Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration
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Music Makes It Stick: Tips, Freebies & Goodies For Using Music In Your Classroom!

Music is a powerful medium.  How many times have you heard a song from your past and been transported back in time?  It might even trigger emotions.  When I hear "Stairway to Heaven," I'm back at a high school dance with my arms clenched around Wayne, my first boyfriend, my head buried in his shoulder.  I feel nostalgic. I remember the excitement of getting ready for that dance. That's what music transports us to different places and times in our lives...our memories are more vivid because music is connected to them. 

So as teachers, why wouldn't we use it to tattoo our students' minds?

One of my favorite ways to use music in my classroom is to create piggyback songs.  Piggyback songs are songs that use a familiar tune with lyrics that you write yourself to teach a concept.  I've written piggyback songs about Core Democratic Values, to teach the steps to long division, and to unpack math vocabulary.  I've worked with teachers, grades K-12, and watched them write songs to help students remember geometry theorems, calculus content, the names of the months in a year, and on and on.  They all report success. 

One of most favorite piggyback song efforts occurred while I was stuck in a major traffic jam on a 4-hour drive home from my parents' house.  My kids were having trouble with the huge amount of geometry vocabulary in our current math unit.  I was bored.  So, I "wrote" 8 geometry songs to cement the vocabulary.  By the time I got home, I had mentally outlined a script for a geometry musical! I wrote the play over the next three days, and the rest is history! There are three steps I've used to guide teachers in writing their own instructional piggyback songs.  Watch the video below to learn about them!


My best advice for writing your own piggyback songs includes:
  • Don't use the same melody for more than one song.  You want THAT particular tune to be attached to THAT particular concept.
  • Start out with easy ditties first, like "Mary Had a Little Lamb."
  • Don't forget to "unpack" the lyrics with your students. Use them as a lesson. Do a CLOSE READ with your song lyrics.
  • After you get more practiced, try writing them WITH your students.  They'll be even more motivated because they helped author it.
  • Put your I'm-tone-deaf-I-don't-even-sing-in-the-shower crud away.  Your kids do NOT care. Truly.
  • Revisit your songs often. They are a great way to review. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
  • Add movements to your songs and you'll double the learning whammy.  Bodily-kinesthetic approaches are just as powerful!
  • Laugh! Don't take yourself so seriously.
Working with non-musician teachers, I know how daunting it can be to incorporate music into your pedagogy.  So I've put together a little "I-don't-even-know-where-to-start" goodie for you.  If you click on the picture below, you'll find a freebie that outlines 20 ways to incorporate music in your classroom, a list of 30 instrumental songs that are perfect for classroom use (think "YouTube"), and a list of 41 melodies that work well for creating your own piggyback songs.  But will you do me a favor?  I LOVE hearing about how other teachers incorporate music in their classrooms.  If you've done this, please share  in the comments section.

To hear excerpts from a couple of my students' most favorite songs click here and listen to the start of this podcast! You won't be sorry!

If  you're interested in trying out some of my piggyback songs in your classroom, then check out the products below by clicking on the pictures.  There's another free resource here, too!                    

                                           Until next time, teach on, my friend!

GOT GAME? 3 Tips for Making Games Effective for Learning

I was in the toy aisle at Target the other day and spied a giant set of dominoes. It was a thing of beauty to behold. I was instantly transported back a gazillion years to my grandma's kitchen table. We sat hunched over the domino tiles. Her left hand cupped her never-empty coffee cup. There was a small plate of windmill cookies off to the side. She used her index finger to sweep up my cookie crumbs while I labored over my next move. My grandma and me, we were fierce domino players. 

Because she was a fourth grade teacher, when my grandma taught you how to play a game, you learned strategy. It was discussed and developed. I learned to visualize several moves ahead. I learned patterns of play. I learned what tiles were best to hold back until the end and which tiles were best to play first.

To this day, I adore playing games because of my Grandma Eller. As a classroom teacher, they are one of my favorite ways to teach concepts, strategy, collaboration, and problem-solving skills.  Over the eons of my teaching career, I've discovered three important factors that make or break classroom game-playing experiences.

