Monday, September 1, 2014

The Good, The Better, and The Unbelievable!

I thought I would take a moment on this beautiful Labor Day to reflect on my first two weeks of school.  There have been so many wonderful changes to embrace.  However, some days, I feel like it is my first year teaching with the late nights scouring the standards dreaming up the perfect lesson.   Yet, there are many that I am grateful for those years of experience.

This year is my first year using the Super Improver Team and completely doing away with the color change system.  I admit that I was concerned that those who misbehaved wouldn't have a reason to behave.  However, I had to focus on the positive more and what happened with their behavior the first week was really good.

With my lead of positive comments, individual student mini celebrations, and support of the scoreboard, I was able to successfully get the kids on my side.  Some even began to mimic my positivity.  The best thing that happened the first week.  During some class participation, some student began to get upset when they weren't picked to participate.  One of my students started giving a mini celebration each time a student was picked.  Each time, more and more students began to join the celebrations.  After a few days, it became a classroom norm.

As we moved into the second week, a level of comfort was established.  Some students began  getting very friendly with each other.  By the fourth day of the second week, it was time to introduce the Super Improver Team.  The turn around in student behavior was unbelievable.  By the end of the week, folded hands and eyes on me were the norm across my classroom.

Thus far, I am convinced that I made the right decision to stick to the cone of positivity.  I am looking forward to beginning the third week with this new level of positive reinforcement in place. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Art of Improving Student Behavior

Since I have been using Whole Brain Teaching for about two years and have been selected as one of this year's interns, I have set two goals for myself in order to grow as a Whole Brain Teacher.  One of those goals is establishing a Super Improver Team.

After reading Chapters 15 and 16 in Chris Biffle's Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids, I was eager for more information.  I immediately went to the Whole Brain Teaching website and looked for the webinar connected to this behavior management theory.  

On a bread crumbing journey through the wondrous world of Super Improvers, I also found this amazing video of a teacher, Deanna Schuler, expressing her experience after using the SIT for a short time.  She tells an amazing story about a boy who was a challenge and whose behavior improved in a very short time all because of this technique.  After watching the videos, I felt confident and ready to put it all together.

Then, as a mere coincidence, Nancy Stoltenberg, emailed our group of interns a blog post. She was working on establishing which items were some of the needed Whole Brain elements used in classroom set up.  There she connected me to even more resources!

Today, I went into my classroom and began setting up my Super improver Team area.  First, I went to Office Depot with my flash drive full of WBT posters and charts that I had to have in color.  After some cutting and laminating, I was ready to assemble my wall!
Here is Tara West's TPT store where I downloaded these beauties!

I chose a place in the front of my classroom that was near the area where I do a majority of my whole group lessons.  In general, this location is very easily accessible any time of the day.  I attached the colored levels in order from the Beginner up to the Genius level.  The colors represent rungs in a ladder with no top rung.  The idea is that a student can always improve their behavior or achievement goals.  
Once I receive my class list, I will add a white card with each child's name on it and insert them into the blue pocket chart.  As the students work to show they are following the rules and working hard to increase their achievement, each student can earn a star on their white card.  Once they earn ten, their success is celebrated by exchanging their white card for the next color level and of course a round of ten finger woos would certainly be in order.  

The greatest part of this system is that it is all positive and students are competing against themselves to improve their behavior, social, and academic achievement.  "If we focus on student improvement in academic activities and social growth, then scores on state tests will take care of themselves.  Nothing will produce higher test results than a class of students who are continuously striving to break their own personal records." (Biffle, 2013)

As students move up the rungs of the ladder, it is important to reward them with leadership opportunities and just pure fun.  Chris Biffle has many suggestions for ways to maintain student interest.  When a student reaches level 4, take a picture of the child and a few friends making funny faces.  Bring the photo in and put it on the wall backwards.  In order for the child to turn the picture around, the student will have to earn five more stars.  He suggests adding this photo bonus on every other rung after level four.  Another motivator, is to give those students who attain a leader level the opportunity to lead the class with a class call-out.  You could signal the identified leader and the student could call out, "Class!" signaling the class to say, "Yes!" 

I know what you are thinking now.  "What about those students who aren't following the rules?"  Chapter 17:  Practice Cards, targets individual behavior problems.  As soon as I read it, I had another one of those "AH HA!" moments.  Chris Biffle urges that those impulsive students who continuously resist the rules, simply need practice.  

For this aspect, you will need to create a section of your board that identifies your students by number and not name.  It is important to respect the anonymity of the student and will help you maintain control.  
Here is a look at Nancy Stoltenberg's Numbered Student Chart.

