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.

End of the Year Memories Digital Choice Board Projects

My end of the year project just leveled up! With ten days left to go, and the sentimental thoughts of missing the class (from myself and the students), these projects will give the students a chance to share special memories, things learned throughout the year, tips for next year’s students, or a summary of what they’ve learned through five different creative options.

Students can choose between creating:

* podcasts

*writing a song and creating a music video

*writing and illustrating an audio book

*writing and making a movie

*creating a series of sketch notes or mind maps to share memorable events of the school year.

All of the project options are perfect for 21st century skills. Students will collaborate, get creative, think critically, practice citizenship, and practice good communication skills through their project presentations. The projects are great for MANY grade levels (probably excluding K and 1) and any subject area!

I can’t wait to see what they come up with!

For you teachers out there, these slides are completely editable. You can edit the text and directions to fit your grade level and add your own bitmoji images. Get it here 🙂

My Revising Writing Process Week of Fun

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You know how teaching writing can be in elementary school … the students just have a hard time really working through each of the stages of the writing process with full effort.  I believe they try their best with rough drafting, but they just don’t get the process of revising.  They are so quick to just read their writing over and then say, “I’m done” without adding any details or making any necessary changes to their writing to make it better (or sometimes to even make it make sense).  So, I decided to make the revising process memorable.  To prepare, I drafted several of my own personal narratives, which is what my class is working on when I first introduce revising in the school year.  I wrote a few drafts about experiences with my family (going to Jump, going to a high school football game, and a family vacation).  I purposefully wrote my drafts to match the kind of drafting I read from my students all the time.  You know what I mean, one sentence for each part of the story, not a lot of explanation, and with no transitions or interesting word choices.

I started our revising lessons this week by adding details that answer who, what, when, where, why, and how questions we had in one of my writings.  I purposefully started with a funny story about my toddler’s socks and pants being pulled down in a foam pit at Jump (you’d have to hear the whole story).  The students had TONS of questions about this story.  They just NEEDED more information about how this happened.  I wrote all of their questions down and then went to work modeling how I’d add the answers to those questions into my writing.  Now, when we re-read this writing after adding all of the details, they drew their visual images while I read and they totally grasped the necessity of adding these details.  Next, the students went through the same process with a small group of students to start revising one of their own drafts.  They loved it, the sharing and drawing totally caught their attention during this lesson, and their revisions were successful.  So, SCORE for me AND the students on our first revision lesson.

The next day, they’d been told to wear their best, most stylish, outfits.  You know what’s coming.  When they walked into the room that day, it was turned into a red carpet fashion show.  This was a really easy, free transformation (just some red anchor chart paper and I moved my lamps and seating around to outline the “carpet”).  I also had a Kidz Bop playlist ready for the show.  Our lesson today was all about adding more interesting, descriptive words to our writing.  I read another draft out loud to them before beginning and then shared an adjectives and adverbs t-chart with them on their chromebooks.   Adjectives and adverbs are a review for fourth grade, so I didn’t need to teach the vocabulary, so I focused on choosing more interesting descriptive language for our writing.  Now, we had the fashion show.  We hooped and hollered, clapped and cheered, and we got our groove on while walking the red carpet.  Meanwhile, the audience wrote all of the adjectives and adverbs they could come up with while watching.  It was quick, ten minutes maybe, and then we focused on our writing.  We started by sharing the words they came up with while watching the show to create a whole class t-chart.  Next, we chose a few words to make more interesting by finding them in a thesaurus and choosing some synonyms that would really catch our reader’s attention.  Now, we worked on adding some more interesting words to the draft I shared with them (some could be used from our t-chart and some we came up with based on the story and used a thesaurus to find more wow version of the word the students came up with.  You see, in my county, background knowledge and vocabulary tends to be one of our common struggles, so the use of the thesaurus is especially necessary for this lesson.  Again, just like the day before, now the students worked with a partner to add some more “wow” descriptive language to their own writings.  Again, everyone was excited about the learning, and their writing benefited from this added engagement.

We focused on adding sensory details for our last lesson this week.  This was going to be the big room transformation, and the students had been told ahead of time to wear their favorite sports gear.  I transformed the room into a football stadium for this lesson.  Everything for the transformation was either made, already available at my school, or purchased at Walmart or the Dollar Tree in the party sections.  I probably spent about $25 – $30 on this transformation, and with help, it took about an hour and a half to decorate the room after school for this lesson.  I found videos on YouTube of our high school football games and prepared a draft for this experience that the students would work on revising.  We’d already discussed sensory details in our reading lessons when practicing the reading strategy of visualizing, so I didn’t need to teach these details.  We were just able to focus on coming up with the details and adding them to our writing.  I chose different parts of the game to focus on and divided the draft into those sections.  We recreated the beginning of the game (the team entering the field and chanting), and then the students were divided into several teams.  Each team had their own football on the field taped out on the floor and earned yards for the sensory details they were able to add to each part of the shared draft.  You can watch the video that was made about this lesson here.  I gave this lesson extra time since the students were responsible for revising each part of the draft (their were six different events in the draft I shared) and we included a half time for students to get popcorn (thanks to our school’s PTA).  I have a two hour language arts block and this activity took about an hour and then included “overtime” for students to begin working on one of their own drafts.