Modeling is imperative. When I teach a new game to my students, they, as a class, play against me. I put the gaming materials on my document camera and project them onto my Smart Board. Before the days of technology, we sat on the floor in a circle and played. 

I usually begin by close reading the game directions with my students. We highlight key words. We ask questions to check our understanding of the directions. 

While I teach the game, I make my mathematical thinking visible. I think aloud. I question aloud. I want them to see how my thinking helps me play the game better. I ask them to predict any trouble they think players might run into.

Then we play against each other. The whole class is one entity that plays against me. Students take turns coming up to play for the class team. We stop, when necessary, to fix up any misunderstandings of the directions or errors in mathematical thinking.

Finally, I turn my students loose to play.  They scatter around the room. I monitor their efforts. This is important. It keeps students on task, helps their understanding (because questions always come up), and informs me of their mathematical thinking. I'm assessing them. 

We are so inundated as teachers, we often take this opportunity to multi-task while students are playing, but it's important to focus on their play. 

After students are about half way through a game, I call them back to my large group teaching area to discuss any "A-has" they've made about mathematical content and game strategy. We record these on chart paper or the board. Sometimes, we make plans for how we'll change our play when we return to the game.

The strategizing session is important because it helps all students be successful during game play by making the problem-solving nature of game play transparent.

Finally, at the end of math workshop, we come together again to share out. This is the segment of the game play where we cement the mathematical learning. Closure is a vital part of playing learning games, because it refocuses the entire time period on the mathematical learning. 

I usually ask, "So what mathematical learning did we do today?" We chart our responses. Sometimes I use a visible thinking stem. "At first I thought________________, but now I think__________________" in order to name and notice changes in our thinking. These get recorded on our math wall. 

Game play will always be one of my favorite ways to teach concepts. I think it is potentially powerful for the learner when the three steps are followed. But it is also my favorite because I'm transported back to the taste of almond windmill cookies and the click of domino tiles...and my grandma's laughter, warm and loving. 

If you're looking for classroom games, take a look below. There's a freebie in the line up, too, that is perfect for teaching back-to-school procedures. Enjoy!

This month, I've linked up with some fabulous teachers for Teacher Talk. There are some great classroom ideas here! Check them out below!

Wild Child's Classroom Tour 2017: Freebies and Ideas!

Greetings, friends! I'm reveling in the fact that my classroom set up is done- EARLY! I have meetings all next week, and I start school with students on the day after Labor Day. For the first time in years, I hadn't moved rooms, schools, or grade level, so my classroom set up felt like a breeze. Watch the video below to tour my room and then scroll down for some celebratory freebies and products. 


There's something exciting about setting up a classroom for the new year.  After 25 years, I still get excited to set up my classroom. However, I have one rule I've set for myself. My decor must have a function. With that rule, I've began creating it myself.

If you're interested in any of the goodies in my classroom, I've listed them below for you. Some are FREEBIES! Have a great school year and enjoy!

The Heart of the Workshop: 3 Tips & Freebies for Productive Writing Conferences

I sat in the fourth row behind Mike, my not-so-secret crush. I can still remember the anticipation.  Today was the day Mr. Z was handing our essays back to us.  I looked forward to the red-inked notes he wrote on my paper.  Always brief, sometimes only one word, they had the power to make or break my day. 

In junior high, everyone had a role.  Tim was the class clown. Doug was the joker. Mike was the anthropologist who cried when I picked Pompeii as my research topic before he could get to it. I did it just to spite him. I liked ancient history, too. I was "the writer." That was my handle. Everyone knew it. I loved to write. So on days when our writing assignments were handed back to us...well, it was my day. 

As much as I loved Mr. Z's comments on my papers, they did very little to develop my writing skills.  At the risk of aging myself, these were the days when the teacher gave the writing assignment, you did it and turned it in. Then he read it, wrote a grade at the top, a couple of comments, and that was it. No rubric. No coaching. No self-reflection...only self-flagellation when the grade and comments were less than expected.

