Inspiring Positive Character: A Reading Response Bulletin Board or Research Board

I created this reading response and interactive bulletin board to integrate my two passions, social emotional learning and reading instruction. I’m a strong believer in allowing students free choice of their independent reading, but sometimes it can be hard to plan assignments that keep students accountable for that reading if you don’t know what they will be reading. I have found that this is a reading response that all of my students can do no matter what their book choice may be, and it is just enough of a response that I can monitor their comprehension of that reading.

In my opinion, any time is a good time to have your students thinking about positive character traits. You could choose to use this as an ongoing, year-long, reading response activity, or as a Black History Month or Women’s History Month activity to celebrate inspirational change leaders in history. Because of this flexibility, this reading response could be used as a quick research project, or with any independent reading choice, fiction or nonfiction, during your students’ daily independent reading time.

Another option to note is that you can do this a couple different ways. You could focus on one character trait at a time, a few, or all at once. I take time to introduce all of the character traits with my students. Then, as they are reading and come across an inspirational example or story (from nonfiction or fiction), they can choose the trait paper that best fits the example they want to share. You could set an expectation for a certain number of responses per week, or leave it open-ended.

My favorite way to store all of the writing page choices for the bulletin board is in a large 3-ring binder, with dividers for each trait. I use the cover page of this file as the binder cover page. You may choose to display their responses using the bulletin board option, in a binder for students to review and check out, or just as an assignment your students turn in to you. Students could also keep their writing and share it in a daily response journal that they keep as a record of the characters they read about throughout the year. Really, there are so many possibilities 🙂

I’d love for you to try it out! You can grab it by clicking on the link here to start using in your own classroom.

How One Research Project Can Boost Motivation

Almost weekly, my teammates and I talk about our fifth graders and the lack of intrinsic motivation that some of them seem to have. My biggest concern has always been the potential that I can see in them, but that they don’t put out into their daily efforts in the classroom. And truly, I just don’t think they all know why that’s so important.

You see, I could say it to them all the time, just how much I believed in them, how I knew they could dig just a little deeper, take their assignments just a little more seriously. I could preach about how what they do now matters for their future. But that wasn’t making the difference that I so desperately wanted to see in some of them.

How serious was this problem? My best example is this, I give my students the opportunity to revise and resubmit their weekly reading assignments. If they don’t get the grade they want reported on their graded assignments, they can ask me to send it back to them to redo and resubmit. That’s an amazing opportunity, and about half of them (maybe even more) don’t take advantage of it. Unbelievable, right? I mean, they see their score immediately, may see that it’s a 50, and they move on to do something else. Why wouldn’t a student ask to retry that assignment to get a higher score? It puzzles and worries me, and to be honest, are we really doing our jobs if we aren’t building more intrinsic motivation in our students?

So when New Years rolled around, I came up with a plan. I knew that I wanted to work on goal-setting with my students, but I also knew that I needed to do so on a deeper level. You can read about the conferences that I had with my students for setting goals and reflecting on their performance in my previous post, Help Your Students Set Meaningful Goals Instead of the Same Old New Year’s Resolutions. You can also get a link to the forms I used during these conferences in that post.

That was part one. Part two of the plan was a research report. I had my students research the requirements of their future career goal. They researched the education, task, and skill requirements for that career, and then the reflected into heir current performance and made plans for the meeting their goal. It’s just the right combination! I called the report, “My Future’s So Bright”.

Since having these conferences and discussing their future career goals and plans for getting there, I’ve seen a significant change in some of my students. They had realizations that mattered to them and that they knew they could work on NOW. To be honest, since doing this, I’ve shared how impactful this plan was with pretty much anybody at school who will listen. It’s that good!

If this is a problem you’ve seen in your own classroom, with your own students, any time is a good time to address it. You can grab my conference forms and the career research report and bulletin board kit in my store, just go to the shop tab.

1-2-3 Magic Warnings and Class Dojo: The Best Behavior Management Plan I’ve Ever Used

First, I need to say that this is NOT original to me or my classroom! The 1-2-3- Magic discipline strategy is from the book, “1-2-3 Magic” by Thomas W. Phelan, PhD. It’s a brilliant strategy for parents, classrooms, and any other individual who has the responsibility of helping raise children. The difference is that I have simplified it just a little to work more effectively for my own behavior management style and classroom.

