One of the many reasons I enjoy being a teacher is that I absolutely love to learn! Educators are the ultimate lifelong learners…we learn about our standards, our students, the most effective and up-to-date teaching practices, intervention and differentiation strategies…the list goes on and on…
Although as teachers, we will never run out of skills to learn, during the school year, it is simply hard to find the time. Raise your hand if that last statement resonates with you. (Every teacher’s hand shoots in the air.) The truth is that it is extremely difficult to juggle all aspects of the teaching profession. We wear so many hats! Because of this, I usually choose one professional development book to dig into over summer break.
I know what you’re thinking…summer break is a time to recuperate, a time for friends and family, a time to regain the strength needed for the upcoming school year. I get it, and trust me, I am right there with you! (Notice that I am writing this post well into July, when my summer break began early June. LOL) After spending some time completely unplugged from school, I find I am ready to slowly bring back thinking about my classroom. Now is about that time. With that being said, let’s dig into my top three book selections for any elementary school teacher.
The Big Book by Rick Morris
Rick Morris has compiled several of his books into one BIG BOOK. Trust me, this will completely change the dynamic of your classroom.
Click here to read more. (I am not affiliated with his company, but I really do love the strategies in this book.)
If I were to recommend ONLY ONE book for any teacher, it would be this one. To me, Rick Morris is the classroom management guru. Let me tell you a little about how I first learned about Rick Morris…
Imagine this…I am a young, enthusiastic (yes, even more than I am now) fresh out of college teacher looking for work. Now, even though I have never had my own classroom, I had worked for about 8 years running our district’s kindergarten after school program. Therefore, I had a fairly good understanding of managing a group of kids…or so I thought…
I am a true nerd at heart. If there is something to learn, I will be the first to sign up to learn it! Therefore, when my district offered a classroom mangement workshop, I signed up as quickly as possible.
Now, I had attended several professional development opportunities, but this one was different. There was a lot of hype around the presenter, someone named Rick Morris.
When I walked into the room, I immediately noticed the positive, enthusiastic energy. The teachers were visibly excited about this presentation. (I think I speak for most teachers when I say that usually the atmosphere of PDs is somewhat less positive, as teachers usually just want to go home or get back to prepping/grading.)
I took my seat and awaited the golden nuggets of teacher wisdom that had been promised. I gotta say that I was not disappointed. Rick Morris was engaging, hilarious, and extremely knowledgeable. I immediately purchased the Big Book, which at the time felt like a splurge, considering I did not even have a classroom yet. I went home and over the summer read the book cover to cover, all 752 pages. No joke!
When I landed my first job, I knew exactly how I was going to run my classroom. I can honestly say that first year went very smoothly because of what I had learned. I became known as the “classroom management mentor” of the school, even though I had not been there long. I cannot take complete credit for this, however. I credit the strategies I learned from Rick Morris.
Needless to say, I am now a HUGE fan of his strategies. I highly recommend reading the entire book, but I realize that there may not be enough time to read it all before the start of this school year. Therefore, I have compiled a few of my favorite tips and tricks from his book:
- Extra Time Chart: This is often called a “must do, may do list”. In my classroom, we call it the E.T. Chart. Students work on the assignments listed on the E.T. Chart whenever they finish any given task. The chart is divided into three sections: red, yellow, and green. The red portion is for assignments that are mandatory. For us, they are also the assignments that are due by Friday. Students who finish all of their work by Friday, are invited to “Fun Friday” which is 30 minutes of free time and/or game time. The yellow portion lists 2-3 ongoing practice assignments. It could be independent reading, journal writing, or a lesson from an online platform. The choice is yours! The green section is comprised of fun, educational games and activities. This is essentially free choice for students who have finished everything. (I highly recommend including educational items.) I have found that it is best to have some way to hold the students accountable. For example, they can move their student number on a chart to show which section (red/yellow/green) they are currently working on.
- Transition music: This is a must must must for any grade level! Rick Morris believes that teachers talk way too much. Can you think of a time when you got frustrated because you had to repeat yourself 10,000 times! I know I can! This is especially true when giving out directions. T: Take out your math notebook. S: Which notebook? T: math Another S: Math textbook? T: No, math notebook Another student: Is that all we need? T: I SAID TAKE OUT YOUR MATH NOTEBOOK! We’ve all been there, right? To eliminate this endlessly frustrating experience, use music and a dry erase marker. Simply choose one song to use during your transitions between one activity and another. Train your students to stop and look up at the whiteboard whenever they hear this music. While the music is playing, simply write all of the materials you want the students to take out on the whiteboard. For example, in my classroom, when we transition to math, I write “math notebook, pencil, dry erase supplies” on the board. My students then know to put everything else away and to only have out the supplies listed on the whiteboard. Trust me, this strategy will completely transform your classroom!
