Friday, October 12, 2012

What Works Wednesday!

So I want to do a helpful post of some substance since I haven't for a long time! ;) 

What's working for me this Wednesday (er...Friday) is... 
my adapted Daily 5 Rotations board. 

I am trying Daily 5 for the first time this year, so it continues to be a learning experience. I first saw Daily 5 on Pinterest and I was intrigued. Isn't everyone always trying to improve their independent work time during Guided Reading?? I felt that I had a good system before, in terms of "crowd control," but I knew it wasn't as productive as it could be. So, after seeing a lot, thinking it might be the system for me, but getting more and more overwhelmed by the sheer number of resources available online, I bought and read The Daily 5 (the book) on my Kindle :) 

After reading the book, I got it. I understood the process and was ready to implement this school year. 

I did notice that my students had excellent stamina while I was watching and able to circulate around and work with them. Probably it is my fault, because I wasn't super-loyal to building stamina up from 3 minutes on for each D5 choice (I didn't have the time necessary to do that--I had to start my guided reading groups sooner than that allowed.), but as soon as I started pulling reading groups, the students' ability of choosing any D5 station they wanted wasn't working. Students were constantly choosing the partner games or Read to Someone, which is perfectly wonderful, but when 14 or 15 students choose a game from Word Work,or they choose Read to Someone, it gets awfully loud and interrupts our reading group, even if all of the students reading and playing are quietly on task.  

So, I knew I had to limit the number of students in each station per day. I tried assigning each reading group to a certain station at a certain time, but that seemed a lot like cheating the program because it took all the student choice out of the equation. Plus, the students were a LOT less excited about Daily 5 each day. I settled on a hybrid model and I love it. It is still a work in progress, but here it is...

I have four reading groups, and they each named their group with a color. The inspiration for this board comes from the Math Workshop board on Clutter-Free Classroom. I love it!! 

Each group has a "Read to Self" rotation required (not because they don't like Read to Self--they do!!! But because this allows at least six students in my class to be silent and it helps to have this silence spread out evenly among the rotations so no one rotation has a ton of students choosing a noisier choice.) and a "Reading Group" rotation required, obviously :) This leaves two "Free Choice" stations and the students can choose among the other D5 choices, whichever they like. They seem to like this a lot! It gives them structure, which they (and I!!!!) crave, but allows a bit of freedom as well.

In addition, I did not include Listen to Reading this year. I simply did not have the number of CDs or books on tape or the time it requires to spend setting up a system that I didn't have at all in place before trying D5. So, I have adapted it and now one of the D5 "Free Choice" choices is for the student to do Study Island on the computer. Our district uses SI and it's a wonderful program with a ton of customization options. I simply set up an assignment for a certain group of readers, and they go online and practice that skill on SI, and then they get a grade, which I can see and use to set up future assignments and to drive instruction. They LOVE the computer time as well!

In short, this is my What Works Wednesday, even though it has taken until Friday (woop woop--it's Friday!!!) to get it posted. That's the story of my life--running behind ;)

I have all the Rotations cards made as well as the bulletin board header on my TpT page for only $1.99! 

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Currently October--My First Currently!!

Thanks for hosting a linky party, Farley! One of my newest favorite blogs @ Oh' Boy Fourth Grade is hosting this party, and I couldn't wait to join the fun :) 

Listening: Listening to my 8-month old talk, coo, laugh, and play is the best sound in the world. <3 truly. 

Loving: Isn't fall amazing? It's so nice how cozy long sleeves and socks will make you feel! LOVE fall.   Also LOVE picking our own pumpkins for the first time as a family xoxo. 

Thinking: Ugh! Long weekend=over :( The good news: our fairy tale unit continues tomorrow, and it's super fun!

Wanting: So tired...think I'm getting a cold :/ The babe has been snotty for a few days, so I guess it's my turn...

Needing: More time at home! Also, my sweet tooth is calling :) 

Book: I LOVE Chris Van Allsburg. I just read The Wretched Stone to my class and I read several of his to the kids every year, as well as at home with the babe!

...well, off to relax...'night!


Fractured Fairy Tales Unit

I decided to make my first major writing unit a unit on fairy tales. I have involved reading strategies and writing strategies, and the kids are having a blast! I am also going to incorporate a parent involvement component as well--after we're done writing our fairy tales, we are going to read them for the parents to hear. It will be a kind of "Fall Fairy Tale Reading" and we'll have refreshments to go along with it!