So, here’s the thought behind the plan … our job as teachers, parents, etc. is to teach children appropriate social behavior, and how to make appropriate social behavior decisions on their own, right? Well, that’s how I see it. So if all I do is set the rules and then give out consequences, am I really teaching them to manage their own behavior? No. But, you can’t spend your time giving out warnings and reminders all day without there being a consequence either. That’s where the 1-2-3 magic warnings come in.

The actual plan and process is extremely simple. When your child is making a behavioral decision that is not appropriate you give a simple warning of “1”. This can be a verbal warning, a hand signal, or some other signal. I’ve found that nonverbal signals are the most effective in the classroom because it doesn’t stop your teaching. I use hand signals by raising one, two, or three fingers depending on the stage of warning. After the warning, you immediately go back to teaching or whatever you are doing. If the child corrects the behavior, you’re done. But, if you’ve given a warning of “1” and the behavior doesn’t stop within 10 seconds, you now give the warning of “2”. Again, you allow 10 seconds. The same process applies here. If the behavior stops, you just move on. If the behavior does not stop within 10 seconds, you are now on “3”. What happens at “3” depends on your classroom plan. This could mean a short time out, a clip down on your behavior chart, or a loss of a point on ClassDojo (which is what I use), or any other number of things depending on what you do.

What I love about this process is that it’s quick, doesn’t stop your teaching or activity, and it allows the child to make a better choice, making them more accountable for their behavior choices. I’ve found that it works well for all students, but especially for students who are more impulsive and need a little more guidance and encouragement.

I’ve used the 1-2-3 magic warnings with a clip chart before and found that it worked just fine. However, I definitely prefer ClassDojo because it’s not visual in the classroom and therefore the students are not focused on it all day long, are not viewing other students’ points, and it is also visible to the child’s guardians if you connect families to your account. This means that you can message families about those behaviors the student is frequently choosing to engage in, making their growth more of a team effort.

Now for the next steps … in my classroom, if a child loses three points in a day(which would equal six to nine warnings altogether), my student fills out a Time-Out Form, which is taken home to be signed by the parent. Three of these in a nine weeks results in a behavior referral to the principal. This is actually a school-wide policy at my elementary school and it works really well. Or, if a child fills out a Time-Out Form and then continues to make poor behavioral choices throughout that same day, I immediately go to a phone call home and/or a behavior referral that day. This also works really well as a deterrent to continuing poor choices.

Just like any behavior plan though, it is not a magic fix for all students all the time. I haven’t found anything that is actually. What I have found, though, is that when I am consistent, this behavior/discipline plan works better than anything else I have done in the 15+ years I’ve been teaching. I think that’s true because it’s fair, and it allows the students to feel more in control, than controlled.

As always, if you’d like more information or have questions related to this post, please contact me. I’m always happy to help in anyway that I can. Or, if you try it out, I’d love to hear how it goes for you!

Happy Teaching!

Make Your Student Survey Data Work for You!

Do you have your students complete a teacher/classroom survey during the year? In my county, our students complete the survey in the middle of the year and again at the end. If used correctly, these surveys give valuable information, allowing the teacher to get an insight on student perspective. In grades 2-5, we ask our students the following questions: (Our K-1 students use a slightly different survey.)

  1. My teacher makes me feel like he/she cares about me.
  2. I am happy when I am in my classroom.
  3. My teacher expects me to do my best.
  4. My classmates’ behavior slows down my learning.
  5. I know what I should be doing and learning.
  6. My classroom is neat, everything has a place, and things are easy to find.
  7. I am comfortable talking to my teacher about my problems.

I enter these questions into a Google Form, which will compile the data for me as they submit their responses (compiling the data is the hard part for me). Each of the prompts asks for a “yes” or “no” response and allows for the student to add a comment if they desire. Students DO NOT include their names (unless they choose to) and therefore can leave their honest response.

Before completing the survey I talk with my students about the importance of being thoughtful and honest. These questions are meant to help our classroom environment and community continue to grow.

Now, how do you actually use this data? My answer is simple. First of all, you need to know that you might get answers and feedback that surprises you. Get out of the mindset that your students just circled answers and that the information is useless. It’s easy to try to get trapped in the process of trying to talk yourself out of responsibility for the negative answers. The truth is, we ARE responsible for those answers, and it’s those answers that give us the opportunity to improve our classroom and our teaching!

