Saturday, April 30, 2011

Weaving the golden thread of fun...

This post doesn't exactly focus on Whole Brain Teaching techniques, but this is one way that I enjoy "weaving the golden thread of fun" throughout my teaching (as Biff would say).

I love taking photos and making videos of what we are doing in class.  I share them with parents through a Shutterfly site.  I am really surprised at how many positive comments I have received from parents!  Some even share the site with family members in other states and even countries.  Granted, half of my class does not have internet access at home.  But it is exciting to see the students watch and re-watch the videos when they have their turn on the computer.  This really reinforces vocabulary and concepts even after we have moved on to new content.

Lately we have been studying life cycles and we have had the opportunity to watch a couple of monarch caterpillars grow and change.  The class missed the first caterpillar change into a chrysalis.  When I saw it happening, I grabbed my phone to record the action for them and made this video:
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When we got to watch the second caterpillar turn into a chrysalis during school, one of my students pulled out her own camera.  The amazing thing is that as she was recording, this 2nd grader started narrating her own video to describe the process we were watching!  That is almost like the teach-ok, but on a whole new level!

Late last night, the butterfly emerged from the chrysalis!  It is so amazing and beautiful to watch the process.  I just finished my 2nd video to continue the Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly:
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Friday, April 29, 2011

Whole Brain Teaching Class Rules

I have always had rules posted in my classroom.  What teacher doesn't?   I would reference them occasionally, yet I never really knew how to use them to have a true impact on my classroom. 

This year I tried the Whole Brain Teaching approach to classroom rules.  I used the five classroom rules as inspiration and tailored them to my school and classroom.   We rehearsed the rules constantly the first few weeks of school.  We used gestures and the students had their first experience with the teach-ok as they taught each other the rules.

Early on we created the following video to showcase our rules on our class website.  (The video has been edited for privacy.  My rule #5 was cut off: "Do it the right way, all the way, and in a happy way!")

The beauty of the rules is that I use them throughout the day to manage behavior in a positive manner.  Before beginning an independent work time I say, "Rule #1." 
The class responds with, "Raise your hand to speak."
" Rule #2," I say. 
"Raise your hand to leave your seat." 
It is an easy way to reinforce the expectations.

When a student is out of their seat to talk to me I simply hold up 2 fingers as a reminder of rule #2.  When someone blurts out in class, I simply say, "Rule #1."  The whole class chimes in to repeat the rule.  Obviously, rule 1 and rule 2 are referenced most in class.  This procedure really helps me to stay calm.  Rather than trying to raise my voice, I calmly repeat the rules.

Part way through the year I realized the value of the WBT rule, "Follow directions quickly."  It was not part of my set of rules initially, but I quickly saw the value of such a rule and adopted it as my rule #6

I have one student who has minor behavior issues quite frequently.  He also has trouble communicating clearly.  At the beginning of the year, if I stopped to talk to him about his behavior he might begin telling me about his summer vacation!  I felt like there was no getting through to him.  The class rules have been AMAZING in dealing with this student!  It wasn't long before he knew the class rules better than I did!    Now if I ask him what rule he broke, he can respond correctly about 98% of the time.  The rules give us a common language to express expectations and discuss behavior.  Thank you WBT!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Brain Toys

For the past few weeks, Chris Biffle has been broadcasting live from his garage on Saturday mornings.  I didn't have the time to participate until last week and when I finally joined in, I was shocked that I have gotten so far behind in the world of Wibbeting! 

Last Saturday I learned about the new Brain Toys: "Gestures that students use to develop critical thinking skills and...enliven lessons."  I've got to go back and rewatch the show, but this is what I gleaned from my preliminary viewing:

Use the question answer technique to help students orally practice answering in complete sentences.

Use air punctuation to reinforce punctuation as students answer aloud.

When I first heard about the question answer brain toy, I was thinking, "This sounds wonderful...but do we really have time in the day to sit around and practice answering questions?"  The answer was YES.   I introduced the question answer while discussing plant parts in science.  It was really basic information that the students probably learned back in K.  So it was the perfect way to review the content while also practicing this skill of answering in complete sentences, AND have some fun!  I wrote a sentence frame on the board, modeled it, and let the students create their own question answer sentence with a partner.  It only took a few minutes, and I will definitely tie this in to other content areas.

Back when my 2nd graders were studying complete sentences, my students used a gesture for capital letters (sweeping hands up with a "whoosh") and periods (flicking the pointer finger while making a clicking noise).  I thought it was an awesome idea to use this air punctuation as students construct complete sentences orally.  So many of the students know that they need capital letters and periods, but they just don't remember to use them in their writing. 

Today we were working on constructing topic sentences.  As students shared, the class mirrored my air punctuation.  I was so impressed when a student raised her hand after the first example and pointed out that we should use the captial letter gesture when referring to proper nouns as well.  YES!  She received a ten finger woo with lightning sizzles, by the way.  The students were engaged, involved, and having fun!  After this practice, they were let loose to write their own topic sentence for their paper.  This is an excellent way to scaffold the ESL students and those that need extra support.

I love that the WBT strategies just make so much sense.  They solve problems that all teachers encounter.  They are quick and easy to incorporate in a variety of situations.  They are free, require no materials, and they are fun!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

My WBT Journey

I first discovered Whole Brain Teaching in the spring of 2009 when I found the YouTube videos.  The videos piqued my interest.  It showed classrooms the way I want them to be: fun, engaging, disciplined, and did I say FUN?!  I dabbled in a few of the WBT basic procedures the following year.  I had some good results...and made some mistakes.

So last summer I read as much as I could, I watched the videos again and again, and was thrilled to participate in the free webcasts(Did I mention that practically everything WBT is free?  Thank you to Chris Biffle and his crew for being committed to the teachers and students, and not just cashing in on this amazing system!)  I was determined to tackle the 2010-2011 school year as a Wibbeteer (the fond name for true Whole Brain Teachers).  I wish I had started this blog back then and recorded all of the ups and downs, but I will try to go back and capture the highlights as I go on.

It has been an amazing year!  I have learned so much!  Comparing this year to my five previous years of teaching, I talk much less and the students talk much more. (This is so good for my ESL kids!)  I am now more mindful of the students' attention spans and strive to break my teaching into manageable chunks.  I encourage cooperative learning every day rather than dreading the thought of "group work".  The stress level for me is much lower now that the students understand the procedures so well.  I have learned the value of change so that the students do not get complacent.  And above all, I have learned how my class can have a blast "within the system" (as WBT co-founder Chris Rekstad likes to say).

I am by no means a WBT expert.  I am no Deb Weigel.  (I can't wait to read her blog!)  But WBT has brought my passion back for teaching.  I'm excited to do even better next year!  For the first time, I am not considering other career options.  And for the first time, I can actually fathom teaching for years to come.  Thank you WBT!