Making Over Third Grade!: Communicating, Connecting, & Creating a Community of Respect
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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Communicating, Connecting, & Creating a Community of Respect

makingoverthirdgrade.blogspot.comAt this time of year it is nice to sit back, try to relax, and reflect on the year that is ending as we prepare ourselves for the resolutions and promises of the new year. As a teacher I find myself doing this for my class each year as well. Mid-way through the school year (or nearly so anyway) reflecting on what we have accomplished, what still needs to be done, and what we need to firm up, improve upon, or flat out change.

makingoverthirdgrade.blogspot.comWhen I first started teaching I thought I was being reflective because I was a new teacher, but each year I find myself doing it and I have come to rely on this time of year to plan as well as reflect on our classroom family because that is just what we have become each year by this time - a family. Like any family, we need to have clear channels of communication and understanding in order to keep harmony in our class. Just how these channels work always starts with me and the routines that are established at the beginning of the year. Often they morph into what the kids and I need to make them work for us - for this new school family we are creating.

So how do we communicate to make this family work well in our classroom? We use nonverbal and verbal communication cues to help us share ideas, procedures, and to participate in conversations.

We have several new teachers at our site this year (and have had several years of long-term subs) so I thought that it would be a good idea to share some of these communication cues in case they are helpful to others.

In our classroom we have a number of nonverbal communication signals in order to help our class run smoothly. Since I have shifted to a 1:1 iPad class many signals I used when I was a paper and pencil class are no longer necessary but I want to list them all in case you think they may be useful to you in your class.

1. When students need a new pencil they would hold their broken pencil in the air to signal their need and I would nod to signal if it was a good time or not when they were making their request (it is amazing to me how some students will need a pencil the minute a teacher starts to talk even when a pencil isn't necessary at that time).

2. When someone is speaking and a student needs a tissue they cover their nose with one hand and raise the other hand. Again, a nod will indicate that they may get up to get the requested item.

3. Restrooms - this is a tricky one, mainly because my policy has shifted SO MUCH with the incorporation of the iPads. If a teacher is talking then students use the ASL (American Sign Language) letter R to indicate they need to use the restroom. If they are not given permission to go (I generally do not allow them to go in the first 15 min. after recess or if recess is less than 10 min away) and they HAVE to go they say, "It's a puddle problem" and I will let them go. Their puddle would be my problem and nobody wants that!

Since the incorporation of the iPads we only use the R if there are subs, a guest speaker, or someone else is out of the room. This year our focus is on being a good citizen and good citizens don't abuse their privileges. If students need to use the restroom they sign out and leave the door open when they return they close the door and sign back in. The open door lets me know that someone is out of the room to use the restroom and this system has worked
WONDERFULLY! I have only had to address potential abuses twice all year!

makingoverthirdgrade.blogspot.com4. If we are in the midst of a class discussion and someone wants to share a comment, question, or idea but someone else has shared the comment, question, or idea first they use their right hand to tap their chest over their heart to indicate that the speaker "stole my thunder." This prevents duplication of comments and allows students to share that they had the same ideas.

5. If, during a lesson someone is off task, I stop talking and wait for their attention I usually get 100% focus again quickly.

6. To check for understanding we do thumbs up/midway/down just under our chins. We also do rubric check ins at their chin students display the following:

1 - I have no idea what you are talking about, I need more help.
2 - I kind of understand this but I need some help.
3 - I understand what I need to do and can get to/continue my work.
4 - Ms. Ryan, please, you are wasting my time, I know what to do and understand it well. I could teach it to others.

In addition to the nonverbal communication we have many verbal cues we use in our class as well in order to ensure that our class runs smoothly and efficiently. Again, as there are several cues we use in class that I find particularly helpful but I will limit myself to 6 here (otherwise I could go on forever and no one wants that).

1. To get student attention I say, "Tootsie rolls and lollipops" and students respond with, "We were talking now we've stopped." They then stop whatever they are doing and look to me for instructions or so that I can check in. (I used to use "Hocus, pocus" "Time to focus!" but the cafeteria duty started using it and I no longer wanted to use it.)

2. When I want kids to return to their seats when they were working elsewhere in the classroom I count backwards from 5 slowly. Students immediately start cleaning up and moving back to their workstations (that is what we call our desks) before I get to 1.