I will be posting my unit plan for this unit once I am finished and have honed what I'm doing, as well as some pictures from along the way, and of course, some pictures of the Fall Fairy Tale Reading!

My outlook was to do an entire unit on Fairy Tales and have the students culminate the experience by writing their own fairy tales. But, after talking to a colleague about the idea, she mentioned that she has done fractured fairy tales with her kids. I loved the idea and researched it for myself. I found a really great website from Read Write Think on fractured fairy tales that shows the kids what fractured fairy tales are and then helps them/walks them through brainstorming their own funny version of a fairy tale. Once I discovered that, I was off and running... this point, we have:

-listened to a variety of "traditional" fairy tales, such as "The Shoemaker and the Elves," "Sleeping Beauty," "Cinderella," "The Princess and the Pea," "The Three Little Pigs," "The Emperor's New Clothes," and more

-brainstormed characteristics of fairy tales

-filled in a fairy tale characteristics chart for each fairy tale and spinoff (email me for the file!)

-listened to a variety of modernizations and spinoffs, such as "Princess Furball," "Sleeping Ugly," "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs," "The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig," and more

-we earned a class reward as well, so we decided to watch Disney's version of "Beauty and the Beast" and we filled in our chart and discussed the fairy tale elements present in the movie

-explored the Read Write Think site as a class, discussed what a "fractured fairy tale" is and read the fractured version of the Prince and the Frog

-made a triorama contrasting the three versions of "The Three Little Pigs" and discussed other differences between traditional and modern and/or fractured versions (as well as versions from other cultures, of which there are many!!) (Email me if you are interested in the triorama!)

Still to do:
-have kids explore the Read Write Think site independently
-have kids begin brainstorming and eventually write their own fractured fairy tale
-draft, edit, revise, publish fairy tales
-dress up like fairy tale characters (????)
-host a "Fall Fairy Tale Reading" for parents and other relatives to come and hear the kids read their fairy tales

Whew! It's been a lot of work so far, but it's been very fun and I'm sure the rest will be even more memorable! I have already gotten some parent compliments on how much their children are enjoying the unit, so that's a great thing :)

Updates to come:
-unit plan

Stay tuned.


*This post is part of my "Teaching Writing" series!*

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Conferences--It IS almost that time again!!

It's crazy but true. Conferences are really just around the corner, a little more than a month away. The key to great conferences is just to be as organized and as ready as possible. Easier said than done! I just posted a conferences packet that will give you everything you need to have a successful, organized, and well-planned conference season :) Link here to the bundle on my TpT store!

My bundle includes the following:

*A sign-up sheet for parents to sign up for their *top 3* times/dates and send back to the teacher.

*A master scheduling table for you to keep track of all your conference dates and times, as well as student names and parent/guardian names. Once you have all (or all the ones you expect to get back!) your sign-up sheets returned, you can begin placing parent names and dates into the table in order. That way, you know who to expect and when, at a glance!

*A confirmation sheet for your scheduled conferences to send home to parents, noting the time and date of their conference. This acts not only as a confirmation, but a reminder to parents to hang on the fridge (or wherever!)

*A parent conference focus form, with a list of topics that you will cover and that parents can return to you with any additional concerns that they might have. This allows parents to see that you are well-prepared, and that you care about their concerns.

*A selection of *3* different conference focus forms for you, the teacher. These are to be used one for every student, to be set up prior to conferences. A conference focus form will keep you focused on what needs to be discussed, as well as act as a kind of checklist so you don't forget to mention anything during the conference. Sometimes we can get flustered, so I find that having all the information in front of me helps. The forms each have space for you to make notes prior to the conference and during the conference, if there is anything you need to follow-up on or check into.

These forms are all done in .docx format, so they are fully customizable. I typed any text in RED that will absolutely need to be changed to reflect your information, and of course, any other text can be changed as well! 

I find that for me, it helps me to set up a folder for each child in advance of conferences, with some work samples in it, along with the conference focus form, and any parent focus forms that are returned, so I can be sure I hit those points, if they had any additional concerns. For work samples, I like to include: any work of concern or that exemplifies a particular point you are trying to make (works slowly, handwriting is illegible, works carefully, does a particularly neat job, etc.). I also like to make sure there is a variety of work in the folder (i.e., math, writing, science, etc.) from a span of time (not all from the week before!).


