6 Test prep ideas to use in your classroom

6 Test prep ideas to use in your classroom

State testing season is officially upon us. A time of year that every teacher would prefer to be eliminated from the calendar, but the reality is that it’s part of our job. I’m going to tell you what I tell my students: this is not a defining moment. Sure, these tests are used for defining us as teachers and they are used for defining our students, but we are not the total sum calculated in that score.

Standardized testing season can be stressful for students and teachers. Use these 6 ideas to help ease that test prep stress in every classroom.

Does that give us permission to blow off the test? No, because the reality is that this state test is not going to miraculously disappear. We aren’t going to wake up one morning and hear that the governor has declared all state testing canceled. As much as we all would love for this to be the scenario!

So if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

Did you know that I sat on the Ohio AIR content advisory committee?

If I couldn’t make the test go away then I needed a way to understand it better. Once Ohio ditched the PARCC they started new teacher advisory committees to piece together the AIR test. Apparently, this is always the process of curating a standardized test.

A small committee of about 20 -25 teachers who have at least five years of teaching experience in that grade level work to decide on content. Teachers are chosen from a variety of districts around the state to represent the different demographic areas as well. All of the teachers chosen must apply for the committee.

The job of the committee is to ensure that test questions are aligned with grade level standards. Each question is presented as an assessment for a specific standard and if we feel the question doesn’t do that it can be rejected. There would have to be what’s called a “fatal flaw” within the question for that to happen. Most of the time a simple revision can fix a question.

Being an active participant and hearing this process helped me better understand assessments. It didn’t sway my opinion of how our state chooses to use these tests in determining teacher effectiveness, although not much would change my opinion on that. When it comes to state testing it’s too simplistic to say you agree or disagree with it. There is a need for evaluating student knowledge based on state standards and until there is a better way I will do what I can to help my students be better test takers.

Many students will have to sit for exams in order to further their careers so I like to look at test prep as if it’s a reading genre. Ultimately, every test is a reading test. Determine what they want you to show that you know and find the right answer. In my slide presentation on preparing for the Ohio AIR test, I go into specific detail about how students can use this to their advantage. You can also read more about lesson ideas I use for test prep here.

There are also environmental aspects to consider when preparing for a state test that can help students have a greater advantage. Here are six ideas for preparing your classroom for testing season.

1. Scent: Did you know that cinnamon helps to awaken the brain? In a brain science professional development we learned this little tidbit of information.  The presenter did mention that it can’t be fake cinnamon like a plug-in or spray or even melted wax. Her suggestion was to sprinkle a little on a few plates and place those around the room.

2. Look: Most states mandate that any posters come off the wall if they could help the students. Plan to do this a week in advance so students aren’t throw off by the “new” look of your room on the day of testing. This could also make for a good review. Ask students to recall where anchor charts hung and what was on them.

3. Feel: Suggest to your students that they wear their brightest color clothing! Bright colors evoke positive feelings and stimulate the brain. It’s also better to wear clothing that it’s too comfortable. Sweat pants and sweatshirts can make a person feel too relaxed and sleepy. I like to talk about the idea of dressing for the job you want, only I change it to dressing for the score you want.

4. Taste: Peppermint is a flavor that helps to awaken the brain and senses. We buy or PTO donates bags of the peppermint hard candies for students to suck on while testing. Cinnamon gum can also have the same effect. What you eat can also make a difference. Don’t forget to tell your students the importance of a high protein breakfast the morning of each test. High protein – low sugar. Protein allows energy that is prolonged, while sugar will give them a jolt then crash before testing is even over!

5. Sound: Silence can be deafening for some kids. They need opportunities to practice prolonged silence. Extended silent reading is great practice. Even a computer task without headphones. These are especially important if the norm in your classroom is background music and headphones during independent work time.

6. Emotion: One final tip that could help your students make a personal and emotional connection to a very impersonal assessment. Test dedications: it’s the same concept as athletes dedicating their performance or the dedication page at the start of every novel. Ask students to think about someone who has helped or encouraged their education. Have them write a small paragraph about why they deserve this honor then paste their picture next to it. Have students hang their dedication where they can see it while testing.

