Monday, June 27, 2011

The Daily 5...any input?

That's it! I have made up my mind and I can't begin to tell you all how excited I am! My girlfriend was given "The Daily Five" as a gift last year and I have decided to implement most of the ideas it contains. I teach three different English classes and I am going to pilot it with the one I also teach Hauora to (loosely translated to Health in the North American curriculum). This class is most likely to forgive any struggles that are bound to arise. Once it is operational, I can then take it to my other classes. I'm excited about the ideas that The Sisters put forth so I look forward to seeing how this works out for me.

But here's my hesitation: I like to weigh big decisions like this out before I commit. It's not that I'm afraid of failure...I just don't like cleaning up all that mess.

So, have you had any experience working with the Daily 5? If you have, do you have any secrets that might make this endeavour a little less painful? Please share!

 I look forward to your advice and input...

"Clean-up in aisle 3, please..."

Gotta go.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Blog stalking? Who? ME??

Over at Clutter-Free Classrooms, I was again reminded that North America is wrapping up for their summer holiday as New Zealand is nearly halfway done the year. Oh, Canadian Summers, how I miss thee.  

The question was raised, asking what blogs we stalk. 'Stalk?' I wondered. Hmm...not sure if I like that word.

Well here they are. Check them out and enjoy.

Yep. That's about all I follow so far. Maybe in a few weeks that list will be ten times longer!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

They grow up so fast...

This is a shameless self-promotion (I think that's is MY blog, afterall).

After an epic battle with html, and with the support of Kristen at Ladybug here (for navigation buttons) and here (for centering), I get to announce some awesome upgrades! The Navigation Buttons above are fully customized (sweet!) and I have a Blog Button (double-sweet!)!! Now you can be the coolest kid on the block blog with your very own Twist of Liam Blog Button. Just imagine how cool you will be with such a vibrant addition to your page.

To put it bluntly, please add my button to your page!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Scattergories in Writing Time!

Scattergories box
Here's an adaptation of a great board game for your English program. I've used Scattergories as a warm up for my classes and the students LOVE IT. Students are put into teams (my class is in house groups so thats already sorted for me) and they are given about 4 categories. Each team works from the same categories. These can be made up to match your classes needs or a theme you are about to start/finish. Some examples would be: a food, something that fits in a shoebox, something that is round, something you find at the beach, an adjective... you get the idea.

Call out a letter and each team needs to come up with ONE word for each category that starts with that letter. They cannot use an answer for more than one category.
When the timer is up (I give about 2 minutes for 11 yr olds), they share the ONE answer they have for that category. If no one else said the word, they get one point (yay!). Any teams that have the same answer recieve no points (aw, man!). That means teams need to work quietly so the other teams don't hear their answers. I can see you smiling already.

It's important to mention that the more teams you have, the more likely it is that answers will cancel out and, take it from me, choose friendly letters when you start out. Not many Third Graders will come up with answers for each category if you give them letter 'X'. That's just mean. So for Team Liam, we might write for the above categories and the letter 'R': Rhubarb, Rat, Rubber ball, Rocks, Rude. Play as many rounds as you feel appropriate.

Pros: quiet working, cooperative, involves lots of thinking, requires very little material, promotes creativity.
Cons: if you have students play individually, it takes FOREVER to score (trust me), students love it and don't want to stop playing. 

So STARTING A UNIT on oceans? Getting into a big CREATIVE WRITING task? Have a few OVERUSED words in your class? This just might be what you are looking for. Cheers!

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Beauty (and ugly side) of Competition

Growing up, school was always the same for me. Year to year, it was always the same old routine until my mom remarried and we moved schools. Suddenly, I was thrown into a school system that was completely foreign to me. The student population was divided into four teams and every term, there was a big event when competed in some sort of challenge in the name of our team colour (I think I was Gold but I can't be sure). It was hyped up and when the day finally arrived, it was incredible fun. If you've ever muttered the word Gryffindor, you'll have some sort of idea of what I'm talking about.

