Friday, July 31, 2015

Beliefs to Action - We Are What We Think

With Love from Texas blogger Whitney Alexanderson challenged teachers to put into writing what their beliefs were and what actions they are or will put into place as a result of these beliefs. I have accepted this challenge and here is what I believe.

All educators have beliefs about their profession and about their students. It goes with the territory. 

Here's mine:

I believe every child can learn & I believe that I should have high expectations for all of my students. These two beliefs go hand in hand.  When a child walks through my classroom door, this is my truth. I don't let anything get in the way of this - not family situations, not economics, not disabilities, not perceived intelligence. Every child can and should learn.


I believe that the relationship I have with my students has EVERYTHING to do with how much they learn when they are in my classroom.  High expectations, respect, love, a belief in them, and a safe and happy classroom create an environment that supports their learning.


I believe it takes a village to raise a child.  This is an old adage, but I believe it's true.  Parents, teachers, lunchroom ladies, librarians, bus drivers, are all important to this education equation. We need to support and respect each other in this process. It's what is best for children.


I believe kids learn best when they are having fun.  Isn't that what childhood is all about?  Fun? Let's not take the fun out of school. Give our students reasons to smile, laugh, and play. They will learn so much more!


I believe that teaching and learning are constantly changing, so my teaching methods have to change with it.  Investing time and energy in staying up to date is absolutely essential to my value as a teacher. This ever changing environment and my attitude about it is why I love this job.  Everyday is different and with kids you never know what they will say or do! It keeps it interesting! This is why I think I have the best job in the world!

So, these are my beliefs - what am I going to do about it?

Thank you Whitney for this challenge! It really got me thinking and excited about the new school year! And I believe we are what we think.

So let's keep this hop going! Lori at Keeper of the Light and Love and Learning is up next sharing her beliefs!

Keeper of the Light and Love of Learning

Monday, July 27, 2015

Self Running Classroom - Can You Do It?

Are you reading Unshakeable by Angela Watson? This summer, I had the opportunity to participate in an online book study on this book, and it has been enlightening, inspirational, and transformative. Each chapter has had some major "aha" moments and some "oh, I knew that" moments.  Many of the ideas and thoughts in the book are tucked away in my brain for use later this school year, but some I am really putting into use on the first day of school.  One of these is from Chapter 14 - Construct a Self Running Classroom That Frees You to Teach. Now I know that for some control freaks (you know who you are), this concept is unimaginable - a self running classroom? But, when you really think about it - it is absolutely possible. How do I know this?  Because, my class is partially run by my students and I know that if I give them a little more control - it's going to make my life much less stressful which is a good thing.

First, let me explain how my classroom is "partially run by students ". All students in my class have a job.  Everybody. The difference is that the job is held for 4 weeks, not 1 week as I had done in the past. Remembering to change jobs is easy - at the interim report day and the end of the 9 week grading period.  That means that my 3rd graders get really good at their job - take ownership and pride in doing that job - and I don't have to be constantly training them! The best part is - they train their replacements. 

At the beginning of the school year there's a lot of training. I show them what and how I need things done.  The first two rotations require alot of reminding, and then magically it happens. Suddenly, you notice that they know what to do. One of the keys to this is that on my job chart, I list the responsibilities for each job.  This is important, because you can't assume they know what to do and what you expect.  

I tell my students that classroom jobs are VERY important to how our days will go and that on real jobs, you can get fired if you don't take the responsibility seriously. Life lesson. This also gives the message that we NEED them to do their job. Great confidence and self esteem building going on here. 

** Disclaimer: I have only fired one student and he begged me to give him another chance.  Of course, I did and he was better than ever at his job after that! But it helped him and the rest of the class realize how important their jobs were.

So back to my statement that my class was partially run by students.  After reading Chapter 14, I realized that there were still responsibilities that I had not given over to my students. I was picking up the slack and consequently not saving my time for teaching. Definitely not what Angela is suggesting. So, this school year I am adding a few more: Math Manipulative Managers, ELA and Math Center Managers, and each student in Kagan collaborative groups will have a job. I may even add more as the school year begins. 

The message was to free me for teaching, not cleaning, collecting, enforcing, and wearing myself out. Message received. Whether you read Unshakeable or not, the message is a really good one.  Turn over the responsibilities to your students, so you can teach. Period.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Teacher Show & Share LInky Party

Click here to see all the great ideas!

Linking up to Mrs. Jone's Creation Station Linky Party today! Check out all the creative and innovative ideas by teachers for teachers! Happy Hunting!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Teaching with a Basal Text - Take It Up a Notch!

