Friday, September 29, 2017

Teaching Controversial Issues in the Classroom

Teaching controversial issues can be a great challenge for teachers. Some teachers worry they do not have the right tools or background knowledge to adequately approach the topics, while others may fear repercussions for addressing these issues in such an unsettled climate.  However, teaching about controversies, especially current events like those that took place in Charlottesville and St. Louis, are even more important for students in today's classrooms.

Suggestions and ideas for teaching controversial issues, such as Charlottesville, in the classroom by Naomi O'Brien of Read Like a Rock Star and Michele Luck of Michele Luck's Social Studies.

As we continue to grow as a diverse nation (and world), we must work to make sure all students find their place. This includes reaching those marginalized students and giving them the support they need to find classroom success and to also feel loved and accepted in this world. More importantly, as a nation, it is only through education that we can make ourselves better.  Facing our shortcomings and finding solutions to breach our gaps is the key to guiding the next generations in the direction toward positive change.

To help you get started, Naomi O'Brien of Read Like a Rock Star and Michele Luck of Michele Luck's Social Studies have shared tips and ideas for breaking the barriers in your classroom to address the topics you know you need to address.

Tips and Ideas for the Elementary Classroom by Naomi O'Brien

In K-5, especially in the younger of those grades, the thought of navigating a conversation of this magnitude can feel uncomfortable, inappropriate, or just plain wrong. I am here to tell you that these students can handle these conversations if they are handled in the right way.

As a black woman that didn’t have a black teacher until middle school, I would have greatly appreciated any one of my elementary school teachers having conversations about race with our class. All I ever had each year was a few days in February filled with stories about Rosa Parks, quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. and empty words about how equal we all are (when I knew very well that we weren’t).

Make a Safe Space: Create a safe space for all students to share their ideas, opinions, and feelings about the heavy topics they will be learning about. Build a strong classroom community that can work through tough topics together. Encourage risk-taking and divergent thinking in your classroom. Teach your students that unique responses are okay! If you have students of color in your classroom, chances are they have already had some negative experiences in life as a result of the color of their skin (or someone they care about has). If you don’t have students of color, chances are they are oblivious to the plight that students their age have to go through because of their skin color. They have the privilege of not having to know. No matter who is sitting in front of you, these lesson are necessary, these lessons are needed, and these lessons can help shape a generation of compassionate, empathetic, and informed students as early as kindergarten.

Analyze Images: Find (age appropriate) photos to project, or print, and display for your class to see. Give them some background knowledge about the image you show them. Make sure to include facts only. It is not your job to tell them that something they are seeing is right or wrong, you are simply presenting the information to them. Specifically regarding Charlottesville, a “safe” image to use with your students could be any of the photos depicting the white supremacists holding torches. Ask your students the following questions:

What do you see?

How do you think they feel?

Depending on the grade level you teach, give your students some background knowledge about why these men got together for a rally.

How does that make you feel? Why?

If you could talk to these men what would you say?

What might be a solution to this issue?

This is a great time to address early on in the year that people of color in America have never been treated as equal. There is still a lot of work for all of us to do. It is not enough to tell your students to be nice. We need to teach them to be anti-racist. We need to teach them how to spot racism, how to think critically about it, and what to do when they see it happening.

Checking In: Check in with how your students are feeling throughout your lesson. In the lower grades, allow students to draw a picture, circle a face, or draw a face that depicts how they are feeling before, during, and after a tough lesson. Older students can jot their feeling down anonymously on a Post-It note. You can group student responses by feelings so that students can see that others may or may not feel the same way as them. This can lead to more discussion about why some students feel a certain way.

Tips and Ideas for the Middle and High School Classroom by Michele Luck
In the secondary classroom, most students are ready and willing to share their thoughts on current events, especially with which they feel a direct connection. The real challenge comes in harvesting that willingness in a positive way that will offer all students a safe and secure place to share their thoughts and even their concerns.

Suggestions and ideas for teaching controversial issues, such as Charlottesville, in the classroom by Naomi O'Brien of Read Like a Rock Star and Michele Luck of Michele Luck's Social Studies.
Rally image by Anthony Crider, available by CC on Wikipedia Commons.

One of my favorite strategies for teaching controversial issues is the Big Paper Activity. In this lesson, students silently navigate the classroom to respond to questions or prompts written at the top of presentation paper sheets. This creates a safe setting where students can share their thoughts without feeling the pressure that could arise in a discussion or debate scenario.  Add images, quotes, or news excerpts for added content to which students can respond.

Analyzing Images is another incredible tool to use in the middle or high school classroom. Utilizing spiral questioning techniques, teachers can guide students through seeing the images and reading meaning from what they see in the images. Round out image analysis lessons with current events articles, primary sources on the topics, and whole class comparison activities where students can examine and evaluate the conflict in a more analytical format.

