Friday, October 12, 2012

The Scoreboard, Webcast #517

"The artist's studio, the researcher's laboratory, the scholar's library are each kept deliberately simple so as to support the complexities of the work in progress."  – Lucy Calkins 

I’ve been using the "deliberately simple" WBT Scoreboard in my classroom since the first day of school – about seven weeks now.  No more marbles in the jar for me. That’s right – no more fake money or treasure boxes.  I now use the Scoreboard, and it’s been a great success in helping me with classroom behavior.  My students love to “hug their ears” as they give a ½ second groan and, even more, they love the 1 second party, the mighty “Oh Yeah!” We even do whisper “Oh Yeahs!” in the hallway in response to the portable scoreboard I wear on my lanyard. Yup, a sticky note on the back of my I.D. badge elicits great hallway behavior from my wiggly, jiggly, talkative fourth graders.  The rewards that they work so hard for are one minute of talk time at the end of the period or a quick game of four corners.
 This picture shows my scoreboard, which is at the front and center of my classroom.  All I need is a dry erase marker, a smile, and a bit of ping ponging to motivate my students. (The "I can" statements are required by my district. I simply turn them into the question I ask in the first step of the five-step WBT lesson plan.)

However, I noticed last week that the Scoreboard was becoming lackluster.  My knowledge of the scoreboard was gleaned here and there as I’ve poked around on the WBT website, but I hadn’t watched the video yet. After all, I told myself, I can teach myself a simple procedure like the scoreboard. Oh ho ho! Little did I know that that was the reason my students have become lackluster about the scoreboard. Today I watched the video, and I learned that my students are dangerously close to becoming habituated to the routine!  

On Monday, the first thing I will do is offer a tiny bit of variety: Pirate Captain v. the Crew.  This will be the just the thing to rekindle student interest.  Perhaps in another week, I’ll introduce a new and different reward, changing things up a bit, but not too quickly.  Next time, I won’t wait too long to introduce a little variety.  There are many suggestions on the video that I will employ.

If you haven’t already viewed the Scoreboard Video, Program #517, it comes highly recommended from this reformed marble-in-the-jar teacher who is now a devoted Scoreboard user.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Prove It! Webcast #506

Benjamin Franklin said “By failing to prepare, we are preparing to fail.” 

I think this is the perfect quote for teachers who need to prepare students for standardized state tests.  We teachers had to prepare to take our state certification tests. Most of us not only obtained college degrees, but also took practice tests and studied the types of questions we would likely be asked on those state certification tests.  We owe the same type of test prep to our students.   It’s not enough that they have quality guided, shared and independent reading experiences.  They must also thoroughly know what types of questions they will encounter during standardized academic testing.

With that in mind, I studied the “Prove It” webcast #506.  Prove It is a game in which students practice How To Solve a problem, rather than merely coming up with the answer to the problem.  The class earns points for excellent answers as well as for effort. The points are cashed in at the end of the week to play Mind Soccer. Ya gotta love it – kids are practicing an academic skill in order to earn the privilege of playing an academic review game.  Awesome! 

I began by creating a visual to post to teach my fourth graders the three types of questions.  This is what I came up with.
I used the 5-step lesson plan format to teach the three types of questions.  My students love the 5-step lesson plan format. When we begin each lesson, they are fully engaged, and I know each student is learning. 

I also prepared a bank of questions for when we played the game.  I simply typed several questions from a reading passaged in one of my resource books.  The questions follow the format of typical questions on our Texas STAAR test.  I decided to use only the question stem unless the question requires the answer choices to make a decision about how to solve. 

Following is an example of a Find and Compare question. Students can identify it as a Find and Compare question without the answer choices.
       Which is the best summary of paragraphs 8-10?

The next question is an Answer Now question.  You have to give the answer choices so kids will know that enough information is given for it to be an Answer Now question. 
       Which statement supports the idea that Josie was curious about the elephant?
       A  Josie snoozed peacefully under the magnolia tree.
       B  All the way to the market place, Josie looked for straw to feed the lost elephant.
       C  Josie peeked around the corner of the magnolia tree at the magnificent animal.
       D  The strong elephant used its trunk to lift Josie high into the air.

 A Read Again question might be worded as follows.
         Which is the best summary of this selection?

The main problem I found as we played the game was that my students were having trouble knowing the difference between the Find and Compare questions and the Read Again questions. Coincidentally, a special ed inclusion teacher had joined us during this time, and she was having the same trouble!  I thought, “Oh, no!  If a teacher can’t tell the difference, how can my students?”
Then I realized that you also have to “read again” for a Find and Compare question.  So I quickly re-taught.  My students now know that for a Find and Compare question, you simply scan to find the little bit of text you’re looking for.  Then you just have to reread a little bit.  We gestured by holding our thumb and index finger apart one inch and looking at it closely.  For a Read Again question, you have to reread a lot of text to figure out the answer.  We gestured by spreading our hands apart as far as we could to indicate reading a lot of text. 

