Friday, June 29, 2018

TLF Chapter 1: Learn on the Move

Finland and the United States both failed at the same thing in 2013 and 2014, respectively. . .

. . .helping students stay active during the school day.

     Finland decided to do something about it right away and created the Finnish Schools on the Move program.  Several easy-to-implement movement ideas were compiled and shared with Finnish schools. A few pilot schools started it and eventually 800 schools jumped on the band wagon.  
     'Recess Activators' was one big idea.  Since all students go outside for the daily breaks in Finland, older students volunteered and were trained to engage younger students in games and activities that promoted movement.  Many teachers noticed that even though outdoor breaks are scheduled into each day it doesn't necessarily mean that kids are moving while outside, especially older kids.  
     Here's how I could see this specific strategy working in a U.S. school: brain break buddies.  Brain breaks are all the rage and, while a great idea, can be hard to implement.  I see the second graders at my school going outside in the afternoon every single day.  I am boggled at how they can fit a break in because we are incredibly scheduled with our 'blocks' and there is no wiggle room. . .argh! The Kindy and sixth grade classes pair up each year to be buddies and I've also experienced 'reading buddies'.  So why not Brain Break Buddies?  Yes, it would take time to figure out a part(s) of the day during which both classes could unite and do this but it's worth a try, right?  
     Another idea, specifically aimed for older students is to involve them in creating some fun movement activities that they can and want to do during their breaks.  But, in order for this to be successful, two 15-minute breaks were combined for a 30 minute break.
     I really like this idea because giving students a choice and involving them in creating those choices is very powerful and motivating!  I think, for this to work in U.S. schools, the materials needed to accomplish this would be the issue.  Of course the P.E. teacher more than likely has items to let students use at recess or during a break but those items are also used for teaching.  So maybe the PTA, a school fundraiser or even something like could be utilized.  Because, as Walker points out, engaging students in physical activity shouldn't rest on the shoulders of the P.E. teacher and recess.
     An idea I could definitely see being popular at my school is dance.  There was an amazing sixth grade hip-hop dancer that kids would crowd around at our annual end-of-the-year DJ party to watch. Inviting her to model and teach hip-hop would be dope!  Another idea is to have a mobile (projection) screen available on which to show dance videos for kids to learn from, kind of like Dance Dance Revolution.
     Aside from recess, infusing movement into the main classroom is vital.  It's so vital that the state of Alaska, where I live and teach, made it law in 2016.  Yes, there is a law called SB 200 that mandates 54 minutes of physical activity per full school day for all students K-8.  This can include scheduled P.E. times but, for example, my students have gym three times per week for 30 minutes each time so the rest is up to me.  But we're between a rock and a hard place because, in my district, a new reading curriculum was implemented this past year that mandates a certain number of minutes (a.k.a. the reading block) and more minutes are being added next year!  So it's incredibly hard to find time to squeeze in vital breaks.  
     Two ways I've tried are whole group and small group.  I call these 'Body & Brain Breaks'.
     Whole group is usually after a lesson/activity finishes.  I have a menu of quick games/activities that we roll a dice to decide upon.  You can get this menu for free if you go to my TPT store.  We also LOVE Go Noodle!
     Small group is THE best way I incorporate movement into daily learning!  The cornerstone of my teaching philosophy and practice is small group learning.  For reading, I use a form of the Daily 5 and take all of the whole group teaching from our new curriculum and put it into small groups.  This past spring I invited a mom to come in who is a yoga teacher who is passionate about the benefits of yoga for kids.  She was one of the small groups in the hallway outside of my classroom and it was awesome!

Child's Pose
     She kicked off my plan to incorporate independent yoga in the classroom by explaining what yoga is and showing them some basics.  I then devoted one of the five groups (at the 'video station') to YouTube yoga videos I downloaded.  Kids use wireless headphones and the video is show on the only desktop computer I have in my classroom. Each small group is 15 minutes in length.

Cosmic Kids Yoga with Jaime is awesome, check it out!
     I'll leave you with another idea that Walker proposes in his book.  It's something he calls a "Gallery Walk".  Students take a piece of work and display it in the classroom and everyone walks around to look at and comment on each piece.  I think this is a great idea and can be adapted for K-6. You're killing three birds with one stone: movement, displaying published work and peer feedback.  

I would love to hear how you incorporate movement into your elementary classroom, please leave a comment below.

