Thursday, April 12, 2018

3 Teaching Strategies to Try After Testing

This school year is beginning to wind down. Most states have some type of standardized testing that is taking place throughout most grades beginning at 3rd grade.  Teachers are doing last minute review in the hopes of giving students another chance to master a standard. But, what happens after testing? Most schools have at least one month, and many have much more before they officially end the school year. What do we do for the rest of the school year?

Many teachers like to use this time to allow their students to apply all the skills and knowledge they have acquired during the school year with fun projects. It’s less stressful for both teachers and students as well as highly engaging. Definitely a win-win. They also continue to fill in the gaps with students who need more through small groups. But what about teachers? How should we spend the remaining weeks and days of school?

In my role as a full release new teacher mentor, I work with 1st and 2nd year teachers only. It is part of my job to encourage them to try new instructional strategies all year. Many of them are hesitant for several reasons:

  •             No one else on their grade level is doing it.
  •            It's overwhelming to manage another new structure or strategy.
  •            They are worried that their administrator won’t like it.

My job is to coach and encourage them to overcome their fear.  As I work with them, they become more comfortable trying a new instructional strategy – especially when students are more engaged.

BUT what about the veteran teachers? Who is there to encourage them to try new things? The simple answer is no one.  But that just means we need to dig deep and go for it on our own.  Stretch a little.  Don’t worry about what the other teachers on your grade level are doing or are not doing. The end of the year is the PERFECT time to try NEW things.  Why? Because you can fail and nothing bad will happen. Plus, your students will love something new!

Reflective teachers do it all the time. Every day they come to school and use different instructional strategies and activities with their students. Some work – some don’t. Reflective teachers know this, and they keep trying. Many of them try completely new strategies without fear, but many don’t.  Fear of failure will stop anyone from doing something new and different. I’m here to remind you that when you were a new teacher – you did something new EVERY day – and you succeeded! So, let’s go for it!

Don’t know where to start? Here’s a few ideas to get you started:


Kids talk. ALL THE TIME. If you have spent your school year complaining about how much your students talk, STOP. No amount of bribery or consequences will get them to stop talking. It’s how they learn and process their thinking.  Just give them structures for talking about content and they will soar! If you have been thinking about implementing accountable talk, but don’t know how – try giving them question stems to facilitate quality discussions.  Here is my Accountable Talk Partner Cards FREEBIE that will get you started. It's a great way to scaffold your students as they begin to learn to talk about their learning.

Four accountable talk question stems for
 Reading, Writing, and Math!


Kagan structures are a great place to start when you want to get your students moving and working together. If you have been hesitant because you just don’t know what to do first, or you are worried about how your students will handle it – start with these 5 essential structures.  This link will give you all you need to get started.


At this point in the year, your students are trained. They know how to get a pencil if they want it. They have mastered the beginning and ending of the day procedures. They can find text evidence and use manipulatives to help solve math word problems. But, have you truly turned over the learning responsibility to them?

One of the ways great teachers do this is with goal setting. Whether it’s content or behavior based, goal setting turns over the responsibility to the students. Students can set goals and monitor their own progress. When they see how their own actions affect the outcome – it can change their whole mindset and motivation.

Even though the school year is winding down, you can still use goal setting to help students stay focused on putting forth their best effort every day. This link will help you get started with goal setting and give you and your students a boost at the end of the year. Then you will be ready to start it with a new group of students in the fall.

I encourage you to try one of these ideas. You will grow as a teacher. Your current students will benefit from this new teaching strategy and it will keep them on their toes! #whatismyteacherdoing? Your future students will greatly benefit from one of these strategies. You will finish the school year excited about a new strategy that you can look forward to implementing the first week of school. Don’t let fear or exhaustion get in your way – you can do this!

Monday, March 12, 2018

3 Ways to Make Math Test Prep Fun!

     Most teachers about this time of year start thinking about whether their students are ready for the “big test”.  Did I do enough? Did they understand the concepts? Did we spend enough time on multiplication, measurement, or fractions? What about review? Will it help?
     I have always made time for test prep because I believe that its really just spiral review for my students and many of them need to revisit math concepts that they didn’t fully get the first time. Teachers know kids don’t learn at the same pace – even if district curriculum maps seem to see it that way. Test prep is the perfect opportunity to use spiral review to get your students ready. The question is: how can you make it engaging and effective?

