Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Back to School Linky: Classroom Decor

Welcome back to Inside Bell's Brain!  This week's back-to-school linky is about classroom decor, so not only do you get the glimpse "inside Bell's brain," but you also get a glimpse inside Bell's room this week!  Keep in mind that I'm still frantically working to get my room ready for back to school this year, so there are a lot of projects in progress!  I hope to revisit this post with a few more pictures in the days to come, but here's what I have so far!  (I will be returning to this post tonight to add some additional photos after I visit my classroom today, so please come back again tomorrow to check out the updates.)

My Welcome Board

There is a bulletin board just outside my classroom that I use as a welcome board.  Leadership is a strong value at the school where I teach, so my catchphrase is "'Owl' grow up to be a leader!"  I originally had the idea from a similar tree I saw on Pinterest.  I cut lots of circles on my Cricut from several different patterned papers and stacked them in various color combinations until I found what I liked best.  Then I sketched the trunk on black posterboard and cut it out by hand.  I used scrunched tissue paper in alternating lime green and dark green colors for the grass to give it another three dimensional effect.  Each of my students has his or her own owl on the board. (Student names on the owl bellies have been blurred.)  I was a little overly-ambitious when I first designed the board and hand-made all the owls from my Cricut.  (I did have some help making them though...thanks, Karla!) That took a LONG time and, since I wrote students' names with Sharpie, I realized that I wouldn't be able to reuse the owls!  Oh, well...c'est la vie!  That's when I invested in a pack of cute little owl cutouts, which I laminated and stick labels on them for student names.     
Here's the completed board!  I love the color it adds just outside my classroom.
This is the first round of owls...the ones that I made using my Cricut.  I used one large and one small circle for the belly of my owl.  I cut two more pairs of circles, one large white set and one small black set, for the eyes.  I used triangles for the ears and beak.  I added oblong shapes for two wings and part of a scalloped frame for the feet.  Ta da!  I love them, but they take a LONG time when you're making 25-30 for a group of students!

My Door & My New Wreath

My door is still a work in progress.  I had purple fabric up last year, but I decided to go with contact paper on my doors this year.  It's easy to remove, but sticky enough that it stays up very well.  My new wreath excites me the most though!  (I also have to give a helper shout out to my friend Karen on this one!) 
A close-up of my classroom door.  I haven't finished the border yet, but I have an idea for what I'm doing with it. 
This is a little glimpse of how my door used to look.  This large owl is Ms. Bell's owl, and I'm shouting, "'Hoo'ray for ESL!"  I was sad to see the purple go, but I think the new door design will be a more durable option. 
This is what the finished product looks like hanging on my new classroom door.
Here's a close-up peek at the finished wreath hanging on my door at home.  I LOVE the colors!
This is the reverse side of my door.  I'm probably going to hang another Filetastic from it in the empty space on the left, but I haven't totally made up my mind yet.  I made my safety curtain by hot gluing fabric (instead of sewing) into the size that I needed for the curtain.  Then I used Velcro to affix it.  I hot glued the ribbon to the fabric to keep it tied in place when not in use. 

My VIP Wall

As a collaborative teacher, I have a lot of materials that I create, share, pass along, etc. to my co-teachers, so I needed a space that I could keep my desk cleared and still remember to share info with my colleagues.  I created this VIP Wall on the side of one of my classroom closets.  It was an unused wall space that had so much potential.  So I covered it in contact paper, used tissue paper scrunches for border, and hung a Filetastic with a file folder with each teacher's name.  That way, I can slip things into the teachers' files when I need to remember to give them something.  It's right by my door, so I see it when I enter and exit...another plus: my room is by the bus dismissal location so teachers can pass by on their way back from dismissal to collect any other materials too.  WIN-WIN!
My VIP Wall...the finished product!

The iPad Wall

A few years ago, I wrote and received a classroom grant to get a small group set of iPads.  Each iPad has a different color case, which is how I manage their use in my classroom.  Each student is a assigned a specific color iPad, so I know that if there is a damage or malfunction, I can easily determine which students were using that iPad.  I created a large iPad poster in my room and designed little squares that affix onto the poster with Velcro.  (The idea is that the squares look like apps.  I know the proportionality of size is off, but I had to make them large enough to be able to read student names, which I've blurred in this photo.)  Beneath that iPad assignment poster are our classroom rules for iPad use, which I found on Pinterest from another blogger.  She even created the iPad Acceptable Use Policy that matches these rules.  Every fall, my students and I discuss these rules as part of our introductory procedures lessons.  We talk about each rule and make sure everyone understands and then we sign the agreements in pens, just like grown-ups do!  They love it, and they take those rules seriously!  If someone forgets, they are quick to remind each other before I ever have to say a word! 
The iPad assignment poster has each student's name assigned to a specific color so they know which iPad is theirs to use for the year.  

