Saturday, January 19, 2013

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is Coming. . .

. . . and I need to get ready!

I thought I would share few resources I have come across and/or used in the past.

Let's begin with some video links!

Well, maybe a book/video link?

Do you know the book Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport?  It is a truly amazing book that tells the story of Dr. King's life with a focus on some of his most thought provoking quotes.  It can be read by/to most elementary ages lending itself to discussions that can be appropriate for all ages depending on how in-depth you want to go.
Sample page:

Read Write Think has a lesson (for grades 3-5) on the book, and part of the lesson includes this template  which lets your kids type and print their won "Big Words" page.  They select words that are significant to them and type in an explanation of the word.  You can also print out the template if you want them to write instead.

The best is that Teacher Tube has a video reading of Martin's Big Words.  That link will take you to the Teacher Tube video.  Below, I have linked it from You Tube, but it's the same video.

Another great video found on You Tube is MLK - The King and His Dream.  From the information on the page, it seems this video was a school project.  It is beautifully done and gives a very nice overview of his life while touching on some of the most significant Civil Rights issues.  It is appropriate, in my opinion, for all elementary ages.  You can watch it here:

The last video link I will touch on is from a source we probably all know, Brain Pop.  While you usually have to subscribe to this site, they have a great video on MLK you can watch for free.  If you are already a subscriber, they have a lot of related content connected to the video.

Okay, now on to one of my favorite places, Teachers Pay Teachers.  I was looking around to see what they had available, and there is a lot!  You will be sure to find something you can use in your classroom, all created by fellow teachers.  I've chosen to highlight four I found that happen to be free.

  • The first is a set of four picture posters you can print. They were created by R. J. Fox.  Each poster has a quote by MLK and a photo.  These would be great to hang in your classroom.  
  • The next is a great activity for upper elementary, but can be tweaked for the younger crowd.  It's Just or Unjust? by Sally DeCost who has a blog called Elementary Matters.  I really like this one!  After studying MLK and discussing how he fought to make a more just/fair world, students use the different idea cards and sort them into just or unjust piles.  It can lead to some very interesting conversations.  For that reason, if you do use this I would suggest reading all the cards and think about where those conversations might go.  You might want to use some and not others or add some of your own.
  • This is a great activity for anytime, not just MLK Day but it does compliment.  It is an Act of Kindness and Justice Wall by Rainbow City Learning.  Students are given a brick wall page and record their acts of kindness towards others.  As the pages fill, you hang them up and create a wall of kindness in your classroom.  This would be nice to do on-going throughout the year.  It's also a great activity for a class meeting.
  • This last activity/lesson is wonderful for incorporating some writing and test taking strategies.  It's MLK-Quotes-Writing-Practice-RACE-Strategy by Teacher Sol.  This activity has four different quotes.  Each quote comes with writing pages that have the students tell what the quote means to them using the writing response strategy of RACE (Restate the questions, Answer the questions, Cite or give an example that supports your answer, Extend the answer with detail or Explain how your example supports your answer.)  This is great for the older crowd and works nicely if you watch the Martin's Big Words video or read the book first.

For the free links above, I've also linked to the author's TpT store via their name.  If you like what they have for free, imagine what wonderfulness you could buy from then! Overall, there is a lot more available on the site for free and tons more available at VERY reasonable prices. These links are just the tip of the iceberg of what is waiting for you at TpT.  The best part is you can spend just a little bit to support a teacher and get some great resources.  Hmmm, I think I have suddenly somehow veered off into a TpT commercial! :-)

I'm going to stop here because this post could be a mile long with different resources!  I was prompted to write this post because  I will be in school  on MLK Day.  We usually have the day off in observance  but is one of our many make-up days due to Hurricane Sandy.  We always do something in school to mark the day and explain the history but being in school on the actual day this year means we are stepping it up a bit!

Hopefully these resources will be helpful to you as you celebrate the day.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Retaining Non-Readers

This is a must watch video from PBS News Hour.  Ohio has adopted a new policy in which any child not reading at a third grade level by the end of third grade must be retained.  All students, no exceptions.  They call it the Reading Guarantee.  Please take a moment to view the video.  The reporter does a good job explaining how the program works, as well as the pros and cons it brings.

I have mixed feelings on this program.  Some thoughts I had. . .

  • You simply can't guarantee 100% of all students will be on grade level.  There are so many outside factors beyond a school's control.  Now, I have to assume that there must be a gray area to their 100% guarantee when it comes to learning disabilities or special education students.  So, those situations aside, there are other outside factors that play a large role in student achievement.  As mentioned in the video, chronic absenteeism is a big one.  You simply can't help a student who isn't there to be helped.  
  • I personally believe parent involvement is key to a student's success.  I often see that many of those students who struggle most come from homes where education is not the priority.  Or, if it is, the parents seem to believe that education is solely a school place issue and there is little to no academic support given at home.  For real success to happen, our students need supervision/support with homework.  They need parents that read to them.  They need to build schema by having experiences that take them beyond their home and a television and video game.  They need to be living literate lives that we can build on in the classroom.
  • I absolutely believe that retention in the earlier grades can work IF effective programs are in place to support the remediation of academic deficiencies.  However, that is a big IF.  I have seen programs in place that, on paper, look like they are on-point.  But, when you look at the actual implementation, they just do not meet the needs.  They are hampered by lack of materials, scheduling conflicts, organization issues, funding, etc.  I think there are too many districts that get standardized test scores and have a knee-jerk reaction to quickly throw in place a program that will "fix" those students not meeting proficiency standards.  They may look good on paper, but the actual implementation and results often suffer.
I like (love?) that schools are realizing that we simply can't keep promoting students who have not, to some acceptable degree, mastered the important skills of a grade level.  There does have to be a line in the sand, some point at which we say you are simply not prepared to be successful in the next grade.  Let's fix this.  

My wish is that we become more proactive in our approach to education rather than reactive.  Let's take the time to look at our literacy programs in their totality.  What is our basic instructional program?  How are we addressing all the areas of literacy at each grade level?  Do we have the materials needed?  Are we providing out teachers with support and on-going professional development?  Are we making data driven AND common sense based decisions in what we do?  How are we monitoring our students' progress?  How are we making sure we catch those who are falling behind before they get too far behind?  What interventions do we have in place?  How do we know they are effective?  What type of parent involvement do we want to see?  How are we education our parents on how they can best support their children's academic success?

Simple questions?  No, they aren't simple questions to answer.  They require some serious conversation and a true commitment to making our literacy programs effective.  But, until we have these conversations and address these issues, I'm not sure programs like Ohio's Reading Guarantee will work.

What are your thoughts?