As you are teaching and a student keeps calling out answers.  The first step is to call out, "Rule 2!"  The class will answer, "Raise your hand for permission to speak, please stop."  If this doesn't eliminate the problem, remaining calm and not calling attention to the student is key.  In order to keep the lesson moving forward and maintain control, add a white Rule 2 Practice Card to the student's numbered pocket.  This is merely managerial for you, so that you can easily remember those students who require practice.  The key is that no more than two practice cards should be added to a students chart per day.  

Doing this allows the lesson to continue and signals to the student that you are aware of their behavior.  During recess, lunch or another free time during the day, give the child the practice card and set a timer for 1-2 minutes.  For example, if the student needs to practice Rule 2, he or she would sit there and repeat the rule and practice the gesture repeatedly the entire time.  This gives the child "additional time to focus on a problem she was having with a specific behavior." (Biffle, 2013)  Biffle also describes this as a powerful experience for this child to practice this rule over and over again.

Another level of SIT and what defines the "T" as "team" is what you see on the left of my board.  Sometimes, there are many students who require additional practice with a certain rule or skill.  We have all had those classes who are chatty or highly energetic.  As this need develops, you would provide a class goal for the students to work on.  It is very important that they must work extremely hard to earn a point on the board for the class.  Note individual improvement but only reward the class when you have achieved exceptional compliance.  These points are gained separately from the color cards.  The clincher is how to use these points.  On Fridays, total the points and only those students who will gain a level from the points will actually benefit from them.  For example, if a student has 9 stars on a level and the class has earned 1 bonus point, this student would be able to utilize the bonus point and move up a color level.  If another student has 5 stars, one point would not help this student and therefore there is no benefit for them this time.

As you can see, this Super Improver Team is so complex and filled with infinite possibilities.  Stars can be earned for anything the child improves upon.  If they decrease their time in a Super Speed Challenge, raise a test score, or raise their hand in lieu of blurting out, a child can earn a star and show improvement.  What an amazing opportunity to show how to track 100 or more improvements a child can make within a school year.  I cannot wait to get started.


Sunday, August 3, 2014


It's the age old battle.  Does homework have an added benefit to student learning and performance?  In the many years that I have been a teacher, I have always been a supporter of homework.  However, my perspective was that, it had to be with a purpose and should always be a review.  

Last year, I encountered an administrative style that believed that homework should be limited or not at all.  My initial reaction was, "No way.  It teaches responsibility."  So, I moved forward with the beginning part of the year limiting the amount of homework to just reading and writing.  This was my attempt at balancing both my philosophy and that of  my administration.  As I noticed that my students and their parents were growing weary of this monotonous assignment, I created a ritualistic schedule attaching a certain type of homework to a specific night.   That worked better, but I knew there was room for improvement.

Over the summer, I started reading some articles and realized my reaction to the idea of no or limited homework was all wrong.  My response was NOT, "They gain so much knowledge from their homework assignments!"  NO, my gut instinct and concern was responsibility.  I had an "ah ha" moment because I knew homework was not the only place to master that character trait.

At this point, I had to think about who my students and families were.  In this day and age, the family unit consists of so many different components.  Families who are two working parent households with their children in childcare.  They are divorced families who juggle visitation schedules.  Children with a heavy after school activity load, shuttling from dance, to soccer, to piano and home just in time to get a bath and go to bed.  The point is that our families are diverse and have changed.  Therefore, our own expectations and requirements for homework must morph too.

Homework must be short and sweet and foster practice.  In my pursuit of that answer to my homework needs, I found one of Chris Biffle's video broadcasts called "Universal Homework".

This webinar made me think, "How can this apply to Kindergarten?"  There are certain times in the video where Coach B references Kindergarten, but their learning changes and grows so quickly.  So, I adapted this plan for the beginning of the year.

1 STAR:    Read for 10 minutes
                 Super Speed Letters
                 Super Speed Counting to 25
2 STARS:  Trace your letters on the dotted line.
3 STARS:  Neatly write your letters without tracing.

I imagine this plan should only last for a month.  Once I have taught some of those basic sight words, then the Speed Letters will change to Super Speed Reading and I will use the suggestion from the video and take those first ten words and repeat them three times for a total of 30 words.  Also, my 2 STAR level will eventually become neatly written sentence or drawing about the story.  With a 3 STAR level expectation is to neatly draw AND write.  As the students grow in their writing skills, it is my intention to add onto the 3 STAR level and encourage students to use more sentences providing evidence using the word "because".  I also intend to increase the counting in increments of 25 through to 100.  Once there, it would make sense to use addition fast facts to five.  In Kindergarten, they learn so fast and achieve so much in such a short period of time, that they STAR levels must be adapted to new learning expectations.

