Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The "F" Word

In the midst of state testing, MAP testing, district assessments, progress monitoring, meetings, IEPs, PPTs, and SSTs (among the countless number of other acronyms), we may all be feeling the "teacher burnout," and our students may be experiencing the comparable "student burnout." Or perhaps, behavior problems are on the rise in your classroom or school because the demands on students are sky high, and that's the only way they can deal with it. Either way, the "f" word has been banished from classrooms far too much. Now I know what you're thinking.. what is she talking about? Not THAT "f" word, the more important one... FUN!
I read a blog post (and listened to a periscope) from Brooke Brown of Teach Outside the Box, and she mentioned that all of the factors contributing to "teacher burnout" can be characterized under the umbrella of school culture. She posted this on her blog:

 It got me thinking. It's the same way for our students as it is for us. Our school culture, and most importantly, our CLASSROOM culture (because that's really what we as teachers have direct control over) can play a tremendous role in how our students FEEL about school and learning! How do we incorporate more FUN into our classrooms while we have all of these other things on our plate to juggle? We can't just ditch our curriculum aside either! I'm here today with some tips and tricks to make learning more FUN for your students while still getting in the necessary things!

Independent practice of skills is important, but it doesn't always have to be paper and pencil practice. With the amazing TpT community, it's super easy to find meaningful and engaging activities that are NOT worksheets! Students get equal practice of important concepts, but are more engaged in what they are doing. In my classroom, two of our favorites are I Spy and Write the Room.
In I Spy activities, students use a magnifying glass to find hidden letters, words, pictures, or numbers in a larger image. They use the things that they find to complete their activity. We use I Spy for things like letter ID and letter writing at the beginning of the year, all the way to addition and subtraction at the end of the year. 
In Write the Room, students are up and moving around the room practicing their target skill. Just like I Spy, this can be done with anything!! At the beginning of the year, we practice beginning sounds and letter formation, and now, we're onto CVC words! The kids even walk around the room wearing special Write the Room sunglasses. Why? Why not! We're adding FUN, right?!

If you read any research on child development, you know that young children aren't developmentally ready to sit and work for long periods of time. That's why we love the Write the Room activities that I talked about above. It's also why I switched from traditional assigned seats to a more alternative seating plan. 
In my classroom, I had 4 tables with 4 or 5 students assigned to each one. When I decided to make the switch to flexible seating, I decided to lower one table to the floor and raise one table to standing height.
Now, my students can choose between those two tables, a regular table with chairs, our writing center with wobble stools, the carpet with pillows, our crate seats, or our guided reading table with stools. What's better? They don't come in and choose one spot for the rest of the day. They get to choose a workspace for each part of the day. Let's be real. I like to work on my computer at my desk, but I'd rather read on the couch. Kids are the same!
Can you teach at the board? Yes. Can you teach whole group? Yes. But is it the most engaging and fun way for students? No! Here's one of my favorite quotes that really gets to the essence of what I mean here.
Especially in kindergarten, learning needs to be hands-on and novel for students. We need to constantly be changing it up to keep our kiddos engaged. I LOVE teaching through games, and my kids love it too! Step outside of your comfort zone for a day and see if there's a concept that you can teach through a game. I find that math concepts lend themselves to games really easily. Here are a few pictures of us LEARNING while playing math games:
^^Pumpkin toss: Throw a bean bag and build the number on the ten frame
^^Candy Comparisons: Pick two cards, build the numbers on a work mat, and compare them
I know we don't all have our "dream" classroom, and I don't either! But, I do like changing up where I teach, and my students seem to enjoy it too. I teach guided math on the carpet in front of my interactive white board. That's right, on the floor! I don't worry about if my kids are sitting up, lying down, or sitting with their legs stretched out, as long as they are engaged. You'd be surprised how much longer their attention span is when they don't have to use all of their energy to sit up on a chair!
I have always LOVED the classroom community that is built during Morning Meeting. It's a fun, energetic, joyful way to begin our day each day. This year, I decided to incorporate an Afternoon Meeting into our schedule as well. Right after lunch, before we begin our afternoon, we have Afternoon Meeting. It follows the same structure as Morning Meeting, and is a great way to re-focus my little learners on the final few hours of the day. It's also a great way to re-energize ourselves! We forget about anything negative that happened in the morning, and are ready to tackle the afternoon. We also play some community building games and let loose a little! It's great to take part in some FUN together!
Many kids work best when their schedules are predictable and their routines are the same, and I completely agree. But, that doesn't mean that you can't have some FUN once in a while! Change up your read to self time and have an outdoor reading picnic --->
Or, have some flashlight Friday read to self! --->
These little alterations in your schedule can lead to tremendous JOY in the classroom and kids will be asking for special treats like this more and more.
We all have a lot of curriculum to get through and have a busy classroom schedule. I get that. But I also get the research on PLAY in the classroom and how important it is for students' social and emotional well being. I found just 10 minutes in our schedule each day to let my students play, and I have noticed a huge change in their attitudes toward school, how they interact with one another, and their focus during the day. It's a time when I let them just be kids, and remember that there's only so much their little minds can handle at a time.
So I leave you today with a challenge. How will you incorporate more FUN into you classroom? I'd love you to add to this list in the comments below!

Don't forget to connect with me for more tips and tricks on bringing JOY and FUN into your classroom!

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