Friday, March 14, 2014

Trust is to People as Water is to Plants

After reading and reflecting on "The Principle of Trust" from Houston and Sokolow's The Spiritual Dimension of Leadership one thing that really jumped out at me is the idea that "trust is to people as water is to plants;" we all need to trust and to feel trusted in order to thrive.

However, another idea that resonated with me, and one that I agree with, is trust is not an easy thing to maneuver. Some people have been burned so badly that they enter into a new relationship, whether it be personal or work related, with a lack of trust...before ever exploring the option that this person might actually be trustworthy. Houston and Sokolow explain the importance of trusting that people are innately good and remind us that "the very act of trusting people unleashes a powerful force that empowers them and brings out the best in them...when people feel trusted, they tend to behave in a trustworthy manner and give more of themselves," (pg. 131-132).

I've seen this play out many times over the past five years in my classroom. I start every school year trusting each one of my students and try to present them with opportunities that show how much I trust them. I know many teachers don't allow students to go near their desk or *gasp* IN it...but I am constantly asking my kids to get something from behind or in my desk...knowing very well that there are things in there that may tempt them. However, only twice have I experienced a break in this trust when something (a piece of candy and a calculator) went missing. I caught one of the students in action and, instead of yelling or even writing her up, I simply told her how disappointed I was because we had spent almost the entire year in a trusting relationship and that was now broken. I've never had a student cry like she did! I have her in my class again this year (having looped up) and she still brings up "that time when she broke my trust." She's worked very hard ever since then to earn it back and I think we have a very strong relationship because of it.

Some of my very best relationships, including my marriage, are based on a strong foundation of trust. I don't believe this would be the case were I not a trustworthy person myself. This is something I strive very hard to maintain and hope to continue instilling this in my students, and my own children, for many years!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Action Research...Action!

Since the beginning of last school year (2012/2013) I've been conducting an Action Research study on Reader's Theater and repeated reading and the effects these strategies have on reading fluency.
When I began this research last year I had a group of 26 second graders, 16 who were below grade level. With this alarming number came a group of kids who had yet to develop their love of reading..mostly because they had no idea WHAT they were reading. I knew I had to start somewhere but simply teaching them how to break apart words didn't seem to be enough. Yes, some of them needed this strategy, but most were ready to move on to that "next step" of reading..but what was that next step?

After reading many articles about reading fluency one thing became very clear: to become more fluent with a passage it must be read over, and over and OVER. The more the student read the passage, the more cognitive attention would be needed to decode and could therefore be given to comprehension. I'll just have my kids read the same book 20 times. No problem...not all..

I knew this wouldn't go over too well and that I had to incorporate a more motivating strategy to get them to WANT to practice a passage multiple times. This is where Reader's Theater came in to place! While I won't go too far into detail, this website does a wonderful job explaining what Reader's Theater is and how it may look in a classroom. Also, ReadingA-Z offers many multi-leveled scripts (with a subscription...but well worth it) that my students loved practicing and performing.

Needless to say, I saw such a great increase in their reading fluency that their comprehension levels went up as a result! When I decide to loop up with my class to third grade I knew I had to continue the success in reading growth by continuing the use of these scripts in conjunction with other fluency strategies.

I've continued to see a HUGE growth in my students' reading abilities and their confidence! Where I once had 16 of 26 students below grade level I'm now proud to say that, of my current class of 25, 19 are reading at or well above grade level expectations :)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

technology as a classroom staple

Technology is one of those things that you love to hate. While there is an endless amount of ways to enrich learning within the classroom when technology is involved, it doesn't always go as planned.

However, this is the direction in which our students are headed. We live in a day where toddlers can swipe an iPad screen, select an app and be entertained for hours.

I've certainly seen this engagement transfer into the classroom as my students are more "entertained" when the Smart Board or iPad is a central part of the lesson. In fact, I could write something on chart paper and lose them within minutes...put a piece of paper under the ELMO (projector) and show it on the Smart Board and they're locked in.

I've always been one to try and integrate technology into my lessons and, more recently through my master's program, have been more intentional about using it to enhance the learning and not simply act as a substitution for paper and pencil. While I've been trying many new apps and websites I've learned that what's best for my students and me is to find and implement one new idea and give it due diligence for a week or two. This allows for me to fully understand how to best use it in our classroom and gives my students the opportunity to become "fluent" and independent with it as well. Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in all the possibilities that technology can bring us but, to better increase engagement and deepen understanding, it's worth it to me to "weed out" the substitutions and focus on finding things that truly enhance their learning.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

More technology in the classroom

"She's baaaaack!!" (Enter my students' brains last Tuesday morning :)

I'm least I hope I am. For the most part, all 25 of my little sweeties seemed very excited to see me :) There were a few, of course, who had been getting away with a little (or a lot) more than I would've allowed and those few...well...they looked slightly less enthused. They'll come around!

