Sunday, January 16, 2022

Organizing and Storing Small Group Materials

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Organizing and Storing Small Group Materials | Apples to Applique

I love hands-on activities for my students, especially for small groups and independent practice. It takes a lot of time to print, cut, and laminate activities, but it's worth it if I can keep them to reuse in future years. However, as I made and accumulated more activities, I quickly realized I needed a system to keep all of those materials organized. I love an organized classroom; clutter stresses me out and I hate wasting planning time digging through things.

I didn't want to use hanging files for my small group activities because most of them had smaller pieces that I also wanted to keep with it. For example, I had a weighing station that called for things like glue sticks, dominoes, and other classroom items for students to put in a scale. I wanted to be able to keep all of those things together so I could grab it and it would be ready to go.

Boxes take up too much space, especially if they are large enough to hold student worksheets, and they can get expensive.

These pocket file folders are perfect! They are large enough to hold manipulatives, cards, etc. while also storing any accompanying worksheets.

Organizing and Storing Small Group Materials | Apples to Applique

I put student worksheets in a folder, which goes inside the pocket file, so everything is together. I store the file folders in crates on shelves, but you could put them in a file cabinet. 

Organizing and Storing Small Group Materials | Apples to Applique
 

Whenever I'm needing students to practice a specific skill, I just look through the files and see what I already have prepped. It saves so much time and I love having tried-and-true activities at the ready.

Until next time, keep teaching with heart and passion!

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Teaching Young Students About Martin Luther King Jr.

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Nobel Foundation, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As I was prepping lessons for next week, I was planning to spend a few days talking about Martin Luther King, Jr. I turned to the corresponding page in my social studies curriculum and was sorely disappointed to see four short sentences, two of which were discussing how people commemorate MLK Day by having parades and closing schools. That left two sentences discussing the life and work of Dr. King. Even more disappointing, they glossed over the Civil Rights movement, simply stating that Dr. King worked for equal rights for all. There was not even a mention of for whom he was advocating; no discussion of segregation or the Black community.

I understand the thought of not going too in-depth with these heavy subjects with early elementary students, but I was deeply saddened by this casual approach. I fully believe young learners can, and should, engage with deep content. Here's how I approach this in my classroom.

Allow Time

Deeper subjects like this cannot be rushed. This isn't a lesson to throw in that random 10-minute slot you have before recess. Early in my teaching career, I did not allow enough time, and my students were in a place of somber processing as I was trying to get them out the door for lunch; it wasn't good for anyone. Carve out some time so you can approach this in a purposeful manner.

Use Quality Literature

Read alouds are one of the best ways to introduce children to historical figures and events. Take the time to fully read through the books first, selecting books that give sufficient facts and details. I also highly recommend books that have rich illustrations or photographs.

My all-time favorite is Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport. This book is perfect for initiating conversations with students. It keeps things simple enough for K-2 students without ignoring or glossing over the difficult details, and incorporates many quotes from Dr. King.

Another wonderful book is Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford. I use this as a follow-up book, because it really doesn't give details about Dr. King's life, but it helps the students make connections to their own lives, seeing ways they can make a difference.

Cultivate Empathy

Take time to focus on social-emotional skills. Have conversations about how you would feel if you didn't have the same rights as others. Ask students to truly think about how they would feel if they were treated differently from others, such as if they could only go certain restaurants or drink from certain water fountains. Carry these conversations forward into areas of kindness and equality in the classroom, at recess, and in your community.

Answer the Difficult Questions

As you discuss topics like segregation, children will have big, difficult questions, and they deserve to hear honest answers to those questions. Give straightforward, non-biased facts. You'll be surprised at how well your students accept these facts and want to move forward to create a brighter future; I am always impressed with their insight.

Avoid Trivializing Activities 

Those of you who have read my blog for some time know that I am a huge advocate of teaching through play. However, this is a time when that is simply not appropriate. Do not attempt activities like assigning kids a race and role-playing segregation in your classroom (I can't believe I even have to write this, but every year there are news stories of teachers doing things just like this). I personally even avoid things like color-by-code pictures of historical figures like Dr. King, which is my own preference, because I feel like there are more meaningful ways to approach such subjects. I tell my students it is a serious topic and that we are going to have a serious discussion and they usually rise to the occasion; they love feeling trusted to have such conversations.

Through approaches like these, you can help your students engage purposefully with important historical content, laying a solid foundation for them to be critical thinkers as they begin to learn more about the complexities of history and society.

Keep teaching with heart and passion!

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Classroom Management: 5 Steps for Regrouping After Winter Break


Hello, Teacher Friends! I hope you've had a restful break and didn't spend the entire time grading or planning. 

As we come back together after a break and holidays, it is a great time to work on regrouping and refocusing your class for the second half of the school year. I don't know about you, but my class of firsties became a little dysregulated during the last part of December, between the tedium of middle of the year testing and excitement over holidays. Getting everyone back on track in January is going to take some work, but it can be done! I've got five steps that I've learned to follow over the last ten years in the classroom.

1. Expectations, Expectations, Expectations

Of course, every teacher has heard to spend time after a break revisiting expectations. There's a reason this advice is so often repeated--because it's necessary. Don't feel guilty if you get to very little actual curriculum the first week or so after coming back; the time you spend reestablishing procedures will more than be made up.

2. Rethink and Reflect

This is also an ideal time to rethink expectations for yourself, not just your students. Do a little reflection: what is working well in your classroom, and what would you like to change? Are there new procedures you would like to implement? This is the time to do it! Talk to colleagues about what works well for them, read internet articles, and try something new to address specific challenges in your classroom.

3. Involve Students

Every teacher has also heard the strategy of involving students in coming up with social contracts, class rules, etc. If you have already done this with your class this year, revisiting it in January is an excellent idea. The social contract strategy has had varying levels of success for me, depending on the class. However, I had a conversation with a colleague recently about some specifics to implement with this approach that are game changers. First, make sure every student buys in. When discussing expectations, if even one student thinks they cannot meet that expectation successfully, don't add it to the class contract. Explain to them that you want them to feel successful in the expectations they create. Second, after creating your contract, frequently check in with your students--not just when they are misbehaving. Throughout the day, do a whole-class check in, during lessons or after transitions, having kids show you a thumbs up, sideways thumb, or thumbs down, to self-assess how well they are personally doing with following the expectations. (Have them do this in front of their chest rather than with their hands up high, so that other kids can't see their responses). Talk them through what they need to do to reach a thumbs up. I love the level of accountability this gives students while helping them learn to self-reflect.

4. Be Sensitive

Be a safe landing place for them to return to after break; for many kids, school is their safe place and they dread extended breaks. Not all students had an exciting break filled with lavish gifts and experiences, so be mindful of this when facilitating discussions or giving writing assignments about their favorite Christmas gifts. Returning to normalcy as soon as possible will help these students be more successful.

5. Foster Relationships

A large part of successful classroom management comes down to relationships. Take some time this week to foster relationships with your students and between your students. Talk to them, give them time to talk to one another. When students know you genuinely care about them, and your classroom is a true community or family, they are much more likely to do their best and work well together.

Of course, no classroom management plan is a complete fail-safe, but I hope these tips are helpful to your classroom as we embark on 2022!

Keep teaching with heart and passion!