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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Starting a Writing Unit

I know I'm not doing a great job teaching writing if I haven't given a single structured lesson on writing by the end of September! Usually by this time, we have made a few class books already and I have taught SOMETHING, even if it's only writing a sentence correctly. My class HAS done some writing, in their Daily 5 station of "Work on Writing," but I haven't actually looked at or graded anything.

I have an excuse for my miserably inconsistent writing instruction (and that's exactly what it is--and EXCUSE!, not a valid or acceptable reason) In my school district, there is no writing program to speak of...

....the only thing we have are our vague, inadequate Pennsylvania state standards (we don't use CC yet!) that specify four different types of writing we are supposed to teach: Fairy Tale, Narrative, Description, and Persuasive.

Needless to say, my colleagues and I are always having to do a lot of digging to find decent writing ideas. We barely even have a curriculum to follow!!! And materials all have to come from us.

So in the past I've tried 6-trait writing, and liked it. I liked it a lot actually, and the students really liked it too. And, the students came a LONG way as writers by the end of the year. I left out the trait of voice, becuase my third graders had their hands full enough with the other five traits. I have books on it, and I love how there are very helpful rubrics to use and it is a super-easy-to-follow program. BUT---it is exhausting to teach. I know that's a terrible excuse, but there it is. It takes a lot of time and dedication--and I don't have much time on a daily or weekly basis to teach the program to the fidelity I think it deserves. I suppose our district will make writing a bigger priority when/if the PSSAs demand it...

I've also tried 4-blocks but for some of the same reasons, it just didn't work out. I don't even remember specifically why I didn't stick with it (which is terrible!) but I know I didn't LOVE it. Also, I use Daily 5, and I want something that jives with the Daily 5, which is new for me this year :)

Anyway, In the past I've also focused largely on teaching nonfiction writing, since as students, that's really all we ever NEED TO KNOW how to do. Never in my high school or college career was I ever asked to, required to, or graded on, any imaginative or narrative writing. BUT narrative/fiction wriitng can be really fun (especially for girls), and I think we should all know how to write a decent story, because it's a beneficial and even important part of overall literacy.

With that said, I am going to start with a type of narrative writing that's not only required in our curriculum, but also a very concrete, formulaic type of writing. I did a simple Google search for "Teaching writing fairy tales." And I got a great site that I had never really heard of, or at least, not that I remember.

 I am going to start with this entry as the first in a series of Teaching Writing. I hope it helps some of you out there. As soon as I've made some headway with above unit, I will post my unit plan on my blog here. From there, I will move on to a nonfiction unit (I have a GREAT one!) and so on...

 As an English major, I feel like maybe I complicate teaching writing more than it needs to be, but I feel that I am always looking for better and better ways to teach writing. It's really difficult too when you have few materials (or none!) provided by your district and very little--if any--groundrules or curriculum to follow. Stay tuned for updates on my journey toward a better writing program this year.


*This post is part of my "Teaching Writing" series!*

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Want a Simple Classroom Jobs Routine? A Freebie!!!

I love for all of my students to have jobs all of the time, so this is a system I devised that involves EVERY student EVERY day. Also, with traditional job assignments, which I used for several years, I found that a) I always forgot to switch jobs, and b) it was time consuming to assign new jobs often enough to keep all involved, and c) students would get upset/argue when they weren't picked for the job they wanted. At third grade, they weren't old enough to understand they would get a chance later. But this is a system that cultivates team reliance, independence, and leaves the teacher more time to do the important stuff :) 

I think this system would work best with third grade on up, and would be especially helpful for older kids who might feel that "jobs" are childish and whose teacher wants some predictable structure for classroom help (rather than always relying on volunteers). 

This system works best for me when students are seated in desk groups of four, or in the case of my classroom this year, at tables of four. There is one of each job at each table group, and each table group has that job at the same seat position (for example, the Materials Managers are all at the back left, and the Routines Managers are all at the front right)...does that make sense? BUT it doesn't matter where you put each job--jobs will rotate OFTEN! 

If you don't have a total number of students divisible by four, there are a couple of options. 
Option One: If you have just one extra student and you can't make groups of four, that student can be your "helper."
Option Two: If you have a few extras/not enough to make groups of four: Every group NEEDS a Materials Manager and a Homework Manager. The other two are negotiable. Keep reading to find out why :)'s how the job assignment and rotation works. 