- Post-it notes for small group learning: Imagine this…you have planned an engaging small group lesson. You have your materials ready and have finally set aside time for dedicated intervention. You call over your most at-risk students and begin teaching. As soon as you have their undivided attention, another student walks up and has a question. It turns out they just needed another pencil. Uugh! You begin teaching again, and a different student walks up because s/he needs to use the restroom. And so the cycle continues…Before you know it, your intervention time has ended and you never even taught the core part of the lesson. We’ve all been there. Two solutions: one is post-it notes. The other I will discuss next. Post-it notes! During small group time, have a pad of post-its and pencils nearby. Students may write a question on the post-it and place it next to you. They then return to their desks until you are ready to answer the questions. This is a life-saver! I know what you’re thinking…won’t students be constantly writing on post-its? There is a way to avoid this! Read on!!!
- Hand gestures: This is an oldie but a goodie. Use hand gestures so students can quietly ask to use the restroom, drink water, ask a question, make a comment, etc. This way, you can silently excuse students by simply waving your hand, pointing, or nodding your head. This will prevent your teaching from being constantly interrupted. This is true for both whole group and small group learning.
There are so many more strategies in the book, but the ones listed above are my favorites. If you want to read more about what these strategies look like in my own classroom, check out this back to school blog post: 10 Must-Teach Classroom Routines and Procedures to Start the Year Off Right.
The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
Reluctant readers? Read this book, and ALL of your questions will be answered! How do I get my students to love reading? How can I change a reluctant reader to an active and engaged one? This book absolutely transformed my literacy instruction and my classroom library. I highly recommend you checking it out, especially if you are an upper grade teacher!
Donalyn Miller explains how she turns any reader at any level into a lover of books! If you have ever heard of the “40 book challenge”, this is where it comes from. The book goes into detail about how you can use this challenge to get your students to read 40 books in a year! Yes, you read that right…40 books!!!
Basically, the major takeaway of this book is that we should encourage students to select their own books, set aside time to talk to individual students about their books selections, and set up a classroom environment where students can share their love of reading with each other. I know this sounds like a daunting task, but it is totally doable. Donalyn Miller does not only outline how to create such a classroom; she will actually make you excited about your own classroom library and literacy instruction.
I have written several blog posts on setting up your classroom library, launching reading workshop, and even managing book clubs. Although I have put my own spin on some of these ideas, many of my strageies were inspired by Donalyn Miller.
Literacy Instruction Blog Posts
|5 Goals of Reading Workshop: Is It Effective?||Learn about the many benefits of Reading Workshop.|
|Launch Reading Workshop in 5 Easy Steps||From organization ideas to tips on helping students select books, this blog post includes everything you need to get started on Reading Workshop.|
|Reading Workshop: Incorporating Classroom Book Clubs||Learn tips and tricks on how to successfully add book clubs to your reading workshop.|
|Reading Workshop: Book Clubs Discussions||Facilitate student-run book club meetings in 3 easy steps!|
Teach Like a Champion
Teach Like a Champion has SO MANY teaching strategies. It was definitely difficult to narrow them down. I was able to choose my favorite strategies and describe them below, though a couple of them are closely related to techniques covered in Rick Morris’s Big Book.
- Check for Understanding/Exit Ticket: This is an important technique for student understanding. In my lessons, I make sure to include both a check for understanding question, as well as an exit ticket. The check for understanding question is a question the students answer independently and then show me the answer immediately. I typically ask them to rate their confidence level, as well. (4/3/2/1) If students get the answer correct and are at a 4 or 3, they are excused to start their exit ticket. The exit ticket is a more in-depth look at the new skill. They complete the exit ticket independently, and I check it after school. The exit tickets guide my instruction for the next lesson. (Occassionally, I will allow my intervention kids to work with a partner if the skill is particularly challenging.)
- Cold Call / Call and Response: Cold calling students is not a new technique by any means. However, I feel that this book gives several new ideas to traditional cold calling students. (Cold calling is when a teacher pulls a student’s name to answer a question rather than just taking volunteers.) The idea is that this strategy holds students accountable and increases engagement. There are several students who tend to avoid volunteering answers. This strategy allows for them to be heard. Read the next strategy, No Opt Out, for ideas on how to make cold calling less daunting for students. Call and response is a strategy where the entire class or even small groups of students are asked to respond together. This increases engagement but is not putting any one student on the spot. It often feels less nerve-wracking for students who are shy or need support with language/academics.