For the rest of the week, the students worked on revising their own writings that they’d been working on during this unit.  You see, I’ve divided the writing process into weeks in my classroom.  So, the students spent a week in prewriting as many personal narratives as they could (we use a storyboard for prewriting personal narratives).  Then they spent a week drafting as many of those personal narratives as they could.  I use this time to have individual writing conferences to get to know my students and their writing.  This week was all revising and so they spent two days just adding the types of details we focused on this week and I used those two days to have conferences again to check on their progress.  Next, we’ll spend another week revising to work on transitions and leads, an then we’ll spend a week editing, leading to a week of publishing.  As we work through this process in the classroom, students are often in different stages by the end of the week.  Some will go back to prewriting to add more narratives to their portfolio as they finish working on the narratives they’ve written so far.  This way, all students are busy and can work at their own pace.  It’s not quantity that counts in my classroom, but quality and I make sure the students understand that before we ever begin.

For you teachers out there, I hope this may help you in planning your own writing lessons, or spark more creative ideas to add engagement to your own classroom.  If you do something else that you’d like to share, I’d love to read your comments!

thanks for reading!

 

Making Inferences with Wordless Picture Books

One of the hardest strategies I teach my fourth grade readers is making inferences.  Of course, I begin by modeling with a picture book.  I read aloud, I stop and think out loud and show how I use my background knowledge and fill in the gaps to understand.  We discuss our understandings based on information that’s given “right there” and information that must be inferred.  This part my students get.  However, when it comes to my students’ own reading, they have a really hard time explaining their thoughts and inferences.  It’s the metacognition that gets in the way.  Have you seen this?  Even the ones who are making inferences have a hard time explaining how they know.

So this time, I started by explaining to my students that inferences are something that happen all the time.  I asked my students what they would think if I showed up to school in my high heels and fanciest dress with my hair done up.  I asked what they would think if they heard thunder, if they saw smoke, if a diaper fell out of my purse.  I gave examples over and over and they all inferred, and they all explained how they knew.  I told them, you’ve been making inferences since you were born.  Next, we talked about visualizing, which we’ve been working on anyway, and connected those mental images they get to filling in the gaps while they are reading.  It was a quick introduction that took about 10 minutes and my students were feeling good about their ability to make inferences for the rest of our lesson that day.

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Next, I introduced our anchor chart.  I explained the most common inferences good readers make.  I explained the process of making an inference.  And we were ready to begin our “inference challenge”.  Now, I logged into Epic! (a free for teachers digital reading app) and projected the first couple of pages of two different wordless picture books.  I told my students I wanted them to look at the pages and think about their thinking (the metacognition part).  If you’re wondering, I gave my students two books I knew they’d never seen before, “Blue Rider” by Geraldo Valerio, and “Bird Cat Dog” a graphic novel by Lee Nordling and Mentikell Bosch.   Graphic novels really hook my boys.  If you haven’t tried using these with your class, I highly suggest it!

I asked my students to share their inferences and their evidence and recorded it on a t-chart.  I praised everything.  They were inferring so accurately!  Now for the challenge … they were to work with a partner and write the narrative story that the authors left out.    I can’t even tell you how hard they worked and how well they did.   What you should know is that I teach a collaborative class and my students who are labeled sped did just as well with this activity as my general ed students and my TAG students.  It was a success!  And you guessed it, most of my boys wanted to use the graphic novel and were just as engaged in their work as my girls.

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I gave them about 35 minutes to read and write the story.  They were engaged and actively working the entire time, and although they weren’t finished with their narratives, I stopped them and asked if anyone wanted to share.  This is a time that is often hard to get everyone to participate in, but not this time.  EVERYONE wanted to share!  And when it was time to move on to reading groups and independent assignments for the week (which wasn’t this), the students begged for more time to write their stories.  So, I made a promise that they’d get to continue next week.

Y’all, I would do this lesson and activity over and over again.  They just got it in a way that no other introduction lesson I’ve ever done for this strategy has ever showed.  Even in our reading groups, in which we were working on visualizing and sensory details, my students began talking about the inferences they were making while we read.  I can’t tell you how proud I was.

thanks for reading!