Back At It

I have been away from blogging for a while, but have decided it is time to get back to it. I have such a wonderful class this year, that I feel that I need to be telling someone about them. They have totally embraced Whole Brain Teaching (WBT) and we are learning up a storm. I will be posting pictures and video clips of our hard work. Look for more to come.

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KISS Your Old Behavior Plan Goodbye

“Please turn in your classroom discipline plans by Friday.”  How often as a teacher have we heard this and dreaded the chore of putting in writing what we actually do in our classrooms?  This generally brings anxiety because teachers tend to have a complicated system, with charts, clothespins, and marbles, that makes sense in their heads, but hard to put down on paper.  Well, think about it.  If it is hard for you to write each detail, then how do you expect your students to understand it?  The acronym KISS comes to mind.  The acronym WBT also comes to mind.  In this situation, WBT = KISS.

Whole Brain Teaching focuses on five rules: 1) Follow directions quickly, 2) Raise your hand for permission to speak, 3) Raise your hand for permission to leave you seat, 4) Make smart choice, and 5) Keep your dear teacher happy.  Each has its own power within the classroom, but each also has its challenges.  Rule 4 – Make smart choice – is a rule that carries a lot of power in the classroom.  If I can get my students to understand what is meant by the term “smart choice” then it will be easy for them to follow the other four rules.  Is it a smart choice not to follow directions?  Is it a smart choice to speak or leave your seat without permission?  Is it a smart choice to not keep your dear teacher happy?  Making smart choices for 4th graders is difficult, but giving them plenty of opportunity to practice at a young age will help them make choices as they enter their teenage years , and will follow them to their adulthood. Making smart choices is a life skill.

A smooth running classroom greatly depends on a well-managed classroom.  Using the five basic Whole Brain Teaching rules is a smart choice.  Now is the time to not only kiss those bad choices goodbye, but also kiss those old behavior plans farewell. 

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May I Have Your Attention Please…Oh Wait, There is Something Better

I wrote what I thought to be a wonderful book talk entry on the Class…Yes to realize that it was not to be in essay form.  So instead of wasting all that time, I will share it with you……

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1,2,3, eyes on me…If you hear my voice clap once….My hand goes up, your mouth goes closed…or any of the other techniques teachers use to gain their students’ attention.  Do they work? If so, superb, but I speculate they do not or there would not be so many variations to the way educators use to get the attention of their students?

The “Class…Yes” method has proven effective not only in my 4th grade classroom, but also in my colleague’s 1st grade class and in classes on every grade level across the world. How could one method be so successful with people of any age? The reason behind the effectiveness of the “Class…Yes” method is that all brains are essentially the same. They all have a prefrontal cortex that is the boss and it can control how the remaining parts respond to a stimulus. If you capture a person’s attention, the prefrontal cortex takes over and will demand that the rest of the brain reacts. When the ears hear “Class” and the mouth verbally responds with “Yes” and the hands fold and the eyes focus on the speaker, the listener’s brain is actively engaged and is ready to learn. Ever trained an animal to perform an action or command, well this is basically the same premise; but unlike animals, people need variety. By changing the “Class, Yes” attention grabber, the listeners stay on their toes and it sets up a sense of anticipation within the classroom and they are constantly listening to hear how is the teacher is going to change it this time?

There are a few basic tried, but true variations to the “Class, Yes.” A few that I prefer are “Oh, Class…Oh, Yes,” “Classity Class…Yesity Yes,” and “Class, class, class, class, class….Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes” (sung in a little tune). After being in Whole Brain College, “Class-a-doddle-do, Yes-a-doodle-do” became one of my students’ favorites. “Oh, my sweet class…Yes, my sweet teacher,” is one I would like to utilize when I know my students are not real happy with me. Changing ones voice to robot sounds, monster noises, baby talk, giant groans, or any other creative way is another fun way to add variety to the “Class…Yes.” “Class, mam…Yes, mam,” or” Class, sir…Yes, sir,” is one I like to use when my administration walks into the classroom. Wow! Talk about total buy-in, if he or she is not already on board. You know you have hit a homerun when the students are given the opportunity to gain the attention of their peers and they use a version they have created on their own.

Chris Rekstad presented a variation at the Whole Brain Teaching National Conference that has excited me. He states a gnarly multiplication fact and the students respond with not only the answer, but also repeating the problem. For example, if I say, “8 x 7,” the class responds, “8 x 7 equals 56.” I feel sure this is a method I will implement fairly early in the school year. Using various vocabulary terms can also be interesting, but keep in mind that what is said should be short, sweet, and to the point.

Now, put away all those fancy techniques and leave the lights on. The simple, but effective “Class, Yes” method of engaging students will not only, gain their attention, but also capture their imaginations.

