More Than Academics: The Responsive Classroom Approach

This past summer, I had the opportunity to attend the responsive classroom training in New York and it truly challenged me as a teacher. It was a huge shift for me, and not to say I hadn’t been doing some of the things that they shared about, but it really gave me practical ways to implement what I believed as an educator. The principles of the responsive classroom approach really resonated with my core beliefs as an educator. These are beliefs that I’ve held onto as an educator, but at times, I didn’t have the strategies to put them into action.
Here are the guiding principles of the responsive classroom approach, taken from their webpage.

The Responsive Classroom approach is informed by the work of educational theorists and the experiences of exemplary classroom teachers. Seven principles guide this approach:

  1. The social and emotional curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.
  2. How children learn is as important as what they learn.
  3. Great cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.
  4. To be successful academically and socially, children need to learn a set of social and emotional skills: cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control.
  5. Knowing the children we teach—individually, culturally, and developmentally—is as important as knowing the content we teach.
  6. Knowing the families of the children we teach is as important as knowing the children we teach.
  7. How we, the adults at school, work together is as important as our individual competence: Lasting change begins with the adult community.

The importance of the social and emotional curriculum is something I believe in strongly, but at times, I was at a loss of how to integrate that successfully with all the demands of the academic curriculum. This year, I’ve been able to integrate more of the social and emotional curriculum through some of the key practices of the responsive classroom. It is still a struggle to have enough time, but despite our tight schedule I manage to fit in time for the different practices:

1. Morning meeting- 15 minutes daily

  • Greeting- Every morning we sit in a circle on our rug and we do a greeting.
  • Sharing and/or Group Activity (Usually it’s hard to do both because of our short time.)
  • Reading the morning message letter- I hand write this out on chart paper everyday. I usually try to preview content for the day or make curriculum connections. Two great resources for ideas are:

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2. Closing circle- 10 minutes daily

  • Reflection- I usually give a sentence starter like:
  • One new thing I learned today…
  • One thing that made me smile today…
  • Now I understand more about…
  • I want to learn more about…
  • My highlight of the day was…
  • One thing I’m looking forward to is…
  • Group Activity- We do an energizer like different cheers. If we have more time, we will play a quick group game like coseeki or concentration.

3. Establishing rules- First few weeks of school

I’ve created rules with my students in the beginning of the year before going to the responsive classroom training. However, the responsive classroom training approach really emphasizes explicit teaching and modeling of rules and giving logical consequences. All the time we spend during the first few weeks really does pay off.

4. Quiet time- 15 minutes daily

Quiet time is probably one of my favorite practices I’ve put into my daily routine. This is a quiet independent work time right after lunch/recess. It’s a way to transition into the afternoon and allow students to calm down after recess. The students LOVE this time and they do some pretty amazing things! I have a bunch of students that take this time to work on independent writing projects, where they collaborate with classmates and come up with their own story together. Students can work on different things during this time. It’s a great way to foster independence and responsibility.  As a teacher, I can meet with students independently and help students with extra help.

5. Energizers- This is one thing I was much better with in the beginning of the year. Usually after students come back from specials we would have energizers. They are quick songs, cheers, games, that allow students to be active and move around.

Another big way that the responsive classroom approach has changed my class has been getting rid of reward systems. This was something that I felt strongly about as an educator, that we shouldn’t be rewarding students for good behavior with points, stars, treats, etc…We should encourage students to behave well and do their best because of their intrinsic motivation. I kind of went back and forth in the classroom and at times went to having extrinsic rewards like table points for tables that got quiet or ready first. I did class dojo points for a year and didn’t find it very effective. And now, I’ve gotten rid of all of that and my class is still on task and well behaved.

Responsive classroom has given me the strategies and tools to help me realize that it’s possible to have a smooth running classroom without dangling a carrot on a stick  in front of my students. If you are interested in getting training for responsive classroom, it is totally worth it! It was seriously the best professional development I’ve had in a long time. They have trainings in the summer and throughout the year. Check it out here: https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/workshops/  And no, I am not sponsored by responsive classroom in anyway… 🙂

Does anyone else use the responsive classroom approach in their classroom?

What are some of the successes/challenges you’ve had?

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Top 3 Things I Learned from the Coaching Institute

This past January, I had an opportunity to go to NY to participate in the Teacher’s College Coaching Institute. Not only did I have this amazing professional opportunity, I got to go back home to NY! After traveling about 24 hours to get from Singapore to NY, I was glad to be greeted by my parents at the airport along with the colder winter weather. One of the best parts about this coaching institute is that we were able to be in the public schools and not only observe, but teach and coach. After 4 days, I came up with three big ideas that I took from the institute.