I'm in my second year of teaching now and can remember my excitement as I was offered a job at a school that followed a similar practice. Four houses competing to be the best each week. Good behaviour, successes, helpfulness, improvement, the ways in which a student can earn 'house points' are vast and unlimited; they are never taken away.  What's more is that staff are allocated to houses as well. I'm in the best house. ;)

One of the things I love about this system is that it encourages healthy competition. Without competition, we become comfortable and unmotivated. Progress will never occur if we are not driven to improve ourselves and the world around us. As I see it, pushing ourselves to be better than before should be our primary purpose in life (Note: I didn't say 'being better that everyone else'). Competition gives endless opportunities for our students to do the right thing. It allows students to work together toward a common goal. Teamwork, oh, how I love thee.

Another advantage to a house point system is that it creates an environment where students can rehearse and demonstrate good sportsmanship. Winning with grace and losing with dignity are such important skills. Playing fairly and striving to improve are healthy, natural, and unavoidable values for professional success and in games and sport, students can develop them. Teachers are constantly modelling these skills and beliefs. Usually.

The ugly side of competition is that we often forget the goal. We invent games like hockey, baseball, football, rugby, tennis, etcetera, etcetera ... truly for one purpose: entertainment. For fun. But somehow that focus gets lost and forgotten in pursuit of a trophy, medal, title, or fame. Competition turns vicious, points become the purpose and the fun is lost.

We find ourselves keeping score in terms of points instead of smiles. Instead of lifting ourselves up, we push each other down. Instead of the journey, the final result is what we fixate on. Instead of celebrating a competitor's triumph, we wallow in our own defeat. Case in point: money. The all-powerful way of keeping score on a global scale, we have lost our goal of progress in pursuit of monetary points.

While some will say that it's inappropriate to have this sort of system in a school, I whole-heartedly disagree. The ugly side of competition is a natural byproduct. If it's not worked out during childhood and adolescence, students will be unprepared to handle coming second place. They may not even be prepared to handle winning first!

So, what to do? As role models, we have a responsibility to model how to enjoy winning without being obnoxious. We must show children how to accept defeat without turning sour. We need to show students that winning isn't everything and losing isn't the end of the world. I love to win as much as the next person and I will smile a lot wider if my team wins but a "wait till next time" attitude will trump a "you cheated" protest anyday.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pick a kid, any kid... Continued.

I have had requests for more details so here they are.

I was going to upload it Google Docs but it reformatted the file to the point of unusable. A PDF would have been useless unless you had the same class list as I do, which I doubt. Instead, here's a quick and easy process to make your own. I'm working with Word so Macfolk, you will have to follow as best you can.
1. Insert a 1x1 table. At the top, click 'Layout' and 'Split Cells'. a dialogue box should pop up. Change it so it says
"Number of Columns: 4"
"Number of Rows: 4"

2. Drag the bottom border to the bottom of the page so it fillls the page nicely. Click 'Layout', 'Distribute Rows'. Magical!

3.The rest is up to your own creative genius. Whatever you do, watch that you don't change the size of the cells or else the cards will be different sizes. Row 1 is the face of four cards, Row 2 is the back, Row 3 is the face of another four cards, Row 4 is the back of those cards.

4. When it looks good, print it off.
 If you cut the margins off and cut between Row 2 and 3, you just need to fold them up and laminate them.

Hope that helps! Maybe one day I will get really fancy and start doing video tutorials...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pick a kid, any kid...

The curtain rises on a lesson in progress...

The teacher is rapt by the way the lesson is going. Johnny and Mary are eager and raising their hand for every question. Other students are following along but then you spot...under a fast asleep...

Okay. First of all, I never really had a student fall asleep during my lesson (yet) but I had an appraisal late last year and the discussion that followed got onto the topic of student engagement. I used wait-time and Think-Pair-Share but then I always called on the hands that were raised. Great for the students who were engaged and easily focussed but there was an unsettling flipside to my tact that her perspective revealed.

A student who wanted to zone out had a really easy escape plan, she explained:
Hand up = have to participate
Hand down = naptime!

I was crushed and devastated and appalled and set myself to do something about it at once.

The result was a small deck of laminated cards that were about the size of a business card. Each deck had a student's name on it. there were others in the deck that said "Hand Up" and others that said "Hand Down". Further, My class is split into houses (Yes, like Hogwart's! It's part of a school-wide program) so I have a few of each 'house'.

How effective is it, I'm sure you are dying to ask. Well I am happy to report it was fantastic. Dopey-eyed dreamers sat up a little straighter. Chatty Cathys were a little more attentive. A little anxiety can go a long way, I guess.
(DISCLAIMER: The deck of cards aren't the fix-all in itself. A teacher can't expect every student that is randomly put on the spot to have the answer, so its important to apply this tool with a sensitivity to that. Phew.)

