Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Unshakeable: Construct a Self-Running Classroom that Frees You to Teach

I am thrilled beyond belief to be sharing an amazing new book with you today written by none other than Angela Watson of The Cornerstone for Teachers. Her new book entitled Unshakeable: 20 ways to enjoy teaching every day... no matter what is simply brilliant and I cannot wait to share my thoughts on Chapter 14.

If you haven't had the opportunity to delve into Angela's work, I highly recommend her blog as a fantastic place to start. She has a wonderful way of combining practical, student (and teacher!)-friendly practices in a way that also inspires and challenges. Her voice shines through in a way that she is instantly relatable but also thoroughly knowledgeable and there are so many takeaways, it's hard to know where to start!

I have been teaching for ten years and this chapter title sang my name loud and clear when I read it: Construct a self-running classroom that frees you to teach. Ahhhh! If there is one thing that I try to cultivate from the get-go each year, it's this! I am sure we are all too familiar with teachers that don't, or even years when we've put this task on the back-burner... and subsequently paid the price as the year continued. So I knew this chapter was an important one!

Anymore, it's rare to find me nodding, notetaking, underlining, and thinking all at the same time when reading a "teacher book." I think we reach a point as teachers when we just start to skim for the "good stuff" and then leave the rest by the wayside. I will honestly tell you, I was completely caught up in this chapter and found myself nodding, notetaking, underlining, thinking, smiling, and more as I read... and then reread this chapter. Even though I was familiar with the concept, there were so many strategies, scenarios, examples, and practical techniques that my pen and mind never stopped moving as I read, and then reread ;)

Angela stresses predictable routines... no.matter.what. YES! There are rarely "routine" days in the classroom, but the dedication as teachers that we show to the predictable routines we have taught can make all of the difference in our energy level and the level of learning we are able to accomplish in our classroom throughout the year. For example, in my own classroom, Morning Meeting happens no matter what. Regular days, testing days, field trip days.... we sit in an oval when the bell rings and have our meeting. It's familiar, it's student-led, and it gets us off on a predictable and positive note for the day.

Because your time isn't spent organizing the tiny details of the daily routine, you have more energy and more brainpower to be able to incorporate some really amazing lessons! Now, both you and your students to become more creative and inspired within the systems you have in place.

Not sure where to begin? She has loads of "use tomorrow" techniques that I know there will be something that will easily fit your style and boost your confidence. I even began a few the next day and was amazed how quickly my students adjusted to the new phrases or tips I was using, without any prompting or long discussion by me. There's a beauty in reading a well-written book by someone who is not only passionate, but has been in the classroom and has done what we've done. You can always, always tell a difference, and this book gives real teachers real solutions.

One of my most favorite thoughts to take away, especially this time of year is, "Don't steal the struggle." When you truly move to a more student-run classroom, there will be more thinking, more reflection, and more struggle.... don't take that from them. This is, admittedly, a challenge for me. I like to keep the pace moving and I like to insert all of my wisdom (ha!) when I feel it's needed. Angela reminded me that in order for my classroom to truly be filled with learners and leaders, I need to take a step back and watch as they work to come to their own answers and solutions. This practice has helped me slow down with these end-of-year expectations and has allowed for my small groups to go more in-depth with something that may not be "test-worthy" but is much more "life-worthy." And isn't that what's most important, after all?

She ends the chapter with a set of self-reflection questions for you as a teacher. These really challenged me to look at my own procedures and see where I am still clinging to the need for control, often unnecessarily.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Either for the veteran teacher, as a way to inspire and breathe fresh air into current routines, or for the new teacher as a way to get off to a very strong start, or for those of us in the middle who are still tweaking and adjusting as we go.... there is something for everyone in Unshakeable.

Read more about the 20 ways from Angela's book HERE and learn how to get your own copy HERE.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

My Daily Schedule

As many of you know, I am working half-time this year, job-sharing in my third grade classroom. I am fortunate enough to be able to teach my two very favorite things each day: Reading & Writing!

I wanted to describe my schedule a bit more in-depth below:

8:00-8:05 Arrival

Kids arrive each day and play in the playground out back until the first bell at 8:00. They then come into the building and put away their backpacks, coats, lunch boxes, etc. and come into my classroom. They will begin by putting their clips on Ready to Learn (which is also how I do attendance) on our class Clip Chart and then head to unstack their chairs at their table. This isn't much time, so some chairs remain unstacked when the bell rings at 8:05. To read about my Clip Chart, click HERE.

