Power Aide! Hidden Gems in the Classroom. A Link-Up

Welcome to the first of a three-part link up for Hidden Gems in the Classroom.  Teaching isn't just made up of perfect lesson plans and perfect students.  We've all relied on assistance, an idea that was just out-there, and a mistake that became a time/lesson you'll never forget.  That's what this link up is all about.  Over the next four weeks I'll invite you to join in and share your experiences--because it might just be the tip you didn't even realize you were looking for.  

We start this first Link-Up with one of my favorites (and nearest and dearest to my heart):  Teacher Aide or are they Paraprofessionals or are they Teacher Assistants or are they my favorite:  Colleagues and Friends.  In every district and every school they have a different name, but the work they do for my students is incredible and I want to share some of the incredible experiences they give my students every day.

Let me start by saying there won't be a lot of wonderful visual in this post.  Just stories, ideas, and my perception on the aide/support staff we have in the building.  This is a topic I feel pretty strongly about because I work so closely with most of them because they work with students that I service directly.  They are in my ear with information and ideas on a daily basis, filling me in on playground, classroom, and overall experiences of the students.  But I don't want to get too far ahead so let me go ahead and begin my list.

1.  They're proactive.  They come and tell me about students who are having difficulty because they want to know if it is okay for them to assist.  If they see a student struggling they don't wait to fill out paperwork--they make decisions that are in the best interest of the student.  Proactive is a heckuva alternative to being reactive.  This is a skill that is actually tougher than it sounds, but they are always ready and willing to work with a student in need.

2.  High expectations:  This might seem a little silly, but trust me--many of the aides in my building are familiar with all of the students that have IEPs which means they understand what students are capable of becoming.  They hold those students to high expectations and want them to succeed.

3.  Underground Railroad:  A couple of years ago one of our aides in our building had a student create an Underground Railroad blanket with clues for how to escape the South.  This was done in conjunction to the class reading about Harriet Tubman, but it also made some of the work and research more engaging for the student.  The final result was incredible and this student was beside himself when it was all over.

4.  How to Eat Fried Worms:  Last year another one created their own booklet for students to read How to Eat Fried Worms during their read-aloud time.  Not only that but they created a couple of (gummi) worm recipes to eat themselves.  These kids were loving it.

5.  Student Removal:  There is nothing tougher in the classroom than when you've got to physically remove a student.  This is both the emotional and physical struggle because it is a last resort, but I've had to do it quite a few times.  Included is the aide of the student/classroom and we work as a complete team to safely and responsibly remove a student (if needed).  This requires specific training (CPI) and is not something that is taken lightly by anyone.  It's tough to truly articulate how an aide must feel when they've removed a student and then 15 minutes later they are back in the classroom working with that same student.  This is difficult and deserves respect, which mine they surely have.

6.  Relationships:  Although some might bristle at this, the truth is that many aides in my building create strong relationships with the parents of students they work closely with.  THIS is Huge! It creates a trust between everyone and makes everyone part of the solution when assisting kids, whether it is behavioral, academic, or anything in between.

7.  They Put Up with a Lot of Crap:  Many times they are caught in the middle of school changes whether it is lunch duty, RTI, covering students, and they must be able to roll with it and make sure students are safe and accounted for.  Many times they're also asked to be in two places at once by two different teachers.  The challenges never stop yet they continue to persevere.

8. Care: One of my favorite aspects of the aides that I work with is their ability to feel empathy for the students.  So many times they help support kids by bringing in supplies, clothing, or whatever else to make projects and school be successful.  

It would be pretty difficult to count the number of times they brought in a box of granola bars because they know a student doesn't have breakfast at home.  Or the times they've paid money at a book fair for a student to pick out their favorite book. These things just go on and on.  

The holidays are the best because they head out to the stores and pick out jackets or small gifts for the kids.  It's one of the reasons I love working with all of them so much because when an aide/friend cares about a kid then things are going to get done.  No doubt about it.

**Also, at my school we don't have any students with 1:1 aide support.  We are full inclusion and most of the support staff works with a few different students (many times this is over multiple rooms and grade levels).  They also assist in facilitating RTI groups around the building.  In our district the support staff also does lunch or recess duty, which I know is different than a lot of others.

I'd love to know more about what your support staff look like and how they've made a difference in your day-to-day school life.   

Tried It Tuesday: Running A Marathon

 Tried It Tuesday: Running a marathon
On October 13th I ran the Chicago Marathon.  This is my story.  
Spoiler:  I finished.
This was not my first marathon.  I've actually run three before this one, but I figured that this would be an interesting perspective for a Tried It Tuesday.  

