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Brainy Apples: 2016
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Setting Discussion Norms

Setting discussion norms is critical if you want your students leading your class discussions. Regardless of what subject you teach, having students take the lead will result in them taking ownership and responsibility more so than if you are dictating the conversations.

social studies, Brainy Apples, student-led discourse

This is something I start at the beginning of the year, so that as time passes, my students become more comfortable at contributing to our class discussions. You want to lay the foundation for the academic conversations that will take place throughout the year. Usually you will have students who are reluctant to participate, and you will also have students who like to be the center of the discussion and try to take control. It's important to establish norms so that your quieter students won't feel overpowered and your louder students give those quieter students ample opportunity to participate. Students need to learn how to have student-led discourse, where the teacher is an active listener and the students are the leaders.

It is also very important to teach students how to participate in an active discussion, especially when there is not one right answer. You have to deliberately teach students how to debate ideas in a positive manner where they respect and value each other's contributions to the discussion.

I discuss each norm with students and provide an example of each with selected students acting out each norm. I found that having students role play each norm with an acceptable action or response AND an unacceptable action or response helps students get a concrete idea of what is and is not appropriate. After we go over each norm, I post them in a prominent place so students can easily refer to them during the year. Students will use these reminders often, and you want to encourage them to refer to the norms if they aren't being followed.

 I found it's easier to help students learn these norms by introducing two a week. If you choose too many, then students aren't able to focus on each norm and really understand how to follow it. After about a month, you will have introduced all of the norms to students, and you can expect them to follow all of them. Remember to encourage students to review the norms any time they forget one of them.

If you would like the poster set in the photo below, you can click {HERE} or on the photo. It's free! I made a full color set and a black and white set. You can print the black and white set on color paper to save on color ink.
social studies, student-led discourse, Brainy Apples

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2 Easy Ways to Use Primary Sources In the Classroom

I wanted to share with you all something that I have made a goal for myself this year, and that is to incorporate primary sources into each unit I teach. I’m not sure about you, but I found myself shying away from using primary documents because a) I didn’t know where to find quality primary sources, b) I wasn’t sure how to use them in my classroom, and c) I just wasn’t sure if I had time to spend. In the past I did use primary documents, but not as often as I knew I should be.

social studies, Brainy Apples, primary document analysis

Before I get into how I use them and offer some ideas, I want to talk about why we all should be using primary sources in our classrooms. And it just isn’t for social studies teachers! ELA/reading teachers can absolutely use primary sources, too. It’s an easy way for ELA/reading teachers to integrate social studies into their content, and social studies teachers will be integrating ELA/reading as well. (If you are interested in learning more about how to integrate literacy across the curriculum, I have offered and will be offering a FREE webinar called “12 Steps to Implementing Close Reads in AnySubject, grades 1-6” soon. Click {HERE} to view the upcoming dates.)

So, why should we be using primary sources in the classroom?
I think a comment several of my students made sums it up best- “I can touch history!” History is something that can be elusive to our students. It can be abstract. History is events that occurred, and we can read about it and watch videos to help our students better understand. However, history is something that our students can’t touch or feel. We know students learn best when they can manipulate objects or ideas. History occurred in the past, and we can’t take our students there. If we live near a museum then we can certainly go on a field trip, but for those of us who aren’t close to museums or don’t have the funds available, how are we supposed to allow our students the opportunity to get up and close and personal with history? Primary sources are how!

Deepen Understanding
Like I said earlier, I made it a goal of mine this year to incorporate as many primary sources as possible this year because I knew it would help unlock the mysteries of history for my students. I am four months into the school year, and my students this year have a better understanding of the topics we have learned than my students last year because I bring in primary documents multiple times a week. My students are able to piece together what we have talked about in class and what they are analyzing from primary sources to construct new knowledge that they better understand than if we had just read about it and watched a video. They are able to view history from multiple perspectives and compare primary sources that sometimes contradict one another (propaganda) to better understand the complexities of history.

Develop Critical Thinking Skills
Not only do my students understand the topics I teach at a deeper level, they are also learning how to be critical thinkers and analyze sources like a historian would. Oftentimes primary sources lack all of the information needed to fully understand the message or point. Students have to use prior knowledge and analyze multiple sources to be able to fully understand them. Students must move from making observations about the primary sources (explicit facts) to making inferences (implicit facts). Not only this, but students must also be aware of the bias present in propaganda they look at and question the point of view and purpose of the author, especially when they are presented with contradictory primary sources. If you are going to be using Document Based Questioning (DBQ), then it’s REALLY important for students to learn how to analyze primary documents.