Next up: Recharge After School

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Teach Like Ghana. . .NO!

I am listening to a great podcast episode and had to share because I'm making a connection to Finland.

I started listening to this podcast last year and quickly finished season 1.  Luckily season 2 just came out.  Episode 2, called "Ghana's Parent Trap" is very interesting because I immediately visualized a spectrum where the U.S. was in the middle, Finland was on the right and Ghana (a small African nation) was on the left.  I'll admit, I am very surprised at what is happening in Ghana with pre-K education because I didn't think this could/would happen in third world Africa. 
I don't want to give it all away but it's an amazing episode that made me sad and worried at first but happy by the end.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the episode, so please share them with me. . .

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Teach Like Finland: Chapter 1 Introduction

I’m sitting on the shore of Lake Bemidji in beautiful Bemidji, Minnesota on this lovely summer day.  We come here every summer so we can be with my husband who teaches a graduate course on the campus of BSU and so my daughter and son can learn a language at Concordia Language Villages summer camp.  It’s evening and I’m surrounded by the smell of campfire, the soft cool breeze, waves lapping the edge of the beach and my kids building and creating on the beach. I feel happy, peaceful and stress-free. 
I view summer as the time when I recharge my batteries for the upcoming school year.  Each school year I view as a marathon and, as a runner, I know you have to have strength, endurance and some speed to eventually cross the finish line.  So I teach hard for 9 months and relax hard for 3 months.  But . . . why can’t I infuse that happy, peaceful feeling into the school year?  I know I need to but I don’t know how. Thank goodness Timothy Walker is going to show me how.
So as I happily and peacefully sit here, I should let you know that I’m sitting at a picnic table, on my laptop.  I’m the only one with any piece of technology nearby, which I quickly notice. . .and inherently feel guilty.  But the devil on my other shoulder quickly chimes in to say that I’m working at a leisurely pace in a very relaxed environment so I can and should keep working. 
The introduction to chapter 1 is about how Walker quickly notices, after he starts teaching at a local Finnish elementary school, that there are several 15 minute breaks throughout the day during which: his students spend happily playing outside, his colleagues spend happily eating, chatting and looking at magazines in the teacher’s lounge and he spends rapidly prepping for more teaching.  This makes him also feel inherently guilty.
At first he fights it but, seeing the attention of his students fade, he doesn't prolong instruction but stops and provides the required and needed break.  He instantly sees the benefit of the concept: more attentive learners after a break -v.s- cramming more learning into students who aren't holding on to it before a break.
One of his colleagues makes a good point when telling him that he's not a human doing, he's a human being.  This is contrary to the American ideology of "a teacher's worth is quantified by his/her productivity."  So he has to learn to embrace the Finnish teaching approach of: slower, softer, focus on well-being and give up the American approach of: faster, harder, focus on success if he wants to succeed in Finland.
So Walker's first strategy is to try and set aside time, every 45 minutes or so (depending on how your students are functioning) for some kind of break.  In Finland it's simple free play inside or outside.  But he suggests 'choice time' in American classrooms and believes there are three important qualities this time should possess: it should have a high degree of enjoyment, independence and novelty.  And he believes that the teacher should talk with their students about his/her purposeful attempt to help them learn better by having breaks during the day.  Encouraging students to provide feedback on these breaks promotes ownership and can provide some great insight.

I think I'm going to take a break now and go play with my kids on the beach!
Next up: Learn on the Move

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Teach Like Finland: Introduction