Saturday:  My family spent the night with a friend down in the city (Chicago).  This is so much better than having to drop around five hundred bucks on a hotel in the city.  They normally raise prices for big events, but we have a friend that has graciously allowed us to stay with her.  

Sunday, 5:15 am:  Wake up and get dressed.  I knew it would be a great running day based on weather temperature so I went with shorts and a singlet.  To give you some perspective, last year I ran in running pants (yes, tights), gloves, hat, and long sleeves.  You just never know what it is going to be when it comes to October.

The day before my wife stopped at Goodwill and bought me a flannel shirt (long sleeve) and some awful pajama bottoms with ugly early-90's footballs all over it.  I did not look nice---but I was warm.

6:05:  I rode the El to Grant Park where it all begins.  It's funny seeing people not prepared for the coldness of the morning.  I might look like a dork, but I'm warm for the next hour before the run.

6:15:  Trying to force down a breakfast bar when you're not really hungry is difficult, but Gatorade helps.  Over the next hour I only get about half finished.  I'm not a morning eater.  Normally I drink coffee, but that is not the best plan of action because it will make me go to the bathroom within about 30 minutes.  I hate Port-O-Potties.

6:55:  I made it through security.  Not too much different from past years.  Everyone is civil and organized (and excited).  We've put in close to 500 miles to work up to this point.

7:20:  Ten minutes till race time.  My incredible pajama pants come off.  This year the Chicago Marathon officials have brought enormous bins to throw your extra clothes in.  Most of the clothes are given to charity.  Very smart move by race officials.

7:33:  I begin to cross the start line.  I'm about 15 feet from Mayor Rahm Emmauel.  We catch eyes.  I point at him and smile.  He points back at me.  I nod with approval and give a thumbs up.  He smiles back and continues pointing.  I'm pretty sure we just solved the Chicago Public School problems.  Great Work.

7:34:  There is construction everywhere for the start.  Normally the crowds are huge and it is a pretty emotional beginning.  Not this year, but it doesn't really matter.  The race is on.

7:38:  People begin to pee under a bridge.  Tons of people.  Some guy says out loud "won't they get arrested?"  I look and him and say "there are no laws in a marathon."

Mile 1-8:  The biggest thing I've learned about running in these races is that 26.2 miles is long.  It's a tremendous amount of time to be doing anything, but when you see people sprint ahead I just have to laugh.  This is a race of attrition and you've also got to try and manage your feelings as much as possible.

The first 6-7 miles are excellent.  The crowds for this race have always been incredible.  They line almost the entire race with support pouring out from their voices.  This is what really keeps me going.  You see, I'm a people watcher so I'll get to do it for the next 26 miles.  Throughout the race I'll constantly laugh at posters, performers, and anything else with a little creativity.  

When I train I listen to a lot of different podcasts from NPR, sports, film discussion, and book talks.  When I'm on the treadmill I watched a lot of movies and Breaking Bad.  Running this marathon is a completely different beast.  I feed off of the crowd and I don't turn on any music until about mile 24.5
My girls make their own posters for me a couple of nights before the race.
MILE 9:  I see my wife and kids.  They're holding their signs they made.  I LOVE IT.  I stop and talk with them for about 2 minutes.  We're actually in Boystown so the place is alive with music, crowds, and cheering.  My wife hands me my prepared bag of candy.  This small bag last until about mile 21.

The candy is basically just calories to keep me going and one piece will literally stick to the top of my mouth for about 10-12 minutes.  This is perfect because I don't like the goo's or other energy snacks they hand out.  This is also the last time I'll see my family until it's over.

MILE 10:  Volunteers are handing out cardboard pieces covered in Vasoline.  Many people need it because they're not prepared for the chafing.  But--You should always be prepared for the chafing.  I'm good to go.

MILE 12-13:  Crowds really pick up through downtown and we prepare to cross the midpoint.  I love this section because it's when miles completed are more than miles left.  

Plus, there is a great stretch when you can see waves of runners in front of you because you're running on a decline throughout almost half a mile.  Just incredible.

MILE 14:  I begin to feel the pain of running on roads and making quick steps around people that stop in the race.  Both of these are expected, but the pain on my outside of my left knee is beginning to grow, but all I can do is deal with it.

The real key in this race is understanding your body because it plays tricks on you worse than your older brother did as a kid.  What is pain, what is injury, or what is harmful?  These are all the questions you've got to be able to comprehend as you become weaker the longer the race goes on.