     In order to make it truly engaging for your students, it needs to be fun! Get into the spirit of it – use a theme if you want – but most importantly - be excited about it! I try to drop hints the week before – build the anticipation – but never give it away! Here’s three important things to keep in mind and do to make your test prep successful:

Make it a game but rigorous and challenging! 
These games will get your students up and moving.
    Scoot - is a whole-class educational game that your students will love. Place a question card on each desk in your classroom. To play, students move around the room, from desk to desk, answering questions or solving math problems.
    Kagan Inside Outside Circle – give each student a task card. Students form two concentric circles and take turns on rotation to face new partners to solve the math problems.
    Kagan Quiz, Quiz, Trade - Each student will get a task card and they will randomly pair up and take turns solving each math problem. Students will then trade cards and find a new partner.
    Kagan Numbered Heads Together – Students are placed in groups. Teacher poses a question. Groups work together to solve. Teacher randomly calls on individual students to share the team’s answer.

Make it competitive but equitable!
     Group your students into teams of mixed ability, but structure it so that all students will be valuable to their team. Let them pick a team name and tell them they will compete against the other teams by solving math questions correctly. I like to post a scoreboard and give them points or tallies as they complete the tasks or games. Seeing the scores of other teams can be a huge motivator!

     Go to the dollar store and buy tickets to give out. They come in a big roll and they are really cheap. Give out tickets for correct answers and effort.

Give Prizes! but don’t go overboard or break the bank to do it!
     Who doesn’t like to win prizes? Especially if they are wrapped in bright packaging and displayed ahead of time! If my test prep is for 5 days, I give out 5 prizes based on the number of points or tickets earned. If I use points, I give out team prizes – if I use tickets, I give out individual prizes.  Either way, the dollar store is my go-to. There are plenty of options in the party favors aisle, school supplies, or even the candy aisle. 

     Bubbles, gum, pencils, erasers, notepads, candy bars, comic books, etc. I like to vary it by day, so that they never know what it will be. The one thing I do every day is put the prize in a colorful gift bag and display it all day long. It really builds anticipation!

So, what about math content?
      What do you need? You probably already have math task cards in your classroom, which will work perfectly for the games I listed above. But if you want to really increase the rigor and challenge for your students – try these Error Analysis Task Cards available in my TpT store. Students love to find the errors and prove their thinking! I have them for many of the critical math skills tested for third graders and it’s great review for fourth grade too!

     No matter what content you choose – remember, if each one of your students gets one or two “aha” moments during test prep – it will be worth it!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

New Year's Resolutions for Teachers

3 Quick Steps to Becoming a Reflective Teacher

     Do you make New Year's resolutions? It seems that this is one of those things that sounds like a great idea - in theory, but in reality - it doesn't seem to work out well for most people. Me included. But, it does work for classroom teachers. Because the reality is - if you are to become a reflective teacher - which you must - you have to resolve yourself to the fact that you can always improve your practice.

     One of the things that I love about being a teacher is the fresh start you get each year with a new class, sometimes a new grade level, or even a new classroom. Oh, the possibilities! Everyone gets a chance to be better - whether it's content knowledge, classroom management, organization, professional development, or time management.

     Here's the beautiful part about this profession....we also get do-overs after the winter break! Maybe your school year didn't start out well, or being a new teacher (or veteran) was totally overwhelming and this is the first mental break you have had - guess what?  You can reset, re-do, or just improve in any area. It can be little improvements or big ones. Here's a few tips on how you can go back with a fresher outlook and a plan to improve in 2018!


     Now that you have a had some time off, it's easier to reflect on your school year so far. What is going well?  What is definitely NOT going well? Is the student behavior in your classroom structured in a way that encourages learning? Does your data reflect growth with your students? How is your relationship with parents? Is there something that has been bothering you about your class, but you weren't sure what it was?

     Think through some of these questions and pick ONE area you would like to improve.


     Once you have chosen the area you want to improve, think about what exactly needs to be changed. What result do you want? How will you know if it has improved? How much do you need to change in order for that result?

     Keep it as simple as you can. Sometimes one little change can make a big difference.


