Calm Body Spaces in the Classroom

Every classroom K-5 should have a calm body space.

What exactly is a calm body space? Simply put, it is a place that any student can opt into, taking a break when THEY feel fit. It is NOT a time out space for students a place to be sent to. The space should be selected by students and constructed hand in hand with the teacher.  All students have access to it, at anytime during the day. Students are never sent there because they are misbehaving. It is not a punishment place but a place where students can regulate their own emotions and to return to the class when they are ready.

When I first started working at Queen Anne, I learned about calm body spaces and I was a bit confused. At first glance, I could tell it was different than a time out space but I didn’t quite understand how much ownership students should have in creating and defining the calm body space.  What follows is a quick guide to what it is, what it isn’t and how to create a calm body space in your own class because your students really need it.

What it is: A calm body space is a space that students have identified as place to go whenever they feel the need. Students should select and name the space together through a whole class meeting.  In a follow up meeting we will set and define  clear parameters about how we use this space.  These agreements hang in the Calm Body Space as a reminder.

In the past the calm body space in my classroom was under the classroom loft and had names such as : The Shark Den, California ( don’t ask) and just Calm Body Space. The name doesn’t particularly matter as long as students get a choice in naming it. The space should be out of the way of the rest of the class and should feel calm. At Queen Anne we had a fish tank, some pillows, a lap weight, headphones,  some paper and pencils but not much else. You may find that your students can handle more or less tools in the space. Last year, my class decided that those tools were helpful for getting calm  but weren’t so tempting that they wanted to stay and play.

One thing I wish I would have added was a five minute sand timer so that students could time how long they had been in the Calm Body Space. I teach students that it’s okay to spend five minutes there and then I will check in, if they need a couple of more minutes, okay,  but after that they either need to rejoin the class or go problem solve with another adult in the school such as the counselor or principal.

What a Calm Body Space is not:

A space to send misbehaving students. It is NOT a punishment space.

A space outside the classroom. Calm Body Spaces are in the classroom so the child is still in the classroom. Students should never be sent into the hall because they are deregulated.

A space that students can just hang out in all day and opt out of learning. The goal of a Calm Body Space is to help teach students to identify and regulate their own emotions. If they are spending large amounts of time there, there is a bigger issue. It’s our job as teachers to figure out what that student needs to be successful in that lesson. Is the content too challenging? Are they going through trauma and can’t access the curriculum? Are they sick and need to go home? When a student spend a lot of time in the Calm Body Space, we need to work with them to figure out why and get them back learning with the class.

How to begin:

First, I would get the book, Jared’s Cool Out Space . This is a great story about Jared and how he builds his own Calm Body Space in his bedroom. Many of students go home after this read aloud and build their spaces at home.

Next, lead a class meeting about where you could have a Calm Body Space in your classroom. Allow students to select and name the space, it should be place in the classroom you all agree would work well for calming down. It should be inviting to students. Lead follow up meetings as necessary to set clear boundaries about the space.

Have all students take a quick tour of the space and add any tools that help with regulation.

Allow students to use the space when they need it. Remember it is a space that they should be allowed to access.  If it’s a very popular space, you may need a back up space  (there have been years when I have had two Calm Body Spaces) Below are photos from both of our classrooms. You can see the space under the loft in my classroom and in Molly’s classroom there are beach chairs ( her class Calm Body Space has a beach theme!)

To repeat with what I began with: All classrooms should have a Calm Body Space.   Every student deserves a spot where they can feel safe and regulate their emotions. Research tells us that students cannot learn when they don’t feel safe.  A Calm Body Space will make a huge difference in your classroom.

-Alicia

Stop and Breathe

IMG_4042As I drove today, composing this blog post in my head, I was so tempted to title it something like “The One Thing You Can Do For a Calm and Focused Classroom” or “The Secret to Classroom Management” and while those titles are flashy and accurate in a sense, they imply there is some great big secret out there that can solve all your classroom behavior problems  with some magic potion. And in reality what I have discovered is painfully simple. Ready for it?

Breathing exercises for transitions or any old time your class needs to return to a calm and happy state. Plain and simple.

My class this past year was very energetic. More so than the average first grade class. Transitions were to be a huge challenge and problem in our classroom. We tried everything, problem solving as a class, very structured clean up routines, timing ourselves to see how quickly we could clean up while staying safe, you name it we, tried it. After a few weeks of trying different solutions, all of which had limited success, we began using a Hoberman Sphere to breath right before our class meeting. And it helped. And then a student suggested we use the Hoberman Sphere to help us calm down after recess. And that also helped. There is a great deal of science behind breathing but what really interested me was how dramatic of a difference I could see in my students and myself from 10 -15 deep breaths. It was remarkable. Then I went to a training and learned a new breathing exercise, which I promptly brought back to my classroom. And another. And soon we had about five breathing exercises that we used for every transition or anytime the energy in the room was beginning to rise.  And while it didn’t transform our classroom into a utopia, it did help the classroom to be a calmer place where we were able to minimize transition time and increase learning time.

