, and they hold it at their desks.  I'll stop after every few words and say, "Who has wedge?" The student will hold up their card if they have it.  Then, depending on the level of the student, I may ask her to spell it, read the definition, or give me an example.  I do that until each student is holding at least one word.  Then to collect them, I'll say "Bring me the word that means to push or pull something." Or, "Bring me the word that's spelled S-C-R-E-W." Making the words interactive from the very start makes my students more engaged, and gives them more chances to connect with a word.

2. Students restate the example in their own words
3. Students create a picture or symbol to represent the word
I do these two steps together as one activity.  My students fill out a vocabulary wheel where they write the word, the definition, a sentence of their own, and draw a picture.  This can be done as a collaborative activity, too! In groups, one student can write the word, another writes the definition, and another draws the picture.  Then switch roles for the next word.

4. Students engage in a hands-on activity with the word
This is where the fun really begins! My students LOVE to play SCOOT, go on scavenger hunts, make crosswords and wordsearches, and quiz each other. 

Sometimes just matching a word to an illustration can be a lightbulb moment.

During our Simple Machines unit, we went on a hunt around the school to find examples of simple machines.  We took pictures with our iPads, then sorted the pictures into machine categories.  That activity not only enriched their vocabulary, but it addressed multiple intelligences, too!

5. Students discuss words with one another
Using our word cards or their vocabulary wheels, I let my students partner up to quiz each other on the word.  It takes a lot of modeling by the teacher to show them what kinds of questions to ask, but since we do this for every unit, they've gotten the hang of it!

6. Engage students with words in different forms and in different activities
Vocabulary acquisition doesn't stop at the end of the chapter! This is where your spiral review comes in.  Using the words even when the unit is over gives extra repetition and a deeper connection with the word. I keep all our words in a little organizer next to our pocket chart so I can quickly find them.  So for an exit ticket or closure activity, I'll grab our word cards out of the pouch, let each student pick one, and then make a 10 finger sentence for it.  If you upload your words to a site like Quizlet or Spelling City, students can interact with the words at home or during a technology center. 

 There is definitely not a one-size-fits all way to teach vocabulary, but these are some of the strategies that have worked for my ELL's.  I hope they work for yours!

Shared Weekly Poems Build Literacy Skills

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Are your students fluent readers? If they're anything like my students, fluent reading does not come naturally or easily, especially if they are English Language Learners.  Each year I'd say, "This is the year we are going to practice fluency every day!" And the first two days were great! But then life happened.  And fire drills happened.  And half the class was out with the flu.  So fluency practice went out the window with my good intentions.  This year, I was determined to find a routine and stick with it.  One that wouldn't take time away from any other skills, and one that I could integrate into my already established daily schedule. 

 After reading some posts and talking with other intervention teachers, I decided to add my fluency practice into my daily morning meeting.  I always meet with my students whole-group on the rug before we move into our Daily 5 stations, so I thought that would be the best place to add it.
 Once I decided to create a dedicated time for fluency practice, I started writing poems specifically tailored for my struggling readers.  Once I got started, the ideas just kept rolling! Right now I'm set with weekly poems from September to winter break.

Here's a quick run-down of how it works in my room:
Day 1: I read, they listen, I help them establish background knowledge about the vocabulary using google images
Day 2: I read, they listen, then we read together.  I call up some students to point to letters/words/sounds depending on each student's abilities.
Day 3: I read, they read with me, then they read chorally.  I call up some other students to identify sight words, rhyming words, or other skills we are working on.
Day 4: They read chorally, then read to a partner.  We answer comprehension questions orally.
Day 5: Whoever wants to read aloud can come up and display their beautiful fluent reading for the class.  We answer comprehension questions in writing, and/or illustrate the poem.

 Sometimes we'll spend time looking at pictures and videos of the weekly topic, which is always seasonally appropriate. I have some students who don't celebrate American holidays, so I've included non-holiday options as well.
 When we're finished with the week's poem, I hang it in my room so that the kids can read it the following week during read to self.
 Sometimes I'll give out whiteboards and dry erase markers and have students copy a line from the poem to practice one-to-one skills, or for more advanced students, I'll cover a word and see if they can write it from memory.

The options for addressing skills and standards with one weekly poem are practically endless! If you write the poem on an easel, you can purposely misspell words and have students correct them.  There are so many ways to differentiate and tailor this activity to the unique needs of your class.

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