Monday, January 2, 2017

Win a $25 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card

Hey Teacher Friends! You have the chance to win a $25 TPT gift card. Check out the Rafflecopter to be entered. You have until 1/9/17 to enter. I can't wait to see who wins. What better way to ring in the New Year than loading your cart with goodies!

Prize: $25 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card
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Rules: Use the Rafflecopter to enter. Giveaway ends 1/9/17 and is open worldwide.

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3 Easy Ways to Have a Happy Classroom TODAY!

Having a happy classroom is easier than you think. Here are some things you can do to promote positivity, connection, gratitude, and smiles in your classroom...tomorrow!

Having a happy classroom is easier than you think. Here are some things you can do to promote positivity, connection, gratitude, and smiles in your!
1. Greeting at the Door
I greet my students at the classroom door every single day. It gives me a chance to start our morning with a smile. They can choose to give me a hug, handshake, or high five. Some students come up with their own handshake to do with me, which is always fun.

My favorite part of greeting is that I get to check "the weather" of each of my students. I can tell if they are having a tough morning. While everyone else is unpacking, I can touch base with them and make any adjustments first thing.

This year I have taken it one step further by adding a student greeter with me each day. The student stands next to me and greets each person entering the room.

Tips for Success:

  • I often find that our Watch DOGS, parent volunteers, non-classroom teachers, or other visitors to the building comment about our greeting as they pass. Invite them to high five you and spread the good vibes. 
  • Find a way to add your student greeter that will be easy for you to keep track of. I send home a snack calendar. Each day, the snack helper is the student who stands with me to greet. They also begin the share and the game at morning meeting. One less thing for me to schedule is always a positive.  

2. Sunshine and Cloud
My classroom would not be the same without Morning Meeting. I attended a Responsive Classroom workshop at the beginning of my teaching career and was in love with the concepts. I teach upper elementary. My big kids ask for morning meeting every single day. If you are new to meeting, try this. Circle up. Choose a toy or some other "talking token" to pass around the circle. Each student takes turns sharing their Sunshine and Cloud.

A sunshine is something good. A cloud is something not so good. I use this share EVERY DAY we have meeting. Sometimes I add another component, like "share something you are grateful for" or another topic, but canceling sunshine and cloud would cue a chorus of groans. Students love to share and hear the shares of others. I get tons of valuable information about what is going on with my kiddos. Win-win.

Tips for Success:

  • My students are allowed two shares total. One sunshine, one cloud. Two sunshines. Two clouds. I allow students to pass if they prefer not to share. If someone wants to share but can't when it gets to be their turn we allow a "pass, come back to me." 
  • Try to find a way for students to show connection to the share without interrupting the sharer. I like to use hand signals. We make hearts with our fingers when we "LOVE" what they are saying. Linking your fingers in a chain symbolizes connection to the sharer. 
  • Keep each share to one breath. Students like the challenge and it makes them think about exactly what they would like to share. Keep the shares movin!  

3. Laugh together
I am more corny than funny. I love that about myself. This year, I am blessed to teach on a team with The Queen of Bad Jokes. She tells awful jokes so often that her students take pride in bringing her bad jokes. This has morphed in Joke of the Day. She also is completely obsessed with her banana phone routine. Every single time she sees a banana, which is more often that you realize, she talks into it. It is BANANAS (I know, I know). The banana phone is now "the thing" to do for every student who knows her shtick. Her love of laughter is contagious.

Tips for Success:

  • When in doubt, laugh it out. I cannot tell you how many times a little laughter has saved me from a possibly MAJOR behavior incident. Jokes are a great buffer for stress. 
  • Start with Joke of the Day. There are several awesome products on Teachers Pay Teachers or you can make your own. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Get Students Writing More and Build a Strong Community

Have you ever wished that your students had more to say in class discussions? If you are like me, you have stood in front of the class and used every single strategy you could think of to get a conversation going. With my class this year, I just have too many students who are not apt to speak up.

After a little lesson autopsy, I decided that I would need to find a more systematic approach. I had been reading the book, The Best-Kept Teaching Secret: How Written Conversations Engage Kids, Activate Learning, Grow Fluent Writers . . . K-12 (Corwin Literacy) and had found many of the same ideas in it that I had previously heard about in workshops on online (think exit slips and dialogue journals). Don't jump to the conclusion that this book is just a repackaging of ideas though. It is so much more!

