As a first year teacher, I was young. Very young. And there were two things I was positive I knew then about teaching.
- I was not a silly person. While empathetic and compassionate, I was not going to be able to be the Mrs. Frizzle of teachers. I was a reserved person that just couldn’t put myself, “out there.”
- I would do anything to help students learn.
Imagine the discomfort I felt when I discovered my students learned things so easily through song, movement, and dance. When I saw other teachers being “silly” or “fun” as I saw it, I was envious. I wanted to be that but I had convinced myself I was just a calmer person than my colleagues. While I had growing to appreciate different teaching styles, I was struggling with not being willing to look ridiculous, as I thought my students would see me.
Through GLAD training and observation of other teachers, I saw that Total Physical Response (TPR), along with singing, dancing and chanting, was a powerful way for students to engage in learning vocabulary and content. By providing students with a tune and movement, they retained information. This is where in order to live up to my own promise (“I would do anything to help students learn.”), I had to let go of what I thought to be true about myself. I quickly found my inhibitions lessening (Age does that to you!). If I expected my students to take risks in learning, I certainly would need to take risks in teaching. The best part? I LOVED it! My favorite lessons now include chants, hand movements, or songs. And not a single student ever criticized my music skills!
There was one problem with implementing the TPR and like strategies. I was writing songs and creating hand motions like crazy. My students were learning (so exciting!)! The following year, students came to my class and I tried my TPR and songs again. This time, while still engaged, students told me, “My teacher taught main idea this way.” This happened again and again. Every teacher in my building was recreating the wheel. In turn, students were learning numerous ways to remember the same words. While I’m a believer in doing whatever works for kids and that each kid is different (and therefore may require benefit from different options for learning), the population of students I work with needs explicit, intense, and repetitive instruction. Our data shows they are successful when we do this.
In order to ensure the continuity our students need, the staff I am a part of went through a two year process of vocabulary vertical alignment. We followed this process:
Identify the essential academic vocabulary for success with the ELA CCSS
Determine the grade level responsible for introducing each vocabulary word
Share all of the chants, songs, graphic organizers, definitions, and physical movements we were each using for the identified vocabulary
Select one agreed upon definition, chant/song, physical movement and graphic organizer (where appropriate) – Put all of this information into a shared spreadsheet
Film teachers and students working with each of our vocabulary words
Create a shared storage location for videos for teachers to revisit
We are in week 8 of our current school year. We’re already seeing the benefits. We are seeing students with the same schema traveling from class to class. We’re seeing students showing mastery of content more quickly because they are getting increased repetitions in the same way. We’re seeing that we have the ability to share our vocabulary with families in a school-wide manner.
While tone deaf and uncoordinated, I’m loving being engaged in learning with my students. I don’t have dress covered in the solar system with matching planet jewelry – yet. But I won’t be surprised when I do!
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.