1) Frequent feedback- I was reminded over and over again about the importance of frequent effective feedback not only for our students, but for teachers as well. In order for students to grow, they need frequent feedback. They continued to reference John Hattie’s work in Visible Teaching for Teachers.John Hattie’s research continues to be huge in the education field right now. One of the top 10 factors that can positively influence student growth is feedback. John Hattie states the importance of powerful feedback that helps students grow and meet their goals. Therefore, it’s important to keep the mini-lesson truly mini. This allows teachers to spend more time conferring and doing small group instruction where students are getting that personalized feedback.

One point that stuck with me about feedback was the idea that as teachers, we need effective feedback as well. One of the staff developers shared that the powerful feedback she receives once a year from her boss, helps her last through the year. As teachers, we don’t necessarily need feedback every week, but when we get good feedback about our teaching, it can not only encourage us, but help us improve as well. How often do you get feedback about your teaching from your admin?

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Taken from John Hattie’s Visible Learning website: http://visible-learning.org/2015/02/infographic-feedback-for-learning/

2) Faster planning- Another huge takeaway from me was the idea of faster planning for our lessons. On the second day of the institute, we were in the public schools. When we arrived, Mary E., the staff developer leading our cohort, gave us the schedule. We would observe her doing a lesson (which was amazing), than we would have about 30minutes to plan out our lessons, then we would be in the classrooms teaching. Even though we did break up parts of the lesson among the groups, I was surprised that we had such little time. Mary emphasized that it was not realistic to spend an hour planning for an hour lesson.

It was pretty great how we were able to plan the lessons so quickly, because we were given such time limits. Even though in reality we would have more time to plan our actual lessons, we did become more efficient and faster with our planning with the time limits given. I don’t think I have an answer to how to plan more quickly, as there are quite a few different factors to take into account, but there needs to more ways to be smarter with our planning without compromising the quality of our lessons. That’s something that’s still lingering in my mind…

3) Feet on the ground– The last big takeaway for me was the importance of getting into each other’s classrooms. I really loved being in the different classrooms and getting to observe and teach with other coaches and teachers from all over. Collaboration offers opportunities to learn from each other that doesn’t happen when we are isolated in our classroom. Some of the ways you can get your feet into each others classroom are walkthroughs, demo-lessons, or team teaching lessons.

However, it’s important that there is a culture of collaboration in the school, where teachers feel comfortable being in each other’s room, giving feedback, and working together. It is definitely not easy to open up your classroom to other teachers, and it takes a bit of vulnerability, and support from admin is crucial. And remember, it takes time to build that culture of collaboration, but start with small steps! It might just be observing another teacher for 15 minutes, but get yourself in other classrooms. A lot of fantastic learning is taking place and we should take more advantage of the opportunities to learn from our colleagues.

Stay tuned for more on some more practical classroom takeaways from the coaching institute!

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What are you reading?

It’s finally summer time for teachers, which means a lot of free time and hopefully time to rest and travel. One thing that I’m always telling my students is the importance of reading over the summer. So we create summer reading lists, book recommendations, and borrow a lot of books from our school library before the school year ends.

As a teacher I love having the time to catch up on my reading over the summer. I love going to Barnes & Noble and seeing the best sellers and books that are popular in the States.  This summer I’ve gotten some great recommendations that have helped me find some great reads!

Pie by Sarah Weeks

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I just happen to know the author Sarah Weeks, who also wrote So B. It.  I was in her workshop on writing children’s picture books at the Reading & Writing Project Summer Institute this June. I will definitely be posting on that experience soon! This was a fun read, and I will definitely be recommending the book to my new 5th graders, especially if they like a good mystery and baking.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

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I hadn’t heard of this series until my cousin mentioned it to me recently. I just started reading it and am having a harder time getting into it than The Hunger Games. The similar dystopian story line makes me appreciate the characters and storyline of The Hunger Games even more. It seems like this book is going to be turned into a movie as well, with Shailene Woodley as Tris. So if you want to be on the “in” when the movie comes out in March 2014, start reading!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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Another recommended book by a friend, I couldn’t put it down and read it in a few days. It’s a recent NY Times best seller and originally written for young adults. Yes, it’s a story about a 16-year-old girl with cancer, but it surprises you, makes you laugh out loud in a few places with it’s honesty and wit, and of course touches you deeply with tears. This book looks like it’s going to made into a movie in 2015 with Shailene Woodley (from Divergent) playing Hazel!

The Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

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I absolutely love Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing. Not only is she a graduate of my alma mater (Barnard), but she writes fictional short stories that I can easily identify and relate to as a Korean American, even though they are stories of Indian Americans.

Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner

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I had the opportunity of hearing Tony Wagner give a keynote at the Reading and Writing Project Summer Institute. He was a dynamic speaker and he shared about his book. In the book he shared stories about the lives of people that have really become successful innovators. He interviewed them, their parents, and mentors. He shared how they all had these 3 key things: purpose, passion & play.

I enjoyed watching the links he had of short video clips of the people he wrote about. This book definitely had me thinking more deeply about how to help my students become innovators and the massive need to change in our education system if we really want to prepare them to be successful.

Leverage Leadership: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

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I mean with a title like that, how could you not buy it? What teacher doesn’t want their school to be exceptional? Paul Bambrick- Santoyo, who is a leader for Uncommon Schools, has written a few different books on education. I’ve always been really impressed with their charter schools. I had a chance to visit North Star Academy in Newark many years ago. I was able to sit down with Paul and hear about the amazing work this charter school was doing. Now, they have many schools across the nation in their network and I knew that the advice and ideas Paul had, whether it be on classroom management or professional development would be radical and effective.

What are some books that you are reading this summer? I’m always looking for good recommendations!

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Classroom Makeover

I admit there are times where I’ve teared at the end of the Extreme Home Makeover when the family sees their amazing and dream like home after all the struggles they’ve gone through.  There’s something about the predictable formula of makeover shows that draws me in. Well, my classroom has slowly been having a makeover throughout the year, not quite as drastic as the makeovers on the TV show, but enough to make an impact on learning.

The past few weeks we’ve been doing a coaching cycle with our literacy coach, where we’ve done various walk throughs in classrooms. We’ve been going in small groups, looking at classroom charts, libraries and classroom setup. I absolutely love being able to see other classrooms. There are so many amazing teachers in my school, and I hardly ever get a chance to go into the classrooms of the other grades. I enjoyed having the chance to walk through classrooms from 3rd-8th grade.

It’s so interesting to see how other teachers set up the same amount of space that we’re given in our classroom. I was so impressed by all the creativity and uses of the spaces I saw. I felt very inspired to really reflect on my own classroom space and be more intentional with how I set things up. Here are a few reflections after my visits:

1. Create bold, visual and interactive charts. I decided to try to get more pictures and visuals with the text on my charts. Also, I used various colored post-its to make things pop out.  I have some interactive charts like the one that keeps progress on our book club groups. I love to go to chartchums when I need some inspiration on spicing up my charts!

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2. Utilize the entire classroom space.  In my original classroom, I had wanted my meeting area in the back and it took up 2/3 of the space in the back with pockets of space not used for anything.  I changed my meeting area in the front, that way I can utilize my projector and document camera during my mini-lessons.

I also divided the back into two equal areas. I got a new table so I could do small group lessons there while keeping the library in the other half. My students and I are really enjoying the new set up!

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3. Create more interactive bulletin boards. Again, I’m trying to be more intentional in how I use my classroom space including bulletin boards. On one section of the bulletin boards in the back of my classroom, I’m using to keep track of post-it notes that students do in reading workshop. I’m sorting them into categories we use: progressing, secure, & exceeds expectations. That way, students can see where they are in the spectrum and can help them push their thinking and writing to becoming in the secure and exceeds expectations categories.

We’ll continue to add post-it notes as we continue through our fantasy unit. You can see the post-its hanging in the picture above. I got this great idea from another fabulous 5th grade teacher on my team, Kate!

How do you utilize your classroom space effectively? What tips can you share? When was the last time you visited another colleagues classroom for ideas? 

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Putting My IPAD to Use

At the beginning of the school year, I was thrown all types of technology, which was definitely amazing. I feel so privileged to have such access to technology. At the same time it was a bit overwhelming. Well now that I survived my first semester at my new school, I’m feeling a bit more settled and ready to try some new things. I am finally putting my IPAD to good use.

For professional development a few weeks ago, we had an IPAD slam, where numerous teachers presented on their favorite IPAD apps. It was a great opportunity to get to know about various education related IPAD apps. One of the apps I was introduced was called Show Me. It is a great app to use in math class. The students talk and it records what they say, while they use their finger to draw and write on the ipad. Afterwards, they have this neat little video clip that can be uploaded to your online account. Students can embed their video onto the student blog.