With my return came some new tech tools that I had been waiting anxiously to try out with my kiddos! I wrote about one of these tools, Haiku Deck, here. Another tool I chose to use is called Coggle. This user-friendly site allows you to create a mind map with a simple click and type format. It's free and, as I said, it's VERY easy to use but you do need to create an account. I'd love for my students to create their own, but feel as though, on the SAMR technology model, it's really only a substitution for paper. I do feel my students were more engaged with the technology portion versus if I would've simply written it on the chart...and it DOES save on paper (which I think we're all trying to do this time of year)!

The other tool I used (which I've used in the past and LOVE) is Infuse Learning. This website allows you to create and save quizzes that can include images and be formatted as open-answer, multiple choice, true or false or one-question exit ticket. Once the quiz is created you can then "invite" your students to join the quiz using your room code. Students enter the code, their name, and then move through the quiz at their own pace. The best part is the instant data! As the students proceed through the quiz their responses show up on the teacher device in a sort of bar-graph format. I was able to use this multiplication quiz to check for understanding within various strategies and then make on-the-spot groups based on their results! Quick, easy and no paper required...what more could a teacher ask for? :)

Haiku Deck...Do you?

This past week I continued to expand upon my technology bag of tricks as I played around with a new tool: Haiku Deck ( This website allows you to easily create and present a slideshow, much like a powerpoint. It is very user friendly as it walks you through adding text and pictures and even provides you with a large selection of pictures based on key text you've used. 
I'll be returning to my classroom in just a week and will be wrapping up a multiplication unit that my LTS has been working on with my 3rd graders. Since multiplication is a fairly new concept to many, it's essential that they understand the basics of mulitplication as well as the many strategies for solving! 
With this in mind I chose to create a haiku deck reviewing the various strategies (repeated addition, equal groups, arrays, skip counting, etc.). While adding a new slide and formating the text within that slide was very easy, I did struggle to import a picture from a source outside of the website itself. I found that pictures couldn't be centered, or fit to the screen, and would cut off important aspects of the picture. Another slight concern I had was the fact that you have to sign in with an email. I'd love to have my students create their own haiku decks but am not sure how they'd go about doing that without an email address. 
For now, I'll continue playing around with this tool as I find it to be an appealing way to present visual information. I'm hoping the more I play with it, the sooner I'll see a way in which to put this tool in the hands of my third graders! 

I was able to put this bad boy to the test! (Why I used that expression there I don't know...)
Anyways, my students really enjoyed the simple, clean-cut illustrations because they could easily tell which multiplication strategy I was talking about. I chose to pull it up on my iPad and use AirServer to present it on my SMART Board as I walked around the group. It went like this:
I asked each student to pick a multiplication fact that they knew the product to (they couldn't use 1 or 0 as a factor). They wrote that fact on their white board. I then projected one of the slides on the board showing a way to represent that fact (repeated addition, arrays, etc.) and they had to represent their fact in that way. 
This served as a great way for me to quickly check-in on their progress and see which strategies needed more time (ARRAYS!!). 
Overall, great tool, easy to use and implement in the classroom and one I'd like to try and teach my students to create and use on their own!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Struggle and a strength..UPDATE!

Shortly after posting about my struggle to return to work after maternity leave I found myself awake around my little man's favorite time to eat (and be awake!)...3 am. I was having my own little pitty party as I'm still pretty sleep deprived and totally overwhelmed with the looming "return date." While he eats I typically find myself skimming the internet, reading blogs or "creeping" on Facebook. However, this time Facebook presented me with something more than just a bunch of random pictures and status updates about how cold it is here in Minnesota.

The first thing to pop up on my news feed was this article: "What Students Remember Most About Teachers."

As I got to the end of the article I was encompassed by emotions and, for the first time since my son was born in December, found myself rejuvenated by the idea of returning to work. I have 25 students there waiting for me to remind them just how special they are and, starting Tuesday, that's exactly what I intend to do.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Where there is a struggle...there is a strength (conference bloggers)

As I head into my final week of maternity leave I'm seriously struggling with wrapping my head around being Mrs. Geier and not just "mommy." I've had nightmares (for lack of any better word) for the past three nights that I'll return to my group, which I've worked over a year with to develop respectful, hard-working kids, and they'll have "turned on me." (Like I said...they were nightmares)

I know this sounds extreme, but that's where I'm struggling. I work with some pretty extreme kids! Not to mention I've gotten three new students in the past two who has already been written up three times for fighting.

My fear is, when I left my classroom I was "only" a wife. With my husband working three nights a week I was able to stay late, when needed, helping students after school, making parent phone calls, and differentiating multiple lessons to ensure the next day would go smoothly.

Now, my #1 priority is no longer my job, but my family; especially my 2 month old son. My struggle is knowing whether or not I'll be able to continue being the teacher I expect myself to be; the teacher my students need me to be. How can I possibly find the time to plan, grade, read and research (grad school!), feed, burp and, most importantly, snuggle?!

However, as the title of this post states: "Where this is a struggle...there is a strength."

I've always been a believer that "If He leads you to it, He will lead you through it." I find strength in knowing that I can be a really great teacher, grad student, wife and mom. While I know it'll be one of the more stressful times in my short 27 years, I will get through it. My students will succeed, I will get my Master's degree and my husband and little boy will feel very loved through it all.