My iPad rules are posted beneath the iPad assignment poster.
 Our Class Twitter Feed

As part of teaching summaries and integrating technology into our daily routines, I developed a classroom Twitter feed for my students.  We talk about expressing what's on our mind in short, articulated phrases and how we would go about sharing that on social media (when we're old enough to actually have accounts, that is).  In the meantime, we practice that art on our classroom Twitter feed.  We talk about hashtags and abbreviations too to get a very authentic Twitter experience!
This was my Twitter feed before I redesigned my door this year.  It's kind of BLAH!
Yay!  Here's the new Twitter feed, complete with a freshly designed door!  I think the black posterboard makes it pop, but I just hope it's durable through the year!  I used a LOT of MAH-valous tape! 

My WIDA Wall

If you haven't already figured it out, I'm an ESL teacher.  Alabama is a member of the WIDA consortium, and they have five English language development standards that we target in ESL.  I made posters of each standard and have these as a bulletin board that stays up in my classroom.  I can easily have students refer back to it to determine which standard we are addressing in our lesson for the day.  This bulletin board is over my sink area in the classroom, so please excuse the soap and paper towels, etc. in this shot!
My WIDA Wall has mini-posters of the five English language development standards.

My Classroom Library

I have this little bulletin board in my classroom library area to share genres and text features for my readers.  See my previous post to find out more about my word usage on this bulletin board!  I also included photos below of our classroom library.  We've gotten SO many new books in the past two years, all because of awesome grants we've received for our classroom.  We fulfilled one using Donors Choose, another from Mary Pope Osborne's Classroom Adventures Grant, and yet another from Target!  Now we have new books, classification tubs, and an amazing reading nook in our classroom complete with comfy bean bag chairs! 
This bulletin board reminds students about genre and text features.

I have a little more sorting to do, but it's almost ready.
Here's our cozy little reading nook.  We love our bean bag chairs!

Student Spaces

I painted a long bookshelf in two-tones (the back in lime green and the sides and front in black) and stacked it with alternating colors of crates.  My students have a pack of supplies ready to go when they come to my room.  They keep their journals, work in progress, books, etc. in their cubby so they know where all their materials are at all times.  I also believe it's important that each student feels "at home" in his or her classroom, so it was important to me that all my students have a space in my room that they can call their own.
You can really tell the two-tone colors in this shot before I filled up the crates.
Here's an idea of how it looks when we start filling up our cubbies!

Word Wall

As a language teacher, I place a GREAT focus on words and vocabulary.  I think it is every teacher's responsibility to make sure that students understand the vocabulary we are using in class and not to take for granted that our students know what we're saying.  This is true for native English speakers and English learners!  Everyone benefits from focused vocabulary instruction.  It's also essential, particularly for ELs, that vocabulary is posted around the room.  We shouldn't have an overwhelming classroom design, but we should have print-rich classrooms.  Vocabulary should always be posted in the same place so that students have the procedure/routine of looking in the same place for unknown words.  In addition to our class vocabulary wall, each of my students has his or her own personal word wall in our journals and/or writing folders.  Words that we use most frequently always go up on the class word wall, but words that have specific meaning to a student can go on his or her individual word wall. 
I'm giving my word wall a makeover in the days to come, so I don't have that photo quite ready for you yet.  But this is how it looked last year, and you can get a good idea of how we utilize this space.  By the time we fill it with words, it definitely needs a good cleaning! 

My Space

No pun intended, but this is "my space"!  I found these little drawer organizers at Burke's Outlet last year and HAD to have them.  It's approximately the same now as when I took this shot, but I have definitely added a few more things to the doo-dad pile inside! 
I was so excited to put my little teacher-y things into each little compartment.  It sure doesn't take much to make us happy, huh?

Thanks for stopping by my room, and remember to visit again soon for more pictures!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Why "Good" Is Not in My Vocabulary

Good.  It's such a simple that we probably use 100 times in a single day.  "Be a good girl."  "You're a good boy."  "Do a good job."  "Did you have a good day?"  "This food is good."  When there are seemingly an infinite number of adjectives we could choose, we stick with the word "good."  It's a word I've been trying to eliminate from my vocabulary for quite some time, but probably not for the reason that you think.  

I see so many signs, products, and instructional tools that talk about "good" readers and writers.  I think so many of them are wonderful products and great resources for our classes, so I don't want my message to be misconstrued.  But if we tell students that there are "good" readers and writers, what is the implication?  That there are also BAD readers and writers.  That's what concerns me the most.  Some students, and some teachers alike, struggle with reading and writing.  There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that.  Some people read quickly, and some read slowly.  Some people have poetry and prose flow from their fingertips, and others are intimidated by the written word.  And I think that comes, at least in part, from this focus we have on "good" readers and writers.

