Be Truly Present and Look for the Light Bulb Moments

18 April 2015
While reading through my chapter of Angela Watson's Unshakeable:  20 Ways to Enjoy Teaching ... No Matter What, I thought about how I chose this particular chapter for the book study because the title spoke to me - I always want to be present so I don't miss those light bulb moments in my students.  But it didn't take more than a paragraph for me to realize the chapter is so much more than that - being truly present allows you to celebrate those moments with your students and realize them in yourself.

I recognized myself right there in the first paragraph of chapter 18.  Right away.  That busy, stressed, multi-tasking teacher barraged by interruptions and getting annoyed.  Yep, me.  Me as a teacher and me as a parent.  Those times when I slow down and let the "interruptions" take over and become teachable moments are so important - and I even recognize them when they happen.  The problem is, I don't let them happen nearly enough.

While reading this chapter I was reminded about the one little (BIG) area I still need to work on after 15 years teaching - control.  Or rather, letting go of the control.  I know I could feel so much better about every day if I just shook a little more of it off.  When I'm not concerned about deadlines, data collections, standardized testing, that's when I'm more present with my students.  And when I'm more present, the magic happens.  Angela writes, "The end goal for a day of teaching can't be to "cover" a certain amount of curriculum; to cover means to obscure, and our goal is to illuminate.  We must stay focused on illuminating the curriculum for students, and that can only be done by making a connection with them."  And that's it - that's exactly it.  I already know it ... but how do I get there?

And then this - Do you smile when you're teaching?  Smile?  Yes.  All.the.time.  I greet them with a smile first thing in the morning and send them off with a smile at the end of the day.  And I teach with a smile ... because I love what I do.  I love being "present".  So then, if I'm smiling, and I'm enjoying the moment present with my students, why is it so easy to flip over to the busy, hectic teacher on a schedule.  Angela's advice is to consciously practice being present.  Remind yourself of it.  "Practice being present in the moment, and create productive habits that make hectic and mundane moments feel worth savoring."  You can do this by:

  • celebrating small moments of accomplishment
  • look for the light bulb moments and focus on a child you can really help
  • reframe your work to recognize and appreciate the magnitude of what you do
Being truly present allows you to see what YOU are doing - what YOU have accomplished.  Really, truly, see it.  So, smile, be present, and remember that you enjoy teaching every day ... no matter what.

You can read a little bit more about Unshakesable and the messages behind the chapters in the book at Angela Watson's blog:  The Cornerstone.  It was EXACTLY what I needed to read at this time in the year.


Using Task Cards for Test Prep

13 April 2015
EQAO Math Task Cards
Testing season is definitely upon us.  And in many classrooms, preparation for testing means ramping up the review.  I try to prepare my students for testing by throwing in questions similar to ones they'll see on the testing throughout the year in assignments and tests.  In math I like to use a lot of task cards for some fun review.  The students love using task cards because it gets them working with other students, gets them moving, and keeps them engaged through the whole class.

These are some of my favorite ways to review with task cards:
  • My Favorite No - This is probably my all-time favorite.  I started using "My Favorite No" last year and my only regret is not starting it sooner.  You can read more about it in a blog post I have HERE.  Task cards are PERFECT for this activity.  You can display one task card under the projector and have students complete their answer on a cue card, or hand out individual task cards to students to solve on the back of the card.  Solutions can be quickly collected and sorted to choose your favorite no and go through the solution together.  Takes 5 - 10 minutes at the beginning or end of each class - the perfect review activity.
  • Exit or Entrance Slips - Use one card at the beginning of class (as a diagnostic assessment) or at the end of class (as a formative assessment) for material learned during the class.  Pass out one task card to each student and have them solve on the back of the card or another sheet.  I like students to use Comprehension Light Traffic Dots on their cards so I can quickly see how they "feel" about the work.  Takes 5(ish) minutes at the beginning or end of class.
  • Partner Up - This is my version of speed dating with task cards.  Students sit in 2 long lines facing each other so that everyone has a partner.  Put a task card between each pair.  After a certain amount of time, (depending on the complexity of the cards) I call out "partner up" and one line shifts one person to the left and one line shifts one partner to the right so everyone has a new partner and new task card to solve together.  Continue until all task cards are solved.  Usually takes a full class.
  • Task Card Stations - Place task cards all over the room in different locations.  Students can work through the room solving task cards at their own speed and on their own path.  No more than 2 students working together at any task card (or you can have them work individually).  I usually sit at one station (one where the question may be challenging) so all students will have to work with me as they work their way through completing the cards.  Usually takes a full class.
  • Collaborative Problem-Solving - Task Cards can be used as the questions for Collaborative Problem Solving activities, in which students work together in small groups to first solve the problem individually, then work together to build the best answer they can as a group.  
  • Agenda Questions - My students have an agenda in which they write down their homework / important information and goes home with them nightly for parents to look through and sign.  Individual task cards can be stapled or paperclipped to agenda pages once or twice a week for students to work on at home and allow their parents to work through with their child, or simply to give them an idea of the types of questions the students are solving.
  • Change the Scenery - Perhaps one of the best things about task cards is how portable they are.  Get out of the classroom with them!  Spread out and use them in the gym or library.  If the weather is nice, get outside with them.  Students can take a clipboard with them for working through the solutions.  If you can't get out of the classroom, get creative in the classroom.  Tape cards under desks, put them up on the walls, make a bulletin board ... have fun!
I have created monthly sets of task cards perfect to use for review for EQAO testing in Ontario - for both grades 3 and 6.  Each monthly set also includes answers, student recording sheet, and a tracking sheet so you can keep track of students' progress by specific strand.  You can click HERE or on the images below for more information.