8:05-8:15 Morning Meeting

As soon as kids hear the bell, and oftentimes before, they head to the front carpet to sit in an oval for Morning Meeting. This is by far the most important way to start our day and we do it Monday through Friday, regardless of what else is on our plate. We start with Class Rules, then do a greeting, then move into Question of the Day, and more. You can read more about my Morning Meeting HERE and pick up an e-book and lots of resources to help support your own Morning Meeting HERE.

8:15-9:15 Reader's Workshop

I use a Daily 5-ish sort of rotation with Reader's Workshop. Kids meet with me for guided reading groups, but then have the choice to work on Word Work, Read to Self, or Read with Someone during the other two rotations. Each rotation lasts 20 minutes. To read about how my kids plan for Reader's Workshop, click HERE. To read a whole slew of posts all about Daily 5/Reader's Workshop in my class, click HERE.

9:15-9:30 Snack & Daily Language Instruction

We have a schoolwide program called Daily Language Instruction that we use to practice grammar, conventions, and more. I have the kids use their snack time to eat and work on that day's lesson. If they get done early, they can read quietly. When everyone is done, we gather together in the meeting area and go over the correct answers. I will typically have student volunteers share their responses and explain why they did what they did. It provides a great opportunity for leadership and teaching, plus I have them clip up if they volunteer, so even some of my most shy kiddos love the chance to show what they know.

9:30-10:30 Writing Groups

Writing Groups is in a state of transformation this year. I always liked to write growing up, and obviously writing is a large part of what I do now, but I realized this year I wasn't giving my kids enough pencil on paper time during Writing. I thought about how much time my kids had to read, and the time they spent writing just wasn't cutting it. We talked as a class that, like everything else, you need to practice writing to become better writers (see more on our conversation on Growth Mindset HERE).

So, Writing Groups changed a bit to reflect the following schedule:

  • 9:30-9:40 Discuss today's Prompt of the Day/Author's Chair
  • 9:40-9:50 Get started on the prompt while I circulate and touch base with strugglers
  • 9:50-10:10 1st Writing Group Rotation (click HERE for more info)
  • 10:10-10:30 2nd Writing Group Rotation

The daily prompts are found in my seasonal Writing Prompts (found HERE). I make a packet of around 10 that they keep in their Writing folders. We only do prompts three times a week since it takes kids a while to get through each prompt during Independent Writing. If they do get done with one early, they can free write about anything they would like in their Writer's Notebook.

On days we do not do a Prompt of the Day, we start with Author's Chair. I have found this to be a fun way to launch our writing time and give kids extra motivation to keep writing so they have something to share if they'd like.

To read more about Writing Groups, click HERE. I have noticed since the addition of prompts throughout the week that they have way more pencil on paper time, but still have time to free write about whatever they choose and also have time to work with me in Teacher Time to focus on a piece to publish.

It probably sounds a bit overwhelming, but small groups are at the heart of what I do each day with my kids. Very rarely will you find me teaching a concept whole-class-- it took me several years of teaching and frustration to realize that's how I personally work best. So while this intro post may seem overwhelming, the system quickly becomes routine for both my students and myself and we can really achieve some great things!

10:30-10:50 Handwriting, 7 Habits, Misc.

The last twenty minutes of our morning is often a catch-all for additional lessons I want to throw in there. On Friday, this is when we do our Goal Setting (read more about that HERE). We also use Handwriting Without Tears, so a few times a week we will work on our cursive. Any explicit 7 Habits for Happy Kids lessons can also happen during this time. We have also used this time to work on our Monster activities for literacy. These 20 minutes always fill up quickly, but I love having this small chunk of time to be as productive as possible.

After this, kids head of to Specials and then Lunch & Recess. I meet with my job-share partner during this time and her afternoon is filled with Math, Science, and Social Studies.

I hope this gave you a better sense of how my morning looks with my kids. Even though the structure is in place, the activities are constantly changing and so we are busy, busy, busy each day. Let me know if you have any questions!

Want to know how I organize all of this in my Teacher Plan book? Click HERE for some ideas and freebies!

Want to share your schedule and see lots of other examples of how teachers spend their day with their kiddos? Check out some of the great blogs below to learn more:

Monday, March 30, 2015

Product Review: I Read to Write by Zaner-Bloser

This is our school's first year taking the PARCC test, so I was definitely in resource-hoarding mode to prep for it! I wanted my kids to be exposed to as many types and varieties of texts as possible and really get the chance to dig in, code, make notes, and closely read into all that they could.