I print off enough of the above labels, which are about 2x2 1/2 when they're printed off, for all of my table groups. I print them on card stock and laminate so they last longer. Then I put a tape "doughnut" on the back of each and tape them onto the SIDES (whichever side is facing out--the sides facing the front or the sides facing the back when desks are placed into groups of four) of the desks/tables so that the kids can see them and they don't get as messed up as if they're on the desk tops. I make sure that all the desks in the same table position are the same job, so that around the room, all the different Managers are in the same exact spot, regardless of group. This helps me call someone if they aren't paying attention (for example, "Bobby, you're the Materials Manager for your group. Come get these materials please!" or "Jane, did you check and turn in the homework for your group? I can't find it in the bin.") 

Once a week (on Friday in my room), the students rotate jobs in their table groups. They take the labels off the sides of their desks, pass them clockwise, and re-tape them to the side of the desk. Again, every group has the jobs in the same order. This year, I have tables instead of desks, so I just have the students stand up and rotate themselves, and the jobs labels stay put. This way, every student has an important and helpful job every day. No arguing over jobs, no time consuming job rotation. Once every FOUR weeks (the students have done each job for one week), I give new seats and the students all get a new table group. Even though they may repeat jobs in their new group, it's a new place, new people, and a new Routine! 

You can interpret and adapt the system to your needs however you need to. However, here is the job description for each Manager in my classroom: 

Homework Managers
-Make sure each student at their group has their homework agenda open for me each morning to come around and check for parent signatures. 
-Collect the homework for their group in the morning and hand it in to the Homework Bin. Report any missing homework to me. 
-At the end of the day, make sure each student copies the homework correctly in their agenda. 

Conduct Managers
-Make sure their group is on task and focused, not talking, etc. 
-Clean up the table group at the end of the day, making sure everything is neat and put away. 
-Record group points on the board (each table group earns points for behavior; winning group receives a treat OR gets to be the team leaders for the next seat change and pick their own teams)
-This job can be done by the other team members if you don't have a total number of students divisible by 4 and choose to eliminate a Conduct Manager. 

Materials Managers
-Collect any materials needed for different activities (my tables have community supplies at each one, like scissors, glue, colored pencils, highlighters, Sharpies, and pencils, BUT Materials Managers come to get handouts or other supplies that aren't there. 
-Hand in work from each group into the appropriate Hand In Bins. 
-Race to get books, etc. as quickly as possible for their group, while being cheered on by their team (I use Whole Brain Teaching in my room, and this is a fun component!) (You'll never hand out papers again!! :) 

Routines Managers
Now--the more complex one, but simple once you get going :) 

Find several jobs around your room that are not covered by the above. For example, in my room the Routines are things I never remember to do, but are simple enough for students to handle: 
  • Put the new date up onto the calendar. 
  • We have a 6-day cycle. Put the next cycle day on the board (magnetic letter days they just have to swap).
  • Hand out student mail into mailboxes.
  • Take attendance/lunch count.
  • Line caboose to shut the door and lights when we leave.
  • Check the lockers/cubbies/hooks to make sure all is neat.
  • Check the different areas of the room to make sure all is neat and put back correctly. 
  • Teacher's Helper to run errands or notes to the office, etc. 
  • Sharpen class pencils.
  • Reset behavior management clips/magnets/cards back to where they start each day. 
  • Make sure each student makes a lunchtime choice, and then reset lunchtime choice chart/clips/popsicle sticks at the end of the day.
  • Check Daily 5 supplies for each "center" and report low supplies to me. OR Set up listening center each day with proper CD/tape.
  • ANY jobs you never remember or think a student can handle. 

I assign one of the above Routines--or anything I decide to make a Routine (and this changes when I change my room around or move rooms, etc.)--to each table group. Whoever is the Routines Manager at that table group is responsible for handling that Routine. (For example, Table 1 does the calendar, Table 2 does the lunchtime choices, Table 3 does the student mail, Table 4 does the locker check, Table 5 is the line caboose). If you don't have a total number of students divisible by 4, just skip a Routines Manager at a table or two, and either eliminate the jobs they would have done, or reassign them to other tables. I've done both before. 

This system has worked wonders for me for the past 3 years. It's been my favorite way to do jobs by far. It does take a fair amount of reminding at the beginning (and throughout) the year, but it's rewarding because the classroom starts to run really smoothly, the kids take ownership of the room, and I get LOTS of help, so I can concentrate on teacher stuff!