So I tested this out with my students last week. I gave them very little instructions and they were able to complete it independently during class. I only have 1 IPAD, so I had them pass it around. They recorded their video during our class time. The task I gave them was to come up with a “difficult” order of operations problem and explain how to solve it.

You can look at one of my student’s video here: Order of Operations

Here is another video by my other student: Order of Operations

After watching their videos, here are a few reflections I made:

1. Have a partner check their video afterwards for any mathematical errors.

2. Give more specific guidelines on how to “show” their work.

3. Have them introduce themselves and the task in the beginning.

What are some IPAD apps that you use/recommend in the classroom?

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Teaching Nonfiction Reading Unit-Part 1

In November, we had the privilege of having a staff developer from Columbia Teachers College Reading & Writing Project come to our school. Annie, the staff developer, worked with our grade level team for a week. She also was in my classroom as I got to be the labsite, which I was super excited and nervous about. Annie did demo lessons three times during the week.

The first lesson was a preassessment on nonfiction reading. I learned some great tips and strategies. She shared with us to maximize the time during an assessment by taking informal notes on the students WHILE they take the asssessment. There were a lot of observations I could quickly make and jot down while walking around. We had two different level text sets that we gave to students. There were 2 different non-fiction articles on one topic for each text set. We had 3 questions for that the students had to answer for the text sets.

Annie had us observe how the students were reading, looking at how they tracked the words (with their eyes, fingers, highlighting), and also how much they read of the texts. As we observed and continued to take notes on their responses to the questions as well, it was really good to have the information. This is all information that I could use when conferring with students

When I confer with students, I always get stuck on what to compliment them during my reading conferences. Annie suggested using things that you’ve observed about them as readers in the past. I usually thought that I would have to compliment them on something I noticed them doing at that moment. However, if I can have notes on them during assessments and during their independent reading time, I could use those positive things I noticed as the compliment for the conference.

One of the important take aways is to used leveled reading assessments. This is definitely a difficult task at times, but it was beneficial to give students texts that are accessible for them. That helped us gain a better understanding of their comprehension and higher level thinking skills knowing that the text was at their level. Therefore, we couldn’t say, the text was too hard for them, therefore, they couldn’t answer these questions.

After we looked over and analyzed their assessments, that shifted how I decided to teach the nonfiction unit. I think often we tend to give pre assessments and then teach the unit how we always taught it. It’s critical to look at what students know and see what gaps there are. I know for my students, I noticed on the assessment that a lot of them needed explicit teaching on nonfiction text structures and comparing two texts. Therefore, I shifted my original mini-lessons in order to focus more on those two areas.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I’ll discuss good read alouds, mentor texts and some more tips!

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Author Visit with Rukhsana Khan

Our school hosts various authors throughout the year,which is pretty amazing, considering we are all the way in Singapore! This year, we had an author visit from a well known children’s author, Rukhsana Khan. Her books include Big Red Lollipop, Muslim Child, and The Rose in My Carpet. Not only is she an amazing and accomplished author, but she was a captivating speaker! The room full of 5th grade kids were engaged, excited and laughed as they listened to her stories.

In one of our sessions with her, she shared her story about immigrating to Canada from Pakistan at a young age. She shared about her different struggles including being seriously bullied for being different in her school.   She shared with us her journey to becoming a writer and the funny stories along the way. She had the entire audience eagerly waiting to hear what happened next. (I don’t think I’ve ever met a writer who wasn’t an amazing story teller!)

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Rukhsana also shared a few stories of teachers that made a strong positive impact on her life and encouraged her to write. One teacher had her keep a creative writing journal. She even brought in the journal and showed us the letter that the teacher wrote to her after an entry. One of the students asked her to read it aloud. She shared the positive feedback that the teacher wrote in her notebook calling her a poet.

Our words can impact our students positively or negatively. I was reminded of the power that I have as a teacher. I was reminded that I need to continue to tell my students that they are writers. Thank you Rukhsana for inspiring our students and even our teachers!

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Also, I found out that our school hosts an annual children’s literature conference! How cool is that?! This year it will take place from Feb. 1-3rd. We will have the following authors presenting: Chris Crutcher, Kadir Nelson, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, and Deborah Wiles.  I can’t wait to meet and learn from them! Check out the website for more information on registration and the authors.

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