The next day when we played Prove It, I simply used my Elmo to project questions directly from my resource book. I just covered up the answer choices with a blank piece of paper. It was so easy and required no prep work at all. 

This was a four-day week in my district, and we’ve just begun our Prove It game. I plan to carefully watch test scores to see how much they improve, and I’ll blog about the results here as I accumulate data.

By playing Prove It, the kids have earned 38 seconds of Mind Soccer time.  By this Friday, we’ll be ready for our first game of Mind Soccer.  My students beg for Prove It, and they’re begging even more for Mind Soccer.  I’m completely grateful to Coach B for teaching me how to weave the golden thread of fun into test prep.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Five-Step Lesson Template, Webcast #505

“Keep it simple. Ask a question. Do all the lessons the same way.”

This simple instruction from Coach Biffle resonated with me. I watched Video #505 about the 5-Step lesson template, which is the heart of whole brain teaching. The first 5-step lesson I taught was “What is a compound sentence?” For the answer in step 2, I created the Power Pic below by editing a Power Pic from using MS Paint software.
I created gestures to go with the definition, which I taught my students using Mirrors with Words. In step 3, I elaborated by projecting various sentences on the whiteboard and explaining why they were or were not compound sentences. In step 4, we played “Yes / No Way” to identify if sentences were compound or not. I continued to assess in step 4 by playing the QT game. I could see immediately who understood and who did not. In step 5, students used paper and pencil to underline the “complete message” on each side of the conjunction, circle the conjunction, and state whether the sentence was or was not compound.

During step 2 of the lesson sequence, I asked, “Why is this sentence a compound sentence?” I was thrilled when one of my learning disabled students answered,

       This sentence is a compound sentence because
       (here she used the Because Clapper) it has a conjunction
       with a comma in the middle and there is a complete
       message before the conjunction and after the conjunction.

I could have kissed her brain right then and there! Needless to say, she earned a star on the Super Improvers Wall.

However, I wasn’t yet satisfied with my lesson. Step 5 still bothered me because I knew it wasn’t the best critical thinking activity I could create. The solution to my problem came in Coach B’s live webcast about critical thinking on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 (Webcast #539), which I will blog about in more detail later. For step 5, I had not planned an open-ended activity. So, I fixed that in my next lesson, “What is a biography?”

For step 3 of the biography lesson, I displayed books and explained using micro lectures and Teach-Okay why they were or were not biographies. I assessed in step 4 using the same technique of displaying various books and playing “Yes – No Way” and the QT game. But the real difference came in step 5. Here, students used whiteboards to create a Venn diagram to compare and contrast a biography with a Native American Cinderella story we had read. This was the higher order thinking I’ve been looking for. The kids shared their Venn diagrams by displaying them on the Elmo and explaining their ideas in complete sentences, and I took a quick grade for the grade book during that time.

This is the Power Pic I created for the biography lesson.
Now that my students have a firm grasp of what a biography is, they will be able to meet the standard of comparing a character in a fictional text to a biography of the same character.

I hope this helps other teachers new to Whole Brain Teaching with the very core of Whole Brain Teaching—the Five-Step Lesson Template.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Crazy Professor Reading Game

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”  -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Have you coached your students to “read with expression?”  Have you modeled reading with expression during your read-alouds, yet kids still read in a monotone?  Do they pause in the middle of sentences, but fail to stop at periods?  Worse yet, is their compression suffering because of little ability to demonstrate prosody in their reading?  If so, then check out Chris Rekstad’s fourth graders on  as they play the “Crazy Professor Reading Game.”  Enthusiasm abounds as his students read aloud.  This was one of the first Whole Brain Teaching videos I watched when I first learned of WBT late in August.  I yearned for my fourth graders to be able to read with the expression and enthusiasm that Chris’ students displayed.

Consequently, the Crazy Professor Reading Game was one of the first games I introduced to my students.  They begged me loudly to play.  Yes, it was controlled, enthusiastic, loud begging.

It was fortunate that my district’s first reading unit to teach was about fiction, because the fiction genre seems so perfect for the Crazy Professor Reading Game.  I chose a fairly short, simple selection for our first attempt.  Kids used their best overly dramatic voices and wide gestures as they read the selection.  I never would have dreamed that kids could be so enthusiastic about reading out loud. 

I know I have a long way to go to fully harness the power of the Crazy Professor Reading Game.  I’ve downloaded the free eBook and will study it thoroughly so I can teach my students about about paraphrasing, skimming, Q and A, silent reading and silent summarizing.  You can find the eBook at on page three of the free eBooks. 

