1

The power of a mistake maker

Last fall my family took the mini-cruise from Copenhagen to Oslo and back.  This trip was all about our then seven year old twins and we basically spent the entire trip in the children’s section and on the childrens’ activities schedule.  The cruise line cleverly had created a story  with four main characters that guided all of the activities.  You could also purchase merchandise of these characters.  (Yes, we were those kind of parents who did buy the character stuffed animals.) One of the characters was a wizard who could never get his spells right.  His magical attempts always backfired with hilarious results.  I watched as my shy kids after hearing one of the wizard’s stories decided that they could try to make a balloon sword because they thought they could do better than the wizard had.  I later saw them running all over the ship as part of the kids’ scavenger hunt and reading difficult clues, even though they weren’t very confident readers yet.  My son told me, “I can try to read it because if I mess up, I’ll only be like the wizard and I like him.”

Boom.  I had an epiphany.  They were more willing to try things that were new or hard for them because somebody had already made a mistake and made mistake making ok.  Hmmm.  How to translate this into the classroom? I always tell my students that mistakes are welcome but as humans we have an innate need to succeed and do things in a way that we can be proud of.  How can I translate that pride not into the outcome but instead a pride in the journey of learning that might involve mistakes?

power-of-mistakesI always focus on praising the process and not the outcome but I decided to introduce a mistake maker into my classroom.  I bought an extra wizard stuffed toy on the cruise and brought him to my class.  I introduced him to the class and told him that this wizard was there to help our class but that he might make some mistakes.  We had a class discussion about welcoming him to the group and what we would do if he or anyone made a mistake in learning.  I then let him (the wizard)  try to sound out and spell some of our target words for the day.  Wouldn’t you know it; he made a few mistakes but he kept trying.  I made sure to make his responses to his mistakes humorous.  The kids were laughing and shouting out encouragement for him to try again.

I kept the same format up for a week and quickly saw my students in the subjects I had modelled mistakes in … willing to make mistakes.  If they realized that they had made a mistake they generally laughed about it and tried again immediately.  They often wanted to share their mistakes with the whole class at the end of the day.

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Here he is counting Danish coins as a challenge for my kids.

I use the wizard all of the time now.  Any character you create will work.  I suggest letting them model common mistakes your students make or will make and then letting them work through those mistakes.  I eventually let the wizard model behavioral mistakes or friendship mistakes to aid my students in their social learning.  It is also nice that they feel they can educate the character about the right thing to do.  This makes every student in your class an expert and that may be a new role for some kids.  They love finally getting to take that role on.

Give your students the chance to as Ms. Frizzle would say, “Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy.” They may be more willing to do it if a kind but hapless stuffed toy models mistake making for them.

Little Vikings

 

 

5

What do your students need? Back to School Management Tip

 

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Click on the picture to be sent to rafflecopter for multiple chances to win a $50 gift card to tpt or amazing resources from over 30 great teacher authors.

 

I adore pinterest for classroom arrangements and decorations.  One year, I diligently searched and figured out how to make an enormous Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Tree.  Another year I decorated in Truffula trees and Dr. Suess themes.  My fellow teachers and parents raved about the room but I eventually began to ask the question of what the students actually thought of their classroom.  Their answers surprised me and changed the way I both set up my classroom and ran it for the rest of the year.

If I just asked, “Do you like this room?” They answered, ” Yes” until one brave soul said, “It is really pretty but we didn’t make it so it doesn’t feel like our classroom.”  That is a huge statement.  I realized that even though I had strived to have a student centered classroom, I had made a beautiful-to-the-adult-eye classroom and not necessarily what my students needed.

To change the classroom, I started asking lots of questions.  “Do you like it when the walls have lots of colors?  How do you like the lights in the classroom; should we use the light from the windows only or the overhead lights? What kind of areas should we have in our classroom?”  This opened up a whole new world of information to me.  My students didn’t all have the same opinions so we would survey them and then talk about the results.  How can we make these preferences work for everyone?

Getting to know me learning edition (2)

Examples of questions to survey your students on.

What ended up happening was that the class as a whole began to develop empathy and understanding for the different preferences or needs that were in the classroom.  We also began to mix up our day, using the light from the windows for writer’s workshop and listening to background music while we did math.  It also made the discussion of how to make our classroom community the best that it could be a regular part of our classroom culture.  Kids felt free to talk about things that bothered them and then the other students would work on solutions for them.

My room may not look as pinterest ready now, though sometimes the students hit on an idea that we can go all out for, but I’ve gained a caring, peaceful class culture that I would never change.  Parents often tell me that their students feel safe and cared for by both me and their peers.  I couldn’t ask for a better learning environment than that.