     Commit to making this one change. Plan it out and be consistent. Give it time to develop before you assess whether it improved the situation.

     Once you decide you want to make a change - you will look forward to going back and tackling this challenging, stressful, and fulfilling profession once again! There is nothing like a fresh start to motivate and inspire us! Not only that - you will have taken the first step in becoming a reflective teacher. That alone will get you on the right path in your teaching career! Good luck and Happy New Year 2018!


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

How to Wake Up Summer Math Brains - BTS Math Review for Rising 3rd Graders

     Multiplication, division, rounding, fractions – oh my! Third grade math is HARD! There are so many new concepts that 3rd graders are introduced to in the first few months of third grade. It’s kind of mind boggling, but also daunting for kids.  Especially if they are coming off of summer and have done absolutely NOTHING academic. Summer learning loss is real for many of our students.  How can you get them revved back up so that they are ready to learn new math concepts? 

     Take time to review. Give them a chance to be successful doing something they already know or have mastered in 2nd grade. Many of our students were A students in 2nd grade, but will struggle in 3rd grade because its much harder in all respects. Beginning the school year reviewing key math concepts from 2nd grade will build confidence, but most importantly prepare them for the math concepts you need to start teaching pretty quickly.

     I have found that the first and second week of school is the perfect time to review 2nd grade math skills as you are teaching procedures and doing class building activities. It provides opportunities to pair students up, teach procedures on how to use manipulatives, practice Kagan cooperative learning structures, as well as give overwhelmed students some much needed independent time.  It’s also a good time to pre-assess students on key math concepts so that you can appropriately plan for the next few weeks of math.

     Here are a few ways I use my Back to School Math Review worksheets in the first week of school:

     This worksheet is a great icebreaker for partners. Give them a pair of dice, some crayons or markers, and let them practice addition facts and work together. It’s really fun to let them race to the finish. Competition is fun!

     I love this one for a group project. Give each student a page and let them find as many different ways to spend $1.00. Afterwards, have groups share their combinations.

     Place value is such an important skill to master! Before giving these to students, do a mini lesson to refresh their memories. Then let them complete these independently.  You can use them for formative assessments. It will give you valuable insight as to who needs more work immediately and who is ready for more challenging work.

This measurement activity is a great time to teach students how to handle rulers in the classroom – do not use them as a weapon, etc. – as well as checking to see if they remember how to use a ruler appropriately. Let them move around the classroom measuring objects as a warm up. Then give them this worksheet to measure these six school supplies. Afterwards, they can color them for fun!

Using this Geometry worksheet is another great opportunity to review and teach procedures at the same time. Give teams pattern blocks and have them describe the attributes of each. Then challenge them to complete the worksheet. This is another really quick formative assessment you can use.

As much time as K-2 teachers and students spend on addition and subtraction, you would think rising third graders would have it mastered – but many don’t. In fact, I have found that many rising third graders are struggling with both addition and subtraction. Which is why I have included 4 worksheets to help students practice 2 and 3 digit addition and subtraction with and without regrouping. I love putting these practice sheets in my Number Sense math center. Make sure you have counting manipulatives available and encourage them to use them.

Addition without regrouping
Some students will need to begin with this practice worksheet
before tackling regrouping.

Addition with re-grouping
This practice sheet will give students more challenging
 basic addition and word problems.

Subtraction with regrouping
This will be challenging for many students, so a mini-lesson will be
 necessary before students can tackle it on their own.

If you need math resources to help your students review math for the first weeks of school, my Back to School Math Review is available in my TPT store. There are 10 Math Review Worksheets that are PRINT & GO  which will save you time and give your brand new third graders a much needed review!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

#Sweet as a Pineapple Gift Card Giveaway

I think most teachers would agree that July-August-September is a major drain on our wallets! Classroom decor is high on our list of must haves, not to mention the needs of our own children as they head back to school. Waiting all month for a paycheck during these months is HARD!

With that in mind, some pretty "sweet" TPT sellers and I are giving away THREE $100 gift cards to try and help you survive this major wallet drain. The giveaway is only open for July 23 - 25th, so don't put off entering. You don't want to miss this opportunity!

Just enter here - GOOD LUCK!

a Rafflecopter giveaway