As I began to re-read my notes to find a technique that might help my students become more confident and prepared to share aloud, I ran across the section on the book about write-arounds. The next day, instead of asking my students to give an opinion about the story we had just read, I handed out an index card. I asked them to do a quick write in response to a question. They then switched their card with another student, who was responsible for responding. I had those two students talk about their writing after they switched, and then we shared aloud.

Did it work?Yes (mostly)! Here's why.
  • My reluctant speakers were accountable for their part. They viewed the response as an assignment, not just another discussion to get out of
  • Everyone had a chance to try their ideas out on paper and then share in a smaller environment. They actually had something to say in the whole class discussion. The writing scaffolds the discussions for all students
  • I got to see what my students were thinking, and I really got a picture of the students who were struggling to write for such a short period of time
Here is what I learned: 
  • Most of my students needed much more informal writing built into their day. Those students who had a hard time getting the words onto the paper needed a low-risk venue to write more
  • My students struggled with how exactly you respond to someone else. I added an anchor chart the next time and it was a huge hit
  • I would never go back to the format I used for discussion before

Now, in the book you will see that a write-around is actually more "pass your paper to the left" than what I did, but I feel that Smokey and Elaine would be proud of me anyway. They inspired me to shift my teaching to include much more written conversation than I ever had before. I think that if you pick up the book, you will find that it is practical, friendly, and so easy to read.The authors are actual teachers, one high school, one elementary. They share helpful tips, excellent summaries, student samples, and model lesson to get you started. I love the section that describes classroom mail systems.This book helped me develop a more unified and student-centered approach to writing.

While I was re-reading The Best Kept Teaching Secret, I was also devouring You've Gotta Connect by James Alan Sturtevant. He shares a plethora of strategies for building close and meaningful relationships with students.

The thing about this book that I really love is that the overarching philosophy behind the book is that everyone can apply the techniques in the book to create strong relationships with students. The author shares personal stories to drive the points home and provides handy exercises for you to complete. I believe that without strong relationships, nothing else can happen. This book was a nice refresher for me. Many of the concepts in the book are things I am already good at doing. I enjoyed the confirmation and reminder of WHY I am doing those things. 

My problem about needing more informal writing and my desire to bond with students and help them become a closer community merged together. The "Book of,,," was born.

"The Book of..." is a topic journal to be used by the entire class.I was inspired by a single page that discusses the value of topic journals as a venue for students to connect, in writing. I created various books using composition journals. The Book of Pets and Animals, The Book of Food, The Book of Travel, etc. Students would write in the book. They could either free write within the topic, or use one of the prompts that I provided. Then, my favorite part. They can either place the book on my desk for me to respond, or they can pass it to a friend. We really focus on the ideas that Smokey and Elaine share about keeping the conversation going.

I have learned so much about my students through this activity. We like to write in our books during centers, but you could use it as a station or for fast finishers. While many people use group journals or topic journals as a classroom writing center, many of the available resources focused on specific prompts being responded to and compiled into one journal. While I feel that there is a place for this (I mean, who wouldn't love to have all of those completed prompts bound for students to read the work of others?!) I really wanted my "The Book of..." activity to be informal and full of choices. The goal is the write more and respond to others.

Here are some of my favorite things about "The Book of..." in my classroom:
  • It promotes a culture of communication and written conversation 
  • It is additional scaffolding for my whole class lessons and lifelong writing
  • I can be present in the pages to stir up controversy, model adult writing, and provide support
  • Students have the choice to write about the topic that interests them
  • Since the books are public, I can provide guidance about public versus private sharing
  • Students will be able to return (as is the tradition in my district for graduating seniors) and see their writing 
  • I can keep adding to the books each year, with new students adding to the work of former students.
Here are some recent examples from our Book of...

"It tastes like meat."

This wolf converstion is still going on with different students. 

You can create your own "Book of..." by adding prompts to the front of a composition notebook and providing the guidelines necessary for students to begin having conversations with you and each other. Add an anchor chart and then just get started!

Just the other day during a field trip to see our high school's production of Shrek the Musical, some of our students were caught in the hallway during high school passing period. They were terrified and exilerated. I suggested that they add the experience to our Book of School. Now the memory is preserved and those of us who were not with that group can share in the experience.

If you would like this resource ready to use, you can find it in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I have a ready to print and an editable version.

