Best Teaching Practice

Best teaching practice has evolved over time. Things that were once in date are now out of date. This category holds all things best teaching practice. Posts here contain small tips and pieces of advice to phase out old practice and focus on the best practice of today. It can be hard to stay on top of best teaching practice so let’s work and learn together!

Student Independence from Day One

Student Independence from Day One

The Big Goal

Student Independence

Student independence is key. In fact, my whole goal for my students is to be able to do whatever I teach them on their own. Without me. This independence applies to everything. I want them to connect mathematical ideas on their own. Those decoding skills I teach during conferring, I want them to do it once I walk away. I want them to know what to do when the fire alarm goes off. I want them to know what to do if they make a mistake or need to go to the bathroom. My goal for them is independence. I’m not going to be with them every step of the way. They need to be able to function without me

Independence is a life skill. Employers don’t want employees who ask what to do every single step of the way. That’s obnoxious. They want employees who can complete tasks independently and ask for help when they need it. Independence is a crucial life skill, and we can begin teaching it when kids are young like first grade (and lower). I taught first, but I have also taught second and third, and I have successfully created independent learners in all three grade levels. Some years with more success than others. Here’s how I do it. 

Fostering the Student Independent Spirit

Eventually, students leave our classrooms, and we want the skills they attained within the school to stay with them. To do this, we must create a culture of independence in our classroom and instill independence in each student. Developing student independence is not an easy task, and there are many struggles and bumps along the road. If we persevere as educators, we are creating a better future.  Here are some of the ways I help foster the independent spirit in my elementary classroom.

Let them do it

If students can do it by themselves, they do it by themselves. There is no task that I do for my students if I know they can do it on their own. For example, sometimes tying your shoes is hard, but if you can do it, then you do it. 

Create an Internal Dialogue

Asking questions back to students that they should already know the answer to- in a POLITE way. Not sassing a student when they ask to sharpen a pencil. Place a thought in their head and letting them solve the problem. If I hear, “Ms. Rice, can I sharpen my pencil?” I ask them, “What are the rules? Is now a time for pencil sharpening? How could you solve this problem?” I then see the wheels turning. They have been prompted to think of the classroom procedures and then decide for themselves.

Let’s be real, sometimes the wheels aren’t turning (we all have those days) and then I direct them to the place in the classroom where they can find the answer. 

Don’t Answer Their Every Question

Yes, part of our role as teachers is to answer questions, but we don’t have to answer every single question.  A few years ago, a few kids were gathered around our globe, and they were wondering why earthquakes exist. I could have just answered their questions right there, and then they would know. If I did that, they wouldn’t learn anything other than the information I share. Instead, if I ask questions back to them and lead them in the right direction, they might learn a few transferrable scientific or research skills. So I said, “Wow! That’s an excellent question. What do you think we could do to figure that out?” They were so excited! Kids ran off to see if we had books about earthquakes. Another group wanted to go to the library to search; some wanted to send an email to older kids to see if they knew. Next time they had a question, they knew what they could do to find the answer all on their own.

Connect Them

Let them lead each other. Kids learn best from each other anyway, so why not let them. What a better way to develop student independence? When a kid comes to me and asks about using quotations in stories, I can say, “You know what? Have you asked Tyler? He knows all about it.” Recently I did this with Seesaw. Some kids weren’t putting anything in folders, and some had everything in folders, and one recommended new folders to me when assignments didn’t seem to fit the ones given. I connected the folderless ones with the folder ones for about a month. Now everything is in folders, and I don’t have to worry about it at all. Connect them to each other. 

Consider Your Environment 

Think about how your classroom is set up? Is it student-friendly? Can your students access the supplies that they will need? Can the kids move easily around the room? Are the math manipulatives available? Are books accessible? Paper? Pencils? 

Make your supplies available to the kids. In my classroom, all of our books are available in the classroom library. All of our math manipulatives are in an organizer that kids have access to all of the time. Kid supplies are available and are at a kid-friendly height. 

How Do You Include Student Independence?

Independence is an essential life skill. One that if we work at it right away, students will improve daily and continue to grow even outside of the walls of our classrooms. If students can be independent in our hallways, they can be independent at Target, at the movie theater, or even while walking home from school. Transferable skills should be the main focus of our teaching. If it doesn’t transfer outside of our classrooms, what is the point?

How do you work to foster student independence in your classroom? I would love to hear from you in the comments below! 

Brag Tags- I tried them and I didn’t love it

Brag Tags- I tried them and I didn’t love it

What's a Brag Tag?