So perhaps you think I'm full of baloney right now, but journey with me in this consideration for a moment or two.  If we send our students the message that there are "good" readers and writers, and therefore, that there are "bad" readers and writers, some students will attribute their struggles with literacy to just being a "bad" reader or writer.  Fast forward in the educational experience of those students, and what do you find?  These students will give up on themselves long before high school and will abandon reading books for pleasure or for information, and creative writing will certainly be unheard of, in school or for leisure.  That is possibly one of the most heart-breaking thoughts in the entire world to me...that we could be raising a generation of students who do not love words, who avoid reading, and who loathe writing.  Long before Common Core standards were implemented, I wanted nothing more than to have my students become lifelong learners and self-proclaimed aficionados of language.  But with increased focus on reading, writing, and speaking, it's even more important that the messages we communicate to our students about literacy are positive ones.

So what's the solution, you say?  That's easy!   Stop saying "good."  Rather than explaining to my students the strategies that "good" readers and writers use, I simply explain the strategies that readers and writers use.  No "good."  No adjective at all.  What does that sound like?  Here's an example..."So we just discovered that this author uses dialogue to share a conversation that's happening in the story.  That is something we can use in our own writing.  Let me add that to our list. (Writing on anchor chart/board as I read aloud.)  'Writers use dialogue to share conversations.' "  I do not want to tell my students that "good" writers add dialogue because I just simply want it to be something they do.  I want to eliminate their apprehension about reading and writing.  I want them to be confident that they are simply readers and writers and that literacy is a part of our lives every single day.  Furthermore, the key to bettering our craft, whatever that may be, is PRACTICE!  This ultimately leads to MORE reading and writing, instead of an avoidance of either or both.  It also helps all of us consider the idea that, no matter how "good" we ever become at anything, we can always be better with more practice.  We never truly "arrive," but we are always changing and students, as teachers, as humans.

(This is a student-generated anchor chart from my classroom.  While I wrote the responses, the students discussed answers to the proposed question.  Notice the phrasing of the question...I refer to writers without any descriptors.  The same is true when we answer the questions, "What do writers do?" and "What do readers do?")
I think the same can be said for other subjects too...math, science, art, music, even gym!  I oft wonder whether I would have been a little more athletic or active if I had been aware that I didn't have to be "good" at it before I let loose and gave it a shot!

Let's create a NEW generation of READERS and WRITERS and eliminate "good" from our instructional vocabulary.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Back to School Linky: Assessment

Whew!  This week has flown by, and I missed the opportunity to post and link up this morning!  But I'm here now to share my thoughts with you on considerations for assessment, specifically when working with English learners.  (Please forgive me for my lack of graphics this week!  I'm trying to post and link up as quickly as possible!) 

1. Change your lenses! 

Before ever giving a formal assessment, you should view that assessment through the eyes of your EL students.  Ask yourself the following questions to gain some insight into your assessments.
  • Are there complex syntactical structures that will confuse language learners?  Think of how much we overthink those true/false questions that have a negative word in them.  "If I say true, am I agreeing that it's true or not true?  But it has the word not, or never, or none!"  Those same questions can be very misleading for ELs because they're hyperfocused on the language and structure of the question instead of attending to the content.  Also, other languages do not have the same "anti-double negative structure" that we Spanish, it is actually correct to use two (or more) negative words in a single construction.  (I digress...more on this to come in another post.)
  • Is the vocabulary of the test the same as the vocabulary of instruction?  I specifically recall a situation in working with one of my beginner EL students in which language was definitely the barrier to that student's success on the assessment.  We had been studying the story The Day Eddie Met the Author, and we were discussing authors every day.  However, the test question wanted to know about Eddie's experience with the writer.  This student simply didn't know that a writer and an author were the same.  Such a small detail seems negligible, but we should search our assessments (and reflect on our own instruction) to identify these inconsistencies and specifically teach our EL students this new vocabulary. 
  • Are there cultural biases that my student could be experiencing?  Some EL students struggle with the content of a test because they haven't experienced the same opportunities that we may have had.  For example, if a reading passage discusses a picnic, make sure that student has a strong understanding of what a picnic is and why you would choose to have one.  It's possible they do not know this word and have no understanding of the purpose of a picnic!  I recall another time when some of my students didn't understand what skunks and opossums were.  Without an understanding of either animal, it was very difficult for them to contemplate which would be stinky or cause a greater uproar for fear of being sprayed.  These are just two examples among many, but we need to be vigilant for these biases on tests. 
2. Translations do not equal accommodations!

