March 1, 2015

It's Book Study Time! Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: Chapters 1 & 2

No joke, I've been looking forward to this book study since Elizabeth announced it a while back!  

Reading through this book, I've had a lot of moments of reflection.  Thinking back to my first years of teaching, I really didn't know how to teach beyond the textbook.  I began realizing that the textbook doesn't even come close to truly engaging students about five years into my career.  I began supplementing, and then, I discovered Pinterest (thank you, Jesus).  Pinterest led me to discovering bloggers like Deanna, Cara, and Deedee... And then the changes really started happening.

I'll let you in on a little secret... I haven't touched my reading textbook in three years.  While I still use my math textbook as a guide, I rarely use it beyond that.  There are so many ways to engage students beyond the textbook, and this book touches on strategies that you can use to engage your students.

In chapter 1, Marcia Tate describes the first strategy for engaging students in their learning:  Brainstorming.

Reading through the chapter, I immediately thought of my favorite brainstorming strategies:  Turn and talk, collaboration, and anchor charts.  

We use turn and talk almost daily.  This is super simple to incorporate into your teaching.  All you have to say is, "Turn and talk to your neighbor about..." and that's it.  Simple Simon. :)

The turn and talk method allows students to share their thoughts on whatever topic you can think of, be it reading, math, or content area, and provide feedback to their peers.  They don't have to move around the room.  They don't have to use any supplies.  It's really, really simple, and gets the brain going!

Anchor charts are always fun!  I learned about these when reading Debbie Diller's books in college.  She is my teacher idol, by the way.  If you've not read her stuff, run (don't walk) to get her books.  Your classroom (and life) will be changed for ever!

You don't have to be artsy fartsy to get the point of a schema chart.  I really enjoy making mine look cute, but you don't have to make them look cute to get the point across at all!  The main idea of these is to have students brainstorm and share their thinking.  

Here is an example of our apple schema chart from the beginning of the year:

Here is our History of Thanksgiving schema chart.

On the first day of whatever it is that we are studying, I use post-its to document my students' schema.  Now, what they say may or may not be correct, but I write it down and slap it under schema either way.  Throughout the unit of study, we revisit these charts and move the post-its around, as well as add new ones as we learn new things.  They are valuable pieces of learning in our classroom!

In my classroom, my students often make their own anchor charts.  We are 1:1 with iPad minis, so students use my favorite tool to create:  The camera!  We could talk about apps until we are blue in the face, but at the end of the day, the camera is the most powerful digital tool our students have.  Here are some examples of student made anchor charts.

Leaf descriptions (tying in adjectives to our unit of study)

We're going on a noun hunt!

FYI:  We used the app PicCollage to create these charts.

We also use other anchor charts/graphic organizers all the time, such as Venn diagrams, can/have/are charts, etc., but more on that in the next section! 

Collaboration. Oh, collaboration.  You have my heart.

I live for student collaboration.  Any time you can get students working together to problems solve, you always get deeper learning.  Which leads me to my favorite:  Project Based Learning.

Project Based Learning (PBL) thrives on student collaboration.  It's all about student voice and choice in PBL.  Talk about Bloom's Taxonomy!  

We incorporate PBL into our classroom often.  My goal is to have a project at least once a quarter.  So far, we've completed three projects this school year, and we just started our fourth.  

Here are some images from some of our PBL projects.

This project from last year was so much fun.  The kids designed a park in our city.  We broke into committees, selected project managers, and worked together to create a fun place for our community to enjoy.  It was very much like The Apprentice, except no one was fired and my hair is WAY better than Donald Trump's.

Our second project of the year was to design a fire escape map for our school.  This corresponded with our fire safety unit.  We collaborated with the local fire department to create a map that was easy to use.  The entire kindergarten worked on this project, and my group was in charge of creating visual representations of our school.  The kids on my committee selected Legos, drawing, Play Doh, and Minecraft to do just that.

This wasn't really a full-fledged PBL project, but during our spider study, the kids were challenged to create a spider web.  The kids were broken into groups and were given tape, a chair, and yarn to complete the task.  As you can see, we had some really great spider webs!