Times change, people change, situations change...The only thing constant is change.

Times have changed since my junior high days.  Many of us use a writer's workshop approach to teach writing. Hopefully, those days of ineffective comments, and guessing at the assessment targets are gone. When students get their writing pieces back, they should know exactly what writing skills they have mastered, as well as those that they have not mastered. Self-reflection is an integral component for developing writers. 

There are three writing conference strategies that I've identified in my research, teaching and coaching experiences.  We teachers often complicate conferring. It feels daunting and awkward at first. However, three tips can simplify your writing life in your classroom.

Honor the writer. Yep. You heard me. In order for my students to behave like writers, to talk like writers, to think like writers, I have to treat them like writers.

What does that mean? It means I begin each conference with these words, "Tell me about the thinking you're doing today as a writer."  In the beginning, I get blank stares. DON'T GIVE UP! As the school year progresses, your students will be able to answer this question IF you model that type of thinking for them consistently.  

Ask your writer to describe what she's proudest of in her writing. Ask him to talk about his challenges. Ask her if she's tried anything new while writing. Ask them, "What do you want to work on?" Initially, you may get surface level stuff like, "I want to work on my beginning." Don't give up. Ask, "What about your beginning?" Your writers will become more adept at talking about their process if you give them opportunities to do so. Remember that the end goal is not to develop a perfect piece of writing. The end goal is to develop a thoughtful and skilled writer.

 When I meet with a student writer, I pick one teaching point to address. Looking at student writing can be so overwhelming-the punctuation, the sentence structure or lack of, the underdeveloped evidence, etc. But if it's overwhelming for us, imagine what it's like for them. 

I zero in on one teaching point to teach in a writing conference. This saves my sanity, and my students are more successful writers because they can focus on one strategy. We want our students to learn it all...YESTERDAY. Often times, I end a unit feeling defeated because Johnny didn't hit this benchmark or that benchmark.  I have to remind myself, though, that good writing is good writing. The skills translate from genre to genre.  I've begun the habit of tracking my end-of-unit assessment data to inform the teaching decisions I make in the next. 

Data. Did you feel the bile rise up in your throat a bit? Swallow it back down. Believe it or not, writing data can be your best friend. Hear me out. 

When I assess a writing piece using Writing Pathways  or 6 + 1 Traits rubrics, I record all of the scores. I graph them on a grading sheet, so I can see a data picture for each of my student writers. Then I highlight the low scoring  areas. I'm looking for trends. If I have many students who bombed paragraph transitions,  then I teach it again within the same unit or in the next unit if we're moving on. If it's just a few, then I might conduct some small group writing conferences around that teaching point.  If it's just a couple of students, I address it in one-on-one writing conferences. 

I put those writing score sheets on a clip board with other conference sheets I've developed.  The data is front and center for me at each and every writing conference. I can't emphasize how much that has changed the success of my writing conferences and my formative assessment practices.

Writing conferences are one of the most powerful tools a writing teacher has in her arsenal.  They are formative assessments. They are one-on-one or small group instruction. They are differentiation at its finest. They are the heartbeat of the writer's workshop.  Writing conferences beat out a rhythm for the rest of the workshop. Because I am constantly taking my students' writing pulses, my lessons are more tailored for their needs. I know my writers inside and red pen in sight.

Check out the resources & freebies below!

This is a resource I use every year in my classroom. It details how I organize myself for writing conferences. It'll tell you all about my writing clipboard...the one I can't live without. 

We want a strong connection between reading and writing skills for our students. The lessons below are designed to link the two together. Integration of reading and writing skills develops better thinkers! 

These resources are part of this writing blog series. They're developed for getting reluctant writers started and for character development. Both focus on helping students to write like readers and read like writers. 

And finally...I've included two free videos. Click on the pictures below to access them. In them, I chat about writer's workshop practices.

Until next time, may your writer's workshop rock on!