If you’d like a free downloadable test dedication printable simply add your email below. You’ll get access to this and many other free printables in our growing resource library.



Do you have other ways to help students prepare or feel ready for the test? Share your best test-taking strategies in the comments!

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Hack Instructional Design

Hack Instructional Design

When I first began my career as a teacher I’d landed a job in Kannapolis, North Carolina. It was the absolute best place to start a career because this was a middle school that truly represented a staff that lived like family and educated students as if they were their own children.

Apart of that staff was a lively couple, Michael and Elizabeth Fisher. They were a two person teaching team that impressed me greatly. I marveled at the innovative ideas and teaching methods they used and shared with staff.

Since then we have all moved on in our careers and where we call home, but Mike and Liz, as I know them, have continued their journey as innovative educators. Read on as they share their latest adventure as teacher authors.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Thank you for supporting our website. 

We are so excited to be able to share our newest book, Hacking Instructional Design: 33 Extraordinary Ways to Create a Contemporary Curriculum.

This book has been a labor of love as we have taken more than two decades of experiences working with children and teachers, along with an array of experience from experts in the field of curriculum and instructional design and created a one-stop shop of ideas to create a contemporary curriculum!

What we’ve written is meant to help teachers with the students that they currently have in the classrooms as well as all the future students coming through their doors.

As part of the Hack Learning Series of books, this installment follows the same formulaic structure. We identify a problem, a solution, and then step-by-step instructions for improving. Each problem and solution scenario is called a “Hack” and over the course of writing the book, specific themes emerged. We grouped those hacks together into categories we call “Hacktions.”

Each Hacktion represents a facet of a teacher’s instructional design decisions. Foundational hacktions represent what teachers will do BEFORE a student comes into the room. This is where they familiarize themselves with standards, instructional ideas to meet the standards, and goal / target setting for students.

Instructional Hacktions, along with Engagement and Contemporary Hacktions, address design ideas that will impact students when they’re in the room. This includes a multitude of ideas around inquiry design, lesson experiences, creativity and motivation, and new opportunities for engaging contemporary students with what matters to them.

Finally, we address Blueprint Hacktions. The blueprints are where the rubber meets the road; where the teacher and the teacher’s colleagues make agreed-upon decisions for how the curriculum will be documented.

Ultimately, we want teachers to create a thriving curriculum ecosystem where all the interconnected parts are harmonious. This includes giving students voices and choices about the ways in which they learn best.

As a thank you to Carly and the readers of Teach.Mom.Repeat., we’d love to share a BONUS BOOK that includes an additional chapter, a study guide, and templates / organizing tools for your own instructional design endeavors!

CLICK HERE TO ACCESS BONUS MATERIALS

Cheers to an awesome 2019!

Michael and Elizabeth Fisher


Michael Fisher is an author, instructional coach, and educational consultant specializing in the intersection between instructional technology and curriculum design. He works with districts in the United States and Canada to help teachers and schools maximize available technology, software, and web-based resources while attending to curriculum design, instructional practices, and assessments. This is his second book in the Hack Learning Series, following 2016’s Hacking the Common Core. You can contact him via Twitter @fisher1000 or by visiting his website at www.digigogy.com.

Elizabeth Fisher is an instructional coach and educational consultant specializing in literacy, English Language Arts, and curriculum design. She works with teachers and administrators across Western New York to help them improve their professional practices. You can contact her via Twitter @elizabethfisher.

Together, Michael and Elizabeth have been educating students and teachers for more than two decades. This is their first full-length book together, following co-created journal articles and professional development around parent involvement, brain-based learning, and differentiated instruction. They have two children, Lily and Charlotte, members of both Generations Z and Alpha, respectively, who keep them on their toes.

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How to Build Solid Student Relationships in the Holiday Season

How to Build Solid Student Relationships in the Holiday Season

Google has revolutionized the way I teach and I have never looked back. With technology like Google, you are able to save time and transform your teaching practices. But why get Google certified? To learn and teach. Being Google certified will help you have the skills to effectively use Google for Education in the classroom. Maybe you already know the basics, but taking the time to gain certification will certainly teach you a few tricks that you hadn’t discovered.