Articles you might like:
A Mild Case of Fisheye by Jennifer Gonzalez at Cult of Pedagogy

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Student-Selected Work Displays Made EASY!

Why should you make your student work display student-selected?
  • Instant portfolio with student comments
  • Shows growth over time
  • Great for regular or student-led conferences
  • You always have a fresh display
  • Students take ownership of their work and actually look through graded papers
Displaying student work is a cornerstone for so many educational philosophies, inlcuding mine. I believe that by having a display of work that students have curated, you send the message that they are the best judge of what is THEIR VERY BEST. I have seen this play out through my work selection process year after year. 

You can see my student work display here. I have very limited wall space in my room. I created this display using boards I purchased at Lowes. I measured and added clothespins to them. Hanging them on the wall was as easy as adding some industrial Velcro to the backs of each board. I love how they turned out! 

Below is a close up of a piece of student work. This student selected a grammar magazine activity from her Thursday folder. I asked the students to write why they picked that piece of work. She says, "I like this piece of work because I was frustrated but I did it anyways." I changed the spelling for your ease of reading. Don't you just love that reason??! #growthmindset

Let's just briefly talk about how I have them prepare their Thursday folder to go home. They take their folder out of their mailbox. I use this one: Pacon Classroom Keepers 30-Slot Mailbox, Blue (001318) They sort all mail, placing flyers on the right, and work on the left. My newsletter goes at the top of the flyer pile. We wouldn't want that to be thrown away, now would we! ;)

After kiddos pick work and write their reason, they add the post it over the grade and slide into a sheet protector with the binder holes cut off. Some of the sheet protectors I have used are a cloudy finish. Those are not the best for this use. I use these: Avery Standard Weight Sheet Protectors, Pack of 25 Sheet Protectors (75530) Try to stay away from the "non-glare" versions. I add this step to make it difficult to flip up the stickie note. I don't want student grades to be displayed!Not only is privacy a big concern, the pressure to only display 100% grades is decreased. Some of my favorite work has been the work that students struggle through. I suggest using a darker color of Post-it note to make it even harder to see through. 

Teacher Hack: use regular old sheet protectors to keep graded work confidential

Here is my display all ready for back-to-school. When I have previously taught in a room with lockers, we added these sleeves to lockers with magnetic tape. 

anchor chart close-up
I make kind of a big deal about teaching the procedure for choosing work. I have a piece of silly student work that I use to share with students how they should write their reason. I also made up a quick anchor chart to get kids started if they are stuck. 
A case of the weasles! They love this.       
After the work is no longer on display, we file it away in a crate to share at student-led conferences in the Spring. I have students go through their work during the conference, highlighting the best of the best. It is always neat to hear students and parents comparing what was the best in August compared to March. 

If you need a resource to get students ready to share at student-led conferences, you can find my two themed conference packets in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. 

Rockin' Student Led Conferences
Find it here
SUPER Student Led Conferences
Find it here

Saturday, September 17, 2016

How to Make Teaching and Practicing Procedures a Pleasure

Procedures don't have to be painful. Try some of these ideas to spice up your procedure practice:

  • Vignettes- a vignette is a short scene in a movie or play. Write the name of several procedures on index cards. After practicing each procedure the first couple of times, distribute cards to groups of 4 or 5 students. Each group comes up with and performs a series of three still pictures that show the beginning, middle, and end of the procedure. No props allowed. Other groups call out guesses of which procedure they are showing. Tips: Start and end in a neutral position (feet shoulder width apart, hands at sides). Have students come back to a neutral position between each pose. This activity is particularly good for multi-step procedures. 
  • Beat Your Best: Some procedures lend themselves to being speedy. Say, you are practicing lining up. Time your class performing the procedure. The next time, challenge them to correctly execute the procedure in less time.
Displaying IMG_4277.PNG
I posted this to my instagram. My kids are still asking me to time them! You can follow me @myteacherfriend
  • Choral Response: Brainstorm ideas with your class that can serve as a summary of the procedure. My restroom procedure is as follows (my pass is a bottle of hand sanitizer):
    • The choral response could go:Teacher: Sign-out and Sanitizer. Exit Students:  Return, Sanitizer and Sign-in. 
    • At various times in the day, throw it in there. Choral responding is a research-based strategy to help students retain information. You can also use it with states and capitols or math facts. Two birds. 
  • Make a couple into songs. The librarian at my school sings a hallway song. "My hands are hanging by my sides, I'm standing straight and tall. My eyes are looking straight ahead. I'm ready for the hall." It is to the tune of Gilligan's Island. When she finishes the last word, the students are expected to be ready to go. 
  • Read a book about the procedure. Here are some of my favorites: 