Our Classrooms Top 3 Breathing Exercises:

  1. Hoberman Sphere -fun and a great visual
  2. Square breathing: inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4
  3. 4, 7, 8- great TED talk about this here

Adding Purpose to a Student Centered Classroom – A Reflection on PBL

Every year at this time I am celebrating my successes and reflecting on what I can do better.  For many years my colleagues and I  have integrated project based learning in our classrooms. These projects are guided by a driving question and  incorporate all of the PBL  essentials: student voice, collaboration, problem solving,  critical thinking, reflection and a time for student presentations.

 

For the last 6 years my 1st graders have done a Spring project that focuses on birds.  This project was designed to meet state science standards as well as allow students plenty of time to research practicing what it means to synthesize information and to put that learning in their own word.  This learning culminates in a bird symposium where students present what they’ve learned  in a way that expresses all that they know to an audience.  Every year Alicia and I have tweeked this project, adding art and music components, numerous field trips, tuning in to bird cams so that students could observe  fledglings in their nests. We brought in experts and used twitter to connect with ornithologists.  We immersed them in the study of birds and their habitats.  We knew that our students were engaged and that their understanding was multi layered and deep.  Students were asking questions and helping each other find the answers.  Yes,they were learning a lot about birds.  But could they do more?

In our 1st project of the year, our students had done a project in which they built a city of the future.  To do that they brainstormed a list of what they saw as “problems” in our city.  Homelessness, traffic, pollution and loss of green space. All of these were mitigated in the city that they imagined for their future. fullsizeoutput_3a1c

It was learning that stuck and when we started talking about birds they were immediately drawn to the problems they had already identified. Pollution in our city had to to be hurting birds too. This time they wanted to make a difference and they asked if  they could reach out to the Seattle Audobon Society.

 

 

The letters were delivered and we had permission to do a fundraiser.  Our neighborhood holds a farmers market in the Spring and luckily they were happy to host our 1st graders who signed up for shifts after school and into the night.

 

In the end these children raised  575 dollars and 25 cents, money that will be used to help protect bird habitat in our city. But more than that they demonstrated that their voices mattered and  together they could make an impact on our world.  This urgency and sense of purpose made a difference in their lives.  And mine.  And as I reflect back it’s what should drive all of our teaching.  We must lift expectations and let students lead the learning in real and authentic ways.

~Molly

 

Social Media in 1st grade

This week in my classroom  students are listening to one of my favorite read alouds, My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett.  We’re reading a chapter a day, working as a class to infer word meanings (weep, cargo, inhabited ) pausing so that students can turn and talk about the storyline and  share their understanding of the text. We started by making predictions about what would happen in the book.  Why is there a lion on the cover?  Why did Elmer pack what he did in his knapsack?  But instead of just writing these predictions on paper, and turning them in for feedback, my students are using Twitter to share their learning with classrooms around the United States and Canada.img_0131 For the third year in a row my 1st graders are connecting with other 6 , 7 and 8 year olds in more than 20 different classrooms using the #1bc18.

My students are used to sharing on Twitter.  In fact, our class Twitterers, (there are two) is our most popular class job.  Most days these students will send out a tweet at the end of our day.  It’s their chance to share what they think is most important about our school day.  These tweets  are student directed.  My 1st graders  use their best guess spelling and they use our school hashtag (#QAE)  because they know hashtags bring specific audiences together. I don’t step in until their finished,  and then I read it, offer feedback and let  them tweet it out to the world. What’s most significant about this is that they are sharing their voices with an authentic audience.  img_0134

During the book club, my students are literally lining up in front of our classroom computer so they can share their predictions, thoughts, etc. about the chapter we are reading.  And because we are on the west coast, and 2 to 3 hours behind most of the other classrooms that are online, we are able to see what what other students are doing which  creates a lot of excitement that help push my students in ways that I alone cannot.  It is a connection that is authentic and motivating.  We are also noticing similarities about our thinking  and about the schools and classrooms that we learn in.  We have gotten out maps and put dots on the cities and towns that we now have a connection to,  we feel like we have made new friends and we’ve added geography to the 1st grade curriculum.

