Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: Strategies 1 & 2!!

About a month ago my friends started to discuss hosting a book study to encourage each other and blog readers to dig a little deeper with our students... to cultivate higher-level get our students more involved and engaged.  Well, I'll be the first to admit that I was all, "I'm too busy to read a book."  I was hesitant to start because I didn't want to over-commit myself.  But the pressure got to me even though no one said a word about my non-involvement!  I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to join some of my favorite friends AND grow my knowledge as a teacher.  So after a few weeks, I ordered the book Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites and started to get my read on.

And, let me tell you... I'm so glad I did!  There's just no way you can walk away from a visit at RCA and continue to be mediocre.  You know that you need to make a change, but you need guidance.  Well, this book (along with books I'm reading by Ron Clark) has helped give me the ideas of what to change in my classroom.  The strategies they include are so helpful and add a lot to your teacher toolkit!

So, let's dig in and discuss!

Strategy One:  Brainstorming and Discussion
Talking is a HUGE part in my classroom.  Now, this has not always been the case in my classroom.  If you would have visited my room in the first four years of teaching you would have seen kids working independently and me shushing them constantly.  Of course we would have class discussions and reading groups where we talked to each other, but my students hardly ever completed tasks with someone else.  Fast forward to my 5th year of teaching.  I started teaching 2nd grade in the Dual Language program.  It is a requirement for students to have a partner, to sit with that partner at all times, and to complete the majority of classroom tasks together.  So, I was kinda forced to changed my teaching techniques and I'm so thankful for that!!!  My classroom is NOT quiet by any means, but my students are constantly learning from each other.  Do they argue?  yes!  Do they get off topic?  absolutely!  But, through lots of modeling and practicing they do know how to share the work, discuss before working/writing, and hold meaningful conversations with all students in the class.

Here's what I'm working on/trying out as a result of reading this chapter...

Letting my students be the teacher more, I've always done this occasionally, but sometimes I get to talking and I don't shut up, ha!  Here's what I did this week.  I had my students turn and talk to their partner about every step of solving a problem.  Since we had just learned how to subtract 3-digit numbers, it was crucial that they knew and understood the process.  We had to get the steps down.  As they were discussing, I was watching to see who worked the best together.  I chose a partner group to explain what they did to the class.  
 You better bet that the next go round every single group was discussing, solving, and writing in sync with one another.  They all looked like model students because they wanted to be the teacher!  After the first round I could have easily picked any of my partner groups to be the teacher!!
You'll notice the change from the beginning of the year here.  Below I just had one student go up at a time... which was great, but adding in that peer discussion component made a HUGE difference!
Another way I want to improve is discussing our reflections more.  I was actually really on top of this at the beginning of the year, but I've slacked off a lot lately!  It makes me sad because I would so enjoy our share time and would often send parents videos and pictures of their children sharing their writing.  This is my goal for the rest of the year...incorporate more sharing when it comes to our writing (and we write across all subject areas)  I also really enjoyed the sentence starters and ideas that the book included for students who are struggling with sharing/answering questions.
 Strategy Two:  Drawing and Artwork
Now, I love me a colorful classroom.  I'll be the first to admit that I do a lot of "crafts" in my room... and it's never for "fluff."  Heck, if I was going to fill up my classroom time with "fluff" then I would copy worksheets and not spend time prepping crafts, ha!  Each and everything we do serves a purpose.  However, I know that every craft we make isn't always the most meaningful thing.  I know that I need to include more forms of art.  Paint and glitter tend to make my skin crawl just a little, ha!  I really need to get over myself and personal preferences and expose my students to different mediums and such.  

I've been asked so many times "How do you get your students to draw and color??  My students just won't spend the time doing it!" 

Well, let me just show you this little girl.  Two years ago she had very little experience with writing and drawing.  She had colored before, but she just didn't have the exposure.  She loves, loves, loves to color in coloring books, but when it comes to free-hand drawing she gives up a lot because she wants it to be perfect.  We've had several little mini-lessons at home with directed drawings, adding details to our pictures, and then writing about them.  Why is that so important?  Well, I think being detail-oriented is a good trait all around.  I want her to pay attention to the details in text, pictures, and problems.  It didn't take much time on my part because all I had to do was model, point out where she could do a little more, and encourage her to keep adding those details.
Here's how this looks in my classroom...