I am putting my job labels on my Teachers Pay Teachers store for FREE!! Grab it if you want to give this system a try. Even if you've already implemented a system of your own and you want to try this, you can always do so after a break by telling your students you think they're ready for something new! Or, you can always wait until next year :) 

Enjoy a smoothly running, well-oiled machine with a structured Classroom Jobs situation. 

Good luck! 


*This post is part of my "Back-to-School" series!*

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Classroom Tour

Ok, so I've learned that I absolutely do NOT have time to update this blog during the teaching week. Not only is it the beginning of the year, so it's hectic for EVERYONE, but I am even busier than usual. I am still nursing Easton, so I have to give up at least 20 minutes of my morning and my lunch to pump.  And, I have to leave right at 3:30 to get to Easton by 4:00 in time to nurse. And, I cannot get to school any earlier than 7:30 on account of nursing him at 7. Whew. That leaves my 40-minute daily planning period to get almost everything done! And the nights are really busy, especially because I have to use the time after E goes to sleep to get any other school work, house work, and relaxation in before bedtime. Moms--you know what I'm talking about!

So here is my classroom this year.

Pros: BIG room, tables instead of desks (saves tons of room!), interactive white board lends itself to a distinct, large whole group area, I've been able to integrate creative ideas that I got from other teacher blogs

Cons: I didn't have much time at all to work on my room this summer (next summer I will bear this in mind and use a baby sitter while I set up my room, instead of trying to do everything with him in tow!), in the process of making everything a bit cuter, so some things are still un-cute ;)

This is the door to my classroom. Our school uses PBS (positive behavior support) and we strive to be "Excellent Eagles" in our school. These are the students' charts for that school-wide system. I use my own behavior system in tandem with this one. We have a ladder that goes from Outstanding-Great Work-Good Work-Ready to Learn-Slow Down-Think About It-Unacceptable. The children can move up and down this ladder throughout the day and then, at the end of a month, if they have less than 10 moves down (-10 overall), they get a sticker on this chart for the appropriate month. Then they are able to participate in the school-wide reward.
 The view of my room from the windows/whole-group area. You can see the corner of our reading table (left side of pic) and much of the front wall. Posted are my whole-brain teaching rules and mail slots (yellow arrow). The green arrow shows my "Finished Board" that has a Math side (right) and a ELA side (right). Each colored shape gives the students an idea of something to work on, such as "Flash cards," and "Sudoku puzzles" on the math side and "write a story" and "Choose a reading project" on the ELA side. I'm thinking I will do a post on this down the road. Anyway, the pink arrow shows the "May Do" and "Must Do" sections of the board, where I put assignments that the students May Do (read, choose from the "Finished Board") when they are finished and those they Must Do (like finish assignments, etc.). Next to the May Do and Must Do are the objectives for ELA, math, and science/social studies. The blue arrow is pointing to the daily schedule, which are just handwritten cards slid into a $1 pocket chart from Target. (I love you Target!). On the far right of the board are the homework assignments. The red arrow is pointing to the behavior ladder and the students' magnets. I bought a box of 30 magnets from Office Max for around $5 and wrote my student numbers on them. That was quicker and easier than buying magnetic tape and putting pretty paper on each one and labeling them that way! In this picture you can also see my calendar wall, which has the calendar, a dry erase board with the date written this way (8-31-12) for the kids to see, and colorful clocks with hands glued onto them which show the times of the following: arrival, specials, lunch, and dismissal. Thanks to Clutter free classroom for those great ideas! You can also see some of my tables :)
 This picture shows my reading table, which wasn't really photo-ready, but here is where I do my guided reading and math lessons. Behind it on the windowsill are the collection bins for homework, ELA, and science. You can also see the Birthday Castle on the closet door. I already have more on that door, including the I-charts for the daily 5 choices and the "Word of the Week" for vocabulary.
 This pic shows my students' lockers and my (in progress!) Word Work area. Stay tuned for another post dedicated just to my D5 setup. On top of the lockers are the student book boxes. You can find my fancy locker numbers on TpT here! Ignore the desk in front of the Word Work area; I didn't know what to do with it at the time lol!
 Here is a better view of my classroom library/Read to Self area. You can also see my calendar wall in greater detail. My book box signs are one of those aesthetic improvements I would've made had I had more time...On the top shelf of the white bookshelf are my Book Check-Out envelopes. I have sign-out sheets on a clipboard next to the library. If the students would like to check out a book, they sign it out and keep it in an envelope. Each envelope is laminated with a paper that states my policies: take care of the book, return as soon as you are finished, but no later than a week, student is responsible for replacing the book if anything happens, etc.
 A view of my room from my desk, which is next to the mail slots and D5 rules from the 2nd picture. Note the iPad keyboard and charging cable on the front table that I forgot to move!! You can see the way I do classroom jobs in the picture. Each seat has a small rectangular piece of laminated paper taped next to it on the tabletop. I have table jobs. More about this in a future post! Too much to explain here, but I will say that it's the best way I've ever done jobs. Also, the name tags are names taped to folded paint sample cards from Home Depot. Thanks CF-classroom again!!
 This is my Promethean and whole-group area. The yellow arrow is pointing to my clipboard box. The students use clipboards when they sit on the floor. The pink arrow shows the Listen to Reading area. (And my easel that is on the floor!) The green arrow shows the Work on Writing area. The blue arrow shows the math carts. I picked the small one up at a yard sale for $5! The colorful one was an amazing find! It was out on the curb in my neighborhood for trash pickup! I saw it on my evening walk with my husband and we came back to get it after our walk!!! Inside these carts are Everyday Math materials, calculators, rulers, dice, games, manipulatives, and flash cards. On top of them are books with a math theme, and stacks of graph/grid paper. 
 This picture shows a bunch :) It shows a little more than my previous picture. The blue arrow is pointing at the seashell table label that is hanging from the ceiling. I will explain this in my Classroom Jobs posting! The yellow arrows point at my D5 and Math Workshop bulletin boards. (Math BB ideas compliments of CF classroom!) The aqua arrow points at my Read to Someone area, where I store all my books that have 2 or more copies. There are separate baskets of fiction picture books, nonfiction picture books, and fiction chapter books. The white arrow points again at the math carts (see above pic for explanation). The green arrow is pointing at my table organizers, where I store community supplies such as extra pencils, dry erase markers, and colored pencils; highlighters; Sharpies; scissors; glue bottles, and red pens (for checking work). Students each have a pencil box for their own supplies, and the books are all stored on the back counter. The pink arrow is pointing at the table crate, and each of the 6 tables have a crate. We use them to store our STAR binders, personal slates (small dry erase boards), and brain books (thanks to Cooperative Learning 365 for this idea ) You can also see a student desk (for anyone who would like to sit alone and/or cannot handle the table on any given day), our Super Speed Math and Reading folders (see Whole Brain teaching for this one!), and our Privacy folders (old pocket folders we put up when taking tests) and Absence folders (file folders with cute clipart on the front that say "We missed you!" that students get when absent). To the right of this photo is back to our reading table.