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Just What the Doctor Ordered

The book talk assignment for Chapter 5 of Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids by Chris Biffle was to reflect on our lesson presentations and note which parts of the brain our lessons actively engage. Sometimes it is hard to admit that we are wrong or to even imagine that we are not doing what is best for our students, but mistakes are only mistakes when we do not learn from them. After taking a closer look at the parts of the brain and the role or function of each, it is clear to me why some of my lessons seemed more effective than others. My goal is to make all lessons actively involve the whole brain throughout the entire lesson. To find out more about the parts of the brain, pick up a copy of Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids at http://www.amazon.com/Whole-Brain-Teaching-Challenging-Kids/dp/0984816712/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1372384293&sr=1-1&keywords=whole+brain+teaching .

Why do people get x-rays? People generally get x-rays when something does not feel right. But again, why an x-ray? The answer is quite simple, to see what is not visible to the naked eye. Well, if we could take x-rays of our students’ brains while we are teaching, what would we see? Would we see a lot of activity or would we see parts of the brain sitting there dormant?

As teachers we spend hours planning and preparing lessons that we think our students will just absorb. You know the ones with picture-filled power points and interactive study guides. The ones where every minute of the lesson is packed full of all the skills, facts, and terms necessary to “pass the test.” That x-ray may show all parts of the brain are actively involved at some point of the lesson, but as teachers our goal should be to have the whole brain active throughout the entire lesson.

I had the unique opportunity to introduce whole brain teaching to my students the last quarter of the year. So I had first-hand knowledge of how whole brain lessons compared to my traditional lessons. Before WBT, I used power points and study guides to introduce lessons which activated the visual cortex and Wernicke’s area. Then, as the unit went on, I added some picture or word sorts or some other type of hands-on activities that engaged the motor and visual cortex. After that, I assigned a writing assignment which had the students tell why the skills or concepts taught were important to everyday life. This got several areas of the brain engaged especially the prefrontal cortex and the motor cortex. I concluded with the students orally presenting their written assignments which stimulated Broca’s area and the limbic system since I had a very animated class that loved to perform. I feel that throughout the unit, the whole brain was involved. However, after creating lessons that were centered on the WBT 5-Step Lesson Plan, I realized the injustice I was doing to not only my students, but also to me. All of a sudden, I became a teacher and not just a presenter. I knew I was more effective in the classroom when my students began asking me to do “that stuff” again. When I asked what they meant and they responded, “Teach us in that fun way; the way that we get to teach each other,” I knew I had made a change for the better. When it came time to “pass the test,” I again knew that I had made a good change.

After a careful review of the before x-ray, the one before whole brain lessons, and the after x-ray, the one with a dose of whole brain teaching, it is obvious that WBT is just what the doctor order. As the prescription states, “Continue using daily until funtricity takes over the class and continue using as long as you want to be in teacher heaven.”

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A Mile in My Shoes…What Teachers REALLY Do Over the Summer

Whoever said that teachers do not work twelve months a year needs to come walk a mile in our shoes. What a loaded question! What are my plans to prepare for the upcoming school year? I have to say, I am happy that I introduce Whole Brain Teaching to my class at the end of this past school year so I have a few things already prepared. Now I can start on the millions of other things that I would like to get done. A few of the things that I would like to complete are writing my entries for the book talk on Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids, creating Power Pix, preparing lessons using the WBT 5-Step Lesson Plan and most of all gathering my points together so that I am ready to start working on my exemplary video when school starts back.

My first focus for the summer is to complete all assigned book talk entries. I feel that the more I read about WBT and the more I analyze my teaching, the better prepared I will be to start the year off on the WBT foot. Already having a taste of the rules and with some experience with the 5-Step Lesson Plan, I am confident that going through the book will help me create that exemplary video.

My second focus will be on creating Power Pix that are specific to the Virginia SOLs; that would be Standards of Learning, not what might come to mind. Virginia has put a lot of time and money into developing the SOLs, so I do not foresee the state going Common Core any time soon. I am also getting new administration, so hopefully, I will find out next week if I will be self-contained or team teaching which will determine how much time I will have to put into this project.

Once I find out exactly what I will be teaching, I can begin working on my third goal – writing lesson plans. This is my third year in 4th grade so I have a good grasp on the curriculum and know exactly where the focus needs to be in each subject area. These 5-step plans will have to be in addition to the required plans, but if I do them now, it should make the required plans a little easier. Having them electronically will ensure that I will have them forever.

My last goal is to submit my certification points to Nancy. I have collected well over 500 points, and should be to 700 points soon. I want to be ready to start working on my exemplary video when school starts.

I will have a very busy summer between book talking, power pixing, lesson planning and documenting. Somehow I am going to find time to go back to Louisiana, relax a little, and just be a mom. That will also help me prepare for the school year as well. So all those critics out there, I have a nice pair of shoes you can borrow.