We are fortunate to have some great fiction and nonfiction short texts at our school, but they are books and not the best for underlining and notetaking. Plus, I want my kids to be able to respond to text-specific questions and not all of these include that option.

I knew that when Zaner-Bloser contacted me about reviewing their new I Read to Write kits that these would fit the bill perfectly.... and they didn't disappoint!

As you can see, these are small, consumable books that contain nonfiction, high-interest articles with tons of features to help support any nonfiction work in your classroom. Plus, at the end of each article, there are specific questions (both multiple choice and written) for kids to refer back to the text to help them answer.

There is an even more extensive writing section after these pages that have kids use a planer to plan for a specific type of writing!

But what I really loved were those tiny, yellow sticky-note images on the right-hand side of the article. These were the meat of the text-dependent question work and really had kids go back and underline, label, and then paraphrase, explain, or quote the text.

Zaner-Bloser's use of academic vocabulary was perfect PARCC prep and even went really well with our Academic Vocabulary Posters. We had the chance to discuss each term and underline, make notes, and more on the text itself as we looked for answers and explanations of our thinking.

There is a very handy Teacher's Guide.... and I don't say that often.... that explains the key vocabulary, ways to help strugglers, and provides some example responses, so these could easily be used with a substitute or even in smaller groups with a para.

If you're interested in checking these sets out, they are available for Grades 2-6. Visit Zaner-Bloser's website HERE to learn more. You can even request a *FREE* sample to be sent your way HERE.

Disclaimer: Zaner-Bloser sent me these products to use, but all opinions, photos, and recommendations are my own. I only recommend what I use and love!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Deposits & Withdraws to Our Emotional Bank Accounts

Every Friday, we dig into goal-setting and 7 Habits work in my classroom, and it's turned into my most favorite time to teach! To see all of my goal-setting posts, click HERE or scroll to the bottom of this post to see what we've been up to.

This week, we started talking about Thinking Win-Win, especially when it comes to making deposits into each others (and my!) Emotional Bank Accounts. While we start each year with Bucket Filling and use that terminology throughout the year, I find this term is a nice change. It never hurts to hear it in a variety of ways, right?

We talked a lot about our personal Emotional Bank Accounts, but we also talked about our classroom's Emotional Bank Account, as well as mine and other teachers', students', and adults' who they interact with on a daily basis.

The addition of our classroom's Emotional Bank Account was something that really hit home-- I wanted to emphasize that the choices they make don't just have an individual impact. Oftentimes, their choices (both good and bad) have class-wide consequences. When they make these choices, they should be thinking about whether it's adding or subtracting from our classroom's Emotional Bank Account.

We generated some common deposits and withdraws that we have been seeing in our classroom. Since it's so close to Spring Break, but we've been snowed in, you can see that self-control is a large focus here!

I then passed out one green and one pink sticky note to each student and had them head back to their table spots. There, they generated one deposit (on the green) that they would make sometime next week. Similarly, on the pink, they thought of a withdraw they have been making and thought about how they could do something different to change that choice for next week.

When they had both of these filled out, they came up to the front board and place them next to our Anchor Chart:

I had them glance through each of the deposits and withdraws as they came up to add their own. We will revisit these next week, but it was very reassuring to see their goals reflected some of the concrete examples we had discussed and wanted to focus on:

Little deposits like these will add up to make a huge difference to our classroom community overall. I am also making a point to use the "deposit" language when it comes to clipping up in my classroom. I want my kids to know that their clip up means they have increased our class' Emotional Bank Account and that their choice has not only positively impacted themselves, but our classroom as a whole.

Find more Goal-Setting Posts here:

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Did You Know? Mini-Research Project

I have used these Did You Know? facts in my classroom for several years in several different ways. Because I am only teaching literacy this year, I haven't been sharing them on our weekly Science board, but I wanted to incorporate them some way. Next week, we begin our big research project around Colorado Animals (read more about past years' work HERE), so I decided to incorporate these facts as a warm-up to internet research!

Here's what you'll need for this quick project:

  • Did You Know? Posters: printed four to a page, cut out & laminated
  • Did You Know? Posters: printed two to a page, cut out (for publishing)
  • Lined Paper (freebie HERE): printed two to a page, cut in half (for publishing)
  • 9x11" construction paper: folded in half (for publishing)
  • Internet connection (we used our class Chromebooks): for research
  • Writer's Notebook: for collecting facts and drafting 
*Quick note: I have two versions of these facts and picked and chose from both sets for my class. There are 35 facts in each set, so you could use one or both sets for your class. Version 1 is linked above and can be found HERE. Version 2 can be found HERE.