This picture is one of my favorites of all time.  This is from our Virtual Wax Museum project, where the students collaborated to create a presentation on a famous American.  We set up around the room and had visitors all day long.  And yes, this group studied Abraham Lincoln. :)  This was my very first PBL project to complete with my students, and still my favorite.  We just started for this year last week, so I will have more adorable pictures to share soon!

To keep our thinking organized, I have a PBL "wall" in our classroom where we keep track of everything about our projects.

From top to bottom:  Our driving question; our knows, need to knows, and next steps; new vocabulary; and a project calendar.  This helps us stay organized and focused on our projects!

While Tate did not specifically mention PBL in chapter 1, I think it fits perfectly into the mold of what this book is all about.  Brainstorming is imperative to PBL!

Strategy 2 focused on using artwork to enhance learning.  

At the beginning of my career, I viewed this as fluff.  Don't ask me where I got that thinking from, because it's totally bogus!  Artwork and learning go hand in hand, especially when the artwork in meaningful.  I have absolutely no problem doing a cute art project just to do one, but throwing in some learning is always beneficial!  

Here are some examples of how we use artwork to enhance our learning.

This is what our hallway looks like during our nocturnal animals unit!  Instead of learning about the creepy stuff around Halloween, we love learning about animals that come out at night!  Here, you see our bat and owl artwork with our Venn diagram comparing both creatures of the night.  On the clips, you will see our fun math project we tied into our story of the week, Spookly the Square Pumpkin.  The kids chose the shape they would be if they were a pumpkin.  Super simple, yet so relevant to what we were learning!

This activity came from Deedee and Deanna's Guiding Readers January unit for the book Ice Bear.  We created the can, have, are charts, then made these cute polar bears from Deanna's Arctic Animals unit.  We took it a step farther by creating a ChatterPix of one fact about polar bears, inserting the videos into a blog post using KidBlog, and making a QR code link to share with those who visit our hallway.  

It's all about taking it a step further!

This craftivity is from the beginning of the year (Septemberish) when we were just starting to write.  We created these darling apples (even though I did them wrong and they look a little tomatoish... Read the directions, Brittany!) from Cara's Apple Antics unit.  I don't have a close up of the writing, but the kids were to unscramble the "I like" sentence, then choose their favorite apple treat.  Again, engaging and relevant!

This is one of my faves from last school year.  During our life cycle unit, we study plants, animals, and insects.  We grow/hatch tomato plants, an avocado, ladybugs, frogs, chicks, and butterflies. 

Basically, I'm admitting that the month of April is full-on crazy town, but whatever... The kids eat it up and learn A LOT!

This little craft was so adorable, and we extended our learning by writing three can/have/are facts of the student's choosing.  Precious.  And relevant. :)

The template for this craft came from Deanna's Turkey Glyph pack on TPT.  It was adorable and went right along with our story for the week!

We also learn a lot about the historical side of Thanksgiving.  Last year, we made these adorable Mayflowers for our History of Thanksgiving book.  The template for the book came Deanna, but the Mayflower was just cut by students.  This year, we used the Book Creator app to make our History of Thanksgiving books, but made the Mayflower replica with a QR code on the ship so that visitors and students could scan the code and read the books.  

I hope you enjoyed taking a peek into how we use brainstorming and artwork in our classroom.  This book is already inspiring me to incorporate these strategies into our classroom even more.  

The next strategy is by far my favorite:  FIELD TRIPS!!!  Come back next week to see how we do field trips... We don't even have to leave our classroom for some of them! :)


  1. I'm with you on the simplicity of turn and talk - for me, when I first started using it, it seemed like I kept running into snafu's...they didn't know who to partner up with, somebody was without a partner, they were with somebody they didn't normally chat with so their sharing wasn't very meaningful. I jumped ship after a few times because it just didn't feel right - then I found a few ways to work around the obstacles and I LOVE turn and talk. Your post makes me want to make a more concerted effort to do it daily. I tell you, we need more time in the day, don't we!?!?!?

    Crisscross Applesauce in First Grade

  2. I love your post. You do some really great things with your kids and it seems that you are able to really combine technology with the creative arts. I look forward to reading your posts.

  3. Great Post! It inspired me to go ahead and get the book. :) Thanks!