Changing Our Thinking: Allowing Productive Struggle

Changing Our Thinking: Allowing Productive Struggle

There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing allowing productive struggle.  

What is Productive Struggle?

I’m going to tell the simplified story of how I learned to ride a bike. First I had a tricycle when I was young. I learned how to pedal and move it with the handles. I started to grow out of that tricycle and my younger brother could have used it so my parents got me a two-wheel bike with training wheels. Once I got the hang of riding it around with training wheels they made the training wheels uneven so I would tip a little back and forth as I rode. This helped me start to learn balance. One summer both of my cousins who were my age were not using training wheels and I decided that I no longer needed them. My dad took them off and I put on my helmet, determined to master riding a two-wheeler. My dad gave me directions and started running while holding on to the seat of the bike. I begged him not to let go but he did anyway. I moved forward a little and then fell to the ground. My dad came over and calmed me down and told me I needed to do something. I needed to steer or pedal it wouldn’t work if I didn’t do anything. So we tried again. My dad ran and let go of the bike and a steered a little and then fell to the ground. My dad again came over and helped me up. This time he wanted me to pedal. I wasn’t so sure about pedaling. That meant I would keep going and I might even go faster than I wanted to go. We tried again. This time I pedaled and steered and managed to go farther than before when I hit a rut in the ground and fell over. Again and again, my dad patiently helped me up and we tried again. Soon he wasn’t running over to me every time I fell. He was having me bring my bike back to him. Slowly I started to gain more and more independence. Finally, I could steer and pedal and not fall over for long periods of time. I was riding a two-wheeler. My dad allowed me to struggle forward. At no point did he take my bike away from me and do it for me. That wouldn’t have worked out and seems silly to actually think about.

Productive struggle is allowing students time to fail forward just like I had on my bike. Productive struggle is so important and too often as teachers we swoop and save instead of letting students fail forward. 

Why Is Swooping A Problem?

Imagine a classroom where kids are learning about place value. A student builds the number 23 with five tens instead of two tens and five ones. The teacher looks at the child and says, “no remember twenty-three two tens and three ones.” The child then fixes their number and now they understand place value… uh… no. Now they got this one problem right but because they were basically told the answer. 

A child is reading a book and they get stuck on the word like. The teacher says remember this is a silent e so the i says its name. L-i-k, like. The child mumbles along with the teacher and the teacher says, “good you got it!”

A writer is writing a story with no punctuation and the teacher comes over and adds punctuation with a pen to the child’s’ writing. 

The examples can go on and on. So often when children make mistakes teachers fix the mistakes. The problem with doing that is that we are robbing children of learning moments. When I swoop in to solve all the problems a student could encounter how do they become stronger? What did they learn this time that will help them solve the next problem? 

What to do Instead

For a long time, the role of the teacher was to help students fix mistakes. I’m not saying this isn’t the role anymore but the role is more of a facilitator of learning. If all of my students don’t understand a certain skill or strategy it isn’t my job to correct them so they no longer have mistakes. It is my job to help them recognize their mistakes and continue to fail forward unit they understand. 

Let’s go back to the base-10 example. This happens quite frequently in the grade 1 classroom. This child doesn’t yet see 10s and ones. If they start counting by ones then they continue to count by ones. If they start counting by tens they continue to start counting by tens. They don’t yet see the longs and cubes as worth different values. What if, instead of correcting him I asked him a question that would push his thinking forward. What if I asked, “how much is this worth” holding up a long. He could count the individual squares and determine that it is 10. Then I could ask, “so how many do you have here?” He could count by ones or tens and determine that he had 50. After that I could ask, “now what can you do so that you have only 23?” I could then let him go back and try again. Maybe this time he grabs 5 cubes. Maybe he goes back and gets three tens and two ones. Even if he just groups his tens into a group of three and a group of three he has begun to fail forward or productively struggle. If he continues to productively struggle I allow it. Productive struggle is good and it is so important. 

When a struggle becomes frustrating I would come in with some intentional teaching and modeling for the student. Then we could work together to solve a few problems then the student could try on their own. As long as a struggle is productive and the child is getting bit by bit more correct each time they’re wrong I should allow it. I’m allowing students to build understandings and develop a conceptual understanding on their own. 

What I've Learned

It is really easy to swoop and save or to remove all obstacles from a child’s path but it just isn’t helpful to them. I work hard to allow productive struggle in all of my students. I still haven’t mastered it yet but I too continue to productively struggle forward as a teacher. 

Let me know your thoughts and questions regarding productive struggle in the comments below! I would love to hear from you! 

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

Teacher Talk: Epic!