MILE 17:  There's a couple of turns on the route that will play with your head.  Around this time you turn back and forth towards the city all while thinking "It's almost done" but another sharp right turn is the reminder that you've still got almost 10 more to go.

It's a think point, or maybe a little farther, when I begin to think that I really don't want to be doing this race.  That thought fades and another takes its place.  My mind ran through the gauntlet of Breaking Bad theories, what I should do for my fantasy football team, and a lot of time was spent on the conversation I had with the Gates Foundation on the impact of social media with teachers.

Yes, no matter what you are doing--it always comes back to your profession.  This can be a sick and twisted race.

MILE 20+  At this point you realize that six miles is manageable and you've been there before.  BUT IT IS STILL SIX MILES.

The crowds around these miles do an excellent job of providing food, drinks, and energy.  I grab a couple of oranges and pass on the beer that is being handed out.  I tried a couple of pretzels but spit them out--like sawdust caked the inside of my mouth.
Game Faces!
MILE 22-24:  These are kind of a blur.  There's a long stretch where you're left with the silence of you breathing and the faint sound of cars driving on an interstate next to you.  The out-of-body experience begins to occur and time is lost.  You're aware, but at the same time blissfully unaware until you spot Medical volunteers in the middle of the road.  A 60+ year-old man has fallen, his face is sun-dried and fresh blood falls from his forehead, down the bridge of his nose and onto his clothing.
My first thought running past him went to the immortal photo of the Boston Marthoner that collapsed to the ground when the bombs exploded and he's suddenly surrounded by police and billowing smoke.  My mind knew this wasn't the case, but it was the first connection I made.  Surreal. 
This is the race.  

MILE 24.5:  I run to the nearest Port-o-Potty.  I'm actually pretty happy that I've got to go, this means I'm somewhat hydrated.  Personally, I'm past the point of being "too strong" to stop, if I've got to stop I will.  Besides, I'm pretty sure that earlier in the race a woman had pooped her pants a little because she chose not to stop.  I was not going to be that person.

Then you've got to take into account that stopping a continuous running motion that I've had for almost three and a half hours is interesting (difficult)--especially in a confined space.  It feels like the walls are moving in and out when I'm standing in the stall.  You try not to focus on one particular object but the vertigo-like feeling is unreal.  Within a minute  or so I'm back on the trail.

The Last MILE:  Crowds begin to be your comfort.  It's at this point that I'll turn on some music to get a little more adrenaline going, but I've got to be careful because I can feel cramps in the top of both calves.  Changing my stride now would cause me to fall over.

At this point I saw a runner fall over from some kind of leg cramp.  He was pulling himself across the road on his back trying to get them to go away.
This is also the point in the race/trek where you have no control over your emotions.  There are parts when I want to cry, scream, or go bananas.  At this point I've logged hundreds miles and hours for this final push.  I feel liking pushing myself to finish faster, but savoring the crowd cheering is part of my reward.  The emotion carries (and has carried me) to the end of this race every single time.  It is one hell of a final kick.
The Finish:  This year with the extra security there were really no fans for the last 400 meters.  This didn't bother me because I was interested in seeing the safety considerations they put in place.  This includes the stands at the end.  Bare.  It was unusual and a little unexpected, but I'd done this before so it wasn't a bother.  
I thanked every volunteer I spoke with as I was handed my medal and drinks.  Ten minutes later I was with my wife and kids sharing stories and the ups and downs of running.  My job was complete.
I love the marathon.  

I Need My Monster: Descriptive Listening & Inferring

This past week I had a couple of opportunities to read the book I Need My Monster to students in my small group and also with a second grade classroom.  I've been waiting awhile to read this book with the students because I had read some other posts on teacher blogs about how they used it to assist students with understanding descriptive writing and how it helps create an image in your mind.

Second graders show off their descriptive listening skills with drawings of Gabe, the monster.

As with any great classroom book, you still have to find the correct time to use it.  We can't just shoe-horn in all the books we want.  I needed to have it tied to an objective and luckily the second grade class (and myself) have been working on how to create images in our mind from text and making mental pictures.  They have been doing this with their classroom teacher and also with myself as we've worked on visual literacy and more.  But back to the book---

If you're not familiar this book is about a kid whose monster has left for a week to go fishing and he's left with substitute monsters.  The kid is not happy and he makes it known that these monsters don't have the greatest attributes by describing how they should look.

During the reading of this I had the class grab clipboards and paper, sit on the carpet, then we turned off the lights (because we were reading about monsters).  The instructions were to draw what they thought Gabe (the boy's monster) looked like based on all the descriptions they heard.