To view Chris Rekstad’s amazing youtube video, just click on the following link.  Watch the video and read the eBook.  Then, sit back and be amazed as your students become fluent readers!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Lubbock, TX Conference

This weekend, I had the pleasure and honor of attending a WBT conference in Lubbock, Texas, taught by Farrah Shipley.  Farrah told us that Marva Collins once said, “I don’t teach at-risk children. I teach future productive members of society.” This inspired me to read a bit more about Ms. Collins. Ms. Collins also said that in teaching impoverished children, she had “discovered few learning disabled students in my three decades of teaching. I have, however, discovered many, many victims of teaching inabilities." This is something I realized about myself as a teacher this weekend.  It’s very difficult to admit to myself that I have not been the effective teacher I dreamed of being. I have worked hard and been dedicated, but I’ve been ignorant of Whole Brain Teaching theories and methods. I’ve been teaching to only a couple parts of the brain at a time and talking too much!  

Farrah did an awesome job of teaching us the five rules, mirrors, mirrors with words, the genius ladder, super improvers wall, class/yes, and teach/ok.  I have implemented these in my classroom, and my students love it! They are smiling, and so am I.
Farrah also taught us the seven levels of the scoreboard. I have a couple of students who will really benefit from the practice cards and the guff counter.  I plan to put the practice cards in place by Tuesday of this week to help my most challenging student remember and respect the rules, especially rule number 5. J

The focus of my reading lesson on Monday will be sequencing events in fiction. For the example portion of the lesson, I plan to project a paragraph and we will identify the sequence of events in the paragraph, first in a guided format, then independently.  I think the critical thinking portion is being able to find strong evidence in the paragraph to support their answers. I’ll go forward with this understanding for now.

Many, many thanks to Farrah Shipley for opening up her school, her classroom, and her heart to instruct us about Whole Brain Teaching.  Thank you, also, to my good friend, Penny, one of my teaching colleagues. Penny enthusiastically joined me on the long drive to Lubbock and has embraced WBT techniques in her classroom, too. Welcome aboard, Penny!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Super Improvers Wall, Webcast #503

We educators have unwittingly enrolled our students in an “education caste system” according to Whole Brain Teaching Coach Chris Biffle on the Super Improvers Wall.  Coach further adds that “the only fair race is the one you run against yourself.” On both counts, I completely agree with Coach. Many students, especially our intellectually challenged students, are working as hard as they can, yet they never seem to be properly rewarded under the grading system of most public schools.  On the opposite end of this spectrum are students who are able to put forth very little effort, yet are still rewarded with straight As.  Neither situation is fair to the student.

With the Super Improvers Wall, students can be rewarded for any activity in which they show improvement, such as following procedures, keeping their area in the classroom clean, showing kindness to others, or showing growth in critical thinking or writing.  The structure must be woven throughout the day, much the same as the Scoreboard. We need to emphasize to the students that they are competing against themselves, not each other, so they can constantly be improving. The whole idea is to reward kids for meeting goals that they set for themselves.

Students must earn ten stars at each level to move up a level.  However, on my Super Improvers Wall, students will earn a photo at the third, fifth, and eighth levels. On the fourth, sixth and ninth levels, they will only need to earn five points to see their photo and move to the next level. You should have seen the grins when they heard that!
Many thanks to Coach Biffle for pointing out that "rewarding for improvement should be our number one teaching goal."

This wide view of our Super Improvers Wall shows how I included both my morning and afternoon classes, which total 46 students in all. Above the S.I.W. are the five WBT classroom rules that we practice several times each day. To the right is our Cosmic Genius Ladder that we use to improve the quality of our sentences and our critical thinking skills. On the shelves are book boxes my husband built for my students to store some of their library books, together with their reading and writing journals. I acquired the used chairs from an office that closed and re-upholstered them.
Thank you for reading my blog!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Writing Game Part 1, Webcast #536

“Students need lots of reps with micro writing skills.” This was one of Coach B’s major teaching points during the Writing Game Part 1.  In fact, he said students need 100s of reps! No way to do 100s of reps during the school day with a paper and pencil. How do we solve that problem? Oral writing, of course.   

We use puzzles as a frame in which kids take turns working in pairs to verbally fill in the blanks as many times as possible to create new sentences.  Students play for points, always trying to beat their previous best score. Cowabunga! What a great way to build fluency.   

We reward energy with smilies on the scoreboard, and we spur on a lackadaisical class with frownies. My students will do almost anything for those smilies.  I’ve learned to keep that scoreboard active all day long!

To build excellent content, I have created the Super Improvers Wall. This is a picture of my Super Improvers Wall.   
When my students grow in the use of a skill such as great detail adder sentences or use of the words "because" or "though," they will earn a star.  Some of my students are now up to five stars. They really work hard to earn those stars, and I believe it will have a very positive impact on their growth in writing skills.

Although my students write across the curriculum, at my school we also write all day on Wednesdays.  I think I will use the Writing Game as a warm-up each Wednesday to give my students the opportunity for hundreds of repetitions of micro skills. I will also continue to use the Super Improvers Wall encourage growth as strong, proficient writers.