3. When we are ready to start working I say, "Are you ready to rock?" and they respond with, "Ready to roll!" Students then get to work and I either pull a group to work with based on their quick check-in (see 6 above) or circulate around the room to ensure they are all working as instructed.

4. When a student starts a sentence with because the whole class responds with, "Don't start with because!" prompting the speaker to restate their response.

5. If a student has an issue that I think they can solve on their I will state (and by this point in the year they will tell each other) "Problem solve it, you're in third grade." If they have a small issue and I am working with a group if they have come for assistance I will ask, "Did you ask three before me?" Once they have done that, if they still do not understand they may come and interrupt the group instruction. If they have a tech issue they are prompted by each other to ask "tech support" (one of our classroom jobs) before asking me for assistance. (Did you like how I got three in there for number 5?)

6. I HATE when students just walk up to me to ask me something so I respond with, "Are you on fire? Is there gooey stuff coming out of your body?" They know to immediately go sit down and raise a hand. Obviously fire and gooey stuff are urgent things so they get the message that I want to help them but only urgent matters require them to get up and walk up to me when they should be working.  - I have to say reading this, it sounds harsh, but in practice it isn't - the kids and I know it is a joke - that they need to be good citizens and not just get out of their seats or work areas and come up to me, particularly when I am in the middle of a lesson. (This is rarely used after October.)

7. Yes okay, think of it as a bonus! When I want student attention and their iPads are open I say, "Screens down, shields up" (our cases have shields on the back) and they immediately close their iPads and focus on me.

Finally, no classroom communication is complete without discussing the school-home connection. Keeping in touch with parents and ensuring that they know what is going on in our classroom is one of the keys to having a successful school year. I pride myself on creating an open and ongoing two-way communication with all of my parents which can be difficult when there is often a language barrier between Spanish speaking parents and myself. 

At the beginning of the year I send home a letter with all of my classroom rules and procedures as well as my cell phone number and school email address. I send home a weekly newsletter to parents via Google Docs, as a PDF email attachment (all of my students have school email addresses so I send it to them as well so they can share with their parents if I do not have an email address for the parent), and I copy and paste it to my class kidblog. Our weekly newsletters are translated by one of the two bilingual instructional aides at our site and I then repeat the sharing procedure for the Spanish copy of the newsletter. 

I meet with parents before and after school when necessary, have let them come in and observe my classroom, and have hosted Parent Tech Nights to help my parents understand what their children are doing in class. 

Formal parent-teacher conferences are often difficult as there is a high demand for our translators and we often have to wait well beyond our scheduled conference time to have a translator assist us. This year however, I was given a district iPad with an app that provided live translation services. Okay this has to be the COOLEST thing ever! I opened the app, selected a language, and a live, yes you read that right, LIVE translator appeared on the screen. The first family I used the app with, was a bit shy at first but quickly warmed up to the online translator. Each successive family after that who had seen the app in action was ready to go and interacted with the translator as if she were in the room sitting at the table with us. My conferences were in my classroom which was nice (translated conferences are normally held in the noisy MPR) and I had some of the best conversations with my parents using this app rather than sitting in a room with dozens of other families. I will NEVER go back to conferences without a live translator on demand. This is just one way that instant and live translations have helped strengthen my school-home connection with parents. 

It is easy to get into a routine and not realize how important all forms of communication are to the success of a classroom. At times, it can seem that the focus is on successfully communicating with students but communicating with parents may fall to the wayside. This can be particularly true when things get busy at work, when things are going well in the classroom, or when there is a communication barrier such as language. It is likely that like me too, you have tried to use a free translation service such as Google translate. Not only have I found these services to be inaccurate, I have been told that they actually completely jumble the content. Not good when you are trying to build a bridge of open communication between you and your parents. In the midst of the busy day and all that is going on in school it is easy to push off trying to get things translated or to send things home but it is vital to do so in order to keep parents informed and involved in the education process. One way to do this is to is a new resource I have found...Smartling. Smartling translates websites! What an instantaneous way to connect to parents! What do you think? 

These nonverbal, verbal, and written means of communication are just a few of the ways I ensure that we have a successful year. I hope that you find them useful as well, or that this post made you think about how you communicate with your students and families.
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