After putting it into practice, The Deck (as it has been dubbed) is also great for choosing volunteers, picking line leaders, making teams, chopping vegetables, and washing dishes. Just kidding about the dishes. I was just making sure you were still paying attention.

That's it. I hope you found this useful. My apologies to Jimmys and Cathys everywhere.

Talking Points:
What other uses do you have for a deck of your own?

What do you use to maintain some level of random selection?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fonts Galore!

I love fonts. I love how they can make a project that little bit closer to perfect. was shared with me and I have spent many hours cruising the list of fonts available for free download.

I challenge you to go through what's available and NOT find a font that works for your project. Some favourites of mine include "For the One Hundredth Time", "Cratch", Britcomics", "Cajun Boogie", Blackout", and "Agent Orange". Go forth and then come back and tell me your fav. Betcha can't pick just one!

Gimme Five!

Here's a quickie for anyone who is looking for a different approach to classroom management. I'm not claiming any credit for it - I've seen many versions of it around the web - but this is the version I use with my classes. It's called "Gimme Five".

It requires some teaching and practice just like any other approach to regrouping students but it is effective and clear for students to follow. No real flashy codes, just simple, easy to remember directions that make sense.

Once operational, the routine looks like this:
Students are working away (or trying to look like they are working as is often the case) and I begin by counting down from "". At the same time I am showing four fingers, three fingers, two fingers, one finger.  Finally, I call "gimme five" and show an open hand in the air.

The students call out "five" (with an open hand in the air) in the same tone as I said it and proceed to give me the five things I have taught them that good listeners give to a speaker.

And here they are:
1) Mouth Quiet: This is ALWAYS number one for me because it helps with number two.
2) Ears Listening to the Speaker: Not their friend, not a rhythm they are tapping. They are listening to the person who is speaking.
3) Eyes on the Speaker: Not their neighbour, not the cute boy across the room, not the bug on the floor or the car outside. They look at the speaker to show they are listening.
4) Hands are Free and Empty: Pens are down and sitting still, being sat on if neccessary. Not playing with someone's hair or drumming on their chair. They are making sure they don't cause  a distraction for the other listeners or the speaker.
5) Body Still: This one I find really important and often overlooked in the whole range of Gimme Five's. Students stop where they are and wait until instructions are complete before continuing.

I call gimme five loudly and have them respond loudly or whisper it and know that they will respond in the same manner. This becomes really effective in diverse activities/settings (Gym/Library).

To be clear, I don't expect them to become statues and especially not at the drop of a hat. Hence the countdown. Starting at four lets them know what is coming and gives them fair warning to stop what they are doing and get themselves sorted by the time I ask for five. It's fair and my students can learn to organise themselves rather than react in a Pavlovian nature.

This understanding begins on Day One, without fail. What is the first routine you teach your class each year?

Now We're Cooking?

Over the last few days, I have started to piece together a bit of an analogy for my students around teaching narrative structure. I am in a position where I teach three different classes for English and so over the last week, this approach has been reworked and refined. Writing a narrative, I explain, is like cooking a meal. With me so far? Good. Bon appetit.

The narrative text has a pretty simple structure. It begins with an Orientation, explores a Complication and a Sequence of Main Events, comes to a Resolution, and concludes with an Ending. That's all pretty simple. The trick is getting students to understand the value of each element.

Orientation: The Plate. It lays the foundation for the story the audience is about to dig into. Without a plate, food falls onto the table, things roll off to the floor and the whole thing is a royal mess. Without an understanding of where, when and who the story is about, the reader feels just as lost and frustrated.

Complication: The Steak. This is the juicy part of the story. It's what people are looking for. When you plan a meal, you think about what meat you will have. Chicken? Steak? Pork? Lamb? Even if you are a vegetarian, you wouldn't want a plate with a bunch of vegetables dumped on your plate. The complication is what readers really want, a good problem to see solved!

Main Events: The Vegetables. Close your eyes and imagine you are at a restaurant. You ordered a delicious steak dinner (sorry, vegans) and you see the waiter looking at you as he approaches with a plate. He sets it in front of you and you see your plate presenting a thick, juicy steak and a single piece of broccoli?? How disappointing! You were hoping for a heaping mound of corn and roasted potatoes and carrots, right? The vegetables are the events that surround the complication. a good story should have great vegetables to compliment the complication and enhance its flavour. With a series of events to experience with the character, the reader will enjoy each "mindful" and gobble it up!