    I was fortunate to have done my second student teaching in Switzerland.  It was part of a study abroad program at my university.  I taught at an international school, which was a fabulous experience for many reasons.  International schools and DOD (Department of Defense) schools are really the only way to be able to teach and live abroad…except if your spouse is a citizen of another country and you are able to obtain a work VISA.  
This is exactly how Timothy Walker was able to leave his 1st grade teaching  job on the East Coast and move to Helsinki Finland.  His wife is Finnish and remarked that, in the U.S., he was working way too hard and too much.  In Finland, as she often explained, the school day (and a few other things) are different and the result is a less stressful job, happier students and comparable education taught and received.  
Timothy scoffed at the notion that less work for a teacher is possible and beneficial but during his time in Finland he learned a lot and is sharing it with any teachers who are interested in teaching like Finland.
 His book is not a replacement curriculum.  Nor is it full of innovative teaching strategies because Finland has learned about our American pedagogical ways and adopted them.  His book is a list of things American teachers can do in their classrooms (in addition to the required standards, objectives and curriculum) to promote happiness.  
       Let’s define and discuss happiness.  According to Dr. Emma Seppälä, happiness is “A state of heightened positive emotion that can improve productivity and enhance social emotional intelligence.” Duh. #1) That makes sense.  We’ve all experienced it.  And duh because #2) We’ve seen time and time again the student improvement that happens when everyone is happy.  
I said everyone.  The class mantra from the past 20 years has been “What’s best for kids.”  But I want to modify this mantra to include teachers.  It’s like the old saying, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy.”  I have experienced and observed that when I’m happy, I’m a better teacher which directly impacts students.”  So I hereby rephrase the old mantra. . .  What’s best for the classroom. (teachers + students = classroom).  Let’s take it a step further and put this into mathematical thinking:  Teachers + Students = Classroom Happiness = Improving and successful teaching & learning.  I think it’s important to include teaching assistants, para professionals, support staff and parents with the teachers because any adult who is in your classroom is there to help, support and teach your students.  
So back to 'Teach Like Finland'. . . Walker’s book includes 33 strategies, which are grouped into five categories: belonging, autonomy, mastery and mindset (as proposed by Pinsker, 2016) and well-being (as added by Walker, 2017).  
I whole-heartedly agree with Walker’s proposition that “we start to see prioritizing happiness, inspired by the Finnish approach to education, as an overarching goal in our classrooms.”

Next up. . .Chapter 1: Well-Being (introduction)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Teach Like France or Finland?

Imagine this. . .
. . .parents are not allowed to go into elementary schools in France.  
They walk their children to school and say goodbye at the gate as the children  walk through the school courtyard to line up.  

First, can you even imagine this happening in the U.S.?  And secondly, how do I know this?  First, I cannot see this ever happening in the United States and, secondly, I was very fortunate to have been given permission to attend a half day of school at a French elementary school in Strasbourg, France this past March.

A little backstory. . .

When I turned 40, my present to myself was a 2-week whirlwind trip to my favorite places in France plus Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland.  'Carpe diem' and 'Go big or go home' are my two mottos!  So two years later I decided to do it again, which was this past March (our spring break).  One of my dearest French friends was also my T.A. for an entire school year back at the beginning of my teaching career at the Normandale French Immersion School in Edina, Minnesota.  

Now we both have young children and her little boy was school-age (1st grade) during this trip.  So I asked if I could go to school with him for a morning because I've always wanted to experience school in a different country.  The school gave me permission (I had to sign two documents) and the teacher graciously accepted me into her classroom for the morning. 

I adore France.  France is a wonderful country full of culture, history, people and language.  But, with all due respect, what I observed made me thankful that I teach in the United States where praise and positivity reign in most primary classrooms.  What I saw and heard was subtle but negative and I heard next to no praise or positivity.

My friend took me to lunch after my school visit and we chatted at length about my observations.  Her son is a struggling reader and writer, which she had already mentioned, and it was obvious from my observations.  I of course had a bunch of ideas for how to best help him succeed: small-group instruction, praise, interventions and small-group instruction.   But these things do not happen in French schools and she knows it.  She knows what life is like in American primary classrooms and knows these things aren't infused in his (French) classroom.

I would go observe again in a heartbeat and now have a desire to do so in different countries around the world.  Segway to. . .when I got back from my trip I stumbled upon a book called 'Teach Like Finland' and became super interested in reading it because of my recent French experience and because I'm frustrated and not in agreement with my school district's push for more academics (language arts) and less SEL and teacher freedom and creativity.

Before I read the book though, I took my interest a step further and applied for a grant that would allow me to take a Kindergarten, 1st grade (myself) and 2nd grade teacher from my school to Helsinki for two weeks to immerse ourselves in this book first hand.   Part of the grant was for us to read the book on the way to Finland (fresh in our minds), observe and discuss everything.  Unfortunately I did not get the grant but can reapply this fall.  I still have not read the book.  But I decided that I'm going to now read it and reapply for the grant.  

What does my blog have to do with all this???  I'm going to treat it as a book study and post on every chapter I read, in the hopes that others (you?) will decide to read it or simply share their thoughts about it, via my summaries. 

I will start with the introduction in my next post. . .