Make Today Matter Digital Gratitude and Growth Mindset Journal

Help Your Students Find Positivity in Each Day

I had a rough week last week. After six weeks of being quarantined, I had a severe case of BLAH.

What I realized was this:

  1. I wasn’t taking care of myself and my mindset. I needed a positivity boost.
  2. If I’m struggling with this, so many others, including my students, must be also.

What I did for myself was to take a day to rest and reset my mind. I exercised, I talked to friends (on the phone), I read, I painted my nails, all the things.

But the next day I honestly didn’t feel any better. On the second day, I opened my daily mindset journal, my Make Today Matter journal that I’d been keeping each day at school for myself and with my students, and I wrote. I wrote about what I’m grateful for, my goals for the day, and my successes. And just like it had made such a big difference in our positivity in the classroom, it made a big difference for me here at home too!

I’ve added it to my Distance Learning Google Classroom for my students now also. Because like I said in realization #2 above, if I’m feeling this way, I’m sure my students and everyone else are also. Because if ten minutes could make such a big difference for my mindset, I’m sure it will do the same for my students.

Maybe it could also do the same for your students. We could all use a little extra sense of joy and sunshine in our day! Grab your copy here!

Using A Digital Fiction Book Project for Distance Learning

One of the problems that I’ve noticed the most with distance learning, is the amount of extra time that teachers are having to take to get resources ready for digital distance learning. The strategies and resources that teachers are using is new for so many of us and the learning curve itself with what works for this, and what teaching looks like in this time, is new and requires big changes. Change takes time.

My Digital Fiction Book Project is one resource that could save some of that time. The beauty of this Google Slides project is the amount of flexibility it allows for the teacher and students. The project can be used with any text and provides two versions (pages with graphic organizers and pages without) of the most common fiction reading comprehension skills. Several of the pages can also be used with nonfiction texts as well. The teacher can assign the reading, with a specific text for students to show comprehension, or have students choose their own book, allowing for differentiation and higher engagement. Yay – said the students!

See a blank version of the project here.

Teachers can either assign the pages with the graphic organizers pre-made, or have their students create their own ways of showing their comprehension and use/mastery of each skill. Teachers can choose to only assign certain comprehension pages, or all, or assign the project to a collaborative group of students and have them work on separate slides in the same project. This is a resource that could be used multiple times, allowing the teacher to also establish a routine during distance learning, making the work easier for their students and parents to navigate each week.

To complete the project, students use digital snapshots (use their snipping tool or screen capture tool) of the text to prove their thinking along with their own explanations to provide evidence of their understanding. This can be done with either digital ebooks or with print text. Students who need to complete the resource without wifi can use a print version of the project pages, or use the “edit offline” option that Google allows. And because it’s a Google apps project, students can use any device that allows them to connect to Google Apps (a PC or device with Google Slides downloaded from the app store).

The project can be easily assigned by using an email link or through your Google Classroom.

My students and I have always enjoyed presenting the projects as well, which could be done through a Zoom or Google Meets class meeting, on Flipgrid using a Screencastify video (free versions available for teachers and students) or any other screen/voice recording tool.

This project has always been one of the favorite comprehension project assignments in my classes and I hope that it would be the same for your students, along with being a helpful and valuable resource for your distance teaching materials!

Hosting a Book Giveaway to Encourage Reading At Home

I don’t know about you, but my number one goal for my students is for my students to love reading as much as I do. Giving them time to read anything of choice in the classroom was made a priority this year, but making sure they continue that at home is a whole different challenge. So, to encourage my students to continue reading while at home while doing this distance learning thing, I’m hosting a book giveaway.

Here’s how it works. Each week, I’m sharing book suggestions with my classes through my parent communication tool. I’m using Class Dojo, but you could easily share through other communication apps, email, or digital meeting tools like Zoom or Google apps. I send a photo of the book I’m suggesting with a quick summary. I usually send two or three of these per week, to give some options, trying to vary my suggestions by what I know my students enjoy reading and to meet all of my students’ different interests.

What the students do in return, is send pictures of themselves reading (or their parents do) anything they have (magazines, recipes, books from home, ebooks, etc.) while at home. Each picture sent gets their name in the drawing. They can also send a new picture each day to get in the drawing multiple times for that week.

At the end of the week, I draw a name out of the jar and that student can choose one of the books that I’ve sent out as suggestions to receive as a reward. All I do is order it on Amazon for them and have it sent to their address. It’s easy, not that expensive at one book per week, and highly motivating! (Also, although I haven’t looked into this, I’m sure you could get donations to help with the cost of sending books to your students to make this even easier for you.)

16 Activity Ideas for Digital Class Meetings

One of the biggest things I miss right now with this Covid-19 pandemic is our class morning meetings. Morning meetings have the power to build and strengthen our classroom communities in so many ways. So when digital meetings became the only way that we could still get together as a class family, I knew it was the morning meeting time, time spent sharing our thoughts and feelings, time spent engaging together, that I would want to continue. And I’ve come up with 16 ways that I can do just that!

  1. Greeting This is an important part of a morning meeting that should and can still be continued. Students can just take time to say hello to each other by name, or you could come up with a hand signal or movement to accompany the greeting.
  2. Share Time This could be a free share or responding to a discussion prompt, but it always means practicing communication skills, sharing personal thoughts, feelings, and ideas, and time spent listening, asking questions, and finding connections between peers and class members.
  3. Charades If you establish a category, students can come up with the rest and act it out as the rest of the class viewing guesses.
  4. Would you rather? Assign a number or hand signal to each of the options and have students show their preferences that way.
  5. Dance Party Choose a favorite class song to sing and dance, or choose any tik tok or popular option. Just have fun!
  6. Rock Paper Scissors If you assign the partners, this game is totally doable. And, as each pair has a winner, that student can move on to compete with the winner of another pair, and so on, until their is only one student left (the winner!).
  7. Read Aloud I love this as an option, by the teacher, or by a selected student to share a story they have read at home and recommend to their class to check out sometime.
  8. Directed Drawing All the students need is paper and a pencil.
  9. Blind Drawing I’m sure this activity has another name, but it’s the one where the students put the paper or paper plate on their head and try to draw a _______ (fill in the blank with anything you can think of). Then share and laugh.
  10. Simon Says This game is still totally possible when all of the participants can see each other (Zoom!)
  11. Guess Who Choose a student to describe without giving away obvious clues and have the rest of the group guess who you are describing. You could even include some clues based on class memories from your time together in school. So sweet!
  12. Inference Mysteries This can be done with items you know the students have never seen before (pictures of those items of course) or with a set of daily mysteries for the group to solve throughout the week.
  13. Riddles These are always fun and require critical thinking and creativity!
  14. Spotlight Student Choose a student for each meeting (different each time) and have the group ask questions for that student to answer about him/herself.
  15. Wordless Picture Book Share a wordless picture book with the group and have them work together to help write the story to accompany the pictures.
  16. Who Remembers? This is a listening activity. While the students are sharing their responses during share time, the teacher writes down notes and then asks the class questions about who shared that information. You could make this a game, girls against boys, students vs. teacher, etc.

No matter what you do, the effort to continue to connect with your students is still SO important. Even if you just start the meeting to allow your students to talk to each other, without a plan involved, what you do makes a difference. You can grab a pdf version of these ideas here.

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.