 I hope you've enjoyed our classroom tour. In upcoming posts, I will discuss/explain how I do Classroom Jobs, and our Daily 5 setups. Stay tuned next weekend ;)


*This post is part of my "Back-to-School" series!*

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I didn't get the post done that I wanted to yesterday. I wanted to post pictures of my room all ready for students, but the fact is that I hardly had time to get the room done, let alone take any pictures. I will post them today, or at least some of them. There were parts of my room that weren't photo ready ;) And, to be honest--there are STILL parts that aren't photo ready! That's why I say I LOVE organization but I'm not always the most organized person. I will also post later this afternoon how our first day went and any tips to share!

*This post is part of my "Back-to-School" series!*

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

The First Few Student Days...

The children are coming....

...on Tuesday. At least for me. And, no matter how many times I do this, no matter how many first days go by, a little panic always arises in me before the kids come...I frantically think: What will we do? Will I have enough to occupy the hours? Will the kids feel comfortable in my classroom? What activities can I do that are fresh and new? And on and on and on....

So, I've been blog, hopping...and looking through my own files, and I've come up with a  list to at least get us started with the kids. I hope you'll "comment" at the bottom and leave some of your great ideas. We can always use some freshening!!

Drumroll, please....BRRRRRRRRRRRR.......

-Give each student play-dough on their desk the first day so they have something non intimidating to work on while you, the teacher, are busy greeting other new students and corralling the chaos. (Thanks to Clutter Free Classroom for this brilliance!). Students can create their first initial, their age, a creature, something to signify what they did that summer, etc.

-Give each student a pipe cleaner or two and have them create some of what is mentioned above: their initial, their age, a pet, something they did that summer, etc.