You can ask your students a question a day or you can take some class sessions and let them survey their peers.  This is a freebie that lets kids tell you about their learning preferences.  It also includes some follow up activities to let them tally the results of the class as a whole and then form class agreements based on that information.  Just click on the picture below.

Back to School

Little Vikings

Follow the blog hop to get more beginning of the year classroom management and organization ideas.  Keep following through all the blogs – there are lots of brillant ideas being shared!

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Click this link to be sent to the rafflecopter for your chance to win a $50 tpt gift card over 30 resources from other teacher authors.   a Rafflecopter giveaway

3

What do I write about?- Writing Wednesday

writing wed header

To become a good writer you need to spend time writing.  It is a simple truth that drives my love of Writer’s Workshop.  Of course, everything you love also has things that are obstacles to overcome.  In this instance, the huge barrier some kids feel about coming up with anything, anything at all, to write about.

In my writer’s worskhop I do mini-lessons (5-10 minutes) about a skill or technique and then the kids are off to continue their self-chosen writing.  At the beginning of the year, I always have a group of students that stay with me a little longer to try and figure out what they will write about.  Sometimes this is related to their low level of English or their struggle to imagine new options.  Several of my students cannot fit into a general class prompt and need the option to try out a few ideas and discard some before they settle on an idea.

It was for these kids that I created this build a prompt set.  We looked at the basic idea that every story has a setting, characters, and conflict.  They are then able to pick a partial prompt from each category and ultimately build a prompt that works for them.  Lower primary kids tend to just need a very general category to write in.  e.g. Superheroes! Animals! Witches!  Most of my younger students can come up with a story (generally modelled after another story) with that little amount of prompting.  My upper primary students needed more vivid details to get into the prompt which is why the prompts have both pictures and adjectives galore.

how to build a prompt

This didn’t solve all of my writer’s workshop woes.  I still needed to figure out Writer’s offices, effective word walls, and the right pacing of instruction, but it did stop the frustration for kids that needed more help coming up with ideas.  Once they were able to build their own individual prompt, they could start writing.  And as we all know… if a kid starts enjoying writing, they’re going to want to write more.

Build a Story prompt cover

Check out the rest of the Writing Wednesday helpful blogs and products!  This a great group of teacher authors and you are sure to come away with great ideas.

Little Vikings

0

Fair vs. Equal

If there are any words I’ve come to dread as a parent or a teacher, “It’s not fair!” is the phrase I dread the most.  It is an extremely hard phrase to reason with.  My husband tells me that when he was a child, he and his brother used to put their drinks side by side every night so they could guarantee that they both had gotten the exact same amount of juice as the other.  My kids try to do the same with popcorn and my students try it with seemingly everything.

The funny thing about these two words is that even though kids (and sometimes school systems) treat them like synonyms; they are not.

What is equal? 

As humans we want to make sure that we are getting everything that we are entitled to.  This sometimes means that if we see someone getting “more” than us, we want to remedy that situation by either getting more ourselves or bringing them down to our level.  In the classroom this pops up with kids when you differentiate work, give small group teacher time, or basically any time that kids can see a discrepancy between their experience and another’s experience.  No classroom functions well if every student gets exactly the same everything.  It doesn’t work because their needs are more varied than making everything equal can account for.

What is fair? 

When I talk to kids, I often make an analogy about a giraffe and a caterpillar.  In this scenario both the giraffe and the caterpillar live in the same place and they both eat leaves.  The ruler of the town decided that there should be a set number of leaves for each animal, so that the town doesn’t run out of leaves.  The ruler decides to divide the leaves equally and gives the caterpillar and the giraffe the same amount of leaves.  I then stop and ask, “Is this fair?”

The kids invariably shout, “NO!” They recognize the innately different needs in terms of amount of leaves between a giraffe and a caterpillar.  I then set them brainstorming how else the leaves could be divided if dividing them equally isn’t fair.  There are usually lots of discussions about this and quite often I’ve had kids decide to get paper or whiteboards to make diagrams  In the end we always come to a solution that takes into account that a giraffe needs more leaves than a caterpillar does to survive.  Also if a caterpillar has too many leaves they could get sick or go to waste.  We then try to sum up our ideas about fair and equal.  Sometimes we’ve said that fair doesn’t mean equal and other times we’ve said that fair is giving each person what they need.  

fair vs equal

When we’ve made our own definition of fair, we bring it back to the classroom.  So is it a good idea to make sure that we always do exactly the same thing for every person?  They now quickly point out some of the different needs they may have or others may have.  I then remind them of the definition that “fair is giving each person what they need”.  I then give them opportunity to think of times in the classroom that things might be different for different people but, everyone is getting what they need.

