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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Tips to Surviving Your First Year Teaching

Tips for Surviving Your First Year Teaching...And Your Second, And Your Third, And Your Fourth, Etc!

Hi, my name is Monica and I've been teaching for 10 years all around the world, and I still go home most days thinking I have NO idea what I'm doing!  Whew, it felt good to get that off my chest!  ;)

I got to thinking about all the hard times I have had as a teacher as I read this article titled, "Hey, New Teachers, It's OK To Cry In Your Car" from NPR.  If you're reading this I know you are aware of how tough teaching can be, but did you know 1 out of every 10 new teachers don't make it through their first year of teaching?!? October and November can be the hardest months because it's when enthusiastic optimism is beat down with so many long, unappreciated, and less than perfect days. I got to thinking about some of the things that have gotten me through all the hard times.  And just like you want to tell all of your students (especially my middle schoolers), IT GETS BETTER! Here a few things you might want to try!

Make a Happy Folder. You know you already have file folders for everything else, so make one for yourself.  Keep any pictures and notes from students, class photos, great Valentine and Christmas cards, and print out encouraging emails from parents/administrators/colleagues. No, not everything in your day went perfectly. But if you are going to let one bad thing in your day have such power over you, then let all of those good things have power too!  I guarantee you are doing more good than bad to these students.  Savor the good moments by keeping them on hand and pulling them out when you need a little emotional boost to help put things back in perspective.

Go Home.  Take care of tomorrow, and then go home. It took me quite awhile to realize that the more hours I put in at school, the worse I was for the students.  I just wasn't my bubbly, happy self who LOVED my job.  So I started scheduling in and prioritizing time for make me a better teacher!  Now you can find me running out the door at 3:45 several times a week to catch a much needed yoga class and spend some time with loved ones (there is the man I live with that I occasionally run into called my fiance!).  If you are so stressed you feel like crying in your car, you have probably already reached the point of diminishing returns with the hours you've worked. More hours in the class will not fix everything!  Do what you need to do for the next day and then make some time for yourself!  Feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the next day with a clear head can make a huge difference!

Work on one thing at a time. You will never attain perfection, and trying to attain it daily will drive you crazy.  However, getting better and better at ONE thing every day, that is possible. Choose one thing you want to work on that you know is a best practice and maybe a weakness of yours and do that one thing until it becomes a habit.  Then work on something new.  My one thing I've been working on this year is referencing our class objectives repeatedly throughout the lesson and making students take ownership of them.  Next on my list: getting good closure at the end of lessons and not just frantically wrapping up the activity when the clock alarmingly shows that the class is almost over (okay, I have an alarm that goes off on my phone to help me with my time management)!

Don't reinvent the wheel. Any problem you are encountering not only has a solution, but has a solution or two from a colleague (including colleagues on the internet!).  Ask for help and ask for advice!  In other words, to quote a cliche: Work smarter, not harder!  Oh and BUY things on Teachers Pay Teachers.  It took me years after using Teacher Pay Teachers to finally look past the freebies and spend my hard earned money on something...and it changed my life! My time was worth the money spent.  I recommend getting big units for social studies and science and year-long aids that can make a huge difference in your planning time and aid in continuity like year long spelling packets, bell ringers, etc.

Classroom Management.  This is the hardest part of teaching hands down.  It takes YEARS to get a system that works for you and your classroom.  I have recently started using Whole Brain Teaching in my 6th grade classroom and LOVE that it is one cohesive program that covers so many aspects of the classroom.  The point system I implemented got my rowdy classes under control in no time and keeps them motivated. (If I have more points at the end of the week they have weekend homework, if they have more points they don't! Works like a charm!)  I encourage you to check it out and see if it is right for you!

I hope that at least one of these helps you get through the days, months, and years ahead.  And in case no one has mentioned it lately, thank you for all your do for 'your' kids!  Please share any tips you have!  Happy teaching!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Worst Principal Ever?