-Take a picture of the back of each student's head and create a "Guess Who?" board for parents at B2SN.

-Have the students each write a description of their summer or a list of their favorites (color, food, teams, etc.) or any other personal narrative and use it to create a "Guess Who?" board for parents at B2SN.

-Play 2 Truths and a Lie (Each student writes 3 statements about him/herself and reads them aloud. Only 2 are true and the rest of the class has to decide which is the lie.)

-Take a picture of each student and have them write something about themselves for a "Meet the Class" class book or bulletin board.

-Create a word search with all students' names.

-Create a time capsule with items and samples from the students. Some things you might include: handwriting sample, picture of each student, list of favorites, writing sample, math facts quiz

-Do a classroom and/or school scavenger hunt for important locations or items in the room/school.

-Do squiggle art. Draw a squiggly line with black Sharpie in the middle of a piece of plain paper. Duplicate. Have each student use their imagination to turn the squiggle into a piece of art. Display.

-Create a Math about Me collage. Have students draw or find numbers in magazines that pertain to them (age, birthdate, address, zip code, number of people in family, sports number, etc.) and use them to create a colorful collage on poster board.

-Create a KWL chart of _____ grade.

-Play Back to School Bingo*

-Do Partner Interviews*

-Have students fill in an Opinion Sheet* (*Get all three of these forms, done and ready to print and duplicate HERE for only $2 on my TpT Store!!!!)

PLEASE leave a comment with your own great ideas. I would love to add to my own arsenal...

Sharing is absolutely the best way to get even better at what we do :o)

P.S. Stay tuned for tomorrow's post: Room Set Up and Organization Tips. I am sorry this is late in coming, but I simply haven't had a chance to finish up my room!! Working over the summer with a 7-month old and mentoring this year have led to a lack of progress :-/ Pictures forthcoming! Check back then! 


*This post is part of my "Back-to-School" series!*

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Back to School Night

If I'm being honest, Back to School Night is never my favorite event. I, like many other teachers, find myself a lot less comfortable talking to adults than children. Also, this year, I'm not going to be home for bedtime with my baby :-/

But--back to school night is a good time to meet the parents of the students--it gives us some perspective on our kids and lets us see where they come from. It also gives the parents and opportunity talk to us, tell us their concerns and fears, and start to feel more comfortable because they know their children are in caring hands!

Here's how MY B2SN looks:

I set up a sign-in sheet (with my ocean theme of course!) so that I know who was at B2SN. This isn't to pass judgment on those families that couldn't make it, but to know who may need the information I presented because they WEREN'T there.

I place a file folder on each student's desk. Plus, I make a few extras for the students who have two sets of parents who each want the information. If anyone is unable to attend B2SN, I simply send their folder home with them the next day. That way, everyone gets the information they need. AND the parents have a convenient place to store B2SN forms, and can keep the folder for the entire year to house important forms, papers, or completed, graded work. Yay for double duty!

Anyway---my folders! I glue this paper to the front of the folder:

Inside each folder I place the following forms:

-an outline of our curriculum and basic activities, called "Third Grade...A Peek Ahead!" split into subject areas: ELA, math, science, social studies, and technology, and including my management strategies, homework policies, etc. (I am going to do a separate blog post for this one--it's a biggie!! Stay tuned!)

-a "Let's Keep in Touch" form for their email address and communications preferences

-a parent questionnaire for the parents to answer questions like, "what motivates your child?," "what is your homework routine," and "describe your child's strengths." Since parents truly are the first teachers, chances are they have some ideas that may just be helpful in teaching me something... THANK YOU to Lesson Plan SOS for this amazing idea!

-a letter form for the parents to write their child a letter for the next day. I have had students keep these little letters (printed on 1/3 of a sheet of printer paper) all year long. They love seeing mom or dad's (or grandma's, or auntie's, etc. etc. etc.) love the next morning. It's so comforting to them when they're still in an unfamiliar classroom :o)

You can get all of the above (except the "A Peek Ahead" packet...but I will put this into a future blog post) on my TpT store for only $2!! 

After I quickly go over the information in the folder (and I don't really go through the "A Peek Ahead" packet, I just tell them it's there and what's inside), I show my PPT presentation. I really, really don't loved PPT presentations because they're generally B-O-R-I-N-G and outdated, but it is an effective way to convey a lot of information to parents in a fast way, plus, having the slides there in front of me reminds me of what to say if I become nervous and forget........

