Sunday, January 24, 2016

Amping Up Student Energy and Enthusiasm- House Sorting!

Tuesday was my first day back to school after the holiday break. I wanted to amp up the student engagement for this next block of time. We go off-track in April for a month and return in May for all of the end of year testing. So, THIS is it! I have three months to see how far I can take the kids.

I'm not a Harry Potter fan, but the kids love the books, and so I'm a fan because they're a fan. To engage the kids at even a higher level, I planned a House sorting ceremony. Initially, I was trying to figure out how to make sure that the houses ended up with an even amount of students, boys/girls, and academic ability levels. Decide Now is an app that is a spinner. (Think Ron Clark) I wanted an even number of kids in each house, and so I nixed the spinner. Instead, I cut some paper strips for each house color and had the kids draw out a card. They put on the magical glasses (sunglasses) and drew out a card.

The ceremony was a BLAST! I found this playlist of music from another teacher's blog. When the kids came to school, they heard blaring music coming from my classroom that piqued their curiosity. (I'm in a portable classroom.) The kids came dreading starting school again, but the minute they walked in the room, their eyes lit up.

We danced around for about 10 minutes. Honestly, the only reason we stopped is because of tech issues. For some reason, Air Play stopped projecting from my computer, and that stopped the music. It was a bummer! But, we're very used to just going with the flow. I took the opportunity to take care of attendance, pledge, etc. Next, I explained that our class was going to be sorted into three houses and the significance of the name, color, and animal mascot. These were brief overviews. We'll talk about each one in more depth later. The fourth house (Arete) in the picture is what I'm introducing this next week. I decided to make the fourth house include our whole class.

Sorting Ceremony: (I was going to bring my fog maker, but forgot it as I was rushing out the door.) Oh, well. I had music playing, kids dancing and cheering. Each kid came up to the front of the room, put on the magical glasses, drew a card out of the hat, was rewarded with a necklace of jewels (dollar store) and sat at a desk in their house. Everyone was full of energy and enthusiasm! It was fun! Kids welcomed each other into the respective houses with cheers, claps, high-fives, and fist bumps! As a teacher, I could see the positives of forming smaller families right from the start.

Once everyone had a house, kids moved all of their belongings to a new desk. The only rule that I made was that they had to mix up where the boys/girls sat at each table. I let them sit where they wanted to sit. All of my worries about kids being evenly distributed were for naught. Probability worked in my favor! I have all academic abilities represented in each house, the boy/girl ratio is pretty even, and even behavior issues were dispersed among the three houses. Whew! The simple solution if it had not worked was to have different seating charts for various subjects. (It's an idea from my kids last year.)

The houses compete against each other for points. They earn points by turning in their work, getting a personal best score, positive behavior, volunteering, and all of the soft/leadership skills that I'm trying to reinforce. Kids earn tickets for an end of the week drawing and each ticket is also a point for the house. (The little containers for tickets are from the dollar store.) I also add points for the whole house for having quick and quiet transitions, performing their house cheer with passion, or other team building competitions. The E on the table is a special award for demonstrating "Excellent Effort". Each week, the students vote for someone from their house who shows extra effort throughout the week.

Dividing the kids into houses was one of the best things that I've done. I've always done a lot of team building as a whole class. I've also always had kids in groups of 4-5 students. I'm still doing that for class management reasons. But, I saw a lot of instant "house" bonding. For my three kids that have an especially hard time making friends, belonging to a house is really positive!

One thing that I did to amp up the energy was focus more on bigger celebrations for individuals. I've always done some classroom cheers and songs for brain breaks and a little fun. But, I wanted to level up a bit.  A quick Google search helped me to find more easy cheers and chants. I changed the words to some to fit our school and classroom. I taught the kids to cheer for their classmates based on my verbal cues. For example, if I say a generic "good job" to someone, no one will stop working. But, if I say, "Lindsey, that was an awesome question you just asked!" then the kids spontaneously cheer for 3 seconds. We had to practice cheering "loud and proud" and then sharply stopping and going back to work. They LOVE it! I LOVE it! (If you haven't done this before as a class, make sure to spend time practicing. We practice at the beginning of the year "being wild" and then in 3 seconds, on a quiet signal, to be back to work and focused. They end sharply at the quiet signal so we don't waste any time.)

Our favorite cheer this week was "I Believe!".  I let the kids stand on their chairs, move around the classroom, etc. while another student leads the cheer. It's fun! (We say it 5 times and then it's silent!) It cracks me up! Why are we saying that we'll win? I needed a rival- a target for some competition- and so I looked up the testing scores from a neighborhood school. They are also a magnet school for the gifted and talented. Their scores are always some of the highest because a fourth of their students are enrolled in the gifted program. They don't know it, but according to my kids, they are "the enemy" and we have a "secret plan of attack"! Academically, my students are MUCH lower, but we're improving! I also have the belief that kids will meet whatever expectations that you set. I wanted to raise the bar a little higher. If you want to read about my philosophy about student expectations, go here. Why not let my kids work and try to get a higher score on the end of level test than the magnet school for the gifted? My kids know that testing scores are not our focus, but the competition adds a fun element.

For one of my math lessons this week, I used for practice. Our goal all year has been to make it to the Smart Goal of 80. I upped the challenge to make it to 90. Every time someone made 90, we all paused and did our 3-second cheer. The energy was palpable! The kids worked so HARD!!! Not only were they working hard, but they were coaching everyone in their house. My three lowest math students didn't quite make it to 80. Without me prompting, one of my students started the cheer, "I Believe" only changed it to "you" and the kids encircled these three students with their cheers, high-fives, and gentle slaps on the back. These three kids were grinning from ear to ear! I pulled them aside at the end of the day to tell them how proud I was of their efforts. They let me know that they were going to go home and try their hardest to get to 80 or higher. And you know what, they did! I was able to see their time/answers online at home that night. I can't even express the happiness in my heart! The next morning, we celebrated the success of these kids! They had each earned a score of over 80! Wow! This was huge!

We had to take a math test this week, but kids were confident. Our starting class average for the district math benchmark was 7% and on the test this week, our class average was 79%! I am tickled pink and so proud of my kids! We have really worked!

Our closing ceremony for the week on Friday was awesome. I chose one ticket from each house for a special treat, but everyone and their effort throughout the week was celebrated! According to the reflections that the students shared and the 5 min. journal entries, mission accomplished for this week! I raised the bar and the energy! I know that it's only been a week, but I have the momentum in my favor, and that's a good feeling!

**I used some of the House names from the Ron Clark Academy and one of my own. The words, colors, animals, meanings have personal connections to me and are some of my values and passions. Some are personal connections to me because of this particular group of students.

There are deeper meanings/symbolism but in short:

Amistad- Spanish for Friendship Mascot: Hummingbird 
Reveur- French for Dreamer, Creative, Innovator Mascot: Dolphin
Isibundi- Zulu for Courage Mascot: Tiger
Arete- Greek for Excellence Mascot: Falcon (school mascot)

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