Brag tags hit the world of teaching a few years ago. Although the concept, providing students with a token for doing something, wasn’t anything new, they were redesigned and better than ever. I was teaching second-grade and kept getting passive-aggressive feedback about how my teaching wasn’t cute. When I switched grade levels, I decided to become a cute teacher, and I hated it! 😂It’s just not my style.

Here are a few examples of Brag Tags I handed out in my classroom. Of course, I purchased a few bundles from TPT, but in true Natasha fashion, I ended up making my own to fit the needs of my class better. 

What's the Problem?

I know there are many brag tag lovers, and in the short term, they work beautifully. My assistant teacher and I handed them out and praised students and felt like we were building such a little positive community. What we were doing was bribing kids into good behavior. Now, I am not above a bit of bribe now and then. 😉Sometimes you need kids to behave in the short term, let’s say during a special event, and it works. But I don’t show up to school every day focused on the short-term. I am focused on assisting in the development of awesome little humans for the long haul. 

I'm Bad at Passing Stuff Out

After the beginning of the year, when the joy of our brag tags was wearing off, I started to forget to pass any out. See, our class had already learned expected behaviors, and they were following them without anything. I didn’t need to give hundreds of reminders to sit at the carpet or not touch people in line. They were doing it, just as I expected they would. I found that when kids are following expectations, I don’t think much about behavior, and I would forget to pass them out. I quickly realized if you don’t need the bribe a few weeks into the school year, you probably didn’t need it in the first place. Sometimes as teachers, we set up scaffolds that our students don’t need! This was one scaffold that I thought students needed, but they didn’t.

They Wanted to Barter

While most students were content to follow expectations and pitch in for the greater good of our community, some wanted rewards for everything they did. I had a few students coming to me all day long, sharing all of the things they had done that they felt earned them a brag tag. This was a side effect that I didn’t want! The goal of using brag tags wasn’t to have students only do good things if they got something for it in return. I had to make a rule that if you ask for a brag tag or share the good stuff you did hoping to get a brag tag, you wouldn’t get it. To earn one, my assistant teacher and I had to notice it all on our own, so you never knew when you were going to get one. I had to restate that rule over and over again.

Coming to a Slow Stop

Gradually, over the first quarter, I started handing out brag tags less and less until I completely stopped. My assistant teacher and I would remind each other to pass them out, and we wouldn’t. Then students would say comments like, “Wow! No one has gotten a brag tag in a long time.” My assistant teacher and I would make eye contact across the classroom 😳, and we’d carry on. We would go long periods without handing any out because they didn’t need them.

We’d eventually have a conversation with our class explaining that we didn’t need brag tags, and we would only hand them out on special occasions. The students understood. Brag tags were like training wheels on a bike. We used to need them, and now we didn’t- except, did we ever actually need them?

How DO They Behave Without a Reward?

But Natasha, how do they behave if there isn’t a reward? Honestly, sometimes, they don’t! Listen, I am not saying it is easy in the least to get students to follow expectations. I haven’t used brag tags at all this year. I work in a school that believes in investing in students for the long term, so we don’t use short term supports like extrinsic behavior motivators on a regular basis. I’m currently in a book study for Classroom Management Matters, and in the first or second chapter, it discusses extrinsic rewards. I fully admitted in our conversations that sometimes I want to give in and provide extrinsic rewards because it does work short term, and it’s easy. We discuss expectations at the start of the year and revisit them all the time.

What I do Know

I don’t have things figured out entirely, and I don’t know if anyone does. What I do know is that Brag Tags aren’t for me. I would rather put in the exhausting work to create students who can self-regulate without bribes and rewards. Some days I am confident in this choice and other days not so much!

What’s your experience with brag tags been? Any advice to share about non-reward based experiences?

Friday Five: Back to School After Winter Break

Friday Five: Back to School After Winter Break

Going back to school after winter break can be ROUGH! We’ve all been there. Transitioning back into the new year can be tricky. The kids are still in vacation mode, and you might be too. Here are five tips to help reign it in and get back to business after a long break.

Getting Back to School After winter Break

One

Catch Up With Each Other

You just had a break! Take a minute to catch up and share all about your holidays. As an international teacher, students often travel to different countries and places over breaks. We usually get out the map and look where everyone went on holiday. This is a lot of fun. Kids also share what I call smiles and frowns. Smiles are those significant parts of vacation and frowns the not so great part. 


