Saturday, February 28, 2015

Book Study: Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites Chapters 1 and 2


Happy Saturday!
Today is the first day of a book study a bunch of teachers and bloggers are participating in.  I'm super excited to be involved!  Even though I'm not currently in the classroom I feel like I can take this opportunity to reflect on my practices and continue to grow as a teacher for when I do return to the classroom.  Thanks to Elizabeth from Kickin it in Kindergarten for hosting the first 2 chapters of the book study.  Click the picture above if you are interested in joining in.

As I started reading Chapter one on brainstorming and discussion I felt reassured.  This is a strategy I used in the classroom.  How reassuring to know that something you are doing and feel is important is being confirmed as research based.  The last school I taught at was Title 1 with a huge percentage of our students qualifying as ELL and receiving free/reduced lunches.  Most of our students lived in poverty.  We were qualified as a "failing school".  One thing we all understood is that we needed to build our students vocabulary and get them talking.

We implemented GLAD a few years back in our district.  Many of the input strategies fall under brainstorming.  I regularly did KWL charts and can/have/are charts.  Marcia referred to a strategy she called "think, pair, share".  We called it turn and talk.  It is very similar.  Students would have time to discuss the answer to a question or their ideas with a partner.  They had to turn and sit knee to knee and make eye contact with each other.  When it was time to share I would often ask them to share what their partner shared with them.  This helped me gauge whether they were listening to their partner too, instead of just asking for their thoughts.

A couple of powerful GLAD strategies are use of observation charts and picture file cards.  Observation charts are real photographs glued onto construction paper with a blank piece of construction paper right next to it for students to record their observations.  For example, for our unit on communities we would have a chart with different community helpers, a chart with different forms of transportation, a chart with different homes, etc... Students would rotate in groups and write their observations on the blank pieces of paper.  I learned to laminate the blank ones and let them write with dry erase markers or vis-a-vis markers.

Picture file cards are photographs glued onto index cards.  Students form groups and discuss their cards.  They might try and sort them.  Then as the teacher you can visit the different groups, ask how they sorted their cards and why they sorted them in that way, and listen to the discussions going on.

I used literacy and math stations every day in the classroom.  I've been teaching for 15 years and remember when literacy stations were brand new.  I volunteered to be a pilot classroom in my school back then to try them.  How things have changed!

The other thing I ALWAYS did when I was introducing a new book was what I called a picture walk.  I did this in guided reading groups and in whole group.  This was the chance to look at the pictures, look for tricky words, formulate ideas and questions about the story, and "walk" through the book.

Can I just say that I pretty much had my students in groups whenever possible but never thought to call them families.  I use Responsive Classroom and it's all about building a classroom community.  Why did I never think to call my groups families???  I LOVE this idea!!!!!!!!  I will do this when I return to the classroom for sure!  How powerful to belong to a family in the classroom!

I have to admit I was a bit sad when I first started reading this chapter.  When I taught in Fairfax County schools in Virginia for the first 8 years of my teaching career we had an art teacher and had art every other week or every week for an hour.  It was so great for my students!  When I moved to Washington and taught there we didn't have art.  My first and second grade students didn't even get music and p.e.  They were dismissed at 2:30 every day.  The district just didn't have the budget to hire more p.e. and music teachers.  So music and p.e. started at 3rd grade. 

Reading the chapter and reflecting on my practices in the classroom I realized that I did incorporate some art.  I always had it as a choice for indoor recess or as a reward in my reward catalog.  I also always had paper and crayons at my cool-off table/desk for students.  My team did Friday rotations as a way to build community among our second grade students.  There were 6 teachers on our team and we wanted to get to know everyone's students and for them to get to know each other.  We would rotate the students through our classrooms every 30 minutes.  Each of us would plan a different activity.  We always had art as one of the rotations.  Our school also implemented Marzano's vocabulary instruction strategies.  We implemented vocabulary notebooks.  One section of the notebook required students to draw a picture of the word.

As I was reflecting I realized I didn't do a lot of art with math or science, unless it was a craftivity.  I think this is an area where I can grow.  In this time of high stakes testing and all the pressure to teach everything students need for the test I feel like sometimes I just need to take a step back and let them draw.  I bet I'd be amazed!

I'm excited to keep reading and learn more!  How about you??



  1. What I've gleaned from this book is that certain things that I wasn't really sure WHY they were valuable {Brainstorming being one} - I just knew in my "teacher gut" that they were...were noted and backed by research, in this book. Love it!

    Crisscross Applesauce in First Grade

  2. I smiled when I saw you using the term picture walk. That's what I called them and immediately what I thought of when I read that strategy in the book. And I absolutely agree about the importance of stepping back from all this high stakes testing and letting them draw or create art or do something to show their understanding instead of filling in bubbles on a test!!

    Sara J Creations

  3. Love your post! Thanks for all of your great thoughts. I do a lot of turn and talk with my kids too. Someone else on another blog mentioned something about having them share what their partner shared and I feel like that is even better! I love learning from all of many awesome ideas!

  4. HI Joya, I loved reading your post. I agree with you I love the idea of calling the groups Families. My friend, Kim Adsit does that and I've always thought it was a powerful yet simple way to let kids know that they belonged. Thanks so much for participating in the book study. I look forward to reading more of your posts!

  5. Hi Joya,

    I also use the "Turn and Talk" model and I love having the kids share what their buddy talked about... keeps everyone involved and engaged in the discussions.

  6. I so agree about the "just letting them draw" comment! I get so caught up in what needs to be taught that I sometimes forget they are kids!


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