 When to Whisper, Lacey Walker, Nonstop Talker , Decibella and Her 6-Inch Voice , My Mouth Is a Volcano!, Interrupting Chicken

I hope these strategies will help you and your students enjoy procedures!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

5 Reasons Practicing Procedures Isn't For Me

Back-to-School is such a magical time of year. What other profession is afforded the opportunity to start fresh every year? While I do LOVE back-to-school and all of the ritual associated with it, one part of back-to-school can suck the soul right out of a teacher. Procedures.

The summer before my first official year teaching was consumed with procedures. Which procedures are the most important to teach first? How will I manage the pencils? What will students do to be excused to the restroom? How will I keep track of it all? Little did I know that deciding the procedures for my classroom would be the easy part. The hard part turned out to be actually teaching the students the procedures.

Fast forward 11 years. As a teacher with much more experience, I have learned that teaching procedures is more than just explaining them to students and then expecting them to carry out my wishes. Teaching procedures is hard work on my part. It requires me to be diligent and watchful, specific and clear. It requires practice and a little showmanship. 

But Honestly, practicing procedures is not for is for my students. 

Here's why. Teaching procedures and allowing each child the opportunity to practice gives students the 5 to 7 (give or take 2) repetitions that they need to retain the information. The vast majority of people cannot recall information after one exposure, especially without doing something with that information (like practicing, repeating it, writing it, drawing, etc.)

1. Practicing at the beginning of the year is good for the brain.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, you say. Won't they be practicing the procedure multiple times throughout the year? 

Yes, but, will they be practicing the procedure correctly? Ensure that you are monitoring their practice. It is much harder to reteach the procedure if they ingrain it in their brain incorrectly. That brain pathway will have to be broken and then reformed correctly. All of that extra brain work equals time. 

2. Practicing procedures reduces discipline problems later. 

Providing opportunities to practice procedures sends a clear message to all students that you have a plan. If students see you making a point to provide each student an opportunity to practice, they will be more likely to take you and your rules and routines seriously. Effective discipline starts with classroom rituals and routines. 

3. It's respectful. 
When I learn something new, I value the chance to practice. It takes the pressure off for me to practice in a safe and structured way. Consider that some of your more shy or anxious students need the chance to try it before they have to actually carry the procedure out. I like the example of using a school restroom. If you aren't sure how to get permission to go, and you really have to GO, it could be extremely stressful!

4. Allowing students to practice procedures is good for parent relationships

Share the procedures and that you have practiced them with your students' parents. Ask that they sign that they have read and reviewed them with their children. Doing this can save you so much confusion with parents later. 

If you share your procedures, it sends the message that you are on the same team. It shows parents that you have thought things through and that you care about their child having a smooth and stress-free day. That is what you want! It also conveys the fact that you care enough to write it out, so you will probably care enough to stick to it. 

SO many times I have referred to my procedures when a behavior problem arose. A few of those times, I was not following my own procedure. I was able to reflect and share my mistake with the parent. Showing that you are willing to take responsibility is a huge trust builder. The same goes for student relationships. 

5. It isn't fair to assume that students know how to do anything

You never know if your students have been taught the correct way to use even a glue stick. And anyway, what is the correct way? Guided discoveries of materials can save you grief and time, not to mention money wasted on replacing misused materials. 

Every teacher has "their way" of using materials and supplies. A teacher friend of mine has an elaborate and over-the-top-way of teaching how to use a glue stick. I have witnessed her teaching the procedure. Her way was awesome, but I would never have done it that way. Think about all of the times your student has either learned how someone else expected them to do something or has been left with no instruction at all. Remove the guess work and spell it out for them.

Need a place to start? I love this resource from my friend Brooke Brown at Teach Outside the Box. Free Procedure Planner

Saturday, July 30, 2016

How I Solved a the MOST ANNOYING Traditional and Flexible Seating Problem

***This post contains affiliate links for Amazon. By purchasing an item on the Amazon site using these links , I will receive a small commission on your purchase.***

We all know that storage solutions are total teacher eye candy. I have a particular little storage idea for you today that makes my heart go all a-flutter.