How? Simple. I talk to my students about the data in general. I walk through each question and response trend and we talk about it. I tell them my own reflections, my ideas to help improve the response the next time, and I ask them for their suggestions. For the question responses that we really need to focus on, I make an anchor chart. By doing this one simple thing, I’ve noticed a progressing trend over the years in how my students feel about our classroom and myself.

This December, our only problem area just so happened to be question four, “My classmates’ behavior slows down my learning.” I wasn’t surprised by this, but I was surprised at how many students said yes. You see, classroom and behavior management is something I feel really good about. So when 30% of my students responded yes, I knew it was time to really get their thoughts and suggestions.

I decided it was time for a goal (it is January) and an action plan. I told them that it was going to be a goal we share, and so we divided our action plan into three parts: the teacher can, we can, and I can. Just like I described earlier, I talked about my own thoughts and my own ideas, but we focused more on theirs. The picture of the anchor chart below is what the students wanted on the chart.

I have to tell you, I was surprised when the students asked me to start using the “1,2,3 Magic” warning and behavior plan again. I love this plan, but I had actually gotten away from it with this group because I didn’t feel like I needed to talk to them about their behaviors that often anymore. What they said they liked about it, though, was that it’s a silent way to remind a student about what they are doing that is distracting. They like this plan because I can use my eyes and a hand signal, while still instructing. Without our conversation, I honestly wouldn’t have thought to do this with them again. This discussion also allowed the students to voice their concerns and frustrations to the whole group. Without calling names, they were able to voice the distracting behaviors that bothered them the most. And some of the students who engage in those behaviors actually made comments about they didn’t realize that behavior distracted their peers. That’s a WIN-WIN for all!

It’s only been a few days since we had this discussion, but I have to tell you that it has already made a difference in my classes. I think, honestly, just taking the opportunity to be real with them, admit my flaws and failures, and give them a voice, showing that we are truly a team, is what makes the biggest difference. If we’re doing this together, we can make mistakes together, and we can improve together.

If you’ve read this post and you do conduct student surveys with your class, I encourage you to discuss your data with your students. I promise, you won’t regret it! If you haven’t used student surveys with your class, but now you’re wondering what your students might say, I encourage you to start with the few questions above. And as always, if you’d like more information, or have your own stories and suggestions for how you use student survey data, please share it with me via email or comment.

Help Your Students Set Meaningful Goals Instead of the Same Old New Year Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions are great, and we all set them. In fact, most of us work with our students to set New Year’s Resolutions in the classroom when we come back from our winter break. But, do your students really understand the importance of the goal they are setting, or, do they really set meaningful goals? My guess, based on my experience, is that your answer to those questions for many of your students, is NO.

I saw the same problem, and I found a solution.

Now, I still have my students set goals at this time of year. I just do one very important thing FIRST. What’s that? I hold one-on-one student conferences. It looks very much like your admin/teacher mid-year evaluation meeting, and it’s just as professional.

I know this sounds like it will take A LOT of your instructional time, and I know we are all fighting to use every single second we’ve got, but I promise you, this interruption in your daily instruction is TOTALLY WORTH IT! Each of my own meetings takes about 10 minutes, maybe less or more, depending on the student. We discuss their overall grade and strengths, their areas for improvement, division assessment scores and progress compared to the expectations for those assessments, attendance concerns if necessary, and discipline concerns if necessary. Next, I talk to them about their daily work habits and I give the student time to talk about their own thoughts and reflections. Then, I have the student begin to think about and discuss their progress goals and action plans.

Now it’s time for the student to do some independent reflection. I use a few simple questions, asking the student to reflect on what he/she is proud of and what he/she would like to make better, where they would like to be by the end of the year or in the future (the goals), and how they, myself, and their parents can help reach those goals.

Finally, I save these conversation notes and their reflection form, and these are what I use for mid-year parent-teacher conferences. I’ll also pull these back out for future conversations and mini-conferences with my students later in the year. For those students who need it, those mini-conferences happen about once a month from this point on, and for others, not as often. It’s a relevant, important, and meaningful conversation and goal that you will NOT regret taking time to do.

If you’d like a copy of the forms I use, they’re free and can be snagged with this link. If you’d like to see what I have my students work on to extend these conversations and get the students thinking even more about their future goals, follow me and look out for a post about my career research project and essay with bulletin board.

Enjoy! And as always, I’d love to hear how you run and hold student conferences and set goals with your own students! Comment below!