Student Engagement
This is probably my favorite reason for using primary sources. My students this year are at an all time high level of engagement, even during those topics that are typically considered boring. I have had several students comment that they used to be bored during social studies, but now they can’t wait for class to begin. I had several students comment that history has come alive for them because they can touch and feel the past. Using primary sources has helped my students make connections with the events of the past in meaningful ways. Many of my students have told me they have went home and continued researching what we discussed in class because they wanted to learn more. There is a difference between reading a second-hand account and a first-hand account, and even if students haven’t learned the technical differences between the two, they know that a first-hand account helps make events seem more real and personal evoking emotions. Primary documents help students feel what it was like to be alive during that particular time period, especially when you use not only paper documents but also music and art.

Where do you get primary sources?
I spent a lot of time this fall researching a variety of sites that offer primary sources, and some site are easier to navigate than others. Some sites seem to have more useful primary sources than others. I love the Library of Congress, DocsTeach, and the Digital Archives; but there are so many more…too many to list. I usually start with these sites, and then I also Google primary sources + the topic I am teaching. Yes, it can be time consuming because you have to weed through a lot of “junk”, but once you find those hidden gems, you can use them year after year. As I find a quality site, I bookmark it as a favorite site so I can easily navigate to it in the future. You can find tons of print documents online to use in the classroom.

If you want to truly bring history into your classroom, then I highly suggest traveling trunks. Sometimes there is a fee, but I have found trunks for free. I live in north Georgia, and Kennesaw State University offers traveling trunks free of charge. The only fee is the return shipping. However, they also offer free in-house programs, so I make sure we are finished with the trunks so the speaker can take the trunks back with him for free. They allow you to keep the trunks and traveling exhibits for three weeks, so I schedule the in-house program at the end of those three weeks. We are able to use multiple trunks, a traveling exhibit, and have an in-house program for free! It took a little bit of time to research, but it is well worth it! The trunk contents are actual items from that time period, so students are able to touch and feel history. The looks on their faces are priceless! We were able to create our own museum using the contents of the trunks and the traveling exhibit. Before we create our own museum, I use my no prep lesson about the Holocaust to provide students with background information they need, so when they do visit our museum and listen to guest speakers, they are able to make those connections.

social studies, Brainy Apples, document analysis

Also in one of the trunks was a CD with music from the time period of the Holocaust. The mood in my classroom while my students were listening was very somber. We know that music can evoke emotions that reading does not. My students were able to make an emotional connection that they had not made during our unit until they listened to the music.

Also, don’t count out other staff members in your school. One of my fellow teacher’s father served in the military during World War 2. He has several artifacts from his dad including his Purple Heart medal, the telegrams his parents received when he was thought to be missing/killed in action and then later found to be “slightly wounded in action”, money used in Nazi Germany, and even a Nazi soldier’s armband that he took off a dead Nazi soldier. A little gross, yes, but my students LOVED it!

social studies, Brainy Apples, document analysis

Another staff member visited Germany during the time of the Berlin Wall, and she was able to bring in an actual East German flag that flew in East Berlin (not quite sure how her mom was able to get it through Checkpoint Charlie) and a piece of the Berlin Wall. As my students were passing around these items, I could see the spark in their eyes and curiosity/interest growing.

In both of the above cases, I also gave my students print primary documents to examine. It was amazing the connections they were making and how engaged they were. I realized that print primary sources are important to use, but so are actual artifacts. Those artifacts are what help students make a connection with the past. Finding actual artifacts is not as easy because you can’t Google and print, but once you find museums that offer these types of services, it’s very easy to reserve for future years. I wrote a blog post about Holocaust resources and trainings that you can obtain for free. Many states have similar commissions/museums that provide very similar services (click {HERE} for Georgia's), and there is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum that you should check out for your Holocaust and WW2 units. The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust will even help you schedule a Holocaust survivor to speak with your students. We did this last year and this year, and it is such an incredible opportunity for students to listen to a survivor's story. It's absolutely incredible.

