Classroom Management through Community Building

Classroom Management through Community Building

I will never forget my first year of teaching. (Does anyone?) It was such an exhilarating and humbling year! I was living the dream I had held since childhood but also came to the painful realization that I still had a great deal to learn about being an effective teacher.
When I completed that first year, I felt I had been successful overall, but I also knew that I wanted to make some changes in my management system. My experiences with Kevin had made a big impact on me, but it was more than that. I wanted my classroom to feel different- less like I was the “enforcer” and more like I was the “encourager.” [Read more…]

Tips for Teaching with Talking Puppets

Puppet ideas for teachers

Now that I’ve introduced you to the silent class mascot puppet, let’s move on to talking puppets.

Learning to make puppets talk increases your options. You can connect to academic content. You can reveal a recurring character  who has a specific role in your teaching. Or you can introduce a talking class mascot who will visit your students all year.

The talking mascot puppet has all the positive community building and management aspects of a silent mascot puppet, but this one is even more engaging because it talks! It’s also the easiest way to start when learning how to manipulate and “talk” with a puppet to your students.

Check out this video to meet my favorite talking mascot puppet, Red. You’ll find the written version of my video tips below.

Tips for Talking Puppets:

1- Plan and practice (at least when you are getting started.) When you first bring a talking puppet to life, it’s important to think ahead about what it’s going to say. Who is this character and what kind of personality will it have? Plan a few lines and decide the general topic of conversation. You don’t need to memorize a script (that will seem too forced.) However, it’s helpful to think about what you will say when you introduce the puppet, what the puppet might say, etc. Practicing in a mirror ahead of time always makes for a better puppet experience.

2- Choose a puppet voice carefully. It’s important to give your puppet its own “voice” but be careful not to make it so strange that the children struggle to understand. A slightly higher or lower voice than your own usually does the trick. Accents can also be fun but make sure it’s one you can perform consistently.

3- Don’t try to be a ventriloquist. I’ve seen some people try to hide the fact that they are talking for their puppet and it’s usually not successful. You have to be a fairly professional ventriloquist to pull it off, and most teachers just don’t have time for that. Besides, the kids really don’t care that you are doing the talking for your puppet. They know it’s a puppet! This goes back to the point I made in my General Puppet Tips post about drawing children into the realm of imagination while also being clear that you are the one manipulating the puppet.

4- Be funny without being sarcastic. Talking puppets work especially well with older children because they can be funny and relatable. However, we’ve all known teachers who cross the line from gentle teasing and humor into sarcasm and humiliation. That’s not OK, and should be avoided at all times. The trick is that we need to be especially vigilant when talking through a mascot puppet, because in the attempt to make the kids laugh with the puppet, it’s easy to get too close to that line. Sometimes your puppet will say something that surprises you! That’s why planning some bits of your puppet’s conversation is important. If you plan funny lines ahead of time, you can be sure that are appropriate and helpful.

5- When possible, choose puppets with a movable mouth. It’s fun to work with a talking puppet when you can make the mouth move. Of course, you can always make puppets talk that don’t have a moving mouth- like Mr. Rogers! Remember X the Owl, Henrietta Pussycat, and King Friday? Those puppets are some of my all-time favorites!

6- Don’t forget that small movements keep your puppet “alive.” As I noted in my “General Tips” post, it’s important to keep your puppet “alive” through movement even when it’s not talking. For example, is it looking around the room? Moving its arms? Looking at you while you talk and nodding its head periodically? Think about simple movements that will help “sell” the puppet to the children.

If making puppets “talk” is new to you, start with a talking mascot. It’s a casual and fun way to get used to the art form.

Once you have gotten comfortable, there are so many wonderful ways you can teach with puppets!

Coming up... my friend (and professional puppeteer) Becky Becker shares some of her puppet magic with us. It is not to be missed!

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It’s All About Student Engagement

Student engagement article

I interrupt my current puppet series to bring you a message about student engagement.

To quote literacy leader Christopher Lehman, “Engagement isn’t a thing, it’s the ONLY thing.” (Emphasis added.)

The more I learn about effective teaching and the more I see it done well, the more I am convinced that the ingredient in the effective teacher’s secret sauce is engagement.

The kids have to be hooked. Involved. Active. Interested. Curious. Doing the work of learning and understanding for themselves.

No matter how many bells and whistles we put on our lessons, if the kids aren’t engaged deeply they just aren’t going to learn in a way that sticks. It’s that simple.

Technology isn’t the answer. “Mastery” teaching models aren’t the answer. Sleek, glossy curriculum packages aren’t the answer. I’ll even be so drastic as to say the arts aren’t the answer!

I truly believe that the answer is summed up in the response to this question: What are we asking to students to do and why should they do it?

The answer to that question depends on your students- their ages, backgrounds, interests, strengths and weaknesses, etc. Oh, and if your answer to the above question is, “Because they are supposed to do what I say!” or “They should be working hard to make As so they can be successful and go to college,” then you are on thin ice with this generation. They require a better answer than that.

And here’s another important part of the engagement equation: If our children feel loved, their engagement levels automatically rise! When a child feels valued, safe, and loved by a teacher, he will love her in return and work hard for her. This is why I am always beating the “Classroom Community” drum! The path to a child’s mind always detours through the heart. If you try to speed past the heart connection, you’re in trouble.

So how do we get to engagement? I’ll be transparent and say that after 18 years in education, I’m still figuring it out! But here is what I do know: [Read more…]

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