Being Google certified will also allow you to help colleagues more effectively use G Suites for Education. Most people resist change, but if you can show them how much Google simplifies the communication and collaboration process they might be willing to try something new.

If you’re like me and love all things Google becoming certified is the next step. And if you’re like me and follow along with the Google Teacher Tribe podcast you already know that Kasey Bell has Google Certification courses available. Participating in a course guarantees that you will gain the skills needed to pass the exam and give you a chance to practice.

If you’re new to this idea let me breakdown each of the certifications and what you can gain from joining a course then taking the exams.

Certification levels

Level 1 Certification: For the teacher who wants to successfully integrate G Suites for Education into their teaching practices. This level covers the basics of each Google tool that can be used in the classroom.  

Level 2 Certification: For the teacher who feels comfortable using G Suites in their classroom but would like to take it to a more advanced level. A deeper dive into each of the tools.  

Google Certified Trainer: For the teacher who enjoys teaching other teachers. This certification is open to any educator who would like to share what they have learned at the first two levels with other educators.

Google Certified Innovator: For the teacher who is developing their own innovative ways to use Google in the classroom.

Why become certified?

There is more to Google certification than the badge that can be added in your email signature and social media accounts. Certification is about your own education as an educator. If anyone understands the concept of life-long learning it’s teachers. One of the reasons we continue to teach is because we enjoy being learners ourselves. In the 21st century, technology has transformed the way we present information to students and how they demonstrate their learning to us. Google is not exclusive to the classroom. Many companies use G Suites for business purposes as well. Allowing students to gain these skills before entering the workplace gives them an advantage.

Many teachers are already using G Suites in their classrooms without becoming officially certified. So why spend the time and money to work towards certification?

1. Proficiency: Have you ever thought while planning your unit, there has to be a way for me to do this more efficiently? I know I have! Then you find yourself spending countless hours looking for the right answer. Taking the certification courses and becoming certified means you will have that answer right away. In fact, it will most likely give you new and improved ideas for delivering your content.

2. Effectiveness: Turning a handout into a Google Doc is not what G Suites is all about. The technology is not meant to replace, it’s meant to enhance. What you will learn through the course of gaining certification will help you to better know the possibilities of each tool and how to effectively use them in the classroom.

3. Networking: Join a large community of other certified educators who can provide you with support and help when you need it. Connecting with other educators is the best way to grow your creativity as a teacher.

 

Getting certified

Now that you’ve decided to go ahead with the process of becoming Google certified there are a few things that you may want to consider. First, consider taking one of Kasey’s courses to help you prepare for the exam. Sure, it’s possible to gather the knowledge you need from the Google training materials available. However, it will take a lot of reading and searching for answers all on your own without any help.

Taking Kasy’s course will give you exactly what you need to practice for the exam. She provides videos and documents, plus you can always ask her or the Facebook group specific questions if you’re having trouble.

Choosing a course such as these allows you to work at your own pace and on your own time schedule. Joining a scheduled Boot Camp that might be offered by your district will also give you the information you need to pass each exam. However, there is a lot to know and possibly learn. These face-to-face courses are only offered on a specific day and time so they may move too quickly for some people.

Before you make a decision about how to gain your certification take a look at Kasey’s post with frequently asked questions for more information. You will also find several resources she provides and details about each of the Google Certification courses she offers twice a year — May and November.

When you have successfully passed your exam and gained your certification be sure to brag in the comments.

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Hold a Speech Contest with Scrooge

Hold a Speech Contest with Scrooge

A Christmas Carol is arguably the most widely known Dickens story of all time. Made into movie after made-for-TV movie, this story has been told over and over again. Each year the 7th-grade language arts teachers dust off our textbooks and read this play with students. We all know that as much as we may love a story it can become boring eventually. Here is an idea to breathe some life back into teaching A Christmas Carol plus teach students the art of persuasion.

A Christmas Carol is a popular story for middle school teachers to use during the holiday season. Here is an idea for using the story of Ebenezer Scrooge to teach students generosity along with speech skills and persuasion. Blend fiction with nonfiction in this simple Christmas time lesson plan.