After a break ease back in and take a moment to check in as a community. Maybe that doesn’t look like getting down the map. Maybe it looks like enjoying a cup of hot chocolate or tea and talking about the best parts of our break. Maybe it means taking a moment to write a story about the break. Any way you do it is great. Isn’t the best part of coming back to school after a break catching up with your teacher friends? Let your kids enjoy that too.

Two

Get Back Into Routines

Routines are like the glue that holds all the learning together. I like to remind students of expectations and keep them to it after a break. We usually spend the first weeks back after break reviewing our routines and practicing them. Don’t wait too long to get back into them, or it might feel like you never will. Remember that time spent reviewing routines now will save you time later. Make sure you’ve all got your routines back down before diving too far into learning.

Three

Have some Fun

Joy and laughter are so important in the classroom. Don’t forget while reviewing those routines and diving back into content to take some time for fun. Fun can be anything! Maybe it’s a fun hidden picture, and perhaps it’s an extra Go Noodle video, maybe it’s playing four corners. Just make sure that there’s some fun and laughter in your classroom during your first days back as a teacher.

FOur

Take Time For Yourself

Don’t burn yourself out! Hopefully, you took the vacay to live your non-teacher life. So now, don’t spend the first weeks back living at school. Utilize those prep times and try not to stay too late. Take time to invest in your life outside of school as well. The more you invest in yourself as a person, the better you are as a teacher. Trust me.

Five

Give Yourself Grace

Wouldn’t it be nice if everything worked out perfectly after a holiday? Yeah, I can dream about that world, but realistically it doesn’t. Give yourself grace. Take that time away from yourself. Look into using Calm or another meditation app for those moments when things are too much. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done a quick emergency calm session when the kids went to specials. Remember, you’ll get there. You will get back into learning and all of the routines that make your classroom a beautiful place. Rome wasn’t built in a day. 

How do you like to set your self up for success after a break? 

How to Plan Seesaw Posts

How to Plan Seesaw Posts

Using Seesaw

Seesaw is one of my favorite new tech tools in the classroom. It makes communication between home and school seamless. I started using it a few years ago, and I have improved so much! Let’s talk about how to plan seesaw posts to enhance your parent communication. 

I initially began using Seesaw as a first-grade teacher. Our kindergarten program was Reggio Emilia inspired. A large part of the Reggio approach is using pictures as documentation to show learning. Parents received a file folder filled with photos that documented each week’s learning. I couldn’t compete with that! The grade one classroom was structured differently, and while we took pictures, we no longer took as many photos as they did the year before. Our documentation of learning happens differently. I had to bridge the expectation gap somehow, and that is where Seesaw saved me. 

My assistant teacher took pictures of the students in one class period every day and shared it on Seesaw. As we got into our school year, the kids began posting messages about their learning. Parents loved it! Homework used to be the way that parents kept up to date with their child’s education. Today, as we follow the research, there’s less homework sent home. Parents still desire that connection to school; Seesaw helps fill in that gap. 

How to Plan Seesaw Posts

Reflect

First, reflect on the learning in your classroom. Each week I start with a simple reflection that I am already doing- this isn’t extra work just for Seesaw. What are my instructional goals in each subject? How could I use a post to teach parents about something? What do parents want to see? What might be some useful posts for the week? When planning seesaw posts, I don’t like to go out of my way to make Seesaw posts. I want them to be natural parts of our learning or meaningful extensions of the work we’re doing. Let’s take next week as an example.

In reading, we’re working to envision our stories. We’re working to make a movie in our minds about what is happening on the page. I know that many parents and students believe that if they read the words and can do a quick retell, they understand and comprehend the book. As a teacher, I know that the level of comprehension required in my grade level is much deeper than that. 

Possible Posts: 
-Students can share a stop and sketch by taking a picture and recording how the stop and sketch helped their understanding of the text. 
-A student could do a digital stop and sketch. They could draw out what is happening in their story and record themselves reading the paragraph that led to this stop and sketch.

In writing, we’re working on publishing personal narratives. I always like to use Seesaw to document the editing and revision process. It is simple and a great reflection tool for students to show what they started with, what changes they made, and why those changes were made. This way, when parents see the final product, they know a bit more about the work that went into making this piece. As a teacher, I also know that parents can sometimes expect perfect finished pieces. Adding the editing and revising process to Seesaw would show just how much the student improved their writing.  

Possible Post: 
-Have students take a picture of their story at the end of a writer’s workshop lesson and explain what changes were made. We write in black pen and edit in green pen so new changes will be visible.