Learning is  also amplified when students can share their ideas and get immediate feedback from people who don’t even have to be in the room.  We have tweeted several authors and heard back from most of them.  My students also share their thinking on kidblog.   And you can find that link on our class Twitter account.  And if you are now thinking how am I going to find  time for this, it really doesn’t take more than a few minutes a day.  We check our twitter account (@MsMecksClass) during snack time. And surprisingly, or maybe not, I’ve never had to edit or admonish anyone  for anything inappropriate.  Already, my students understand what it means to be a safe online.  Digital Citizenship is taught explicitly.  Common Sense Media definies digital citizenship as the ability to “think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in the digital world.”

I am very passionate that every student should be learning how to use technology and social media in school.   My own kids (now 18 and 21)  were the 1st generation of kids to grow up in this new digital world and they were navigating social media with very little support from adults (I thought I knew what they were doing ) and absolutely none from their teachers. In fact, students were banned from bringing technology to school and were only told what they couldn’t do on school devices.  I believe that  the students that are in our classrooms  now will be more thoughtful and positive on social media.  And that they will not only be digital citizens but digital leaders who will use technology and social media to create positive social change. This today from one of my 1st graders who wanted to share her feelings about the thousands of students who walked out of schools everywhere to honor the victims of gun violence.

Thanks Edie!

~Molly

The Choice Driven Classroom

If there is one thing that drives our teaching, it’s giving our students choice in the classroom.  My students pick where they want to sit, they choose who they want to work with and with minimal exceptions they are all working on different skills, strategies and goals during reading, writing and math workshops.  They show their learning in different and creative ways and they understand that every single choice they make impacts their learning.   Alicia and I teach  6 and 7 years old and yet they understand what it means to be a self directed learner.   In our classroom this 21st century skill is explicitly taught.                                                                                                 img_4574.jpg

I understand and follow classroom routines. This sets the foundation.  My students walk into a fairly bland classroom on the first day.  There are no assigned seats, no name tags, there are no colorful bulletin boards,  no jobs posted, there are no anchor charts on the walls with guidelines for behaviors. In the first 4 to 6 weeks we will create all of this together. Students will help craft our classroom routines and make agreements so that we can spend each day with one goal in mind and that goal is to learn.  And because they have input into  how our classroom functions there is a lot of student buy in.  6 year olds want to learn and they want to have fun.  And surprising they want structure too.

I work independently for short than longer periods of time.  Alicia and I believe strongly in the workshop model and we teach reading, writing and math workshops.  The structure is predictable.   A short mini lesson on the carpet, followed by ample time to practice independently and then time at the end for reflection.  At this point in the year my students are reading self-selected texts for 25 minutes each morning.  They are writing for close to 40 minutes a day.  They pick their own books based on interest and their ability to read it.  On any given morning you would see students independently working on spelling  patterns, writing a blog post,  using bananagrams or spellominoes to make words or using their iPads to record a video blog in which they summarize a text of their choice.   blog phoeve

I understand that my choices impact my learning.  (and sometime the learning of others)    This is key to making a choice driven classroom work.  My students learn through trial and error, who they work best with and who they don’t.  And just like we do, as adults, they figure out that sometimes there  best friends are not the ones that help them most in the classroom. (And/or when they are supposed to be listening on the carpet.)

I am setting learning goals and persevering to meet them.   All of my students set learning goals.  These goals are sometime set with me and very often set on their own.  Because creating a mindset for learning is also a big part of our curriculum, many of my students will pick a goal around perseverance and persistence especially in subjects that may be hard.  Learning to not give up and to be resilient  are life long skills that will serve them well.

But becoming a self directed learner doesn’t mean anything if students aren’t allowed some time to explore their passions.  My students look forward to Wednesdays because they know that on this day they can pick anything they want to learn about.  As their teacher,  Wednesday means they are reading and writing and researching topics of their choice. But to them in means they are in total control of their learning, they pick the topic, they ask questions, they make a plan to share their learning.

They are empowered.   They take risks. They make mistakes. They begin again.   It’s what school should be.

 

 

 

Optimism

For many years, I began the first day of school reading books to my class  about being excited and nervous for first grade. As the days progress  there are even more books  about how first grade might be different than kindergarten, fairly typical  start of the school year literature.  Two years ago I decided to change all of that. Over the summer, Molly had recommended the book A Mindset for Learning by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz–this book has had the most impact in my classroom of any teaching book I have ever read. It outlines growth mindset learning traits to use with both primary and intermediate students. If you have not read this book yet, do so!

 

The first stance I decided to teach my class, starting the very first day of school, was optimism. The book gives student friendly definitions to use with each stance.  The definition of optimism fits perfectly with the first day of school.  “When you do something new, you think “I can try”  and give it your best shot because that is how your brain grows.”  Many times coming into first grade, students are nervous and scared and unsure they will be able to do it. Many are just beginning to read and are intimidated by peers who are already reading. While there is nothing wrong with starting the first day of school with books about the first day, why not empower students with tools they can use for the rest of the year and their life?