How do you use primary sources?
Once I was able to locate primary sources, I needed to decide how I was going to use them in my classroom. I wanted to use them to enhance our units as well as provide my students with the opportunity to play detective and analyze these sources for new information and to deepen their understanding. I created a document analysis that I give to my students when they are using primary sources. I also created three posters that I hang in my classroom when using primary sources as a reference for my students.

The first document analysis poster walks students through the steps of what to do before reading, during reading, and after reading. My students use this often to keep them on track until they become proficient on their own. The second poster lists out the types of documents students might be given to analyze. It also helps students find their own primary sources when I give them a research project to complete. One of the requirements is that they have to include primary sources.  The third poster lists out unique characteristics of primary sources that students refer to when they are complete the document analysis sheet. Identifying unique characteristics helps students better identify the time period, purpose, bias, and other factors they must analyze.

The document analysis sheet helps students focus on the important aspects of the primary source, whether its print, video, or audio, and guides students to conclusions based on the primary source.

When I first started using primary sources, I knew I had to teach my students how to analyze. We worked through the gradual release model, moving from whole group with me modeling, to whole group with students modeling, to small group with students working together and sharing out, and finally to independently analyzing primary sources. Not all of my students are independent yet, though. Students who were ready to move on, I let move to independence. However, I still have several students who need to work in small groups and listen to other groups’ analysis. I model to my students how to use the steps on the poster I described above, and the poster matches the analysis sheet, so as we move step by step, students are able to complete the analysis sheet.

If you would like this FREE analysis sheet along with the three posters, click {HERE} or the image below (The posters are 8x10, but you can adjust your printer settings to print it out over multiple sheets to enlarge it).

social studies, Brainy Apples, primary source

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Back to School Tips for Middle School

When I moved up to middle school from elementary school, I found that my back to school routine changed, too!

I wanted to share some tips that will help you begin to plan for going back to school in the middle grades. In my video I explain some of the areas I address when I begin back to school planning:

Here is a freebie checklist you can use when you begin prepping for back to school!
Middle School back to school tips

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Tips for Transition from Elementary School to Middle School

I taught elementary school for 14 years. I knew exactly what I was doing (most of the time). But when I moved up to teaching middle school, I found myself struggling like a brand new teacher. Changing grade levels can really throw you off your teaching game.

Here are some tips that I wanted to share with anyone venturing from elementary school to middle school. I made this checklist so you can remind yourself of some of the important differences between elementary school and middle school to help you make a smooth transition. You can click {HERE} or the image below to download the tips page. (Shout out to Ta-Doodles Illustrations for the clipart and Kimberly Geswein for the fonts!)

I share some of my biggest learning curves in the video below:

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Easy Ways to Integrate Literacy With Your Science & Social Studies

Feel like you never have enough time to teach it all? Me, too! But once I started integrating literacy with my science and social studies, I suddenly found the time I had been missing.

Click on my video to learn how I integrate literacy into science & social studies:

Click on the image below for a freebie graphic organizer your students can use during science/social studies! It is differentiated for grades 1-5.

Want to read more about content integration? Here are blog posts I have written about using RAFT, performance tasks, and an online resource called DocTeach

I do have some EXCITING news! I am going to be offering a free LIVE webinars! Click {here} to view the upcoming dates and times, and you can also reserve your seat! I hope to see you there!
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Drawing Models vs. Key Words in Problem Solving

I used to have my students identify the key words in word problems. However, now I have them draw models instead.

I share reasons why I now have my students draw models and also give you some examples so you can implement this strategy in your classroom. You can use my Word Problem of the Day or my Daily Math Reviews as a resource for word problems. You can then search by your grade level.

 You can join my email list by using the form below. I will send you an exclusive freebie for joining, and you will stay updated with the latest happenings at Brainy Apples :)

Alternative Fluency Strategy

Do you have students who struggle with timed fluency tests? I started using this alternative fluency strategy and it really helped my anxious kiddos succeed!

In this video I explain how I use backward timing to alleviate the pressure from the timer and how my struggling students improved their fluency. I also give examples of how this strategy can be used in both math and reading.

Click {here} to download an editable freebie you for your students can use to track fluency improvement over time. You will need to save it to your computer before you can edit it. You can enter your own times along the left side as well as the information at the top.

