My first grade team went on a great field trip today. I love it when you can have fun with your kids and meet standards at the same time. I teach in Georgia but we are only a little more than an hour’s drive from Greenville, South Carolina; home to The Children’s Museum of the Upstate. This interactive children’s museum is three floors of sciency fun! It’s a perfect place to explore those co-requisite science standards that include Habits of Mind and the Nature of Science. Students explore, observe and make connections about science concepts. And it’s all so much fun!
The little guy in the seat next to me on the way home was determined NOT to fall asleep on the bus. These pictures were taken over a total span of about 3 minutes.
I’ve been seeing these t-shirts on Pinterest that say “I teach children, not standards!”. While I think I know what they mean by this; we also need to remember that it is a GOOD thing to teach the standards. The standards are, after all, nothing more than a list of things that kids need to know and be able to do. My t-shirt will say, “I teach children all of the standards so they can be successful in school and in life”. Ok, I might need to work on that. Below are some things I have been working on to make my classroom standards-based.
- Activities are aligned to the VERB of the standard. This one was a real eye-opener for me. When I began writing units and really focusing on the verb of the standard, I was amazed at how often I looked at the “topic” and then picked activities related to that topic instead of focusing on exactly what the student needed to learn and be able to do. For example, when I taught plurals I spent a lot of time making sure they understood how to make a word plural, when to add -s or -es and how to sort singular and plural words. However, the first grade standard says that students will be able to use singular and plural nouns with matching verbs. So, although -s and -es, and being able to tell singular from plural was a prerequisite skill, my standard was directing me to teach students to use singular and plural nouns with matching verbs. I have found it helpful to underline the verb of the standard when I am planning or writing materials because it helps me keep my focus on what I want students to be able to do.
- Student work on display reflects the standards. The standard should be obvious when we see the student products. Please don’t throw things at me, I’m not suggesting that we never do fun things just for the sake of fun. Certainly not! Young children need many experiences. I think we should paint, work puzzles, and (dare I say it?) even play in the lower grades. But when we see students actual work; it should reflect what they were meant to learn. My friend, Sherri, hung some work in the hallway last week and the minute I saw it, I knew which standard she was teaching. L3, “spell words with common spelling patterns”. (encoding) Of course, since encoding and decoding are so closely related, she was probably touching on the standard RF3 also, “decode commonly spelled single syllable words” The activity was a Build-A-Word of short a CVC words with the letters cut and pasted below each picture. Were they “spelling with common spelling patterns”? Yes! We could see how they spelled them by cutting out each letter and pasting it in order beneath the picture. She was using this product.
- Standards are displayed in a useful way. Sometimes we teachers, get carried away with cutsey, artsy, displays. For example, I once saw a classroom where the teacher had spent a lot of time cutting huge leaves (one for each standard) and then printed each standard and glued them onto the leaves. Then she twisted butcher paper to make a “vine” that she wove around the top of her classroom walls, all 4 walls! She attached the leaves to the vine and had all the standards up on her walls. I saw another teacher who wrote two standards on the corner of her white board each day. Which teacher was really using the standards? Although the vine/leaf thing was attractive; it wasn’t functional. She couldn’t point out the standards to the students and there were so many, they were nothing more than decoration. I think sometimes we loose the focus of why we are doing what we do. Why display the standards? So we can refer to them and show them to students. So, lets put them in an easy to reach place and format. I use a small pocket chart and slip kid-friendly standards into the pockets as I need them. I use a pocket chart like this but instead of schedule cards, I use standards cards.I bought the kid-friendly standards from Deanna Jump on TPT. I bought the pocket chart on Amazon.
- Assessments are aligned to the standards. Since I started teaching over 20 years ago, I have heard people say (with negative tone) “teaching the test”. The thing is, we should be assessing what we teach. What is the point of an assessment if not to check and see if students have learned what they needed to learn? I think it’s important that we design our assessments to align with the standards. How else can we know we have taught them effectively?
- Students know what they are learning and can dialogue about it. In a standards-based classroom students are aware of their learning. They know what they are “working” on. It’s not a secret; it’s not a test. We tell them what we want them to know. We know that if they can talk about their learning, it will be more meaningful to them. This is also how we get at those elusive Speaking an Listening standards, where students need to engage in conversation about grade level topics.
I would love to know what you’re doing in YOUR standards-based classroom. Please share in the comments!
- Remind parents that you are on the same team. You care. You know you do but they don’t. So tell them, show them, talk about it with them. Remind them that you are on the same team. Eliminate an “us” against “them” feeling. Let them know you are working “with” them for their child. Explain to them that your goal is to help their child. It’s true and parents like to hear it.
- Point out the positive. It’s easy to fall into the teacher trap of trying to “fix” everything that is not working correctly. But what about the things that are going great? Make a point of letting parents know what their kids are doing well. If the best thing you can say is “Johnny remembers to hang up his bookbag everyday without a reminder.” then say it. Now that you’re looking for positives; make sure you have a system in place to manage them. I keep a little clipboard with small preprinted “Sunshine Notes” on it. A student list is taped to the back of the clipboard. When I see a child doing something kind, or working especially hard, etc. I jot a quick “Johnny helped a friend during math today!” onto a Sunshine Note, check off Johnny’s name on the list, and drop it into the folder box to go home with Johnny. It only takes a second and I can use my checklist to make sure I don’t inadvertently overlook someone. (I will post my Sunshine Notes as a freebie soon).
- Ask what you can do for their child…..and then follow up! You can do this in conferences, notes or conversations in the car rider line. I have enjoyed using a “Wish Box” I saw on Pinterest a few years ago. At open house, I set out an empty container with the word “Wishes” on it and asked parents to write what they wished for their child for this year and drop it into the Wish Box. One parent said “I wish for Susie to be loved.” so I made a point of writing in her folder occasionally how I loved the way she played, laughed, twirled her hair when she was reading…… Of course, I cared about little Susie, but I needed to make sure her parents knew that I did. Another parent wrote “I wish for Sally to learn to read.” so I made sure to send a little note every time Sally went up a level in guided reading. It was something I was doing anyway, it kept the parents encouraged and it only took a moment to write a note or send an email.
- Make your newsletter a bragging post and say THANK YOU. Whether your newsletter is a full page of detailed information or like mine, a half page full of bullet points and quick notes, you can use it as a way to make parents feel valued. I always put a thank you in the notes/reminders section of my newsletter. “Thanks to Johnny’s mom for sending cupcakes for the Valentine’s party.” “Thanks to Susie’s mom for sending us some Kleenex for our classroom.” Not only do Johnny and Susie’s moms feel valued for their contribution but a bonus is that other moms will often jump on the bandwagon and the Kleenex and germ-x will flow into your room. Win-win for everyone.
- Communicate often and be sincere. The more parents hear from you, the more vested they become in what’s going on in your classroom. I’m not talking about bombarding them with typed and copied notes in the folders. I’m talking about sincere communication and it doesn’t have to be too time consuming. Remember you can: email, text, write a note in a folder/agenda, call, catch them in the car rider line, or invite them in for a conference. Do what you are comfortable with but do it often. Little things can mean a lot. If you have already shown a parent that you care about their child, you like their child, you have noticed positive things about their child and you appreciate them as parents; then they will be more receptive if the need arises to have a difficult talk with them about their child’s behavior or learning. Together you will be able to work with them to find a resolution to the problem because you have already created the feeling that you are a team working together for their child.