The next layer of this plan is genius!  As the students complete their homework each day, they collect points for the class.  The amount of points they earn rewards them on Friday with minutes to play a fun review game called "Mind Soccer".  This is a quick content review game that the kids love.  The key is to keep them begging for more.  If you over-saturate them with too much game play, the intrigue wheres thin.  Keep the minutes at a minimum, making sure you set a timer, and watch them beg for more!  In Coach B's video above, he gives an example of a point spread for a class of thirty students.  I usually do not have more than twenty, so here is my point spread:

240-192 points = 3 minutes of game play
191-168 points = 2 minutes of game play
167-144 points = 1 minute  of game play

Here is the kicker.  On Wednesday, as the interest and stamina begin to decline.  Make them aware of how many more points they need to earn three minutes.  Ask the class for volunteers to do 3 STAR homework.  Chris Biffle advises us to write those names on the board and have the class cheer for them.  The idea is to generate an excitement and support system in your classroom surrounding homework.  Not only are the assignments quick but they are truly practice.

I love this idea and I cannot wait to try it out this year. Not only is this homework easily done in the car on the way home from a baseball game, it is rote practice.  This increase in fluency is exactly what we need in the classroom in order to layer our teaching with inference and higher level thinking.

Look out Kinders...Mind Soccer is coming your way!!!!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Find the Reason You Became a Teacher

Find the Reason You Became a Teacher
I am working on a team this summer where we are tasked with planning the training for the entire school year.  During our sessions, we have had discussions about new initiatives.  One of our primary concerns is how to get those who are resistant to new concepts to reconsider their thinking. To foster this, we have developed ideas to assist in this transition with the hope that they will buy into the new initiatives and address them with as much enthusiasm as we do.  Basically, it comes down to remembering why you became a teacher and learning to fall in love with your job again. 

As I have been reading, Whole Brain Teaching for the Challenging Kids by Chris Biffle, I made a connection between the perceived challenges we, as a professional development  team, were facing and his sentiment in chapter 3 of this book.  According to Biffle, there seven ways teachers can avoid exacerbating challenging student behaviors:
  1. control your temper
  2. confront challenging students when they don't have an audience
  3. be organized
  4. fall in love with your profession
  5. work hard at teaching, when you are not in class
  6. understand that your students are not your clones
  7. grow or die
Number four, five and seven presented me with an "Ah ha" moment.  Teaching is one of those careers that becomes embedded in your personality.  You live and breathe it.  I agree that there are those days that you feel so overcome by the paperwork, challenging students, meetings, and new initiatives that you want to close the classroom door behind you and turn that part of you off.  On those days, it is important to remember why you are there in the first place. 

I remember the moment I knew that I wanted to become a teacher.  I was sixteen and helping my sister, a first grader, do her homework.  She was having such a hard time with her reading and I recall how frustrated she was.  It reminded me of when I was her age and hated school.  Reading was so hard for me too.  I just didn't get it.  Sitting there with my sweet little sister on the cold basement floor, I assured her that everything would be fine and that I was there to help her.  As I slowly guided her through the words in her sentences, breaking them down, so she could sound them out, something inside of me changed.  I had discovered a new driving force and I knew, in that moment, that I wanted to be a teacher.  At the young age of sixteen, I had a deep desire to instill a LOVE of reading in children.  

Over the past twenty years, I have developed that passion. I have spent my career growing and learning.  Chris Biffle was right when he said, "Grow or die."  Research and best practices are always changing and our students are constantly morphing.  If we don't choose to change and grow with them, we become stagnant.  Fearing that this would make me ineffective, I never stop learning.  So, on those days that I want to close the door and never look back, I have to remind myself of why I am a teacher.  It helps renew my spirit and enables me to go in everyday with an spring in my step and a sparkle in my eye.

What was your driving force to become a teacher?  What is your story?

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Balancing Act of Summer

Throughout my whole life, I have judged the beginning of the end of my summer vacation by the 4th of July.  For the most part, it isn't even a midpoint.  I guess it is because there are no other holidays to look forward to or be distracted by.  So...the countdown has begun.  Five more glorious weeks before preplanning begins and six more weeks until I meet my new crop of kindergarteners.

At this point, I feel the need to take an inventory of my mental "To Do List" and well...I better get cracking.  The trouble is my original list has been expanded.  I should know better by now.  These lists are always wishful thinking.

Original To Do List
  • Read How to Create and Use Rubrics 
  • Reread Becoming a Reflective Teacher
  • Attend week long workshop in June
  • Attend a week long workshop in July
  • Buy WBT for Challenging Kids
  • Get Whole Brain Certification
  • Start a blog
  • Finish WBT book study
  • Start Teachers Pay Teachers Store
To Do List Additions
  • Read Daily 5 Second Edition
  • Add more items to TPT Store
  • Organize my Pinterest boards

Well, as you can see, I have accomplished a few things.  However, it's not near my expectations. In fact, some of these items have been on my list since last summer.   There is a delicate balance we teachers have in the summers.  It's our time to give our families the extra love and attention that has been snagged from them all year long.  However, in our heads is a running checklist of all the "things" we want to complete before the next school year.  I have five weeks left.  Yikes!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Crazy Professor Reading Game

I am amazed and honored with how many shares and comments I have received on this blog thus far.   One of my neighbors, a substitute teacher, downloaded the book onto her Kindle. I have also spoken to a few who got caught up in the YouTube frenzy too.  Even one of my friends, who is not a teacher, posted a video of one of the techniques used in Whole Brain Teaching called "The Crazy Professor Reading Game."  

