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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