Sunday, July 10, 2016

No Cookie Cutter Thinking Allowed!

Cookie Cutter Thinking? No thank you!

Dear Readers,

I participated in some amazing chats yesterday including #satchat, #leadupchat and #satchatwc. I love and look forward to my Saturday morning connections and discussions! The topics did not disappoint: innovation, risk-taking and public learners. What a morning of professional learning!

One of my strengths as a literacy teacher is to look at different resources and pair the ideas together. I have always been able to look at the big picture and see how the puzzle pieces fit. How can we integrate fantastic ideas from various resources?

Following yesterday's conversations, I started thinking about my students, my instruction and final products when given a task to do. Am I encouraging cookie cutter thinkers? Or innovative thinking? Am I giving students choices? More importantly are they making choices on their own?

Learning to Choose Choosing to learn: The Key to Motivation & Achievement

Mike Anderson really opened my eyes to student choice. I love the concept of self-differentiation. I had never heard that term before and now think about it often. Do I differentiate my instruction and options? More importantly, are students able to choose based on their strengths and interests?  

Another key concept Anderson touched on was relationship building. On page 34, "You must make collegiate and positive interactions and personal connections part of the daily work of classroom work throughout the year." Collaboration needs to be taught. We cannot just put students together and hope they will figure it out. They need skills and strategies and modeling from us.

Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts and Minds with Inquiry

How do we teach students to be upstanders in the classroom, community and as global citizens? How do we teach them how to collaborate, communicate and respectfully disagree? These skills and strategies need to be taught, modeled and practiced.

Students need to be able to work with people they choose (such as friends), as well as those they may not have a connection with. They need to learn how to listen and process other points of view other than their own.

This is essential in building a safe and comfortable learning environment for all. The skills and strategies they learn, will be invaluable outside the classroom as well.

Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator

Dave Burgess completely changed my thinking about creativity in the classroom. I think I read this 2-3 times. In the introduction he says, "At the same time, my goal is to help you create an inviting, engaging, and most importantly, empowering classroom climate." Count me in!

Although I love them all, a few of my favorites hooks are Kinesthetic, Safari, Picasso, Mozart, Craft Store, Student Hobby, Student-Directed, Opportunistic, Interior Design, and Board Message. The best part is they all just naturally fit into what I am already doing. Music, art and movement have always been an essential part of my instruction. Burgess showed me how to push my thinking and create even more experiences using my passions.

P is for Pirate: Inspirational ABC's for Educators

I have a love for picture books regardless of what grade I teach. I absolutely adore them and yes, I even use them in Middle School. A picture book for educators? Amazing!

Dave and Shelley Burgess take us on a delightful and inspiring journey. Their powerful message needs to reach every educator, "Every child can learn. Every child possesses enormous potential waiting to be unlocked. Every child will rise or fall to the level of our expectations."

I am sure many of us have fond memories of being read aloud to as children. As an adult, I still love read alouds. Sit back and let Dave and Shelly take you away for a few moments into their positive, thought provoking pirate world.

My Love of Picture Books, the Messages They Teach and Read Aloud

Despite the fact that I teach 6th-8th graders, when I engage them in a read aloud I almost always have 100% engagement. I often let them relax in bean bags in the book corner and they cozy up and get ready to listen. Who says read aloud and picture books are just for elementary school? 

My purpose in choosing books for the Middle School Level is to show them characters who had innovative ideas and did not let anyone or anything stop them from pursuing them. These are a few of my favorites that I have used or referred to.
  • frindle by Andrew Clements: This is perhaps my favorite lower level chapter book of all time. It is about a young boy who decided to re-invent the word for pen. I share this with students as a lesson to them that they are never too young to start a movement. I highly recommend this book as a read aloud or for independent reading. (intermediate school age 3rd-5th grade)
  • Going Places by Peter and Paul Reynolds: I was first introduced to this book by Katie Wears at a #TCRWP workshop a few years ago and fell in love instantly. It is about thinking outside the box, using your imagination, finding inspiration in the world around you and being a risk-taker. Although it is a picture book, the message is universal.  
  • What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada: This book has become a favorite book for me to buy as a gift, for adults. So often we have ideas that we would love to nurture and carry out and so often we let outsiders' thinking influence our perception of whether it is a good or bad idea. I have used this book with all my students. The message is they have amazing ideas, they should never let anyone tell them or let them think otherwise. They can do anything they set their minds to.
  • The Most Surprise I Have Ever Been by Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp: Hilarious take on perspective. It teaches students that there are many perspectives to every situation. Even if you are a snail flying through the air in a house. We have to view the world through different viewpoints. 
  • The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman: This is a beautiful book written in rhyme that is meant for a younger audience. It shares the story of a family of seven children who put together their individual and unique likes to create an amazing finished product. 
  • If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen: Our students have active and wild imaginations. We should never stifle their creativity. What if you could build a car and add anything in the world to it? That's exactly what this boy did! 
So often, the idea of read alouds end as students enter the secondary level. Steven Layne does an excellent job of reminding us why reading a loud is so essential for all students. It allows all students to have a shared experience and be able to connect to a common text.

Time. Time is always a barrier. Layne shows us how we can creatively use texts to engage students in read aloud at the Middle School level. You are probably doing it and do not even realize it!

One way I incorporate read aloud is using current event articles that might be at a higher reading level or have mature content that needs to be discussed. I love reading aloud to my students! Even better are the conversations that follow.


Putting all these thoughts and ideas together that I learned, resulted in this box. I loved the idea of handing students a box of materials like in Going Places. That's exactly what I did. (Oddly enough, most of these materials were already in the room. Taking the Craft Store Hook from Teach Like a Pirate, you never know what you might find!)

Using the strategies from Upstanders and Learning to Choose Choosing to Learn the students were placed in teacher chosen groups to practice collaboration and communication.

My students have heard the book What Do You Do With an Idea? and Going Places over their 3 years with me. I always encourage their ideas, thoughts and creativity. I support them in risk-taking and challenge their thinking. 

I always want my classroom to feel like an experience. P is For Pirate reminds me that we need to, "....stretch our thinking and empower students to become creators and not just consumers of information."

The results? Please refer to my earlier blog post Delightful Designs for a photo gallery of fun and innovation.

What will your students create?