Here are my slides as jpegs. If you are interested in the complete show in ppt format, please let me know!
 Obviously I begin with a welcome slide!
 I tell the parents a little bit about me as a person.
 My management style and techniques, as well as our school-wide behavior system (PBS)
 Our schedule (This is my schedule from last year. My schedule from this year isn't done yet because we just got it last week and I haven't even had a chance to change my PPT yet!!)
 Our specials schedule, now called "encore" in our district. Is this common? Seems like such a strange name!
 Supply list, in case anyone didn't receive my summer student welcome letter with the same information.
 I use a student binder in my classroom, and it is a pivotal part of teaching my students responsibility and organization. This slide explains to parents WHY I choose to do this, and why I asked them for more supplies than most other teachers!
 QUICK curriculum overview. The packet in the folder goes much more into detail.
 Some unique or interesting parts of what makes our class what it is.
 Homework policy.
 My policy for birthday treats...
 A call for parent volunteers.
 My use of technology, so the parents know that their children will be exposed to a lot (in some cases) new, and (hopefully) exciting things.

 A screen shot of our classroom website so that parents know if they're in the right place when they go there! I also talk about what will be on the site and how they can use it. (Homework updates, links to educational games, important class announcements)
 Expectations of students, so that parents know their children will be held accountable for doing what they need to do at school.
 Expectations I have for myself, so that parents know I am committed to their child's learning, safety, and happiness.
A gimme slide for any things I might have forgotten about (this is a reminder to me to say anything I might have thought about during the other parts of the presentation), an opportunity to ask questions, and a place to talk about the things that just don't fit anywhere else.

I try to finish the PPT in about 10 minutes, so that parents have a chance to talk to me one-on-one about different situations or to ask private questions. I find the parents really treasure and want this time, even more so than the information I present. Since our B2SN is 2x 30 minute sessions, each group that comes through has limited time. I like to make sure we use it wisely :o)

I hope this helps someone. Have a GREAT B2SN if yours hasn't already happened....


*This post is part of my "Back-to-School" series!*

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

The All-Inclusive Teacher Binder

I have an interesting condition: I LOVE organization and the concept of being organized, and I LOVE organizing things, but I am challenged to STAY organized. Can anyone else relate?? I find that I begin school year (or a closet at home lol) on the right foot, and over time I sink back to my bad habits of just shoving papers wherever, grabbing whichever notebook is in reach for a faculty meeting, and even missing meetings because I jotted down the reminder on my other calendar.

So I have started an all inclusive teacher binder this year. I bought myself a large (3") clear-view-cover binder in my favorite color (BLUE!) at Target (love) and 3 packs of tabbed dividers with write-on tabs. I grabbed my Bic Mark It markers and got to work.

I made up a cover sheet with a whale (go figure) that was super easy. I just made a regular page-size paper that says "Mrs. Spence's Classroom Notebook 2012-13" and put a clipart whale in the middle of it, and then made a narrow vertical sheet that and made it say the same thing (this I slid into the spine of the binder--does that make sense?) (Download the customizable file here for free!)

Ok, so next I had to make my dividers. I used my markers and went in rainbow order for the different areas. The dividers I made are:  (and feel free to use the ones you want and change the ones you don't like or can't use)

  • Lesson Plans
  • Monthly Calendars (and I downloaded the entire year's worth of super-cute calendars for FREE from Rowdy in Room 300's TpT store here and plan to use them to record all dates and meetings that I need to remember)
  • Pacing Guides (stay tuned for my own pacing guides)
  • Schedules (for specials, early dismissals, late starts, days with an assembly, etc.)
  • Pennsylvania (or Common Core or your state) Standards
  • Management Information/Substitute Teacher Information 
  • Professional Development (we have to create a professional development project each year OR choose to be observed. My PD plan is to implement Daily 5)
  • Data (with 5 subcategories, all done in the same color!)
    • Progress Monitoring and Intervention (for those of you whose schools are beginning RTI/RTII)
    • STAR Reading and Math (STAR is an online assessment program that we use for benchmarking and progress monitoring)
    • Study Island (we also use SI for benchmarking and progress monitoring/assessment for RTII)
    • SWEBS/PBS (our school-wide behavior model that we collect and turn data in for)

I hope this teacher binder idea can help you out. I plan to take my binder to all faculty meetings and grade-level meetings, as well as data meetings. I hope it works out for me too!


*This post is part of my "Back-to-School" series!*

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