I love, love, love kid art!  There's just nothing much sweeter!  Here is an adjective activity we did... illustrate and describe yourself!  They take such pride in projects like this!
 We did these directed drawings to give as gifts to our parents at Christmas.  Talk about being proud... you should have seen the glow on their little faces when I took the time to laminate THEIR artwork!  They thought that was the coolest thing ever!
 I also like to incorporate art in math (especially geometry!).  Here we used wikki sticks to create a model of a quadrilateral.  This helped build their vocabulary because they created a shape AND wrote about it.  It was important that they could describe the characteristics of the quadrilateral that they chose to make. 
I'm going to continue to find ways to incorporate art throughout every subject area.  I need to do more activities like the one above in math across the different skills that I am teaching.  We have fractions coming up, so I know I can incorporate it then!  Head on over to Elizabeth's blog to read what she learned and check out the other blogs that linked up!  So many amazing ideas out there!  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Deanna's explanation of worksheets vs recording sheets.  I also loved reading about the Family Groups on Kindergals!


Deanna Jump said...

Girl, I love everything about this post! I especially love that sweet J made an appearance. Her drawing is amazing! Thanks so much for sharing your insights and pictures. I can't wait to read more posts!

JD's Firsties said...

I love the idea of having buddies discuss each step as they solved a problem. I have a few kiddos in mind that could really benefit from this although I know everyone will get something from it. I also love the adjective activity you did with your kiddos. We're starting adjectives this week so I can't wait to give it a try! Thanks for sharing all your great ideas!

Elizabeth Hall said...

You and me both! I am always talking too much...but you know how I am :-) You are such an inspiring teacher and I totally agree, you can't leave RCA without trying to find more ways to step your teaching game up! Thankful for you and all of your inspiration! Love ya!

Mel FromthePond said...

I can completely relate to your comment about loving children's art. It really is the best, isn't it! Thank you for all your awesome blog posts, you have such creative ideas :)

Liveloveserveteach said...

Hi Amy,
I can totally relate to slacking off on the sharing part of writing. I always do such a good job in the beginning of the year but then it seems to fall by the wayside by February. The kids just love it and it gets them talking. I need to try the directed drawing with my daughter. She loves art and loves to draw but gets frustrated when it's not perfect. Thanks for all the great ideas. I'm learning so much from everyone!
Joya :)

Kara said...

I love your post! I agree with everything you said and love all of your strategies. I feel the same way about how these strategies impact our ELL learners. As teachers we have to let go of control and empower students to be academic leaders. Thank you for all the wonderful activities you share. Your classroom is always inspirational to me.

Michelle said...

Love those cute drawings and the wikki sticks shapes. You are one smart cookie! Loved reading this post.

Linda Nelson @ Primary Inspiration said...

It looks like the kids in your class are already very actively involved in their learning, Amy! I love how you started out talking about your classroom then vs. now. Studies like this one are helping teachers to make significant changes in the way they teach, or at least to be reminded to put into practice the theory they already know. For me, part of the joy of teaching is discovering and trying out new ways to help our students love to learn and to be the best they can be!
Primary Inspiration

Jamie knefely said...

Thanks for sharing this post, with a ton of good tips! I like to use a worksheet, but mostly I send it for homework or we will use it to help sum up what we learned in small group (at the very end of lesson after all hands on activities have been completed). I love to play games in my class, I need to work on bringing more art into all subject areas! Thanks for sharing!

Teaching Tidbits and More with Jamie

2 Literacy Teachers said...

My kiddos had a really tough time with triple digit subtraction this year. When I had the kiddos teach each other and model how they figured out the problem it was like WHAM! They got it! There is definitely power in having them work together! I really LOVE your reflection piece! That is such a great thing for the kiddos to do! Thanks!

Jodi said...

I LOVE the drawings and could not agree with you more that crafts are not "fluff." This is a great post!
Fun In First

Laura Santos said...

I love how you incorporated partner teaching into your multi-digit subtraction lesson. That is one of those teaching strategies I always forget. Definitely using it tomorrow.
Thanks for sharing Amy!

haswilliams said...

Thanks for posting about students talking and teaching in class! I'm in my second year of 2nd grade and think that discussing and explaining steps and thinking in math is so much more effective than just doing the work. We turn and talk, take turns being the teacher, and often, I challenge them by asking, "Are you sure?" "How do you know?" This really helps them work on knowing the material because they have to prove me wrong. (Which, they love!) Soon, we are going to make our own tutorial videos and I can't wait to see how proud they are to find they can teach something they know!