Teacher Talk: Epic!

Time To Share Another Resource!

I’m all about sharing the resources that I use in my classroom. Today I am talking about one of my favorite apps and a serious life saver… Epic! You might have heard of this one as several teachers I know use it. Epic! is totally free to classroom teachers and is a great resource for all readers. 

Epic! is a website & app that has so many books for every kind of reader. It has audiobooks and read to me books. It has fiction and nonfiction. It has popular series like Fluffy! and it has new series to love! Epic! engages my students in reading. I know that there are studies about the benefits of reading paper books and this by no means replaces my classroom library but compliments it so well.

Before we really dive in this post is in no way affiliated with Epic! I just love this resource and want to share! 

Listen

The number 1 way I use Epic! in my classroom is as the listening center. Each week my students take time to listen to stories. Listening helps them hear a fluent model and lets them enjoy stories that are still a bit too challenging to read on their own. The kids LOVE listening center. They can’t wait to go to listening center. Partially because it is pretty fun to wear headphones but I also suspect it has something to do with the selection of Read to Me texts on Epic! There is a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction books. All the books are of a high quality and the reading on the audiobook is fluent! What more could you ask for?

We also listen to a story during snack each day. Partially because snack is sandwiched into our day when we can’t add any more time to it and partially to grow our love for books. When the story is on the kids are happily eating and not chit chatting. Chit chat during snack would be fun but we only have 10 minutes before we have to be somewhere else so we have a listening snack. I much prefer that to a silent snack. 

Read

The kids can listen to books but they can also select books to read on their own. Again the selection of texts is quite high and very interesting to the students. I’ve used Epic! for several years now and can honestly say that I have never had a student who couldn’t find anything to read on the app. They always find something they love. When kids first log into their account they click on a few things they like and that helps Epic! recommend interesting books to each and every child. 

Watch

There are also lots of videos on Epic! There are videos of different learning concept and then, then there are lego videos! Lego videos are a sure hit in grade 1. Sometimes during snack we watch a Lego video. In case you’ve never watched one of these they break down how to build different Lego stuff… I am not really a Lego expert. It is a great model for a how-to and they are super engaging. 

No Levels... No Quizzes... Just Reading

One thing I absolutely love about Epic! is that it is simply just books. There are no levels and a child is never told, no they can’t read that book. There are quizzes after some of the books but my kids just think they are fun perks. They don’t automatically assume that we read to take quizzes. When there is a quiz they don’t have to take it but often do- a fun little surprise. This app helps to grow the love for books within my classroom. Often I hear students sharing recommendations with one another and our little community of readers keeps growing and growing.

Friday Five: Teacher Self-Care

Friday Five: Teacher Self-Care

One

Leave School

This is the first step I ever took in teacher self-care. I was drowning as a teacher. I felt like nothing was working in my classroom and that I wasn’t good enough. I started staying really late at school and going in on the weekends and I was always at school! Always! This might be you as well. A good starting point for self-care is to leave school. Leave. Pick a time and don’t stay a minute later. Don’t go to school on Saturday and Sunday. Leave. 

Two

Take School Email Off Of Your Phone

The next step I took was removing my school email from my phone. At the time I lived with another teacher and we both took this step together. Too often we found ourselves in the middle of The Bachelor when we would get the email ping and get catapulted back into teacher life. Once we took our emails off of our phones we were able to enjoy our trash tv without worrying about school stuff. There is no need for you to be on your work email 24/7. It isn’t good for you. Take it off your phone so it isn’t always looming overhead. 

Three

Set Business Hours

This ties into the two above. Business people have business hours. My friends who work in non-teaching jobs have set hours when they work and respond to work emails. They set these hours and they stick to them. Teachers could learn a thing or two about it. Currently my business hours at 7:45-4:45. I check my email starting at 7:45 am and the last time I check my email is immediately after getting home from school. I check it one final time to ensure I didn’t miss any end of the day emails that could be important. After that check, I am done. I am no longer Ms. Natasha I am just Natasha. I also have no business hours on the weekend. I have taken my weekends back for myself. Parents, other teachers, and my administrators have respected these hours and they understand. I haven’t had any problems with them at all. Set yourself some business hours. Maybe set longer hours now and slowly ease yourself out of them. It will be a great change for you. 

FOur

Get A Hobby

Last year I literally did a Google search for hobbies! I am not kidding a friend and I searched and we each made a list of hobbies we would like to try out. Then we had brunch and discussed our lists and set goals for ourselves. I now do yoga every other day and I blog more. Find a hobby that you love. Try out a new hobby. Developing interests outside of school makes you a more well-balanced but also more interesting individual. 