We started this in Teacher Time small groups (read more about how I teach Writing Groups HERE). I began by reading through the 1/4 page laminated facts aloud. When a student found interest with a certain fact, I would hand the card to them. We continued this until everyone in the group had a fact to research.

We titled our page: Did You Know? and I had them copy their fact directly underneath (just in case they lost their card).

Our first internet research minilesson was: What makes a good search term? I had them look at their fact and pick two to three key words that they could research. We talked about how one word was too broad, but typing in their entire fact (common occurance!) was not going to give them the resources they would need. I had them work on their Chromebooks in Teacher Time so I could be close by.

Other conversations included perseverance (going on to page 2 if resources on page 1 of the search results didn't give you what you needed), filtering (if you don't understand a resource as a reader, you can't write about it as a researcher-- toss it and find a better resource), and paraphrasing (we used the poster from my Academic Testing Vocabulary Posters to help remind them to put things in their own words).

The expectation was 3-5 facts using bullet points in their Writer's Notebooks. We then worked on getting these facts turned into a paragraph with an introduction and conclusion sentence. As a class, we decided the intro sentence should incorporate the Did You Know? as well as the fact, so we combined then and added an "It's true!" at the end.

Once they got a quick edit from me, I handed them their publishing page (available as a freebie HERE) and we assembled them together as a class. We glued the poster to the front and their research on the inside. They are quick and easy to share and the kids are fascinated by each other's facts.

The biggest take-away from me as their teacher was the search term lessons learned. This has always been a struggle in years past, but by tackling it with a mini-project like this, I found it to be manageable for all of us! I could make quick corrections and they could immediately see that a quality search term yielded much better resources than what they had been trying.

If you're interested in these fun facts, you can pick up Version 1 HERE and Version 2 HERE in my TpT Store. Happy researching!


Today is my 3-Year Blogging Anniversary! Woo hoo!! To celebrate this great milestone, I will be giving away ANY three items from my TpT Store to three different winners! Yay!

Just enter below and I will choose a winner next Sunday! Good luck and thank you for sharing this journey with me! You continue to wow, inspire, and encourage me more than you know!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Planning Our Reader's Workshop Week + Freebie

I have been using a twist on the Daily 5 for my Reader's Workshop for the past few years and I love it! If you'd like to read more about Daily 5 and how I incorporate it, click HERE.

I always start the year with bookmarks with rotations built in. I find this to be a good management strategy as the kids get to know me, I get to know them, and we settle into our classroom's rules and expectations. To learn how to make your own bookmarks, click HERE.

At this point in the year, though, I want the kids to be choosing their own rotations and making choices about where and how they are going to spend their time.

We don't have the time to plan each day, so every Friday, I have the kids plan for the week ahead using our Reader's Workshop Weekly Planner:

This is a full-size page, but I shrink it down to print two-to-a-page and find that size works perfectly. I copy it on blue paper (read more about my color coding HERE) and they keep it with them in their blue Reading Folders.

Each Friday, students receive a blank form and will begin my automatically entering in their "Teacher Time" (TT) space. This is our Guided Reading time, so it's the one non-negotiable when it comes to their schedules.

The other codes can be plugged in where the kids like-- there is a number next to each that they will need to follow. I want to make sure they are dedicating most of their time to Read to Self (4x/week) and Word Work (4x/week). Listen to Reading (1x/week) and Read with Someone (2x/week) are both for fluency practice, so they do those less now that the year is in full-swing.

The last option is Accelerated Reader, or AR. I have kids do this on their own at their own pace during Read to Self. We have Chromebooks in our classroom and my kids have been using AR for a year or two before they get to me, so it's a quick and easy to understand process for them. Days they take an AR Test they will add AR to their RTS square. Interested in a freebie AR Tracker? Click HERE.

At the end of each Reader's Workshop time, we will touch base whole-class and grade ourselves on how we did. We use my Mountain Climbers for this time of grading and I find that kids are very honest about this since they are so used to this scale.

I collect these on Friday and hand out new ones and the process continues! I have found that it has helped them develop the leadership skills we've been chatting about and also fits beautifully into our goal-setting discussions.

Here's one example from this week's goal-setting meeting:

To read more about goal-setting in my classroom, click HERE to get started!

If you'd like to pick up this freebie, click HERE. There are three versions: one like mine shown above, one without the number requirements, and one editable PDF where you can add in your own choices to fit your class' needs! Enjoy!!

