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McFall Teacher Thinks Outside the Box in Workshop Presentation

Reifinger, in her 13th year teaching first grade at TK, admits it was a risk - not knowing for certain how the students would react and not knowing how the future teachers would view the presentation. "Anything could happen. You never know for sure what first graders are going to say or do," she said.

Future teachers from all over the state attended the conference to learn from mentor teachers and the best practices in teaching that actually work in classrooms.

With six of her students accompanying her, Reifinger gave three, one-hour long sessions. Because she used actual students, she said she couldn't just teach the same lesson three times because it wouldn’t show authentic thinking and learning. Instead, she developed three lessons. Her students completed two "Visible Thinking" routines - one during a Writers Workshop lesson and another during the Life Science lesson. They also participated in a nature walk through the college campus collecting evidence to support a scientific claim.

Students say they especially like the "visible thinking" lessons she's been using in her classroom. Visible Thinking is a Harvard University-based program utilizing many different routines to encourage deeper thinking. It challenges students to make careful observations and interpretations, then stimulates curiosity and encourages questions.

"We get to write stuff down and I like it a lot. It's see, think, worry, wonder," said first grader Sophia Hoeksma.  "I just like doing it because it helps me write."

Classmate Isaac Penick explained how he navigates the writing process. "Like, I see the witch laying in her bed. Then I think about how she is feeling and wonder what she will do next."

Micah Dock said he likes writing because he writes about what he sees. "Then I get to guess what might happen to them."

Through the Visual Thinking model, Reifinger said she's noticed tangible changes in her students' writing, speaking and self confidence. "Prior to implementing Visible Thinking I was noticing that students wanted to be told what to think and what to say. Visible Thinking facilitates an opportunity for differentiated growth because it offers so many different opportunities for each learning style.”

It wasn't the first time Reifinger has presented at the conference, but it is the first time she, or anyone else, has taken first grade students as part of an actual classroom lesson presentation. Reifinger said even though preparing for such a presentation took a lot of extra hours after school and on weekends, she said it was worth it and gets a lot out of presenting at conferences herself.

"I love seeing the new, fresh faces. It re-invigorates me and makes me want to keep pushing myself and challenging my students," she said.

"Best Practice keeps our staff challenged. We want our students to have the opportunity to take part in cutting edge research which drives our staff to be leaders in an ever evolving field.”

Reifinger said it was "a wonderful day of teaching and learning for children, parents, student teachers and me!"

McFall's Meghan Collins joined Reifinger as a presenter at the conference. She paired up with four other teachers from other districts to talk about ZONES Math - a program that engages students in math lessons while encouraging critical thinking and problem solving.