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.

Test Prep Room Transformation

Can You Defeat the Puzzle Master?

This room transformation was easy, cheap, rigorous, and highly engaging! I centered the theme around growth mindset and mindulness strategies that, when used together, are the puzzle pieces to success. We’ve focused on these concepts all year long in the classroom, so it made perfect sense to “put the pieces together” for test prep. The mindset concepts I used are grit, dedication, perseverance, effort, mindfulness, strategy, positivity, attitude, commitment, confidence, critical thinking, and growth mindset. I’ve added pictures of the puzzle pieces I made and hung on the walls in my classroom below.

These were pretty big, so they pretty much cover all of the free wall space in my classroom, which meant that I didn’t need to do any extra decorations. To me, the minimal decorations were also the right choice because I wanted my focus to remain on the work and being able to use these concepts and strategies for state testing.

I also hung some multi-colored dollar store table cloths on the ceiling to add some “pretty” to the room.

For the work, I needed mixed review of everything we’ve done throughout this year. I used the Reading Skills puzzle centers pictured below from TPT. These are just the right amount of challenging and confidence building for my 4th graders! My students also really enjoyed using them. (You could also use any other task cards or test questions for your subject.). These centers come with answer keys that could be used for self-checking, but I wanted my students to have to correct their thinking and try again, so I created Google Forms Quizzes (that showed a score and if the question was right/wrong, but not the correct answer). My students worked in pairs and had to get an 80% or higher to show mastery and move on to the next step. There were 9-10 pairs working on separate skills during the class time so the Google Forms were extremely helpful for keeping the students accountable (I get grades and know they did the work necessary for the group) and moving at their own pace because they didn’t have to wait on me to check their work.

Once the pair had shown mastery they got one of the following “treat puzzles” to put together (shown in the pics below). If the students were able to put it together completely they got the candy or treat that was referenced in the pun/riddle on the treat puzzle. I made these out of poster board that I got in the school section at Walmart for about $3.00 for a set of five posters. I made the same number of treat puzzles as the reading skills puzzles that I used, so the students got a different treat each time they mastered a skill. I did this for a little extra motivation, but it certainly isn’t mandatory.

In my two hour class, with a mini-lesson focused on each of our puzzle piece mindset and strategy concepts, my students were able to complete two to three reading puzzles per class.

To complete the transformation and theme, I gave each of my students these blank puzzles that I ordered from Amazon to design and keep. I could have had my students focus on a design that used our mindset concepts and success as the theme of their picture, but for destressing after testing (we did this part during the afternoon after state testing in the morning), I allowed my students full creative rights for their puzzles.  You can get the puzzles from the link here.

I had actually worried that it wouldn’t be as exciting to them as I hoped, but they absolutely loved these puzzles.

Build Classroom Community

 

ORIGINAL - Farmhouse Brights Burlap & Wood Morning Meeting Slides (11)

Do you do Responsive Classroom or Morning Meetings in your school or classroom?  If so, you know that spending 15-20 minutes a day sharing thoughts and “playing” with your students can be your most successful relationship building moment of the day.

My students and I learn more about each other and build the strongest community bonds during our Morning Meeting time.  In the time that most teachers would be transitioning from breakfast/morning work to “class” time, we are sharing our thoughts, writing songs together, completing mini-stem challenges, playing teamwork building games, solving critical thinking puzzles, character building, and learning about each other’s strengths and unique personalities in ways that just can’t happen during any other class time.

To make my morning meetings easier to plan and keep routine, I use a Google slides presentation.   Having this routine has allowed me to share these with my substitutes, collaborative teachers and students so that meetings can still run smoothly when I’m out.  Because my students are used to seeing the same layout each day, I can often choose a student to lead the meeting on the days that I’m out.  For those teachers who know what it’s like trying to explain a morning meeting to a substitute on paper, you know that the ability to have a student run your meeting instead is amazing!  (Of course, I teach 4th graders who are capable of leading this and reading the presentation, but I’m sure this is possible of some of the younger grades also!)

If you want to pick up one of my Editable Morning Meeting Slides, you can get it at Teaching and Learning in Mrs Gentry’s Class on Teachers Pay Teachers.

thanks for reading!

Flight School: A Reading Research-Based STEAM Lesson and Digital Task Journal

Flight School STEAM

I’m super excited to share this lesson!  I love STEAM projects and shared my digital task journal to make STEAM more reading and research-based so that it fits better into the Reading and Language Arts classroom in an earlier post.  This is the lesson that I used to first implement this idea and it worked SO WELL!   This lesson includes a Growth Mindset read aloud and discussion, task journal prompts that require the students to be text dependent, reflective, and to apply the information they learn from their research, and to use that information to analyze their own success or lack of success throughout the STEAM process.  This is totally higher level thinking!  I was able to find texts that ALL of my students could read (in a 4th grade classroom with reading levels ranging between two grade levels) and I was even able to find research passages that still allowed me to assess comprehension skills we were working on and incorporate the STEAM project into my reading groups to continue working on close reading skills.  Suggestions and links for research texts are included in the lesson.  This is what reading SHOULD BE!  I’ll be working on more of these lessons to continue incorporating STEAM into the reading classroom and can’t wait to share them!

To get my Flight School reading STEAM lesson and task journal, click here.

thanks for reading!

 

Reading Research-Based STEAM

How do you get students to understand the importance of comprehension?  The thing is, I push my classes all year to think on a higher level, to dig deeper into the text, to read every word for its meaning and purpose in the text, and to push themselves to give 100%, and then give a little more.  I teach my classes about the importance of learning to read; more importantly that we read to learn.  I want my students to understand that what we do has a purpose.  In our reading class we aren’t just reading passages to answer questions.  We are answering questions about the passage as a means of becoming more text dependent, leading to a higher level of understanding while we read.  I want my students to understand that their future as a successful adult, in whatever career they choose, depends on the ability to comprehend and analyze, whether it’s text or media.  Along with that, I want my students to be able to work successfully with a team, to think creatively, to learn how to improve upon mistakes,  and to be reflective.  We teachers do so much!  What we do in our classroom everyday is the key.  For that reason, the learning tasks we assign to our students everyday matters!

At the beginning of this school year my administrator sent out a question about how we could incorporate more STEAM into the classroom, along with how we can meet the needs of our TAG students.  Many of us reading teachers had a hard time finding ideas on the web that incorporated our reading instructional needs with STEAM activities.  This was especially true for those of us in upper elementary grades.  Around December it hit me, STEAM projects could and should be research-based.  My students read informational text almost every day.  Why not assign that text for a specific purpose?!  My idea was to mix Maker Space, STEAM, and Project-Based learning ideas with the reading that my students do on a daily basis for their skill practice assignments.  It was May before I finally had what I wanted.

My students loved this!  It’s simple and works with ANY STEAM project.  You just assign the task journal through your Google Classroom, or print it and make some minor adjustments to how your students complete the journal (the instructions are for digital completion).  Next you assign the research reading and set a time frame for your students to complete.  Then introduce your STEAM project challenge and the rest of the task journal and watch your students’ learning, critical analysis, problem solving skills and engagement soar.  To get a copy click here.