Five

Find What WOrks For You

I discovered so many different things that I love through exploring different self-care options last year. I do face masks all the time. I go for walks outside and explore the city I live in. At least once a month I try to have brunch with my friends. I say yes to more opportunities. I journal. I found out I do not have a love for baking and cooking. I learned so much about myself when I took the time to develop myself as a person, not just work work work as a teacher. Take some time and figure out what works for you. 

First of all, I am nosey but second of all, I think we can learn from each other. So take a quick minute and let me know what self-care you like to do and how you build a balanced life outside of school. Together we can learn more! 

Letters & Sounds Hooray!

Letters & Sounds Hooray!

A few weeks ago during science we went outside to trace our shadows. On the shadow we wrote the day and time. As kids wrote with chalk I said the letters in Monday aloud. M-O-N-D-A-Y. I looked around at my diamonds to see many, many incorrect spellings of Monday. I had some Muntew, Nondei, Mondaw… I mean the list goes on. Later that morning we played a game called write the letter I say as we tested to see which markers needed to be thrown away. As I said the letter names they wrote down the letter and then checked their marker to decide if it was a keep or a toss. I watched as they wrote incorrect letter after incorrect letter. We needed to do something about letter names ASAP! …but what?!

Last year was my first year teaching grade 1. Previously I had never taught lower than 2. I know, I know. It might seem like there isn’t a big difference between grade 1 and grade 2 but there is. There really really is. A HUGE difference.

These are some of my classroom favorites for teaching letter names and letter sounds. Remember that this is taught in cooperation with reader’s and writer’s workshop. Although these are isolated activities they are brought out of isolation during workshop. Kids need to learn within a context as well. 

My Favorite Letter/Sound Activities

Class Name Chart

These are not the names of my students. Fake names have been chosen to demonstrate a class name chart.

If you use Fountas and Pinnell Phonics then you probably have a class name chart in your classroom. We made our class name chart the first or second day of school. The name chart is a great way to get to know your students and to find out what they know about their own name. Starting with the name is a powerful choice. Students take great pride in their names… actually, I think everyone takes pride in their name. If you haven’t read this post about names, please check it out! Having their names up on the wall is so exciting. I once read somewhere that a child should be able to find their name at least 7 places in your classroom.

While creating this name chart I can see who knows the first letter of their name, who can spell their name, who knows about ABC order, who knows what sounds different letters make, and so much more. I just love this activity! We then use our name chart throughout the entire year.

This year we also added a people at our school name chart. This was inspired by this video. The kids love having the different people at our school up on the wall and it brings our whole school community into our classroom.

Once the class name chart is completed it is the gift that keeps on giving. We use this all the time during word study or interactive writing. Sometimes I call a kid up to write a letter if they have it in their name. “Kuba can you please come up to the board and write the last letter in your name?” Or “Oh my goodness! This word starts with the same letter as Filip!” 

The Alphabet & Alphabet Linking Chart

Yeah.. I always forget to take pictures so here is a sort of blurry one of the alphabet. I recently learned that it is not ok to have igloo as the I because it is offensive to Native Americans so I have changed it to an iguana. BUT... of course I don't have a picture of that one.

This year I switched my alphabet and made one intentionally thinking of letters and letter sounds. I don’t think you can create an alphabet without thinking of letters actually! 😂 In the past, I had an alphabet that had only animals or one that the kids and I made together. After reflecting upon how I use the alphabet in my classroom, it’s importance in our word study program and problems I’ve had with my previous alphabet I made a change.

This year all of the pictures in my alphabet were chosen because they made a certain sound. This way each time a child looks at the picture they hear the sound I wanted them to hear. All of the vowels are short vowel words (apple, egg, iguana, octopus, umbrella). I learned that elephant is not a good short e word to use because it sounds like the letter l.  Letters like c or g that make different sounds have a hard sound (cat, girl). X doesn’t use x-ray or xylophone both make a sound of x but not the one I wanted my children to hear. X instead uses box. The only word in the alphabet to end with the letter sound. I thought it was very important for them to hear that /x/ sound.

As a class, we then made an alphabet linking chart. Here I printed only the lowercase letters and a black and white version of the picture for each letter. The kids and I colored our cards together while discussing the letter sounds. Then we glued them onto a large piece of chart paper and hung it next to the easel. When I first taught second grade, each teacher had the alphabet hanging (usually up high), an alphabet linking poster at the easel and a smaller alphabet linking poster at the guided reading table. I don’t have a specific area in my classroom for guided reading so we just have the large alphabet and the alphabet linking poster for now.