Before they changed our standards and took away persuasive writing it was a staple writing assignment essay. I enjoyed teaching students about the techniques of persuasion and we usually did this in the form of a letter to parents. We would write parents a letter persuading them to buy a particular item for Christmas. Some of you may have just cringed at that last sentence.

YES, with more experience as a classroom teacher I started to see how this assignment was troublesome. Many students came from homes where Christmas was not celebrated or presents were not part of the budget or the requested gift was simply out of the question. So I needed to take a different approach. That’s when I created the Scrooge Speech Contest.

The new assignment was to convince Scrooge that the charity of your choice should receive his donation this Christmas season. Click To Tweet

We always read A Christmas Carol at the start of December. Sometimes the play version from our textbook or the Scope Magazine version. In the years I had advanced students we read the actual text. In the years I was scheduled for co-taught classes we read a shorter, illustrated version. Either way, every version shares the story of how Scrooge changes from a tight-fisted miser to a man who celebrated Christmas with all his heart. At the end of the story, we learn that he did give money to the men who asked for donations and he became a benefactor to the Cratchit family. This was the perfect opportunity to change our persuasion writing assignment.

The new assignment was to convince Scrooge that the charity of your choice should receive his donation this Christmas season. A chance to teach writing and speaking skills all in one.

The Assignment

Students started by choosing a charity. The first year I let this be a free for all. That was a huge mistake! Students had a terrible time researching and we ended up with 20 speeches about the Humane Society. I must have had a lot of animal lovers that year. The problem was students weren’t branching out to see what charities were even possible they just went with what they knew.

The next year I created a list. This list has grown since spending time with a number of charities through my World Race mission trip. The list also became an opportunity for me to share the work I did overseas. The list, which is a Google Doc of links to the charity websites, helped for the most part. I still had students choosing what they knew. This is not necessarily a problem, however, on the day of speeches, it’s hard for the class to sit through the same speech over and over again. That’s when I initiated a draft day.

Students were given access to the list of charity links and they had 10 minutes to investigate their options. This also gave me the chance to strike up a conversation with an individual student and help them choose a charity that might fit with their passions. I could steer the animal lovers to other charities like the World Wild Life Fund or Puppies Behind Bars. Once students found a charity they connected with they would type their name in the shared spreadsheet. I kept the spreadsheet for all 3 of my classes so that no student had the same. This made the speech day more bearable for me. There are enough charities in the world so why not learn about as many as possible?

Research and Writing

The next few days students learned a few basic research skills for navigating a website. Check off any digital literacy standards you have for that day. They would keep track of their research in these Digital Notecards I designed. Once they had a full picture of the charity they began working on their presentation. Most organizations these days have very detailed websites. Students can usually find all they need for the presentation on the one website.

It’s important to take this opportunity to teach students the proper etiquette for giving a speech with a slide presentation. Middle schoolers tend to write everything they want to say on the slides and then proceed to read those slides to the audience. As we all know this is poor form. I would model for them what a presentation should look like by presenting my favorite charity Remember Nhu. Sharing this charity allowed me to present personal testimony from working with this organization and the impact it made on my own life. When students see this they tend to want a personal connection to the charity they picked. That is a beautiful moment! One year a student shared how Wyld Life changed things for them and gave them hope for a better future.

Presentation Day

One-by-one students present their charity to the class. Sharing an overview of the charity, who are impacted by the organization, a major project currently taking place, and how Scrooge’s contribution will make a difference. If the charity has a short introduction video that students can use for the overview section I do allow them to share the video. I also make stipulations that they can only include 1 video and the whole presentation cannot exceed 5 minutes. As students present, I find it easiest to assess their speech in a pre-made Google Form. This allows me to give them a point value for each section and provide feedback. It also makes entering final scores from the spreadsheet super quick.

Take it up a notch

Here are a few ideas I’ve used to really take this project to the next level. Since my students are blogging in class they have turned their presentation into a blog post. Another option would be a class Google Site where students could upload their slide presentations to be shared publicly.

Another fun way to take this up a notch is to collect actual funds for the speech winner to donate to their charity. My second year implementing this project we raised $100 and we were able to donate that money in the student’s name. It certainly makes giving a very real experience. Especially if a student has never had the means to give. I set a mason jar on my desk to collect change and posted to my Facebook friends that we were doing this with a way for them to help. There are a number of ways that you could go about doing this now and possibly generate a large enough donation to allow several students to make donations in their name. It can be hard to choose just one. Another option, rather than having to choose, could be to draw from a hat or randomizer.