I was shocked to read the news story about the principal, Donna Connelly, that ordered teachers in her Bronx school, in the presence of their students, to empty their desks and filing cabinets and push them into the hallway.  From there, the custodial staff were instructed to dump the desks outside of the school for all to see. All this because this principal forbid teachers to sit during class. 

To me, this seems to be designed to humiliate teachers and does not have one shred of productive and constructive problem-solving to what might be a legitimate problem of a handful of teachers perhaps not being super attentive in class (and that is me trying very hard to see what POSSIBLY could have caused such an egregious action!)  My heart goes out to these hard-working and dedicated professionals that are now told to grade papers in the cafeteria...because that seems like a quite place to get work done!  


What's so wrong with a desk again Donna Connelly?

Read the article HERE! and tell me what you think.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Math Activity for Middle School

One of the biggest challenges for 6th graders has to be....NO RECESS!

And, not surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges for 6th grade teachers is that the kids have no recess and get so antsy in class! Thinking about this problem, I've been working on my pacing and trying to find as many activities that get students up and moving around while learning!  During our last in-service day I had the pleasure (yes, I love the opportunity to learn something new and be a better teacher!) of attending some professional development classes hosted by fellow teachers in the district.  My favorite activity I learned about was something I now call "Famous Mathematicians."  

I pulled up some names and pictures of famous mathematicians and after a few tries was able to figure out how to orient them on the page so they printed and I could fold them not quite in half so there is about 2 inches at the bottom like so:

I made ten and taped them up around the room.  The students can start anywhere in the room.  On their answer page they write the name of where they start.  See blank page below.

 They then flip open the paper and read the questions.  Underneath each row on the answer page there is room for them to show their work.  After they've solved the problem they need to go around the room and look for that answer on a different famous mathematician's paper!  When they find it, they write the name of that person on the answer page where it says To:  ___________.  They then go to the second line and write that same mathematician;s name, solve the problem by showing the work on their page, and go around the room to find the answer on another mathematician's paper.  The last space will take them back to the first name they started with and they are done!   

Sorry, I don't have any student examples at home with me so I just wrote this up quickly so you could get the idea.

The students worked so hard and were so involved.  Even the kids I couldn't pay money to listen to me teach for ten minutes were running around the room excitedly!

I love this activity for so many reasons!

  1. Students can work at their own pace.  More than one group can be at any famous mathematicians page, no problem!
  2. They can not move on until until they understand the questions...they need the right answer and will need to come to teacher for help if they need it!
  3. The students are moving around and active.
  4. Allows for great intervention time with students who need it.
  5. It  allows students to learn a little about famous mathematicians!  I included lots of women...girl power! (I plan on adding more about each person-what they accomplished, fun facts, etc as we do this activity again/I find a few extra minutes in life to flesh it out!)
  6. It is east to grade!  Pick any name to start with and make sure students find that name on their page.  Ask them from ________ to?  Have the class respond.  2 minutes at the end of class you that's it! Such a breeze!

If you want to give it a go download this EDITABLE FREEBIE by clicking on the image below at it will redirect you to my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  If you are more spacial then I am feel free to add to them by typing up questions and answers, but I just hand-wrote them because I did not have an extra half an hour to figure out how to make them copy double sided correctly!  And this way, if you have a blank copy you can add questions for many different concepts...not just the ratio conversions and percent we were practicing this day!  

She is right-side up here, but the files pull up with the famous mathematicians upside-down so they will fold properly!

  • After explaining the activity I let kids start anywhere they wanted (in groups) and had them all write down their starting place.  Then I had them solve their problem as a group.  I held everyone at their starting point until everyone gave me the thumbs up they were ready to switch.  I had everyone switch at once, find their new station (for lack of a better word), and had them write down the 'to' part and their new 'from' part.  This will just be necessary the first time as the kids caught on no problem after that!
  • I only gave one group a recording paper but made them switch 'recorders' at each new station ensuring every group member was staying active and involved in the solving...I also only had to print about 30 papers instead of 95 :)  

Friday, October 9, 2015

How to Store Materials in a Middle School Classroom

First of all, let me just say that it is hard for me to adjust to calling JR. HIGH Middle School...but when in Rome!