The personal alphabet took the place of the small alphabet linking poster at the guided reading table. As I worked with small groups kids were able to color in the pictures of the letters they knew the sounds for on their alphabet. Each child now had a small alphabet linking chart that could be used for many different things. Some friends keep their letter offices out during writer’s workshop to determine sounds. Some use it during writer’s workshop to determine how to make the lowercase letter they are looking for. Sometimes we bring it to the carpet with our letter looker to find what letter sound I am making. There are just so many different ways to use a personal alphabet. This alphabet will also transform into a personal word wall for some of my friends.  

Click here to purchase my alphabet set! 

Handwriting and Letter Sounds

In our Grade 0 (kindergarten) kids learn both upper and lowercase letters but many students leave only knowing the uppercase letters. In many cultures in Europe the way writing looks on a page is valued higher than the ideas and the story. Many cultures also teach cursive from the very beginning so print can be looked down upon. I know there has been a fairly large shift on this thinking in the US but I don’t teach in the US. When our parents see our children’s writing they focus on how it looks, not what it says. We are working to build in parent education around this but you can’t change cultural values through parent education. In class, we place more value on what we are writing and how we are saying our message but culturally we also need to focus on how the letters look.

My assistant teacher and I focus heavily on lowercase letters in grade 1 and try to de-emphasize uppercase letters. Our children are learning to write in many different scripts all at the same time. Some students might be learning Polish and English at school but Korean at home. The Polish, French, German, English, Czech, and Korean (just to name some) scripts all make their letters in different ways. In many of the languages, they are learning cursive but we are teaching print. So in grade 1, we spend a lot of time on handwriting and on lowercase letters while trying not to lose the essence of the writer’s workshop and word study. It is a tricky balance but after children start making their stories “look nice” parents start to understand the importance of the other parts of writing.

Each Letter Makes a Sound (Farmer in the Dell)

There are so many ways to take the traditional songs we might know and change the lyrics. This song goes to the tune of the Farmer in the Dell.

Each letter makes a sound

Each letter makes a sound

High-Ho Here We Go!

Each letter makes a sound

The a makes a sound

The a makes a sound

/a/ /a/ /a/ /a/ /a/

The a makes a sound

I think you get the picture! This song is so engaging. We sing it while we are lining up. We sing it as we are coming to the carpet. We sing it as we are cleaning up. The kids just love this song! The grade 1 reading interventionist at my old school taught this song along with the next one to me long ago. Sometimes I let the kids call out the letters. Sometimes I pull magnetic letters out of a jar. Sometimes we go in ABC order or in reverse ABC order. The song is great for practicing letter sounds.

The Letters on the Bus

This goes to the tune of the wheels on the bus.

The a on the bus goes

/a/ /a/ /a/

/a/ /a/ /a/

/a/ /a/ /a/

The a on the bus goes

/a/ /a/ /a/

The letters make a sound.

This song is also great just like each letter makes a sound. There are so many different things you could do with this song. I even made a little letter bus to help kids use on their own. 

Click here to get a letter bus FREEBIE

Letter Looker

This is an idea I borrowed from Dr. Jean. You might know Dr. Jean from her Guacamole video but she has so many educational ideas to share with everyone. The letter looker is a pipe cleaner that is twisted into a magnifying glass shape. When we have our letter lookers I call out a letter and everyone tries to find that letter. The kids have a blast. Some of them only feel comfortable going to the letters on our alphabet linking chart right now. That is completely fine! As they learn more about letter names and sounds they will start to move away from the alphabet linking poster and go out into the room. This is a reason why Interactive Writing is so important in Grade 1. If we didn’t produce any writing together the kids might not have places to look for the letters. 

I also use the letter looker with some of the videos I will share below. Simply pause the video and have the kids search for the letter the video paused on. I honestly didn’t think that this would be as engaging as it was! the kids have a blast!

Youtube Videos & Go Noodle

We use Go Noodle and on Go Noodle there is a Youtube Channel. Teachers can add videos to their channel and I add all of these videos. It is much more fun to dance and sing to a letter video when your champ is going to earn points to level up! 

Here are the videos I recommend

ABC Kickbox by Dr. Jean

Phonercise by Dr. Jean

Go Letters by Dr. Jean

A to Z by Jolly Phonics

LeapFrog Letter Sounds

Sing and Sign by Jack Hartmann 

Vowel Bat 

What do the Letters Say by Have Fun Teaching

Thoughts?

What are your favorite letter and letter sound activities in the classroom? How do you work with your students who don’t know their letter sounds? I would love to hear from you, please leave a note in the comments below!