Get Your Students Moving and Reinforce a Concept Using Graffiti Writing

Welcome to another Bright Ideas Blog Hop!

Happy Spring! I'm excited to share with you a super fun way to reinforce a concept or skill using a creative alternative to the worksheet called graffiti writing! Here's how I'm using this activity with my students this week...

Right now, students in my second grade class are studying subtraction strategies. We've spent all week learning three different ways to subtract. After days of practice, students get to show what they know by working in a group to solve a subtraction problem by "graffiti writing" on butcher paper. They love it!
I used white butcher paper (about the size of poster board, but cheaper), printed out 6 subtraction problems for my six tables (one problem per paper), and let the students work out their problems, one at a time.

A couple of management "rules" I have for graffiti writing are:

 1) Nobody sits down. This way we are all moving around the room, and no one gets "stuck" in one spot for too long. This cuts down on social chatting, and keeps the oxygen flowing. 
2) Listen to the teacher's signal before moving to the next problem (for me, it's my chimes). I allow ample time for each student to complete the problem. Early finishers check their work, or show another way to solve the problem.
3) Work together and compliment one another. I listen for compliments as I walk the room, and give shout-outs to students who compliment each other. 
4) Make room for everyone. Everyone at a group (4 or 5 students works well) huddles around one piece of butcher paper to solve the problem.  This insures 100% engagement!

After we solve our 6 problems, we get together on the carpet to give each other feedback on how well we worked together as a group, check our arithmetic, and spotlight our thinking by celebrating all of the ways we solved the problem. It's quick and easy - about 25 minutes from start to finish. 

Ways to use graffiti writing in your classroom are endless! It's easy to adapt for any grade level or subject area, and a great visual for me as a teacher to quickly judge how well my students grasped a particular concept.

 I can't wait to hear about the ways you're using graffiti writing in your classroom! Don't forget to comment below with your ideas.

 I  hope you enjoyed this month's Bright Ideas blog post! If you would like more ideas from me, be sure to follow me on Teachers Pay TeachersPinterest, and Facebook to stay posted with fabulous freebies and ideas!

Be sure to visit the Bright Ideas Link-Up below to see more posts from over 150 fabulous educational bloggers. Thanks for visiting!

3 Brain-Based Strategies Every Teacher Should Use

Early on in my teaching career, I was fortunate to discover how our students' brains work- literally HOW they learn. This opportunity changed the way I think about my instruction and classroom environment, which ultimately has significantly increased student success in my classroom. I'm here to share what I've learned with you.

But first, how many times have you felt like this?

If you're anything like I was back then, then the answer is: A. LOT.

Years ago as a new teacher, I quickly learned all of the things about my students that I was NOT in control of, like their family's financial situation, their family issues including dual parent households & court concerns, illnesses, and in some cases, even shelter.

 If I was ever going to reach these students, really REACH them, then I needed to find out more about them. It didn't take long for me to learn what I could control.

So the question became:

How can we teachers maximize our instructional impact and prepare our students' brains for optimal learning?

Here's the most critical piece of knowledge that I gained from my experience so many years ago.

Without going into too much detail*, our brains consist of THREE major parts: the brain stem, which controls primal feelings like hunger and involuntary movements like breathing or sleeping; cerebellum, in control of movement, mobility, & communication; and cerebrum, or controller of intellect. Part of what separates humans from other animals is our cerebrum, or the part of the brain that controls logic, intellect, and memory. Why does this matter to educators? Of course, as teachers we want our students to remember what we tell them.

Brain researcher and educator Susan Kovalik says what separates humans from other mammals is our capability to access our cerebrum, or our center of logic. 

You see, inside the cerebrum are millions of neurons. These oh-so-vital neurons store particulars like how to spell your own name, or the formula for area of a triangle. There are dendrites - think of these like pathways - which connect to the neurons. The key to learning is building dendrites. Without building new dendrites then human brains are just like other primates and mammals, instinctively in survival mode. In order to create a new memory, or program, research states the messages, or new learning, must be transferred to the cerebral cortex, and stay of out the brain stem where the primal fight or flight response shuts down building of new dendrites.

 So, how can we help our students build dendrites? 

We must keep them out of their brain stem, so to speak. In order for students to activate the cerebrum (the part of the brain where learning takes place, also known as the cerebral cortex), we educators must create a feeling of trust, positive emotion, and respect for our students.  If we don't build an environment where students want to learn, then students are thinking about where their next meal comes from, if they are going to be threatened on the playground, or "feel" threatened in the classroom by a new or difficult concept taught to them. It's fight or flight for these little learners. After all, trust is a pretty primal instinct, wouldn't you say?

So, now what?

Here are 3 easy brain-busting fixes that I've implemented into my classroom based on what I've learned about my students' brains and how they access new information

1. Create a welcoming and calm environment.

 Include soft lighting like a lamp, or use natural light if you have windows. If you have a theme in your classroom, then make sure you're including colors which are considered calming, like greens and blues. Display plants (real or fake), rugs, floor pillows, or anything else that might remind students of the feeling of home. We want students to feel something when they walk into our classroom. Remember: Emotions are the gatekeeper to learning!

2. Keep students out of their brain stem.

Our most basic instincts, raw emotions, and involuntary movements stem from this part of the brain. Depending on how rough our students' morning routine or home life could be, the odds are that you have at least a few students who come into school each day "in the brain stem". They are in that "fight or flight" survival mode. Their brains are not chemically ready to receive, process, and transfer information to the cerebral cortex yet. Things such as small physical contact like a high five, hug, fist pump, or handshake at the door shows our students that they can feel safe in our classroom. Like other mammals, humans are more likely to engage in new activities (thus learning more) if they feel safe. Keep your voice calm. Smile often. Praise your students. You'd be surprised at how much small actions such as thesevwill improve your students' level of anxiety, and take them out of their brain stem.

3. Use the body-brain connection.

Teachers can capture students’ attention and keep them actively involved in the learning processActivities such as brain gym or kinethetic learning send signals to the brain that the information is important, and worth creating a permanent mental program.  So keep moving! Give short, frequent breaks to students to allow those positive emotions to come back, and allow information to be transferred out of the brain stem. In short, get some exercise, dance, sing songs, create a rhyme, a nemonic, or anything else to make learning fun!

I hope you found this helpful and can't wait to hear your thoughts and experiences.

*I am NOT an neurologist, nor do I claim to be an expert in the brain...

Happy Teaching!