After finish our first module on math fluency, it was time to bust out the calculators for my 6th graders! I spent a week frustratingly passing out calculators and collecting them at the end of class-being sure to count them all while the kids impatiently waited to be dismissed.  Then I rolled out my new interactive notebooks the next week and I knew I would not be able to pass out and collect all the scissors and glue bottles on a daily basis.  I spent the weekend thinking about how to store interactive notebook supplies in a middle school classroom with individual chairs and no desks to place caddies!  Out of necessity arose this:

The prettiest solution?  Not so much! But it's SUPER effective and cut my transition time down to mere seconds!  My wonderful fiance purchased these for under a dollar a piece at the Home Depot, a student helped secure them to the desks for me, and my 'pods' of three had everything they need right there at their desks, off the floor, and available in under 5 seconds.  It's given me so much instructional time back!

Happy teaching!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Getting Students Excited About STEM Careers

I am now several weeks into teaching 6th grade math!  I came into the school year a few weeks late and I feel like I haven't stopped running around frantically, but it has been worth every exhausting second!  One of my big focuses this year in math is WHY?  Ms. McNichols, WHY do we have to learn this?  I try to put every math term and equation into a real-life scenario for the students.  For example:  Why learn about greatest common factors (GCF) and least common multiples (LCM)?  So you don't end up like this guy!

However, beyond the every day examples, I want to start getting students excited about using math as a career and following a passion into a STEM  (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) career.  Enter my STEM board!

I found these educational posters at my local teacher supply store and decided to make them into one of my classroom themes. Every month I will focus on a new STEM career and try to incorporate a different project that directly relates to this career.  This month we started with Aerospace Engineers.  I simply searched Aerospace Engineers in google images and chose some visually stimulating photographs to peak my students' curiosity!  AND it just so happens that I know a couple fellas who used to work at NASA, so we are going to have a video conference with one of them at the end of the month to get the students excited about all the places math can take to the moon and beyond ;)

Stay tuned to see what we focus on next month :)

Happy teaching y'all!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

How to Get a Teaching Job from Substitute Teaching

Being a substitute teacher is hard work!  My fiance and I relocated to Knoxville just days before teachers here went back to school. Unfortunately, that means I was several months late for the education hiring season!  To be honest, I was slightly devastated that I wouldn't have my own classroom, but I was determined to make the most of the situation by substitute teaching!

Getting a teaching job a big district can often require getting a foot in the door somewhere.  For this reason I knew I would have to sub for the year, even though I could have made more money and had less stress if I pursued a different job for the year. I wanted to go into hiring season for the next school year knowing my way around town, having inside details on all the schools, and confident that I would land any job I wanted because of my hard-work, passion, and professionalism.

After just 2 1/2 weeks of subbing, I'm happy to report that I was offered a full-time teaching position at a school I had been subbing at!  So if you're like me, making the most out of subbing but wanting it to turn into something more, do this:

1.  Have business cards!  You can get business cards so cheaply nowadays... you must do it! Not only does handing out a business card set you apart professionally, it provides a direct line of communication between the school and yourself.

I opted for the more expensive back on my cards because I wanted to show my love, respect, and passion for education!

2.  Create materials and/or blog!  Last year I put my first item up on TeachersPayTeachers and was surprised by the positive feedback I received and how much additional income it provided.  This is a great option to do while substitute teaching on days off/downtime when you would otherwise be planning! Additionally, blogging is a great way to channel your love and passion for education.  I followed these pursuits for my own passions and reasons, but it was a great resource to put on my business cards and another way to represent myself to future employers.