Or if you prefer a Google Drive version, you can click {here}. All you need to do is after you open the document, make a copy for your own Google Drive. Now you can type in the text boxes your own information and add text boxes where needed. Honestly, though, I prefer to print off the graph and let my students color in their progress :)

You can also click {here} to read a detailed blog post I wrote about using this strategy to improve math fluency.

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Close Reading Overview With a Free Planning Sheet

Close reading has been around for a really long time, even though it just started to pick up steam in the K-12 realm about 5 years ago or so…or at least they did where I live. I love doing close reads with my kiddos because it’s the perfect way to integrate literacy with content areas such as science and social studies. You are not only able to focus on your content specific standards, but you are also able to reinforce key literacy standards. And, for those of you who departmentalize, your science/social studies teachers will love you for life! And if you are a science or social studies teacher, wouldn’t you just LOVE it if reading teachers reviewed some of your standards? It’s really a win-win all the way around. I do realize there is some hesitation among the departmentalization crowd of not really knowing another subject’s content, so make sure to visit my Facebook page on July 20, 2016, at 8pm EST because I will be offering some tips on how to overcome those roadblocks you may be facing (if you can’t watch my Facebook Live video live, it will be available for replay).

Join me on my FB page on July 20 @ 8pm EST

Before I continue, I want to give you an overview of what close reading is. My view of close reading is a direct result of the trainings I attended and research I read. I have also delivered professional development to teachers on what close reading is and how to implement it because it can certainly get overwhelming because there are so many facets to it.

There certainly isn’t one “right” way to do a close read in your classroom. My method may not be the method you use, and that’s OK! I do not want you to read my post and think, “Oh my goodness! I have been doing it wrong!” Instead, I want you to read my post, and, if it’s different from what you are currently doing, I would love for you to reflect on your own teaching practices and think, “I never thought about close reading this way before. I really like the idea of {insert idea}, so I am going to try this in my classroom next year!”  That is really my goal with this blog post: to get you to reflect on what you are currently doing in your classroom and hopefully add additional strategies to your toolbox. The key is to find the method that works best for you, feel most comfortable with, and that you see student progression.

Close reading is an instructional strategy that focuses on the "four corners of the text". Meaning that students have to read a selection of text carefully, reflect, and answer questions that require a deeper level of thinking. The answers lie solely in the text itself, without the students having to possess prior knowledge. Would prior knowledge make it easier to answer the questions? Possibly, but if the questions being asked can't be answered using the text alone, then students who lack that prior knowledge will be at a disadvantage. Shouldn’t we encourage students to make those text-to-self/text/real world connections? Absolutely. But there is a time and place for it. If your purpose is to have students dive deep into a text and use the text in front of them as the basis for their responses, then you need to take away the connection piece in the question you ask and the responses you accept.

So, how do I implement close reads? I do close reads whole group or small group depending on the purpose. You can choose to give your students a copy of the text or display the text on a white board. You can choose to have students read the text independently, with a partner, or you may want to read it to them and they follow along. If you want to assess your students' listening comprehension, then you can read the text to them to take away the potential obstacle of having to read the text themselves. They should have the text in front of them, though, so they can refer back to it during discussion. A close reading can take anywhere between 20 to 45 minutes, depending on the age level of your group and the extent of the questioning. There are also different ways for students to respond to the questions. I have had a class discussion by writing the question on chart paper or the white board and then recording student responses; had students write their answers independently; posted the questions on sentence strips in a pocket chart and gave each student a sticky note to write their answers on and then stick in the pocket chart; or place 2-3 pieces of chart paper around the room with a different question written on each one and have the students travel to each question in a small group and write their answers/add to the answer already written. By mixing it up, students don't get bored, and they are constantly being challenged. You could also give your students the opportunity to write the questions themselves. You can give them question stems that guide them in the direction you want them to go, and then let them finish formulating the question. So many possibilities!