- No Opt Out: This is a teaching technique that is also discussed in Rick Morris’s Big Book, though I did not cover it earlier. The idea is that students are required to answer a question rather than not volunteer at all or simply say “I don’t know”. Rather, students may say “Please come back to me.” This way, they are now re-engaged in the classroom discussion. They will be actively listening to their peers and teacher, so they will have an answer when the teacher asks them again after another student(s) shares. This can be used in conjunction with cold calling. This takes the pressure off being called. The important part of this strategy is to make sure not to put students on the spot. As tempting as it may be to remind students to pay attention, this may cause some embarrassment. Simply say, “No problem. We will come back to you after a couple students.” This helps make that students more comfortable being called upon.
- Wait Time/100 Percent: These two ideas go hand-in-hand in my opinion. I personally like having opportunities for students to volunteer answers. I do not rely on cold calling and call/response all the time. For the times I take volunteers, I make sure to avoid calling students immediately after asking a question. You will always have a handful of students that are eager beavers. As teachers, these students make us excited to teach! However, we want to encourage the rest of the class to join in on the learning. Otherwise, they will simply wait for those few students to answer. In turn, they will learn to disengage from the lessons and classroom discussions. After asking a question, I will “guesstimate” the percentage of students raising their hands. “I see 60% of the class engaged…Now, I see 75%…ooo now 90%! Let’s go for 100%!” Students do not need to be able to calculate percentages in order to understand 100 is good. I have used this stragey with several grade levels, and every year, it is very effective. I have even put up a 100% chart and colored in part of it every time we reach 100% participation. Teacher tip: I only use this strategy after Think-Pair-Share or group/partner work. That way, students have the opportunity to learn from each other before being asked to volunteer an answer. This is also a great way to encourage participation for opinion questions or topics that do not have a right/wrong answer.
- Entry Routine/Do Now: Awww, routines…my favorite subject. Routines are so critical for smooth classroom management. This is especially true at the start and end of the day. For the purposes of this post, we will focus on the Morning Routine. Every morning in my classroom, students unpack, check-in for attendance, and start their morning work. This gets students ready for the day and focused on their learning. This also allows the teacher to complete morning responsibilities (i.e. attendance, lunch count, answering student questions, homework help, etc.). To read more about morning/afternoon routines, read this blog post: 10 Must-Teach Classroom Routines and Procedures to Start the Year Off Right.
- SLANT: SLANT is a simple acronym that I use regularly during my lessons. It reminds students to actively listen during instruction. It stands for Sit Up, Listen, Pay Attention, Nod Your Head (show you’re listening), and Track the Teacher.
- Every Minute Matters/On Your Mark: This is an important one: EVERY minute counts. At the start of the school year, I actually have my upper graders calculate how much time in one year would be wasted if we did nothing for 5 minutes a day. They are always surprised by the amount of instructional minutes that can add up. For this reason, we strive to use every minute of the school day for learning. Thus, we do not waste time in our classroom. As discussed earlier, the E.T. Chart addresses this ideal. During instruction, the strategy “On Your Mark” comes into play. For any given task, whether it be a quick partner discussion, an exit ticket, or a check for understanding question, I always give a specific amount of time. When I say specific, I MEAN SPECIFIC. For example, during a warm-up or hook, I may pose a discussion question to the class. I will then instruct students to share their responses with their table partners, specifically giving them 1.5 minutes to discuss. I also remind them to make sure to have an answer ready, as we will randomly take students to respond afterward. This technique is not meant to rush students, but it does put some “pep in their step”. If students know they have a limited time, they will get started right away. Trust me, this will help you get the most bang for your buck during instruction!
- Tight Transitions / Seat Signals: I grouped these two ideas together because they are very similar to the ideas shared in Rick Morris’s Big Book. First, tight transitions refer to making sure the transition between centers, activities, or subjects takes as little time as possible. As discussed earlier, using music allows you as the teacher to dictate the appropriate amount of time for such a transition. For example, I usually allow 2 minutes for in-between subjects. This gives students time to switch out their supplies while not giving them enough time to mess around or talk to their friends. In addition, I make sure they know exactly what to do should they have extra time. For my classroom, the expectation is that they are writing down the title/date/question from the board while they wait. As discussed earlier, seat signals have hand signals for restroom/water/pencils/tissues, etc. Basically, it is a way for students to communicate their needs without interrupting instruction.
There you have it…my top three book selections that will change your classroom. These books will transform your classroom into a well-oiled machine where students are not only on-task but love to learn! I cannot emphasize enough what these books have done for my teaching practice. I hope that you find them as beneficial as I have.
If you are looking for some more Back to School ideas, click here. Also, feel free to comment on my posts and share what has worked in your own classrooms!!! I love collaborating with other teachers and hearing about your successes. Let’s learn from each other!
Stay tuned for more teaching ideas on this blog or tune in to the Learning N Progress podcast. Thank you for being a part of our community, and keep learning!!!