If you host a Scrooge Speech contest this Christmas season I’d love to hear how it goes and see any links if you decide to share. Have any other ideas for how to make this project awesome? Share them in the comments.

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Professional Development Anytime, Anywhere

Professional Development Anytime, Anywhere

My first years as a teacher I loved going to professional development meetings. I have always loved to learn new things. Probably why I became a teacher. In that first year, I discovered a workshop called What’s New in Young Adult Literature? and it changed my world. I became addicted to conferences and all things professional development.

The year I traveled to Pittsburgh for the NCTE conference is hands down the best conference I’ve ever attended to date. I shook hands with Walter Dean Myers and intently listened while he shared about his own visit to Egypt. Lois Lowry was such a quiet, reserved woman that I could say nothing but a simple thank you and quietly walk away in awe. Laurie Halse Anderson held up her line to chat with me like we’d been friends for years. Sarah Weeks was a new author at the time and I’ve been a raging fan ever since. Jon Sonnenblick, also new at the time, was super funny in spite of having written a book about childhood cancer.  To me, this was a “red carpet” experience! Authors are the English teacher’s celebrity.

The next school year I immediately completed the appropriate paperwork requesting to attend NCTE again. However, that request was met with budget cuts and the opportunity to attend amazing conferences dwindled as the years went by. Working towards my Master’s degree was about all the professional development I was taking in and it wasn’t much fun any longer.

Then came the technology boom.

Some of the links found in this post are affiliates. This means if you make a purchase after clicking through we will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your support and please know that we only endorse products we use and love.

In my career, I have gone from walking students to a computer lab filled with desktop computers to a Chromebook for every student. Learning how to utilize that technology in the classroom has been a major teaching overhaul for most of us in this profession. Some of us have embraced it while others prefer the traditional days of handwritten papers. Learning to use technology effectively has not been easy, so I understand the teachers who hesitate to bring it on board. However, technology is not going away anytime soon! We would be doing our students a disservice if we did not help them to navigate the world of technology.

Our building is not a one-to-one just yet, I believe it’s in the works. We did change over to a Google school and this has completely transformed my teaching and any kind of workflow I use for creating. In the beginning, I had no idea what being a Google school even meant. Then I was introduced to Kasey Bell, the author of Shake Up Learning.

My very helpful media specialist printed me a copy of Kasey’s free Google Cheat Sheet. After reading this I immediately wanted more! I went to the website signed up for her email updates and printed nearly every free resource she offers. I had to stop once I realized how much free stuff she actually has available.

One of my favorite resources was the teacher challenge. This helped me to learn so much I didn’t know existed in the world of technology for the classroom. Learning from Kasey has catapulted a domino effect in my life personally and professionally.

For starters, I am now a blogger. My students are bloggers. Which gave me the idea to help other teachers create bloggers out of their students. My world has opened up to the many possibilities that technology provides.

One of which happens to be a new way of gaining professional development without needing to travel or take a day off of school.

Webinars and online courses are the new waves in learning. In any profession, not just teaching.

Online learning provides a few things that in-person conferences can not. For starters, you can learn anywhere, anytime. If you have a device and WiFi you can learn something new. The other great part about online learning is the community built around it. Nearly every course out there also provides a Facebook group where people who have taken the course can share ideas or ask questions. The Shake Up Learning group is a wonderful place to get answers quickly or learn new ideas or teacher hacks.

The latest from Shake Up Learning is a Google Slide Master Class. Kasey often refers to Google Slides as the “Swiss Army Knife of the G Suite tools” because it is so much more than just another presentation tool. Her course is for any K-12 educator looking for new and dynamic ways to use Google Slides in the classroom. If you know how to find the Slides app and start a blank presentation this course will teach you the rest. On the other hand, if you’ve been using Slides, like I have, for a number of years you are still going to learn new and innovative ways to incorporate Slides into your classroom.