In math, we’re working to understand the distributive property of multiplication. I know that many parents were raised on answer-getting math, just like I was. We memorized definitions of different properties, and that was that. I know that adding a post with a deep understanding and description of the property can help parents see why connected learning is so important in math. 

Possible Post: 
-Perhaps I could create an activity where students could solve a problem using the distributive property on Seesaw and then could record themselves explaining how they solved it.

In science, we’re working to understand forces. Science is always such an easy one for me to share. I feel like science lends itself to sharing so naturally. Kids LOVE to take pictures and videos of experiments as we engage in the scientific method. As a teacher, I know that science has shifted with the NGSS. Using Seesaw could help parents see how science class now intertwines science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. 

Possible Post:
-Recording of an experiment with an added caption about the experiment

In word study, we are studying long and short e. We’ve worked on sorting out different patterns and are working to incorporate this spelling pattern into our writing. I know that word study is another large shift for teachers and parents. No longer are we memorizing a list of words we’re studying that patterns in words. 

Possible Posts:
-Create an activity where students sort words into different categories.
-Have students find long e and short e words in their writing and double-check that they are spelled correctly or explain which pattern is used. 

From this quick reflection, I have so many possible Seesaw posts that tie into our learning. Now I have to figure out which ones would be most meaningful for students and parents. Remember that Seesaw allows students to share their learning, but it also creates a story and sends a message to parents about what’s happening in your classroom. 

Plan Your Seesaw Post

Types of Posts

https://msnatashatheodora.com/classroom-community/friday-five-student-centered-classrooms/

Now that we’ve reflected, it is time to plan. The screenshot above shows the different types of posts students can create. 

    1. Photo- A photo uses the device’s camera to take a photo. Once the picture is taken, there are so many great tools that a student can use to demonstrate learning. They can add labels or a caption. Kids can record themselves talking while the image is displayed. They can take another picture and layer that on top of the first image. They also have drawing tools available to demonstrate learning.
    2. Drawing- A drawing presents the student with a blank page and all of the same tools available on the photo. They can use the drawing, labeling, and picture tools while creating a drawing. 
    3. Video- Creating a video uses the device’s camera to record. Just a fair warning that depending on the age of your students, you might want to do a quick lesson on camera stability before letting them record. I’ve been taken on quite a few motion-sickness inducing videos before! 
    4. Upload- Here, students can upload something they already have. Maybe they are working on a google doc that they want to share. Or perhaps the picture or video they want to upload is already on the device. This is the one for them. 
    5. Note- When posting a note, students have access to a sort of word processor. They can type up what they want to share and later can record.
    6. Link- The link is where students can paste in a URL, and it will display the link. Students then have the option to record and discuss the link.

Think about which tool might best slide in with the learning already happening in your classroom. Which one is the best choice for your students? Remember that you don’t want to overwhelm parents with a bunch of things that aren’t meaningful. Which ones are the most meaningful? What is the story you’re creating and sending home to parents? 

Assign an Activity

When you assign an activity, you can choose from already created and shared activities, or you can create your own activity. To be honest, I rarely just assign an activity from the activity library. Usually, I need to make a few tweaks to the activity to make it seamlessly fit into our learning.
I usually create activities for all the posts we share. This is because I have a large number of students in my classroom whose native language isn’t English. Strategies for non-native English speakers are suitable for all students. I think it is helpful for students to see the directions after I have given them, so I try to always create an activity for whatever we are going to post. When I create an activity, it stays in my library. That means I can look back from year to year and reuse activities instead of having to generate new ideas each and every year.

Action!

It’s time to take action and plan out your first post. Click on the picture to get a free Seesaw planner!

If you’re not already on Seesaw head over to Seesaw’s youtube channel to learn more about getting started on the platform. You’ll need parent permission before students start posting. You will also want to connect with all of your families. Seesaw just rolled out a new option, which makes connecting families easier than ever!

Please know that Seesaw is extremely responsive. Follow them on Twitter, Instagram, or Youtube for more information. Seesaw is really dedicated to listening to teacher feedback and making sure that using their platform creates the best experience for everyone!

Best of luck!

Are you a Seesaw user? How do you plan out your posts? Do you have any other tips to offer up? Leave a comment below to share some more pro tips with us!

If you’re new to Seesaw comment below about how your first post went!

Weekly Wisdom

It does no good to teach a child to FIX errors if they don't know how to FIND them. Fountas and Pinnell