Disclaimer: The Daily 5 & CAFE resources are unofficial adaptations of the Daily 5 by Gail Boushey & Joan Moser. This freebie is not endorsed by the 2 Sisters. http://www.thedailycafe.com.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

TpT's "Teachers Are Heroes" Sale!

I am so excited! Starting tomorrow, Teachers Pay Teachers is throwing a *HUGE* site-wide sale!

Image courtesy of my friend Kristen at Ladybugs Teacher Files

Use the code "HEROES" and save an additional 10% off all of your purchases!

Every one of my resources will be 20% off, so with the added 10% off, you can save 28% off of everything in my store! This is the perfect time to stock up for the rest of the school year.

If you're like me and scrambling to prep for PARCC and other assessments, try incorporating my newest resource: Academic Testing Vocabulary Posters!

This set is already up to 140 posters (download the "Preview" for the full list) and are a great way to reinforce this Tier II vocabulary that can sometimes trip up our kids.

Have you tried any of my new Writing Prompts? St. Patrick's Day and Sunny Springtime are up and ready to go! There are three formats to use them in a variety of ways in your classroom.

Speaking of spring, my Word Work Centers and Math Centers have some highly-engaging and standards-based activities that will definitely be a hit with your class.

Have fun filling your Wish List today! The sale starts tomorrow and I will be throwing it for two days.... If your schedule is like mine (PARCC-prep, report cards, and prepping for conferences), it's going to take me two days to remember to stock up on everything I need to finish this year strong.

Do you have any previous purchase on TpT? Remember to leave feedback to earn points that you can use for additional discounts on your next purchase!

There are so many ways to save and so many fantastic resources to add to your collection to make sure this year is one of the best ever!

Have a fantastic rest of the week and remember to use code "HEROES" when you check out!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Creating Class WOW Goals

We have really delved into goal-setting this year in our class and I have loved how our language has a class had changed. In years past, some students naturally set goals or worked to do better, but it was never a year-long focus for all students as it has been this year. While we are still experiencing some growing pains, I think overall the repeated exposure to goal-setting and goal-achieving has added a new dimension to our class conversations.

While we have worked a lot on individual goals, I wanted to develop a class-wide weekly goal to help keep us on the right track, especially this time of the year when we tend to get into a slump. We started on Friday during our goal-setting meeting to discuss whole-class what we wanted to work on to develop ourselves as leaders in our school. At first the ideas were very general: show the 7 Habits, follow class rules, be leaders not bosses, etc. But when we reviewed our SMART criteria, we really worked to narrow it down to make it specific and attainable.

What we decided was that we needed to work on Rule #1 and Rule #4 the most. Rule #1 is "Listen when your teacher is talking," and Rule #4 is "Make smart choices." *I have mixed and matched the Whole Brain Teaching and Teaching-ish rules to fit me best :)

Once we decided on that, we discussed how we would make it measurable. One way I sometimes track if I see/hear a group of students breaking a rule is to quickly say, "Rule #1" and the kids will reply back "Listen when your teacher is talking." while using gestures. One student suggested I do that, and it occurred to me that I had really let that practice slide this year (totally my bad!). It was a great suggestion and we knew that if I was calling out rules less by this time next week, we were moving closer to our goal. Now I just have to remember to stay on top of that ;)

I turned the one-pager into a poster by adjusting the print settings to 200% and taping the four pages together. I laminated it and used dry-erase markers so we can write on this week after week. For the freebie, keep reading...

I added a small part about "Follow your compass" to address the "smart" part of "Make smart choices." I reminded my students that all of them know what due north in our classroom looks like. The expectations are clear, the rules are reinforced, and I am very fortunate to be in a classroom full of great kids that truly want to do the right thing (this has not always been the case, so I feel extra lucky this year!). This doesn't mean they are immune to being tempted to verge off to the east or west, and sometimes even turn around and run due south. (And yes, I definitely squeezed in some geography into this! Ha!) I challenged my kids to remember their due north, specifically when choices arise that they know may take them off-course. I challenged them to stay committed to their compass and follow the path they knew to be the right course. We'll see how it goes next week, but I love the image of a compass and plan on planting one up on our front wall somewhere as a visual cue throughout the week :)

So next week's Class WOW Goal involves us all, including me, and I know that these small steps will help encourage us to demonstrate more leadership skills both independently and whole-group. I'll keep you posted on how it goes!

If you'd like a copy of the Class WOW Goals sheet, click HERE.

Find more Goal-Setting Posts here: