Three Reasons Why My Classroom is Joyful

celebrate link up

My class of fifth graders are a true joy. I celebrate them daily. I mentioned this to my former principal and friend and she asked me why this class is special.

I came up with three reasons.

Reason One: I think classrooms are a chemistry of personalities. When it’s right, it’s sort of a Goldilocks occurrence. The just right mix of leaders, followers, givers, takers, tolerance, forgiveness and caring that allow people to live together. To share space and understand everyone’s little differences; to pick up something without being asked;  to say thank you or I’m sorry all because that is just what we do. This isn’t a perfect group of kids, but they are kind in their core. There are learning disabilities that can lead to tension, but in the end, students ability to reflect on behavior and what matters has led to general peace.

Reason Two: Stress levels are currently at an all time low.  Historically, my students’ idea of school has been mixed in with the need to perform on a test, and it showed.  As a class, they were noticeably anxious. I made it a point to get them to relax, take a breath and just be aware of where they are as learners. I want them to learn it is ok, in fact necessary, to make mistakes.

Why so relaxed? It all started because the test isn’t happening till 2014-15 school year. That gave me the courage to simply teach towards the spirit of the common core. While we have discussed the new expectations as a class, nothing has been done because it will be on the test.  I have been able to simply teach; looking at where students are as learners now, and moving towards where they need to be. I have been able to allow for growth and set backs without worrying about the test. I just worry about instigating learning, figuring out how learning occurs and fostering a positive self-aware attitude toward learning.

The final reason: In a word twitter.  Because of twitter I have discovered things that have had immediate impact on my class: Genius Hour, the Global Read Aloud, Skype, and kidblog. These new projects have changed the fabric and flow of my classroom.  Aside from these very tangible things, there are countless strategies, ideas, charts, lessons that have originated from twitter, twitter chats, blogs and follow-up emails.

The most important impact of twitter has been relationships: the giving group of educators who make the difference in my psyche as I enter the classroom. The positive vibe emanating from the twitterverse is formidable. Bad days occur. I have moments of feeling like I am the worst teacher in the world. Before twitter, those dark pits took time and a lot of energy to get out of. The encouraging voices on twitter and relationships I have built because of twitter have pulled me out of those funks quickly. Twitter has changed me. It doesn’t allow me to wallow in that dark place. It reflects hope and possibility on me and in turn I reflect it on my students. It’s no surprise they are a joyful bunch.

Student Generated Questions Provide a Quick Assessment

I am planning a Skype next week (hopefully) with Ryan Scala’s third grade students on writing. Both classes have just completed TCRWP informational writing Unit of Study.

To prepare, I asked my students what they would like to ask about informational writing. The minute they started talking I realized this was a giving me much more than I expected.

The “get to know you” questions showed what matters to students as writers. Fun and favorites came up a lot.

  • What’s your favorite writing topic?
  • What is the number one thing you like about writing?
  • What’s your favorite piece?
  • How many things have you written?
  • How do you make your writing fun?
  • Do you like writing?
  • What new things did you learn?
  • Was it fun learning about what you wrote about?  Did you find it interesting and cool?
  • Would you have chosen another topic now that you finished writing?

Getting ideas and getting started is a major concern for my students.  (But isn’t this true for all writers?)

  • How do you get an idea of what you’re going to write?
  • How do you get started to write?
  • How do you gather your information?
  • Why did you pick your topic?
  • How long did it take to write your last piece?

I was excited to see questions that showed their awarenesses of narrative informational writing. I’ll look for approximation of this in their writing.

  • How do you make your writing sound like your were really there?
  • How did you make your story come alive?

Some questions revealed knowledge, in this case around organization of a text. Students have co-authored a piece with each contributor taking responsibility for a section. This could have caused their hyper awareness of structure. I’ll be looking for this to come through in their on demands.

  • How do you structure your informational writing?
  • What did you put as your sections?
  • Why did you organize it that way?
  • Did you add a table of contents?
  • How will your organize your next topic?

Some questions revealed writer’s concerns. Conferences are needed around these issues.

  • Have you ever messed up a story and had to do it again?
  • How do you get your sentence to make sense?

Audience and form matters — always. Had I asked them to tell me what they had learned in this unit, they probably would have written what was on my charts. But asking them to create questions for other students put this in an entirely different light.  This five minute exercise gave me a quick look at my students’ understanding of and attitude toward informational writing. Giving students the opportunity to create questions for an audience that matters turned out to be an interesting assessment tool.