If you are looking to seriously step up your G Suite game check out the bundle option! You can purchase both the Google Slides Master Class and the Google Classroom Master Class at a discount.

In the Slides Master Class, you’ll also learn three bonus lessons.

BONUS 1: Stop Motion Animation

Save yourself valuable instructional time and that oh so elusive teacher sanity by packaging your assignments so that students have EVERYTHING they need in one place.

BONUS 2: How to Create Magnetic Poetry with Slides and Drawings

This bonus is one of the most requested resources! In this bonus, you will learn how to create interactive lessons like magnetic poetry with Google Slides AND Google Drawings.

BONUS 3: 50 Google Slides Lesson and Project Ideas

This bonus lesson is loaded with 50 ideas for using Google Slides in your classroom. There are ideas for every grade level and every skill level. Use the skills from this course to design lessons and projects for your students.

My students recently completed the Vision Board lesson idea. I taught them how to add Unspalsh photos, use text over photos, and how to download the slide as a .jpg so they could add it to their blog. I love how easy this was and what I love it, even more, is that their parents can see them and comment on them.

If you’ve never visited Shake Up Learning at the website or through Facebook I encourage you to go there now! You can also visit or tune in to the Google Teacher Tribe Podcast that Kasey co-hosts with Matt Miller from Ditch That Textbook. Free PD every Monday afternoon!

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How to create classroom community

How to create classroom community

One the greatest aspects to establish in the classroom, right from the start, is a sense of community. Classroom community is important for students to feel they are in a safe place to share ideas and take some risks. When they feel the environment around them will support them even if they didn’t get the right answer they will still be willing to try. Their willingness to try will make for a much more productive class period each day.

Now, this all sounds great, but it can often be difficult to establish a community within a middle school classroom. For one thing, middle schoolers can be pretty opinionated. By the time they get to 8th grade they may have been burned by others and until you prove them wrong they are convinced you will be the same kind of teacher. Middle schoolers are also big fans of drama. They often carry a grudge like a new momma carries her newborn. They cuddle it and feed it and watch it grow.

Classroom management for middle school can often be difficult. We all want to see positive behavior from our students, but how do we make this happen. This weekly system will reinforce positive behavior from your students. Find posters and activities to help get started the first week of school.

Some of the links found in this post are affiliates. This means if you make a purchase after clicking through we will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your support and please know that we only endorse products we use and love.

This can make creating a class community a difficult process. That is why it’s best to start as soon as possible.

Here is an idea that was sparked by a teacher I connected with through Instagram. If you have read the book or watched the movie Wonder then you know what I mean by Mr. Browne’s precepts. He was a teacher who started his class with a precept, a word I had to look up in the dictionary because I’d never heard it before reading Wonder. Precept is defined as a rule or direction dictating a way you should act or behave. To me using this word makes so much more sense than calling them inspirational quotes, or even using just inspirational quotes.

The plan

Hashtags are all the rage so I’m going to use #MotivationMonday to kick off each week. Even if we have a holiday Monday and start the week on Tuesday. When students come in and get settled we will start with our posted precept. Read the precept out loud together then discuss what it means. This is a quick, 5-minute conversation. Using weekly precepts can help create a classroom community.

As the week moves along notice when kids are living out the week’s precept. Tell them how they are demonstrating it and call them out to their classmates for doing so. This will allow everyone to see what the precept in action looks like. By Thursday all students will need to cast their vote for the classmate who they felt lived out the precept. This will be done through a simple Google Form that students can find on our class blog. The form asks simple questions: voting student’s name, nominee’s name, why they deserve to be recognized. At the end of the day Thursday I will go through the votes and the student with the most votes will be awarded a small laminated version of the precept poster. They will also receive a printed list of the reasons why they were deserving of this precept. All voters names will be kept anonymous. It will be up to students if they would like to share that they voted for that student and why.

In class on Friday, we will spend a few minutes celebrating that student for their outstanding accomplishment. It is my hope that this will encourage positive behavior. Our class motto is a positive presence & a positive participant. Using the weekly precepts will help support and uphold this message.