OK, so now I know how to implement close reads, but how do I select the text?
I get this question a lot with good reason. When you first start out doing close reads, there are so many factors to consider, and it is WAY easier to select a text with questions already written to give to students, possibly a basal or page from a workbook. And there is nothing wrong with that (even though I am not a supporter of the basal, when you are starting something new, taking away as much of the unknown as possible is absolutely necessary)! However, as you become more comfortable with close reading, I do want to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. Venture away from pre-formulated passages and questions and begin to select your own text. Why? Because then you are TRULY free! You are free to select the text that is the best fit for your students. You can select a text that integrates your science or social studies topic. You can select a text that is a well-constructed example of a specific text feature. You can select a text that has a strong character and is rich with details that can be used for character analysis. I ask myself the following question, “Why am I using this particular text?” If the answer is, “I already have it in front of me,” well, honestly, that answer is not validating why the text should be used (unless you are just starting out and you are slowly implementing close reading. But, again, I encourage you to step away from the basal). Always ask yourself, "What is the purpose for this close read?" and "Does this text fit this purpose the best?" So many times teachers reach for that stand-by text that has been read every year, or the story of the week from the basal. Not saying there is anything wrong with that, but if that is your reasoning, you may want to look for another text to use because that text may not be a good fit for your close read. Some teachers like to select the text first and then find or write questions that can be used. I think it's easier to look at what standards I am teaching, pull out questions that would fit the purpose of teaching those standards, and then look for a text that would be a good fit. You can't just whip out a book and grab some questions to ask. You MUST read the text before hand and really think about what questions are most appropriate for the purpose you have chosen, and which questions are those deeper thinking questions. The questions you choose will be determined by your standards as well as the text itself.

These are a few tips you can use when you start planning your close reading lesson.  You can also download a free planning sheet I made to help you implement close reads. You can get it by clicking the image below. or {here}. Enjoy!

Brainy Apples, Heather LeBlanc

When I dove into close reads, I stumbled a lot along the way until I found what worked best for me, so I know it can be really difficult to get close reads going smoothly. I am excited to announce that I offering webinars to share how I implement close reads and text selection along with more information! Click here to see the upcoming webinars and select a date that works for you. You can also join my email list to stay updated. You can fill out the form below:

Join Me for FB Live!

Hello! I hope you have been enjoying your summer break, whether you have been out for a month like me or are just now kicking off your summer.  I have had time to recharge and think about how I can best help you this upcoming school year. I have been asked over and over by readers to offer more in the way of professional learning. They love reading my blog posts and using my resources--but they want something more interactive. I am thrilled to say--IT'S HERE!
***FB LIVE***

If you haven’t heard of FB Live yet, you NEED to check it out. SERIOUSLY. It’s the best FB addition I have seen in a looooong time! It’s the perfect way to offer professional learning to you. You can be at home, in your pjs, comfy on your couch. What could be better than that?!

I am entering my 16th year in education. I have experience in grades K-6 as a classroom teacher, EIP teacher, Title I teacher, Enrichment teacher, and Curriculum Coach. Some of my favorite years were when I was a Curriculum Coach. Why? Because I was able to work with students AND teachers EVERY SINGLE DAY. I had the best of both worlds. And the last few years I have realized how much I miss being able to work with teachers. I began blogging in 2012, but I still felt as though something was missing. FB Live is the key! I can use FB Live to share important and relevant professional learning that can immediately help you in your classroom. I have a Specialist degree in curriculum, instruction, and assessment, and pride myself on being a leader in our field--and I want you to take some risks and try new things in your classroom, too!
What do YOU want to learn more about?
Are you interested in any of the following?

  • Content integration
  • Assessment strategies
  • Using technology, such as Google Drive, to improve instruction
  • Literacy strategies
  • Classroom organization and culture
  • Behavior management
  • Increasing problem solving skills
AND MORE!!!!!!!

Click {here} to go to my FB post about tomorrow’s Live video and comment on what you would like to learn more about. I won’t be able to discuss it tomorrow, but I will put it on my list!

Please join me tomorrow, Friday, July 1, at 8pm EST/7pm CST, at my
FB page, for my first FB Live video! This will be a quick one to get the discussion started and make sure we are all able to access the live feed. Please invite your teacher friends to join us. The more collaboration, the better! The best part is that this is free staff development and networking--and summer is the perfect time to get your brain rolling with new ideas.

One of the great things about watching a FB Live video is you can post and “chat” with other viewers while the video is playing. It’s a great way to connect with other teachers and share our best ideas! Remember, you can click
{here} to go to my FB post to share with your teacher friends to let them know when to join us. To encourage people to speak up, there *may* even be some live giveaways during the broadcast.  I hope to see you tomorrow!

P.S. If you can’t join me live, you can still access my video by clicking on the “VIDEO” tab on my FB page. 

Be sure to sign up for my newsletter so you don't miss any future Facebook Live videos! See you tomorrow!