Many well-meaning teachers run their assessments through Google Translate or copy a pre-prepared alternative language version of a test for an EL student.  This is not always a help for students who have a language barrier.  Some students have literacy in multiple languages, but many ELs do not.  Just like we tend to only use academic vocabulary words in the school setting and not in our homes, our EL students' families often do the same thing.  Therefore, their first language or home language vocabulary is primarily full of conversational and/or functional vocabulary.  This can be intimidating for students who are not literate in their home language and can actually create animosity between ELs who speak the same language when some are literate and others aren't.  It can create embarrassment if the student doesn't know how to communicate that he/she cannot read or write in the translated language.  That's not to say that translations are not effective in the right circumstances, and I LOVE teaching vocabulary in multiple languages.  (Again, I digress and will return to the importance of vocabulary in a later post.)  Just make sure that you know what your individual students need and provide for them accordingly.

3. Consider alternative assessments!

One key to getting the most accurate assessment results for ELs is finding a way for them to successfully express their understanding of the content.  Think about it...before you could read and write, you could speak and respond.  Perhaps your vocabulary was limited, but that did not mean that your mind wasn't already creating and processing the world around you.  Many students, especially older ELs, have a wealth of knowledge but cannot express it yet in English.  Think about something you're an expert it formative assessment?  Is it cooperative learning?  Is it behavior management?  Alright, now explain that to me in the comments, but you can only do so in Chinese.  Or Thai.  Or Korean.  Or German.  It's difficult, right?  But that doesn't mean you know nothing about it!  Likewise with our students...our ELs know much more than they are able to express to us through written, or sometimes even spoken, word in English.  So consider other ways that will allow them to focus on the CONTENT of the assessment and not the LANGUAGE.  When they're trying to navigate the language and the content at the same time, students are more anxious and become easily frustrated.  Find ways to help them communicate their ideas...instead of an extended response, use a diagram and have them label steps or vocabulary.  (This could be with or without a word bank, depending on the language level of the EL.)  Or you could use a sentence or paragraph frame and they could complete the response instead of having to answer the question and worry about structuring an appropriate paragraph.  That's not to say that they should never be given the opportunity to learn these things...challenge them, allow them to explore their new language!  But when it's time to assess, make sure - most of all - that they are comfortable with the task.

I hope that these points help you in planning and giving assessments to your English learners.  I also have a little freebie for you!  I have some accommodations labels that I use to document which accommodations my students receive on their assessments or on their classwork.  It streamlines the documentation process, and my co-teachers LOVE them.  I have a set for English learners here and a set for special education/IEP students here.  Both files are editable, so you can "tweak" them for what works best for you.  Here's an older blog post of mine you might want to check out too; I explain accommodations and these labels in more detail here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Back to School Linky: Behavior Management

I'm really excited to participate in the Back to School Linky with Miss V's Busy Bees and Mrs. D's Corner.  This week's posts are focused on behavior management.

Let's start with my philosophy on behavior management...I believe behavior management is strongly rooted in classroom procedures.  When there are clear expectations and those expectations are clearly articulated to your students, behavior management takes care of itself.

A friend and co-teacher of mine has taken me on as her mentor project, so to speak.  She lent me some of her materials from Harry Wong, THE behavior and classroom management guru.  One of those items she lent me was an audio book.  One of the comments that Mr. Wong made in that audio really made me rethink my entire behavior plan in my classroom.  He clearly explained the difference between rules and procedures.  We shouldn't be overly focused on rules, per se, and we should only have 5 real rules at the most.  (I've included mine in the photos below; these are my adaptations from WBT.)  He explained that broken rules have consequences...on the other hand, procedures are what you should really have the most of in your classroom.  Procedures are what make your classroom run effectively and efficiently.  When a student doesn't follow a procedure properly, he or she doesn't get "in trouble" because no rules were broken.  When a student doesn't follow a procedure properly, you and the student (or the class as a whole) simply review the procedure!  This may seem overly simple, but I had just never thought about it quite that way...and then I started reflecting on how to bring it to action in my own classroom.

(If you want to snag these posters I made at a super low price, check them out here.)

As an itinerant teacher, I need to make the most of every second I have with my students.  (Of course, we all do, but the less time I can spend on correcting behaviors and the more time I can spend on instruction, my students and I both win!)  I've been thinking about the procedures I want to implement this year, and here's what I have so far.
  • Classroom entry and exit
  • Supply management
  • Broken pencils
  • Emergencies and drills
  • Visitors and phone calls
  • Data notebooks
  • Journals
  • Classroom library
  • iPad assignments 
  • Class Dojo
  • Delivering materials to our classroom
  • Restroom
  • Testing
  • Word Wall
  • Technology
I plan to go much more in depth with these over these last few weeks of summer and PLAN OUT EVERYTHING!  I also plan to really explore my new Harry Wong book in great detail to make sure I haven't missed anything!  This is his latest book, and I highly recommend it if you don't have it already!

Feel free to leave your advice and suggestions for effective procedures in your classroom that make a difference in your behavior management.  I'm always open to new ideas.