 

We began that day coming into the classroom after the usual goodbyes to moms and dads and maybe few tears and gathered nervously on the rug. After sharing a little bit about ourselves, I introduce the definition of optimism and explain that in the text we are about to read, we are going to watch for when the character displays optimism. I do not have the picture of the text under the definition yet, I wait until after we have explored the text several times and then print a small image of the cover out to for reference. The text I used this year is Jabari Jumps by Gaia CornwallIMG_2261Jabari Jumps is a story about a little boy who wants to jump off the diving board but is scared to do so. Again, if this book is not yet in your library, run don’t walk to get it! As we read, we stop and discuss where Jabari is showing optimism. The discussion that follows this text was very powerful. Students really saw themselves in Jabari and made connections to times they had used optimism in their own lives. Throughout the week, we revisited Jabari and the learning stance of optimism.  Within a day or two, I heard students complimenting each other for “trying optimism” when they did something new.

 

Growth Mindset is a popular term in education currently and deservedly so. By teaching students learning stances such as optimism, we empower students to take charge of their own learning and lives.

Mindfulness In the Classroom – How my 1st graders taught me that slowing down is good for all of us.

 

“I am aware.   I am safe.  We are connected.   These 3 simple statements had a huge impact on my classroom.  They were proposed by  my school’s climate committee as a way to help all of our students be more mindful. (Not only in the classroom but in the halls, on the playground and in our overcrowded  and very loud cafeteria.)  Social Emotional Learning is already at the heart of my school’s curriculum.  We explicitly teach students how to recognize, understand, and express their emotions.  We give them tools to help them self-regulate.  In every classroom at Queen Anne Elementary you will find calm body spots – spots that students can go to if they need a break. (Not sent to – as a time out) Students have access to noise canceling headphones,  a variety of fidget tools and other materials that help them focus on learning.  We believe that our students have different needs and there is no “one size fits all”  approach.  Our classrooms have flexible seating so that students can pick a space that makes sense for their needs. We give all of our students the power to make decisions that help them learn best.  We have daily classroom meetings run by the students with agendas that include a complement circle and problem solving.  So when our staff decided to make these 3 simple statements a part of our common language I wasn’t sure  they would add that much more.  But they did. They became a kind of mantra in my classroom that helped students become more calm and focused on learning.

It started when one of my students, whose job that week was the Class Breather, (this is a coveted job in my classroom – the student uses a Hoberman sphere to lead us in deep breaths when needed) decided we should say these statements after each breath.

I am aware.   Breath

I am safe.    Breath.

We are connected.   Breath. 

It was an idea that stuck.  And the more I watched my students, and did the same practice myself, I saw  we were all benefiting from this 3 minute activity. My students were more calm.  My most fidgety students were able to focus longer.  And we felt more connected.   But there were other ways I was incorporating mindfulness in the classroom. For the last 2 years I have integrated the mindset for learning strategies so skillfully laid out in Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz’ incredible book called A Mindset for Learning- Teaching the Traits of Joyful, Independent Growth.  These mindsets – empathy, flexibility, persistence, resilience and optimism,  are taught explicitly and my students use these mindsets throughout the year. I see evidence of it everywhere. They come up during goal setting, in conversations and on sticky notes that are left in  books.

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I also started using Go Noodle.  Go Noodle is a website that features short videos designed to get kids moving. But they also have videos that teach mindfulness, specifically  ways to enhance focus, practice compassion, build self control and manage stress. IMG_1131

I turned to Go Noodle after I realized that my kids were returning to the classroom after lunch (remember the previously mentioned overcrowded lunchroom above?) extremely amped up.  I tried everything –  A class read aloud, a moment of silence, a time to just sit and draw.  Didn’t work.  The energy level was too high.  One day, I turned down the lights, met the students at the door, asked them to find a brain and body spot and when we were ready I would play a Go Noodle mindfulness video. My students just naturally started sitting Criss Cross Applesauce and using the time to shut their eyes and think about their breath.  When all or most of us were ready – they would either continue sitting or standing depending on the video. And again this was 3 minutes of our day that made my kids less stressed and ready to take on the 1 1/2  hour of Math and Science still to come.   And I’ll be honest these brain and body breaks were helping me as well.  I found I was  more calm and was a much better teacher in the afternoons.

All of this had an impact on my personal life as well.  I’m now spending my summer reading about meditation, mindfulness and listening to the 10% Happier Podcast which features so many stories of people who are practicing mindfulness in their own lives and in their very different workplaces.   http://abcnews.go.com/Health/deepdive/10-percent-happier-dan-harris-44036003

I’m excited to hear other stories from educators who are seeing the difference that a few mindful minutes can make in the lives of their students.

~Molly