Resolution: The Gravy. Remember that steak? Good, right? I know. But you know what will make it better? Gravy. Mmmm. Gravy makes it better. Lather it on and the steak disappears. As the resolution is presented, the problem is solved and the reader turns the page again and again until it is over. So that's it, right? Problem solved? Good job. See you later? Of course not! Who could walk away from such a fantastic meal and not feel a little dissappointed without having a little...

Ending: The Dessert. Ah, yes, that final touch! The dessert is that final sweet mouthful like a little celebration after dinner. Even though the meal is complete, steak, veggies, and gravy are all gone, there's that little part of you that wants a little bit more. with a good narrative, the reader is no different. A sweet ending that tells us how life unfolds for the chacter AFTER the problem is resolved makes it even better. What did he learn? What changed after the resolution? In a final motion, the writer draws the story to a close and the reader cannot wait till next time he gets invited to dinner.

Want to take that a bit further? No problem, I'm prepared for that. In the lessons that followed, we talked about adding more quality details to really make the story great. These were the Spices and Seasons. Yum!

Invite them into a discussion of a reality cooking class they have seen - how's the kitchen look? A little messy, stuff out, little spills, a bit of food on their hands, right? Any real big messes? Chicken on the floor? Food on their faces? Nah. So the Planning can be a little messy but not a circus. Organised chaos, so-to-speak.

Watch a cook prepare a sauce. I bet they dip their spoon in and try it themselves. That's the Revision. Add a little, take a little away until it is perfect!

As one student told me, "Mister, you don't eat with your hands," which is exactly why the cutlery is Reading Strategies. Predicting, inferring, questioning, summarising...they all make it easier to ENJOY the story.

And lastly, I will leave you with this point. We talked about quality and how it is so important to think about the ingredients you use. These Ideas are what make great meals. it is what separates a gourmet meal from a microwave dinner - the kind you pop into the box turn on for 30 seconds and its done. Lots of thought will make your story spectacular.

I hope this was helpful. As my AT reccommended, 'borrow' some plastic food from your niece's toy kitchen set and build yourself some writing tools.

Now, time for some ice cream

Getting Going (again)

Originally posted on Monday 30 May, 2011...

I sat after school today with my Associate Teacher. We got to talking about the things I am trying out in my class and the general "how'd that go's" that go along with our conversations. During this particular meeting, I was sharing an idea I was about to implement in my classroom routine.

This post in not about the idea itself, though I will explore it further in a later post (note to self: post about that idea of yours), instead this is about the discussion that ensued.

"What is the real purpose of a blog for teachers," I was asked? What did I say, you ask? Well, the answer came rather readily. It's an incredible and boundless means to share ideas and find inspiration in those ideas of others. Pretty good, eh? I explained that for a teacher, it is a way to tell their colleagues about things that worked really well for them. For the readers, it is a way to find help and ideas as they endeavour to improve their practice. For both, it is a means for connecting to professionals worldwide and improving our teaching concertedly.

Shortly after we called the meeting kaput, I remembered an argument about how people use the internet. I have no idea what terms were used, but essentially people can publish information, access it, or both. The speaker commended the internet for the people who fall into the latter, wasn't convinced that the former even existed (like an author that doesn't read), but was quite dissappointed to say that most internet users fell into the middle category. Whatever the speaker called those people (yes, I was one of them), it was not a nice word. He said it was an injustice to take without giving and a small part of me felt guilty for a moment. And then I got over it.

Today that guilt returned and I rationalised it by saying I didn't have anything that was really worth sharing. As you can see by the founding of TwistofLiam, I wasn't convinced and now I am doing something about it.

I can't possibly publish my first post without crediting Ladybug for her role in my current endeavour. I had never bookmarked a teaching blog before but the wealth of ideas that come from her site keep me checking back. (Thanks, Ladybug!)

So, back to TwistofLiam. What will we find here? Well, that's as much for you to decide as it is for me. If you have something to share, bring it! A comment about something you tried (found here or elsewhere), fantastic! I will share here so long as I know someone is reading. I'll know someone is reading if they are adding to it, too. Afterall, you're not going to be one of THOSE people are you?

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