I originally saw the First Grade Teacher Lady using a stack of drawers as storage for her student groups in this post. Below is a picture of how she has her groups set up. As soon as I saw this idea, I was obsessing over it.

They solve the problem in the classroom that annoys me THE MOST. The handing out materials problem. I cannot stand to waste time handing out common materials.

I really like that students will be able to access all materials without me having to hand them out or allow them all to get up and retrieve things for each activity. There is no teacher pain quite like students all rushing the counter for lined paper.

I also LOVE that the materials don't have to be stored inside their desks. Take dry erase markers, for example. I love using dry erase boards and markers for a quick assessment or as an easy option for every single student to participate. Except that... my students are ALWAYS using them inappropriately. It doesn't matter how many times we do a guided discovery to teach how to use the supply. Every. Single. Year. I have a few students who can't keep their marker in good shape. Or they lose it. Or the tip is mushed in to the point of being unusable.

Once I have had enough, I take the markers. I am forced to hand them out for each use (and we use them a ton). I get tired of handing them out. They keep them in desks, and the vicious cycle continues. With these little drawers, I allow them access, but not within easy reach. Win-win!
I am not the only one, right?

Another storage problem that these little babies solve is the fact that we have tiny desks with next to no storage. My room this year is a tight squeeze. I hate chair pouches because of durability issues. We have no lockers. Drawers will keep everything within easy reach! I especially like to have students sit in small groups, so having a group of four will make the drawers a perfect fit for desk arrangements.

Once I talked myself in to the idea of storage drawers, I began to shop around. I love plastic storage, but Holy Hannah, that stuff is spendy. I needed a minimum of 5 carts. In my inspiration picture, I can see that Autumn used stacking drawers (probably Sterlite brand).

I was on the hunt for a cheap alternative that had wheels! I tend to move desks a lot, especially since we have our morning meeting on the floor in an itty bitty classroom.

I found these Iris 4-Drawer Storage Cart (affiliate) and was instantly in love. I had also looked these Sterilite 3 Drawer Cart, White Frame with Clear Drawers and Black Casters, 2-Pack(affiliate) and decided that they were too short for the desks for my big kids. I wanted the drawers to be at least close in height to the tops of our desks. Coming in at about 26.5 inches compared to 24 inches for the Sterlite drawers, I decided on the Iris brand. The Iris drawers also have built in stoppers to keep the drawers from falling out, which I like. If you are looking for a more inexpensive option, definitely check Amazon for the Sterlite drawers. At the time that I wrote this post, the 2-pack of Sterlite drawers was about 22 dollars. One Iris drawer cart was about that. With that being said, the prices on Amazon fluctuate. The prices were much closer when I originally purchased my drawers.
Oh, the possibilities!

I made some cute and colorful labels and taped them on the inside of the drawers. Here is how mine turned out.

I used contact paper to adhere the labels to the inside of the drawers. You can see the fancy scrapbook lamination I used. Honestly, the roll was in the room I moved into and I am so cheap  thrifty. For every other task in my room that calls for contact paper, or shelf paper, I use this stuff: Duck Brand Shelf Liner (affiliate).

It was super easy to eye-ball the size to cut it. I also got to avoid laminating the actual labels. You can see here how precise I was with the cutting!

Things I love about these drawer carts:
  • the wheels
  • the organizing tray at the top 
  • 4 drawers in two different sizes
  • when I ordered mine, they shipped for free with Prime
  • the color (I ordered white)
  • did I mention the wheels?
  • clear drawers make it easy to label
I am not delving into the flexible seating world just yet, but if I do, my storage will be ready to adapt. I am hoping to get my back-to-school procedures in place while I get to know my class. Maybe after Winter Break we will get rolling on a new seating system. If I were doing flexible seating like my pal Alexa, I would be keeping one of these bad boys in each seating area to hold paper, dry erase boards and markers, crayons, markers, and sticky notes. I feel like their ability to be moved around really make them game changers for flexible seating classrooms. Maybe they are the push I need to take the plunge!

You can snag the labels to make your own handy storage drawers here. They would be awesome for keeping other supplies handy too, which is why I made two versions. Ready-to-Print and Editable! Did I mention that they are free?