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The Beautiful Masterpiece of Learning

The book talk assignment for Chapter 4 of Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids by Chris Biffle was to imagine that next year was complete and that I had not only charted the behaviors of my students, but also my own behaviors.  Then I was to reflect on what I learned from charting both the students and my behaviors.  I have to admit that reflecting and charting my own behaviors was not something that I had ever done before and was a little afraid to tackle.  We do not always like what we see when we look in a mirror, but I guess it is what we do with it is what counts in the end.  The book gives categories and pointers on tracking these behaviors. To find out more about this, pick up a copy of Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids at http://www.amazon.com/Whole-Brain-Teaching-Challenging-Kids/dp/0984816712/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1372384293&sr=1-1&keywords=whole+brain+teaching

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, then these charts are should be a best-selling novel.   As good of memory as I may have, nothing can compare to writing down data and analyzing it.  When I sit back at the end of the day, there is no denying what is in black and white.  If I was an artist, I could keep adding details until my masterpiece was perfect, but data does not always present itself in a masterpiece format.  

Having taught special needs students for many years and now having them in my general education classroom, I have tracked behaviors of students in so many ways and formats that I could not count them all.  However, it was not until I started tracking my own behaviors that I realized that maybe, just maybe, it was not all the students behavior that was the problem, but sometimes it is just my own.  As much as I want a community atmosphere in my classrooms, I also have to keep in mind that I am the one who is really in charge.  I alone can make my day a really good one or a really bad one.  I have blamed my bad days on student X,Y, or Z, but in hind sight, it is me and how I react to those students that determines my kind of day.  Charting different behaviors that I did or did not exhibit during the day was a true eye-opener to my mood when I got home each day.  My own children were not in my classroom so I vow to take a good, long, hard look at ME at the end of the day and be happy or be mad at ME, not my students, not my children, and not my husband.

So, after looking back, I guess I am somewhat of an artist.  I can add a few little details to my day or change a few little details in my day, so that when the bell rings at 3:15, I can step back and see the beautiful masterpiece of learning that I created that day.

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Note: I am not changing what I wrote, but if you are using this post as a spring board as to what to do for your own reflection, please use it as what not to do.  It was not specific enough.  I guess, not using this strategy before, I was thinking I would just reflecting on my overall behaviors for the day.  Keep in mind that you are not alone at going at this from the hip.  Once we have done something once, it is always easier to make a reflection.   Remember that when you make your own reflection, that the people reading and critiquing it have been doing this for several years.  So be as specific as you can.  Replay a scenario in your mind and note your behaviors and those of your students.  Good luck and I hope my misfortune turns into your fortune.  Please let me know how your reflection goes.

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Don’t Let Detours Become Road Blocks

The book talk assignment for Chapter 3 of Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids by Chris Biffle was to write a letter to myself pointing out two of the seven common teaching mistakes that I feel I need to change.  I know we are all guilty at some time or another of committing one of these seven mistakes, but if we keep in mind that teaching equals learning and continue to grow every day, we will find that these mistakes occur less often.  I have focused on two mistakes, not paying the price ahead of time and calling out “those” disruptive student.  To find out the other five common mistakes, pick up a copy of Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids at http://www.amazon.com/Whole-Brain-Teaching-Challenging-Kids/dp/0984816712/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1372384293&sr=1-1&keywords=whole+brain+teaching  . 

Dear Paige,

Wow!! You have so many great things going on in your classroom!  Better yet, now that you have introduced Whole Brain Teaching to your students, you just stepped it up a notch.  I know you always expect the best from your students and you have very high expectation for them as well, but a very wise person once told me that the day you stop learning as a teacher is the day you need to stop teaching.  Wait, that person was you and that is just like what is stated in the book Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids by Chris Biffle“Grow or die.”  So as many great things as you have going on in your classroom, you still have some things you can improve.  Two of those areas are “paying the price” before you enter the classroom so that you don’t “pay it” in the classroom and calling out “those” students in front of their classmates. 

I have noticed that when you teach, the lessons that are the most engaging are the ones that you put that little extra effort into and really planned out.  I know you have a life outside of school and I know that much of your planning time at school is taken up with meetings, but just think of that feeling of satisfaction you have when the day is done and you know your students went home knowing a little more than they did when they woke up that morning.  So I hope you can find time to at least once a day put that extra effort into a lesson that you teach.  Then guess what?  Soon you will realize that you start teaching this way all the time with less effort, until eventually whole brain teaching will become a way of life.

Think for a moment about sitting in a faculty meetings and there is that one teacher who seems to want all the attention.  Think of how annoyed you feel when your principal plays into it and continually lets that person speak.  Well, that is the same feeling that your students have when you keep playing into “those” students’ disruptive behaviors.  Just like that teacher in the faculty meeting, “those” student are going to keep seeking attention as long as you allow it.  Think of the relief you feel when your principal does not call on that teacher.  I hope that you can give that same relief to the students in your class.  It will be hard but I know you can do it.

I want to wish you continued success on your journey to teacher heaven.  I know you are getting close and there may be a few detours along the way, just do not let those detours become road blocks.  If you can spend a little extra time preparing lessons and by all means save your voice and time by not playing into the hands of “those” students, then you should have a smooth road ahead.

Your best friend, but your biggest critic,

Me

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