If you would like to purchase a school year’s worth of precept posters and awards you can find them in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Set the stage with other activities

When you teach in a class that has multiple levels of learners, meaning you’ll need to pull them into small groups for many of the lessons, it’s a good idea to start building a community that also recognizes differences. As a teacher who has an intervention specialist for every class it’s no secret to the kids that there is a second teacher in the room for a reason. The kids who are on IEPs know they need extra support and the minute you ask them to join a group away from the big group they often feel stupid. The stigma is real and if we don’t treat it in a way that can make these kids feel comfortable they will continue to see themselves as a label.

Caterpillars and Butterflies

Over the summer I kept hearing about or reading about how caterpillars change into butterflies. This made me think about the obvious theme of metamorphosis. Starting out as something small with little skills and turning into something more beautiful and grand. But then I started to think about the life of a caterpillar and the life of a butterfly separately.

As a caterpillar, they crawl on their bellies and eat leaves. In that state, those things are good for them. As butterflies, they now get around with wings, totally new skills because of a totally new body. They now eat nectar. Again, a totally new food source which is perfect for nourishing their totally new bodies. (Sorry, I’m not a science teacher so this is really basic here, but I promise a good point is about to be made.) As caterpillars, they needed to eat a certain kind of food to fuel the body they had at the time. It’s what was best for them. Imagine if a caterpillar tried to eat nectar rather than the leaves it’s body truly needed. They probably wouldn’t grow and they would most likely be super hungry all the time. It’s the same for us.

If we try to “feed” ourselves something that we aren’t ready for or can’t grasp the concept of right now then we are going to get frustrated and shut down. It’s important for us to know what we need in order to grow. Or it’s important for students to understand how they learn best in order to actually retain knowledge.

Like caterpillars, we can often evolve over time. If we build up our knowledge enough to transform our weaknesses into strengths we become something new, a butterfly. Now we have to figure out how this new self learns and grows. That can often mean trying something we have never tried before because we are something (or at least our mindset might be something) we have never been before.

This little breakdown of the metamorphosis theme is meant to help students think about how they should be aware of their personal learning style AND understand that it can change. It’s possible to train yourself to be a better learner in a style you may not have been successful with previously.

Why this matters

For example, I’m the worst singer! I listen to the radio in the car, but I’m not really a music kind of person. However, when I had my children I discovered that singing to them soothed them to sleep. I’m still baffled by this! Plus, I’m so bad with music that I really only know two songs. The ABC’s (yes I’m a total ELA nerd) and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Do you know that my two-year-old has been singing ALL of the correct words to Twinkle Twinkle since she could speak sentences?  I discovered that she learns things when they are in a musical lyric. So I started making up songs to teach her things. I’m not about to go live with these songs, but she is learning and so am I.

The first week of school my read aloud will be Hermie by Max Lucado. It tells the story of a caterpillar who desperately wants to be special like so many other bugs. Then when he becomes a butterfly he recognizes that he hadn’t become his true self. I’ll ask the kids what they think is Hermie’s greatest lesson learned. Their answers should reflect ideas about being ok with who you are or where you are at presently. That we don’t need to desire or try to be something we are not. Especially because we all have the potential to become someone greater than we are today, at this moment.

Next, we will all draw ourselves as the butterflies we see for our future selves. Students who feel comfortable drawing from scratch will get a blank white paper and those who need an outline to get started can have a copy. They will color and cut out their butterflies and we will hang them in the classroom.

My next major point to students will be noticing how different each butterfly was drawn. I’ll make an observation that the process inside a chrysalis is probably not the same for a bright blue wing as it would be for a marbled yellow and black wing. That means that in order to be formed into a butterfly each one might need something different to achieve the end result. The same idea applies to our classroom, each student will need a specific path of lessons to achieve mastery of a skill.

Now we have established the idea that we all have the potential to be something different than we are right now and in order to get there, it can look different than the person sitting next to us. Ultimately creating a safe space where different is good.

Now is the time to ask students what goals they need to set in order to become that butterfly they envision. What new skills does this butterfly have that the caterpillar didn’t have or wasn’t very good at? What goals would help that butterfly gain these skills?

Keep in mind this whole class activity is a metaphor!

I would love to hear from any of the teachers who give this approach to classroom community a try. Share in the comments how or if you plan to give this a go.

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