Suggestions and ideas for teaching controversial issues, such as Charlottesville, in the classroom by Naomi O'Brien of Read Like a Rock Star and Michele Luck of Michele Luck's Social Studies.
Teaching students how to properly express their thoughts is another great tool to be taught and reinforced at the secondary level. Give students a Genius Hour each week and allow them time to research a current event or topic of interest that they can then present to the class in any form or manner. Encourage students to tap into their creative sides to present their topics through song, dance, theatrical performance, the creation of a video, the creation of an artistic piece, or in any way they feel they can adequately show what they've learned and what they care about helping others understand!

Our Call to Action
Whether you teach kindergarten or seniors in high school, teaching controversial issues is vital for helping to empower the next generation. Guide them toward kindness and away from hate, so that they can someday live in a world of acceptance and appreciation for everyone.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Taking Home the Class "Pet"

Here is a fun writing activity that I've implemented in my class this year!
We have a class "pet" named, Ozzie. He hangs in our class during the week, and each Friday I choose a student to take him home for the weekend!
I simply wrote a list on the board, and I will be going down the list each Friday. I send home the turtle with his tank and a notebook explaining to the parents/guardians where this turtle came from, and what he's all about! There are also pages included for students to write about their adventures. We read about them on Monday morning!

If you have a spare turtle lying around, and want to name it Ozzie, download the same pages I used here!


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Create Your Own Alphabet Chart with Your Students! (Free Download)

When I saw LaNesha Tabb post a picture of her student created alphabet chart, I knew it was something I wanted to implement in my classroom immediately, but I was still on maternity leave. I am back full time this year in a classroom that is a kindergarten and ECE mix, so I was able to give it a try. 
They loved it and it looks great! It's something I reference everyday and they are so happy to have been an important part of creating it.

 Grab your copy of my blank posters here!


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Building and Keeping a Relationship with Parents

When I first started teaching, making connections with parents wasn't something I ever thought I'd have to work at. I naively assumed, I'd know all the parents, we work well together all year long, and everything would be pretty effortless. 

I QUICKLY learned that was not the case. There were some parents that I never saw or heard from, and some parents that I could not seem to get to like me. Needless to say, this made my first year of teaching a little stressful (on top of everything else).

Coming up with ways to connect with parents over the years has been a mission of mine. It definitely takes a lot of work to cultivate strong relationships with my students' parents, but it is SO worth it. 

I used to assume that parents that were not involved in their student's academic careers simply didn't care. I know now that language, culture, work schedules, and insecurities can play a huge part in that. I know now that it is MY job to reach out and continue to reach out and connect throughout the year.

One of the easiest things I do to start a relationship is to ask them about their child. I make sure to send home information sheets asking questions about the type of learner their child is, what motivates them, and what their goals for their child are. I want to establish that I value their opinion and care about their child.

I also gain my parents' trust by allowing them to get to know me and keeping a line of communication open. I send home Connection Cases that I make. They are just pencil cases that are full of notes for parents to send to me to address any questions, comments, or concerns they have. They feel comfortable communicating with me because I encourage them to.

Gaining a parents' trust and having a positive relationship makes conversations about struggles, behavior, or classroom issues much more successful. I like to make my parents feel like we are a part of a team and they really respond to that.
At the end of the day, we ARE a team. We both want what's best for the student, so working together only makes sense.

I keep in touch about EVERYTHING. Even if they don't always respond, it lets them know what I'm up to and how much I care. In my experience,  when parents don't feel connected to teachers, they make assumptions about us! They assume we don't care about their child, or that we don't like their child (or them). This can make phone calls home and conferences very difficult.

Reaching out only during the beginning of the year isn't enough! I use a connection log to track how often I interact with parents. Whether it's a note, an e-mail, a phone call, or a meeting, I try to connect with a few parents each week. I do a few at a time so I don't overwhelm myself. Notes are the easiest for me. I make positive phone calls home the first month of school, and then mostly stick to notes and e-mail for the rest of year, unless a phone call is necessary. 

I intentionally reach out to report WAY more positive news than negative. When I actually have to call or talk about something negative, they know I have their child's best interest at heart because of the RELATIONSHIP we've built. It makes the conversation so easy to have. If I only call to complain about their child's behavior, eventually they are going to stop answering the phone.

I send home notes ALL THE TIME! I thank parents for little things and big things. Anything to make them feel connected and included. Even if it's a parent I never hear back from, I still reach out and check in with them. At the very least, the student sees my effort and knows that I care about them and their parent.

I hope you enjoyed these ideas! I finally compiled all of my notes, forms, and connection cases into a printable resource. It's available now on TpT!