You see, WBT is so much more than just a classroom management system.  It's about learning by connecting the mind and body.  In this video you will observe one of Whole Brain Teaching's finest and Directer of Certification, Nancy Stoltenberg, demonstrating this revolutionizing technique with a 2nd grade class.  The whole point is to get the students engaged.  Gone are the days we can just sit around and "round robin" read or play "bump".  With this technique, students become the story.  They question each other, forcing the student to dig deeper and answer why and how questions.  After a short period of time, each student can not only retell the story, but they can read it with inflection and fluency. In addition, they are reviewing grammar and identifying character's motives.  Who wouldn't want to read when it's so much fun?

Again, Chris Biffle has developed something so incredible that these techniques span the grade levels.  Here is a fourth grade example.

I also suggest your register for the WBT website.  It's free and during the school year Chris Biffle himself hosts live webinars on Monday nights.  During these sessions, you can talk live with the man himself.  Not only are the sessions free, but he has pages of free ebooks that are downloaded as pdf's you can use in class.  After you register, click on ebooks, order the documents by name and scroll until you find "The Crazy Professor Game" documents.  Here is "The Crazy Professor Reading Game" webinar.  It is about an hour long but so worth your time. Happy reading!!!!!!!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Getting Started

Who knew I would ever be the 'blogging" type?  Not me!  

I always admired my colleagues who could create and teach engaging lesson, manifest brilliant resources, be amazing mentors and leaders in our educational community.  On top of all those incredible achievements, they also blog their teaching journeys.  So admiration and, I will admit, a twinge of jealousy has brought me to this point in my life.

What brought me here you ask?  Three words:  Whole Brain Teaching.  

I am embarking on something incredible and I am eager to share it with anyone willing to join me on this train ride.  Last year, I discovered this fascinating technique.  

During our weekly planning meeting, a first year teaching colleague and I were perfecting some type of amazing lesson when she mentions this YouTube video of a young first grade teacher doing this technique called:  Teach-OK.  She went on to show me some hand gestures and was beaming with excitement relaying how much fun it was when she tried it on her kids.  (This is why I love working with young teachers by the way...they are a volcano of new ideas and techniques!  Go find yourself a novice teacher to bounce ideas off of.  What are you waiting for?!?!?!)

That night I went home and did a YouTube search.  What I found, started a three hour frenzy of bread-crumbing and watching my peers do something that engaged EVERY student and was FUN for both of them.  

I became obsessed with watching every video this teacher posted and found myself wanting teach just like that.  From her, I learned that this phenomenon was called Whole Brain Teaching and was developed by a brilliant man named Chris Biffle from California.  As I went from one demonstration to another, I found the best instructional video by the man himself.


In 9 minutes, I was ready to implement this in my kindergarten classroom.  

Genius is all I can say.  At this point, I was midway through my school year.  Classroom rules, routines and expectations had been established for months.  It didn't matter!  This was far better than any "One, two, eyes on you" rhyme.  My students took to the chanting and gestures with so much excitement and joy.  It changed the dynamics in my classroom immediately.  In 24 hours, I went from consistently reminding repeat offenders to pay attention, to being someone they couldn't take their eyes off of.  

I felt...EMPOWERED!!!!

This year, I spent the whole year using the Whole Brain Teaching approach disseminating my knowledge to my kinders.  It was an incredible experience.  As I became more confident in utilizing the techniques, I wanted to know more.  I started logging onto his website and liked the Facebook page.  Through these resources, I discovered that this was so much more than just rules for a classroom.  It is a method for teaching unlike anything I have ever observed or experienced.  Chris Biffle and his team have developed a tsunami of resources, tutorials and instructional techniques that I have used in math, reading, science, social studies and especially WRITING!

I started telling anyone who would listen about his techniques.  I urged everyone who crossed my path to check out Whole Brain Teaching.  So now, I have decided it was time for me to get certified.  That is how I got here.  Now, I am a blogger.  It cracks me up...I never...ever thought I would belong to the blogosphere, but here I am none-the-less.  As part of the requirements for the certification process, I must read Chris Biffle's book "Whole Brain Teaching for the Challenging Kids" and blog about my reading.  I would love for you to join me on this amazing journey to becoming a teacher who keeps her students engaged while deepening their knowledge and critically thinking.