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?

Monday, June 27, 2016

5 Stages of Classroom Library Organization: Relatable GIFs for any Big Organizational Project

Anyone who has taken on a huge project has experienced the five stages of grief. You know: denial, depression, anger, bargaining, and acceptance.

I recently reorganized my schools entire giant collection of guided reading books. As the collection was, none of the newest staff members ever used the books. We had tons of great children's literature for book boxes, reading groups, projects, and lessons. 

The problem was that the books were inaccessible, hard to find, and confusing to look through. Some books had levels on them that meant nothing to me. Does a "1" mean first grade-level or some other arbitrary thing based on the "system" the book came with?

The books in our guided reading collection were also unattractively and messily displayed. I am not sure about you, but when I go shopping, presentation matters. The same can be said for "book shopping" in a school reading resource collection. If the materials are messy, teachers can't be bothered to take the time to browse them.
Teachers are busy? No! (insert sarcasm font)

Below you will find my journey through the five stages of Library Organization. 

My denial came in two stages. Initially, I was denying that the resources in my classroom even needed organizing. "They are fine," I would tell myself. "If someone really needs something, they will come and find it." In reality, the idea of reorganizing the materials that had been accumulated over the span of a couple of decades was overwhelming. It never seemed like the right time. 

I would have likely continued to ignore the half of my room that held the reading and math resources if it hadn't been for the issues in our state budget in Oklahoma. Two revenue failures led to the reduction of all Instructional Coaching positions in my district. I would be heading back to the classroom in the fall as a fourth grade teacher in the same building in which I coached. There is nothing quite like changing jobs and classrooms that will send you into an organizational frenzy! That left me about a month to come up with a plan to leave the materials "better than I had found them." I also liked the idea of the materials being easy to find and return since we had been focusing on reading engagement in professional development a lot lately.

Books and games piled up like they are a display at Goodwill? No big deal. 

I had the rest of state test season to think about my plan to organize the reading and math resources. Math would be easy. We had cabinet space. I would just need to move it all and label the doors. Reading would be more difficult. We had multiple sets of outdated materials and several different leveling systems in place for the guided reading books. Luckily, actively monitoring gave me plenty of time to brainstorm. 

My second stint of denial came when I had a plan of attack. I had visions of Pinterest-worthy resource collections. Once the organizational tubs had arrived at school, I was telling everyone about how awesome it was going to be. 

It's going to be the guided reading book collection of your dreams!

The next stage of my process was anger. It may have been partially fueled by the fact that I had very little time to get the books sorted and weeded. A month seems like a lot of time for a project, but I was also doing my full-time job of coaching. It was also the last month of school. Gulp. My suggestion to you is that you choose a less stressful time to take on such a large project!

The last straw was when I started to make efforts to find the guided reading levels for many of the books. It had been years since many of the guided reading sets had been purchased. One of the sets of books had 1990 as the most recent copyright! I was actually IN elementary school in '90. Yikes!

Why are these thirty year-old books still in this room!?

For each book the process would go something like this: 
1. Look for bar code
2. If book has bar code, hope that it is the ISBN bar code
3. Scan book with two different apps. 
4. Google book
5. Look for book on random spreadsheets found via Google, sourced from schools who published their guided reading book library spreadsheet online for some reason
6. Still don't find a level for book
7. Throw book in discard pile
8. Feel guilt for discarding book. 

Repeat as necessary, or until someone finds you sobbing under a pile of level-less discarded site word readers via 1990. 

Merida has been trying to find guided reading levels

I finally gave in and vented all of this to my principal who gave me the blessing to discard the old sets without searching for each title. Why didn't I just do that in the first place?

I haven't read the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, if that is what it is called. I do have an idea of how freeing it could be to release things that do not bring me joy. What is it about books and discarding them that sends me into the anxiety shakes? 

My technology doesn't bring me joy. I reject it. 

One additional thing that would come close to making me black out with rage was when someone would comment about if I had completed the project yet. 

No, I am not done yet. Keep walking. 

Bargaining mostly took the form of me begging people to come in after school or at their planning periods to help me put stickers on books. Luckily, my awesome future teammate volunteered (ahem, volun-told) her college-age daughter to come and help me. Without Shelby, I would still be at school labeling books! 

We also came up with a plan to make the discarded books available to teachers and to use them as resources for inside recess, home book bags, and early finishers. Having an idea of what we would do with books without a level made me feel less stressed about tossing them. 

I want YOU to come and help sort books!

About 2 weeks in to the process, I hadn't seen the tops of my tables in days. Books were multiplying like rabbits. I had cracked hands from touching grit covered Amelia Bedelia titles.

I found myself dreading even going into my room. We are talking THOUSANDS of books. Would I finish? Is this even worth the trouble?

I don't wanna go in there,
The thing that got me over the hump was old rubber bands. Weird, right? Stay with me. 

Many of the book sets had been bound together with rubber bands. As I went through each bin of books, I kept noticing that sets of books had disintegrating rubber bands stuck to them. Gross.That means that for at least the last few years, not a single teacher had pulled those books for students to read. 

What is the point of having a room full of books that students can't access?  

While the process of touching each book, deeming it appropriate for students or worthy of being weeded, finding a level, labeling it, and then shelving it was daunting (to say the least), IT WAS WORTH IT.

I feel you buddy. 

Yes, I was still in for several weeks of hard work, but with the help of my teacher friends, we were able to get all books leveled, labeled, shelved, and moved into their new room. 

Don't ask me how I am. It makes it worse.
I can honestly say that I feel that teachers are going to be so much more likely to utilize the guided reading material collection that we have next year. As a part of the process, so many teachers helped me get the books finished up. Because everyone pitched in, they each know how to check out and return the books. 

Acceptance in this case is relaxing and accepting the compliments!

I can't wait to go book shopping next year!

It wasn't THAT bad. 
After all of the hard work, decisions, and stress, would I do it again. You bet! You are organizing your resources next week, you say? Ummmm, let me check my calendar and get back to you. 

Do I want to help you label your books?
If you have ever FINALLY gotten to the end of anything hard, you know exactly how it feels. I am not sure about you, but I was flooded with relief.

When nearing the end of a bog project I also do a terrible thing. I think about how I can make the project better, thus prolonging it. I am not sure why I do it. Anyone with me? This time I was unable to do that. The tight timeline I was working under kept me from seeking additional projects within my project. It was AWESOME to be done. Really done. I would be handing the collection off to another staff member, even. "Here is an amazingly organized and user-friendly system. DO NOT MESS IT UP." I am only partly joking about that last line. 

That feeling when you are REALLY done. 

Check back! I will share more about how I actually managed to get guided reading levels for the books and how they are organized to ensure that books are easy to check out and return.