I loved reading this with the students because every couple of sentences we would stop and dissect what was being said by identifying vocabulary and defining the words as a group.  We also went back and looked at  all the images of different monsters he sees in the night.

When it was all over the students shared the monsters they drew based on what they heard and knew.  I was also surprised that not a single student had read the book, because then it can kind of throw the whole thing off. 

"Rumble, Rumble"---AWESOME!!

What I like about this book (and with so many others) is that it can be used multiple ways to teach.  There's another teacher who read it and had fourth graders draw what they thought the other substitute monsters looked like (also working on descriptive writing).  

I'd recommend this book/activity to anyone at just about any grade level.  

There is also an app for this book:  LINK HERE

How to Draw Monsters from Author Tony Ross! Great Teacher/Student Video

Just the other day I ran across this video that had been posted on Reddit.  I'm not sure exactly why it caught my eye--maybe it was because it involved monsters or how to draw them?  Who knows, because the short video is just great and I'll be using it in class this week for a brain break and also practicing step-by-step instructions.

Illustrator and Author Tony Ross walks us through the steps to create the perfect monster and become a better artist.  I just love this and really enjoy how he basically says there are no mistakes when we draw.  Not only that, but I think I can draw a little bit better now.
click image to see a some of his books

Enjoy and hopefully your class will too.

5 for Fri: Go Bananas for NYC, Art, Marathons, and Link-Ups!

Five for Friday time!  It has been a couple of weeks, but there has been some pretty cool things happening to me and around school.  Let's get right too it!

1.  On Wednesday morning I had the opportunity to meet with the Gates Foundation and discuss how teachers use/implement social media for themselves and interact with other teachers.  I was flown to New York City (first time there), had my meeting, then toured lower Manhattan.  I saw the World Trade site and more.  My goodness--what a whirlwind of 24 hours.  I'll write more on this later but here are two of my favorite shots I took of the city.

2.  On Sunday morning I'll be running in my fourth Chicago Marathon.  Was I supposed to train for this?  A second grade class made me posters.  It was too cool and they had ton of silly questions.  Here is one that looks pretty much like me right now!

3.  Using Banagrams with struggling readers is just plain fun and great for them.  I've used this game for a while, but seeing the light bulbs turn on when a kid is creating words is so refreshing.  I don't think I've ever actually played this game the correct way because I always change rules and games depending on student's learning level.  It is just a great tool.

2.  Our new art teacher has made an immediate impact in/on our school.  She had already painted some wonderful murals, but we came in on Thursday and she had strung this up in front of our teacher's lounge.  This is work completed by second graders to look like blown glass, but then she turned it into a flowing vine.  I love this.

1.  In a couple of Thursdays (10/24) I'm going to start a three part Linky (or Link-Up).  Save the Date!  The idea is Hidden Gems in the Classroom and focuses on three areas:
  • Power Aide:  The unsung heroes and their impact on class. 10/24
  • Outside the Box:  Innovative teaching ideas and lessons no one saw coming.  11/7
  • Greatest $%*!! Mistake:  Mistakes can become the greatest lessons ever.  11/21

These are three areas that I feel have hugely positive impacts in the classroom and I think we've got tons of stories and ideas that should be shared.  So come on over and link-up.  You'll be glad you did.

That's it!  What a week!  Now I've got a race to run.

Another great link-up by Doodle Bugs Teaching.  
Check out all the other great sites linking up!
Have a great one!

Science Experiments with Grover!

I just got back from a quick trip to New York and what is the first 
thing seen when I return?   Science Experiments with Grover.

All of my students will be watching this (and probably most of my teacher-friends too).

And just so everyone is clear---GROVER is by far the superior monster on Sesame Street.
No question, don't even try to argue it.


Spark: Re-Zoom with Visual Literacy/Making Inferences

This year I've teamed up with a second grade teacher where every Thursday afternoon I'll come into the classroom and we'll teach a lesson together (that normally includes something fun and unique).  For the past few weeks we've really been working with the students on increasing their visual literacy and using images/illustrations/photos to expand their knowledge base and make predictions.  This has been a lot of fun for the students (and myself) because we are beginning to see students understand how these ideas work together.

Students make predictions based on visual clues using Re-Zoom

I always preface these lessons by telling them that making a guess is not incorrect--they're using their own prior knowledge and visual cues to predict what would happen.  It's always funny to see this in students since so many are hesitant to make mistakes.   I LIVE FOR MISTAKES.  Mistakes are the growth of understanding.  We build upon them. (I'll step off my soapbox).