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Celebrating Class Birthdays on a Teacher Budget

I don't know about you guys, but when a birthday comes around in my classroom, I love to celebrate it (if that's allowed in that particular student's culture).
I WISH I could give each student some awesome gift to take home and cherish; a toy, a book, or a new hat, but that is definitely out of the question when I average 24-28 students per year!

I always want to do SOMETHING though, and the answer to my prayers was at Dollar Tree!
The best solution that leaves me happy and my students excited and feeling special costs less than $20! Like for the whole year!

WHAT I BUY: I buy two of the decorative balloon weights, that my son can be seen holding in the picture above. On the student's birthday (or the Friday before, if it falls on a weekend) I let them place the weight on their desk for the day. It is so SIMPLE, but they absolutely LOVE IT! Of course rules are given about not playing with it, or other friends moving it, but they are always SO good about making sure it's not a distraction. I buy two in case there are two birthdays that fall on the same day. 
Cost: $2

WHAT I BUY: I buy a few packages crazy straws. All kids love crazy straws, am I right? They are so excited to have something to take home and use time and time again. There are 8 in a pack and I pick up 4 to be safe.
Cost: $4

WHAT I BUY: I buy foil tiaras! It makes the kids feel really special to have a shiny sign on their heads that screams, "IT'S MY BIRTHDAY!" Who wouldn't? I let students wear them in class and to specials, but not to recess or lunch so they don't get lost or stolen. There are 4 in a pack so I buy 8.
Cost: $8
That's what works in my classroom! I hope you enjoyed this idea!


Social Studies for K - 3 (August & September)

Lanesha Tabb from Education with an Apron approached me last year with the BEST idea ever! We were both feeling really disappointed and upset about things going on around the world. As educators and parents, we wanted to do more to help, but we weren't quite sure what we could do. Lanesha told me about her vision: creating a teaching resource that would inspire the students that crossed our paths to be compassionate, informed, and empathetic citizens in our world.

We immediately got to work choosing topics, cultures, people, and stories that we felt needed to be heard, shared, and explored. As we worked, we found ourselves wondering why WE never learned most of these things when we were in school. We knew we were on to something GREAT!

Lanesha and I recently finished our August and September units. August is more of a social studies kick-off to get students excited about what's to come and to find out what they already know about some topics already.

We know that the first month of school can be crazy! Fitting everything in can be overwhelming, so August is more laid back than the other months. We included everything you'll need to make engaging social studies anchor charts and get students thinking about what social studies really is.

 Students will create a social studies flipbook after previewing an ebook that previews the ENTIRE year and shows all of the topics students can look forward to.

Kindergarten - third grade students learning about sociology, economics, civics, geography, and history? What?! Each of our units includes 4 out of the 5 areas. We intended for each area to be focused on for one week. The monthly units include ebooks to preview each topic, differentiated k-2 reading passages, discussion questions, comprehension questions, projects, anchor charts, interactive vocabulary, and meaningful craftivies! You can choose to do them all or pick and choose what works for you!

Each of our monthly units includes an "at a glance" page to help you plan out your social studies lessons. A teacher guide is also included. It includes a teaching script, ideas for thinking maps, and much more, like quizzes and books to add to lessons!

Here are our topics and most of the items included for September:

We hope are you are as EXCITED to introduce these monthly units to your students as we are! Celebrating heritage months, people from different cultures, and having discussions about the world is one of the greatest gifts we can give our students.

Here are some links to check out other units we have posted, and a FREEBIE too:

Lanesha Tabb and Naomi O'Brien

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Social Studies K-3 for April

LaNesha and I have finished up another AMAZING social studies unit! This one has everything you need for April. If you still haven't checked out our engaging, rigorous, and easy to use monthly units, check out the FREEBIE here!

We were are super excited to show you all that our April unit has to offer. There's so much to pick and choose from to meet your K-3 students. And these units truly are for K-3!

Take a quick look at just some of what our April download has to offer:

LaNesha currently teaches kindergarten and does an amazing job of differentiating that passages that I design for 2nd and 3rd grade. They are getting the same content at a level they can understand! eBooks, reading passages, writing responses, crafts, interactive vocabulary, and activities are available in different levels that you can choose from to best meet your students' needs.

The full color eBooks are the PERFECT way to present the topics in our units to your K and 1st grade students. You can project them on the board for an engaging whole group lesson. They work as an engaging hook for 2nd and 3rd as well, before they go off to independently read and learn in their workbooks.

 (Above is a sample page from the 2nd/3rd grade workbook)

For each month we choose for 4 out of the 5 subjects that make up social studies. Sociology, history, economics, and geography are available for April. Check out the amazing topics your students will be learning about this month:

Grab the full unit for April here! You won't be disappointed. A teacher guide is included to help you plan how to implement these units.

We truly hope you and your students enjoy our units and have fun learning!

LaNesha and Naomi