When I googled "Teacher opinions about using basal texts for reading instruction" I not surprisingly got 353,000 results.  Everyone in the education field has an opinion about this subject. Why did I google it? Curiosity. I was planning on writing this post about my experiences with and without basal texts and I wanted to know what the general consensus was.  There isn't one.

For 12 of the 14 years that I have taught, I did not have that type of reading resource to use.  We (meaning my planning partners and I) had to come up with our own resources and methods to teach the standards.  We did a pretty good job I think.  Our students tended to be above grade level readers by the end of the school year and our school grade was an A for 11 years straight based on standardized testing scores (Florida). But, sometimes we were pulling our hair out trying to find the right resources. This was BFTPT - Before Teachers Pay Teachers.

Two years ago, our district implemented the Reading Wonders series and I was forced to learn how to use this "system".  Believe me, it was not easy or welcome on my part! It felt so awkward carrying that teacher manual around and having my students using a basal every single day.  I was sure that this was going to be the downfall of our school.  The first year was not enjoyable for me at all, especially since we were still using our old Sunshine State Standards and Reading Wonders was formatted for Common Core.

Enter the 2nd school year and the implementation of Florida's version of the Common Core - known as LAFS.  That acronym is not lost on us folks! Aligning our instruction with the new standards went much smoother and I felt more comfortable with this system.  BUT, there still was something missing.  I needed to put my own spin on our daily activities.  I had been responsible for creating activities for 12 years and this was ingrained in me.

So, I created reading response questions and working with words questions using the question stems for the Common Core/LAFS standards.  Each day, my students were responsible for answering these questions first - in complete sentences, and second - using text evidence to support their answers.  It turned out to be so convenient for assessing whether they "got it" that day. It would take only 5 minutes of reading through their answers to determine:

1) who is comprehending the text

2) who understands the week's comprehension and vocabulary skill
3) who needs more work writing in complete sentences and using text evidence.

There are LAFS based questions for
comprehension and vocabulary
 for each day of a 5 day instructional period.

This information led to small group instruction opportunities that I might not have had if I didn't use this quick formative assessment/exit ticket.

As far as planning goes it was wonderful!  I prepared the Reading Response questions as I was planning for the week's reading instruction.  I didn't have to come up with an exit question at the end of instruction or scramble to make sure I had student samples for our ELA boards (which are required in our district).

Each question has the Florida
 LAFS standard listed.

I used the Reading Wonders Reading Response and Working with Words questions all year so they are classroom tested, proven resources.  I have recently put Units 1 - 2 for Florida teachers on Teachers Pay Teachers so that you can have access to a resource that will give you quick answers about your student's knowledge and help you plan for small group intervention. 

Snag one of these so you have your Unit One
 ready to go when you get back to school
 and then you can check that off your list.

Unit Two continues the higher order thinking
and now your students will know the routine
and will be giving you some amazing responses!

So, if you are using Reading Wonders for your ELA instruction - this might be for you!  I have previews for both Unit 1 and 2 on Teachers Pay Teachers, so head on over and preview my new reading resource!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ugly Duckling to a Beautiful Swan - The Story of How I Turned My Tragic Task Card Storage Into a Beautiful Thing

Do you ever start out with a storage solution that you think is so good that you will never have to touch it again? Me too. Actually this happens to me a lot.  My vision for organization is not always the reality. Oh sure, at the beginning, everything is fine and I'm happy, but then whatever I'm trying to store - in this case, task cards for centers - outgrows the storage container.  Then I start trying to make it work and this happens.....

I knew that I wanted to do a couple of things with this mess:
1. Find a container that was going to make finding what I needed easy.
2. Make returning task cards just as easy and quick.
3. Last more than a hot minute.
4. Be inexpensive.
So with #4 foremost in my mind, I came across these photo boxes at Hobby Lobby that were normally $4, but were 50% off!  So, for $2.00, I could improve that awful mess at the top.  Not only that, the boxes are really cute! See....
Next, I used the dividers that came with the box and traced out my cute, pink ones:
So here's the before and after....

So that is the story of how I turned an ugly duckling task card container into a beautiful soft gray chevron and pink swan.
The end.
P.S. Next up...Math Task Cards...maybe a nice, vibrant neon turquoise.....

This is my ELA Task Card/Centers container.  There's a Math one that is just as bad. It made it so hard and time consuming to find what I needed. So, this was a priority on my summer to-do list.

Since, I'm the only one taking cards out and putting them away, I wasn't worried about the durability issue around kids.  It's the perfect size for task cards too.  It came with these divider cards.

Doable, but not very pretty. So I decided to gussy them up! (Don't hear that word much do you?) I made a list of all the types of cards that I would need. Then, I typed up each title on pretty neon pink paper like this:   

Of course, I laminated them.  "Anything worth doing, is worth laminating." says every teacher I know. Added bonus -it makes them sturdier and they can keep my task cards under control.