I have this discussion early in the year, every year and it works.  Since I’ve started using it, I’ve noticed that my students are more aware of their own needs and the needs of others.  I also display a poster that either uses their definition of fair that year or my standard definition.  I’ve included three posters that you can use with your class.  Just click on the image and it will send you to my tpt store.

Fair is not equal

Click on the picture to download.

Little Vikings

 

 

0

Who Goes First?

Every year I have at least one student who is obsessed with being first (in games, in line, first to be done with assignments, etc.) and this always seems to trickle down to the rest of the class.  8

My literacy and math times rely on stations or centers so I need students to be independent.  Every year I slowly introduce the behaviors expected while working in the centers and we roleplay both what appropriate and inappropriate behavior might look like.  This year, there were a lot of very tense discussions between students about who would go first in centers that involved a game.  Eventually, based on my students’ suggestions, I made a “Who Goes First?” box.  At the beginning of the day I drew out a card and whoever in the group met the details of the card, they would go first.

Those tense discussions?  They became non-existent.  It worked so well that it spread to other classrooms.  I even had my co-teacher steal my box so she could use it when I wasn’t teaching.  The key was that there were so many possibilities that it was always up for grabs who would be first that day.  (Examples include: the person with the longest thumb, the person with the shortest first name, the person who has a cat at home, the youngest, etc.)

who goes first

You can pick it up as a flash freebie  for the next few days in my tpt store and see your students’ tense discussions drop dramatically.  🙂

Little Vikings

 

0

Stop the Summer Slide Linky Party

Summer is about fun and rest both for students and teachers but, a little interaction with some basics is important. At my house we have a strict limit to the amount of screen time that each child can have. This worked brillantly on sunny days. Rainy days… well ….we discovered could use a little bump up in screen time. Our solution was to make the kids earn extra time by choosing to write, read, or do math. They surprised us by loving being back to the routine of some school work.

My kiddos are still learning English and the art of writing, so the prompts have pictures and words to make it easier for them.  Pick it up for free in my tpt store.

summer writing

Click on the picture to be directed to tpt link.

If you like this, check out more summer freebies to help with the rainy days from other teachers at both of these  linky parties.  Just click the pictures below to be directed to each one.

This one is for teachers

Adventures in Elementary
This one is for parents.

 photo Summer linky button.png

Little Vikings
5

Role Play Writing – Writing Wednesday

writing wed header

I’m linking up with other bloggers to talk about writing and how important it is in all of our curriculums.  The last Wednesday of every month will be dedicated to talking about writing strategies and ideas.  This time, I want to highlight how to give opportunity for meaningful writing outside of a set writing time by creatively using role plays and play-based learning.

Both Sweden and the International Baccalaureate focus on play-based learning as essential until at least age 7.  At first, I kept asking how I would get my curriculum in and then I realized the key: play-based learning simply gives curriculum a meaningful context.

fairy tale store cover

Here is an example of what this could look like:  we set up a fairy tale store role play in our first grade classroom.  We wanted to use what they were learning in other times of the day to create meaningful writing opportunities.  In their set “writing time”  we were explicitely teaching how a story has a beginning, middle, and end, how to fracture a fairy tale, and how to get their ideas down on paper.  We first set up a section of the store where they could buy fairy tale books.  These were books that were written and illustrated by their classmates.  Our book sales were through the roof!

rhyming spell

The kids then kept talking about potions and spells and we set up a section of the store where they could write rhyming spells and sell them.  Here is an actual student spell:

A spell for flying when you need it the most
Bim bam boom
Fly on a broom
Fim fam foom
now I can fly to the moon.

Suddenly, they were playing with rhymes (and almost rhymes) and writing spells faster than they could sell them to each other.  I even heard these spells being “used” at recess.  We then set up a potion station so they could play with capacity and writing.  They started measuring in teaspoons and milliliters and creating terrifying potions that involved dragon claws, and mud from between your toes!  Again, they loved it and we saw them beggging to get more writing time to create longer fairy tales, more spells, and more terrifying potions.

potion formulaWith emergent writers, we want them to write (and write a lot) so that they become more comfortable with the process.  Their spelling and handwriting also improved dramatically because they wanted to sell their products and we all know that a good product should be neat and readable.

Feel free to check out both the fairy tale store role play and the dinosaur museum in my store.  They are both role plays that have lots of built in writing for emergent writers.

Also check out these other great resources for Writing Wednesday from other teacher bloggers.

Thanks to Lit with Lyns for setting this up!
Little Vikings