Sunday, October 26, 2014


     I don't think there is ever a situation or a classroom where children listen 100% of the time.  That would be teacher nirvana.  But this year I seem to have more that don't listen than those that do.  In years past it seemed to be the other way around.  True, I have a group with academic needs more so than most, but the lack of listening has gotten to be a major frustration for me. 
     I am willing to try about anything.  So if you have any suggestions, please share them in the comments.  I put 3 things into place this week that helped some.  The first is nothing huge.  We all do it from time to time.  I simply put blanks on the board to spell the word LISTEN and they can earn a letter at each special they go to.  When we have spelled the word, I am going to let them have 10 minutes extra recess.  At each special this week the behavior has improved - greatly.  At least the specials teachers are no longer complaining when I pick them up. 
     Step two - I draw 2 students names from my popsicle sticks and they are my "magic" for the day.  I don't tell them who they are - so no one knows if it is them.  At the end of the day, if the "magic" students have been really good listeners, they go to the office treasure box.  Almost every day, I have been able to send at least one of the two.  Throughout the day I will stop and look around as if I am looking for someone and say something like, "Oh there is my magic and what a great job they are doing listening!"  Everyone shapes up fast without me having to fuss.
     I used exit tickets some in my reading room last year.  This week we started with them again only with a bit of difference.  Rather than using one at the end of each subject, I wrote down one question from every subject we had that day and then at the end of the day I gave them all the exit questions (about 5 of them) before we went out for recess.  Rather than have consequences for wrong questions, I am keeping up with the number of correct questions they have and then the person who has the most at the end of each month will get a prize.  To wrap up each lesson they started "helping" me by suggesting what the question should be!  I liked that. 
    None of these ideas are anything huge, but I am hoping that something or perhaps a combination of somethings will work to improve those listening skills.  Any ideas?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Mentor Sentences

     For as long as I have taught (nearly), I have used "daily oral language".  I would put the incorrect sentence on the board or a ditto and ask students to copy it correcting the errors.  We would most often check our work as a class.  I believed in this.  I purchased copy books dedicated to this strategy.  One year, I was so creative as to take incorrect sentences from each person's writing to make an individualized daily oral language.  That was a lot of work, but it made sense to me. 
    About three weeks ago I discovered "mentor sentences".  Being an internet junkie, I read all I could find about them.  They made sense.  Perfect sense.  The reasoning is simple.  Instead of taking an incorrect sentence for them to look at and ponder over, give them a good, well written example from a piece of literature.  When I read that, it was like "duh!" - where has this idea been my whole career?
    I love trying new things.  When I do, I often drive those around me crazy talking about them.  But this was one idea I could not pass by.  It simply made too much sense.  So I set about to give it a try.  First came the hard part.  Finding a sentence.  That remains to be be hard part.  I think of a grammar skill or two (or three) I want to focus on for the week.  Then I go searching through all my children's books at school  looking for a good sentence.  It is sort of like searching for the needle in the haystack, and if it wasn't so great an idea, I probably would give up.  I can forsee a summer project of looking for sentences in my future.  Once you have the sentence though, the rest is a breeze. 
    My procedures may be a bit different from other sources you may find on line, but here is what we do.  On day one, after I read the book the sentence comes from, I project the sentence on the smartboard, (or write it on chart paper).  Students take a copy of the sentence and glue it into their journals.  Then we "notice" the sentence.  We take about 10 - 15 minutes talking about things we notice about this sentence - parts of speech, interesting words, grammar, capitalization, punctuation - anything they see as important.  We list what we find underneath the sentence.
     The next day, we copy the sentence in our best writing and label the parts of speech.  All of this is done in their journals so they can refer back if they need to.
      I was a bit worried about day three.  I saw it in my mind as being a flop.  I almost didn't try it.  It would've been a huge mistake.  We pull out our journals again and focus on "improving" what he author wrote.  Pronouns become nouns.  Verbs get traded for better, more exciting ones.  We add adjectives where they would work.  It gets a total make-over.  The first day we did this, I could not believe the great ideas they came up with.  My group?  It was not only valuable, it was fun!  I was so proud of what the ideas they had.
     On day four, we use that sentence as guide and write one of our own.  The idea is to model that sentence using our own topic.  For example if the mentor sentence is a compound sentence, we try to copy with a compound sentence.  If it has things in a series, we do that.  I tell them what element I am looking for.  Their sentences were wonderful.  Did we all write that one perfect sentence?  Sorry, I teach in the real world with very real third graders.  But some of us did.  And those who didn't were coming very close.  And their teacher was doing a happy dance for anyone who listen!
     Mentor sentences - I love them.  I am thrilled by what I see as a reasonable way to talk about sentence structure.  I still wish I could find sentences to use easier, but that will work itself out. I am hoping to see transfer to their other writing.  I think it has more transfer possibilities than looking at incorrect sentences does, but time will tell.   There are lots of sites with better instruction than what I have provided.  Investigate and then give it a try.  It really is amazing!