Last, and most important, I put the task cards in the new box with the cute dividers and......

Wa la! SO much better! It looks full, but it's not - the cards are laying back. If I need more storage (in the event that I buy more task cards), I'll just get another photo box. I'm going to put the answer sheets in a file folder in my cabinet, so they too are easy to find and put away.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Join Us For a Follower Celebration at Sun, Sand, and Second Grade (There Might Be FREEBIES Involved)!

Greetings Summer Loving, Pajama Wearing, Don't Know What Day it is Teacher Friends! 

I need your attention for just a minute cause there is a really cool, well-worth-your-time event happening at Sun, Sand, and Second Grade's Facebook Page.


That's right. FREEBIES!!  Every single teacher I know LOVES freebies!!! It starts tomorrow morning at 8:00 ET and continues until Tuesday night.   So head on over to her Facebook page (just click on the picture above) and enjoy a little freebie shopping!

You're welcome.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Student Privacy Screens

I teach 3rd grade and most 3rd graders I know need to have some "me time" during the school day and definitely need privacy during important weekly tests. We all need privacy sometimes, right? When I started teaching 3rd grade 6 years ago, I found this to be true. So, I started looking for privacy screens and yikes! - they are so expensive, not to mention, not cute.  Fortunately, I was able to come up with an easy, less expensive alternative and they work perfectly! (These are my 3rd version,because I can't keep the same decor for more than 1-2 years apparently).

1 -  Buy some basic file folders. I got these at  Staples..2 color neon...aren't they cute?

2 -  Create cute labels to put on the front and back, or use mine (freebie). I include a checklist, so I don't have to say,"did you put your name on it?, did you answer all the questions?, and for the speedy one, did you take your time?"

3 - Affix labels with a glue stick. Don't use liquid glue - it doesn't work well when laminated.

4 - This is the really important part - laminate. If you have a nice big laminator, use it. But if you don't, sweet talk whoever is in charge of the big laminator at your school. Laminating makes these privacy screens kid proof...even if they absentmindedly shove them into their desk. It keeps them clean and they don't fall apart.  

5 - Trim the extra laminate while you are watching the Real Housewives or Big Brother or whatever you are indulging in this summer!

I can't express how much I love my privacy screens - so simple, so cheap, and so helpful. (Think about that child that needs less distractions - works perfectly for them).

If you love these and want my labels, I have them in my TPT store for FREE! So head on over and grab them.  If these labels don't work for your decor, they are super easy to make on Power Point.

Two more pretty pictures....

One of my favorite summer projects... all ready for school.


Friday, July 3, 2015

#TPT Seller Challenge - Make Your Masterpiece Giveaway!

Reading Wonders 3rd Grade 
Reading Response Activity
for Common Core and Florida LAFS

Whew!  This TPT Seller Challenge is definitely a challenge...and a huge opportunity... not to mention a HUGE learning curve for this girl!  Isn't this summer?  You know when our brains turn to mush and we don't think about school?  

I am so excited to be sharing my Masterpiece today! Why? Because this was a labor of love based on something I did in my classroom last year that was SO effective and SO integral to my ELA block.  My kiddos loved doing their reading response activity at the end of my lesson.  This was the time they got to really collaborate and talk, talk, talk (which they absolutely lived for!) before they responded to the daily Reading Response and Working with Words questions. They were so cute when they would ask each other..."did you include text evidence?"..."did you write your answer in a complete sentence?" ..."what about capitalizing the first letter of your sentence?"...gotta love that! But the best was "where did you find your text evidence?"!! Wow - the accountable talk was amazing!!

I would LOVE to be able to share some of their work with you, BUT this too ready for summer teacher left her samples in her classroom files. Unfortunately, our school in being remodeled this summer and I cannot get into my room, but trust me - it worked!

But here's a sneak peek.....

This is Unit 1, Week 1, Page 1 that includes stem
questions related to the shared reading and
close reading texts in  Reading Wonders.
These are perfect for Exit Questions, Formative
Assessments, or a focus for collaborative
partner discussions. There is
a reading response question and a
working with words
 question for each day.

This is Unit 1, Week 1 Page 2 that continues the same format,
but also includes a graphic organizer that is
based on the comprehension skill for that week.
This is an example of week 1 - there are 5 more 2 page activities for Unit 1! This was a HUGE time saver for me as a teacher AND the perfect HOT student samples to show off to my principal - hint, hint, teacher evaluation!

If this sounds like a supplemental resource you could use in your classroom, head over to Teachers Pay Teachers and check it out!

Happy 4th Everybody!