This week we continued our visual literacy/inferences journey using the book Re-Zoom by Istvan Banyai.  If you've never used it before be warned:  THERE ARE NO WORDS.  It's all about looking at the details in an image and each page zooms out to reveal a larger image that surrounds it.  

Bethany over at Hunter's Teaching Tales uses this book in the opposite.  She starts in the back and zooms in on images focusing on details.  From her blog:
I'm going to begin to teach my kids the five domains on Writing (Focus, Content, Organization, Style, and Conventions.) We will look at Focus. To do this I love to use the book Zoom by Istvan Banyai. I actually "read" the book backwards to my kids (It's only pictures.) When you look at it backwards it zooms in and has you focus on one thing-which is what I want my kiddos to do.
Now, I read it straight through with the students allowing them to make predictions the entire time.  Either way you do, it is great and this book allows you to use it multiple ways while working on a select skill for students to succeed with.

So what did we do...Well I had the kids grab their writing journals and I displayed the Re-Zoom through the projector.  Students were shown the first image and made projections of what they thought they saw by raising their hands and telling.  Then in their writing journal they had to draw or write what they thought the image would be if it zoomed out, based on details hidden inside the image.

This was definitely one of the better ways to differentiate with multiples levels of students because I had quite a few that wanted to draw their ideas, while a select few felt like writing out their predictions.  This meant that everyone could join in and be successful--which is what you strive for in class.


Seeing kids react to their answers (right or wrong) is great.  You see them with those AHAAA moments when a recognition is triggered.  It's a beautiful thing.

We only made it through half the book so far and it appears that many student's minds have been blown.  They begin taking some of the smallest clues to build feasible ideas of what the the next image is.  It's pretty cool to see second graders stretch their ideas and imagination, but also make guesses they know could be wrong.

Student motivation isn't just about having a new 
teacher come in once a week to mix-it-all-up.  
It's also about asking them to take a chance.  

Thanks to Joanne at Head Over Heels for Teaching for the Great Link-Up!

Tried It Tuesday: Lexia Reading Core 5

I'm always curious to know what other districts are using for particular reading/math/writing programs to assist kids.  Honestly, it's even a bit more individualized with each school having their own sets of materials based on grants, type of enrollment, and classification for school types.  

For as long as I can remember the one stand-alone computer reading program that we've been using has been Lexia Reading.  Anyone else use this? (BUELLER, BUELLER) I can't tell you how old it is, but I'm guessing well over 10 years old--which for an online reading program is pretty impressive. Personally, I've been a big fan of Lexia because of how it leveled students, gave instant feedback, and also showed what they were succeeding at (or having the most difficulty with).  BUT NOW--it has been updated and is called CORE 5.  If I had to name it myself though, I would have gone with Xtreme CORE 5 just to excite the students.

I've been spending the last few weeks getting my students logged in, logging them on, and showing them the hot new program they get to destroy with the ever-increasing reading skills (and I mean that in a very positive way).  So far most have enjoyed it. This afternoon one of my students was banging out syllables on the table when he would hear the word--it was pretty cool.

Probably the biggest improvements with CORE 5 are that the new programs include so many more options and areas for students to practice.  

  • Comprehension:  Now students gets to read long passages and answer questions about the material like main idea, supporting details, etc.  This is huge.
  • Vocabulary:  I just had a student on level 16 and some of the words he was attacking were pretty impressive.  So impressive I'm not even going to list them because I don't know their meaning.
  • Immediate Response to Incorrect Answers:  If a student answers too many incorrect within a certain amount they are immediately moved to a differentiated level to practice the skill.  This is big, because in the older version they might redo the same level over and over.
  • iPad App:  THIS!!!  So easy to use and kids think they're using the iPad.  Sometimes it is all about the presentation.
  • Placement Test:  This is longer than most and the kids are tired by the end of it--and I like that.  It is very comprehensive.
There is a lot more I could talk about with the program, but I want to give it some more time.  So far the immediate impressions have been great and this program continues to  work well for the students.

One tip that I like to use with Lexia CORE 5 is this:  Make the students use the program without headphones and you sitting next to them.  Now I realize that this can't be done in a lot of classrooms because of the noise, but I can do it.

This technique allows me to be informed on how the program works, but also understand what and how my students are working/learning/processing information. I find this to be highly effective.

Just curious, but what kind of intervention programs do you or your school's use?
Do any of you have math programs on the computer (not counting fact fluency)?

So this is my Tried It Tuesday.  Thanks goes out to Holly for this wonderful link-up.

This just makes me laugh out loud.

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