3.  Meet the principal!  Often times when you arrive or leave the school the principal will be in the office. Take the opportunity to say hello, state why you are in the building, and compliment the school/students/staff that have helped you during the day. (The key is to be genuine though!) Send a short follow up email thanking them for the hospitality of the school.  Studies show that reaching out once more after an initial meeting will solidify the memory of you in that person's head. All email addresses should be available on the school's website! Remember there will be hundreds of subs in and out of the schools during the year, you want to set yourself apart.  I subbed in a school the first week of school and LOVED the school community.  I was fortunate enough to meet the principal on my first visit.  When I got home and was talking about what an amazing day I had and how much I loved the school, my fiance encouraged me to send a brief thank you/nice to meet you email.  I even received a lovely response back from the principal! Days later I was called (directly, thanks to my business cards!) to sub there again for a whole week for a vacant math position.  I never considered teaching 6th grade math, but after working with the amazing students and knowing how incredible the staff was, I knew it would be a great fit for me and I had to go after the position.  Fortunately, they thought I would be a perfect fit too!

4. Treat every day as an interview!  Being a substitute can be hard work and if you treat every single day as interview, it can be a lot more work!  Making sure you're dressed in business professional attire and hair done professionally adds time to your morning, but you only have one chance to make a first impression! You are being interviewed by the schools to see if they would call you again to sub, but it's so much more important if you want to get a job there the following year. If your hope is to sub for a year and then find a position in one of those schools the following year, it is also important to know you are interviewing the schools!  You have a unique opportunity to learn about how the school works, the staff happiness, and whether or not you could be happy there.  Take advantage of it, because those are things you can't learn about a school sitting in an interview! You have an opportunity to only go after jobs at schools you know you can make a happy home in for years to come.

5.  Be positive.  Every one has tough days.  Sometimes people need to vent.  However, if someone at a school starts to vent to you about the school, the other staff, the profession, the admin, the students etc., be a supportive listener but DO NOT partake in the venting!  Not only does this keep you out of schoolhouse drama, but it's so important on a personal level.  If you look for the bad, you will find it!  But if you look for the good, you will find that instead!  And everybody (okay, almost everybody) wants to work with positive, uplifting people.

These are the rules I lived by and after 2 1/2 weeks I landed a DREAM job!  I wish you all the luck and happiness in your teaching adventures.  Happy teaching :)

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Tips for Substitute Teaching: Part 2!

Here in Knoxville we have just finished the 3rd week of school!  It's been a whirlwind! I have learned so much and along the way and I've come up with a few more Tips for Substitute Teaching!  (See my previous list of tips here.)

1.  Have business cards!  You can get business cards so cheaply nowadays...and you must do it! Having business cards will ASSUREDLY improve your livelihood. Not only does it set you apart professionally, it provides a direct line of communication between the school and yourself.  After just a few days of subbing I was being referred for positions and receiving calls directly from the school to take a position instead of being called for/searching through random available positions. If you love the school and want to sub there again, leave a business card with the sub coordinator, with your notes to the classroom teacher you subbed for, any other teachers you meet or compliment your subbing skills, and the principal if you get a chance to meet her or him. 

I purchased mine through Vistaprint with a pre-designed template.

I splurged for a back (albiet b&w).  I wanted to show my passion for education!

2.  Utilize on-line resources!  More often than not, I walked into classrooms with no lesson plans.  If this happens to you, don't let the class devolve into chaos!  Come up with a plan by searching the web.  Pinterest is a MUST-HAVE for teachers.  A quick search of grade level and subject will give you hundreds of ideas!  Also check out TeachersPayTeachers! Enter any subject into the search bar and then you can filter responses on the left-hand part of the screen for grade level and price...there are plenty of FREE resources!  If there are no sub plans the school should be happy to make copies for you!

3.  Dress business professional.  This is particularly important while substitute teaching in Jr. High and High School.  Dress professionally and you will be taken more seriously and given more respect.  Take yourself seriously and the students will follow suit! This will also set you apart in the eyes of administrators and get you more jobs. Caveat...I wear business professional with tennis shoes because being on my feet all day for years has given me planter fasciitis and you need to...  

4.  Circle the room like a vulture.  Constant movement around the room will keep the students on their toes and on task.  Linger next to the student(s) that are goofing off and they will be instantly calmer.  Another great option is to use those goofy students (I do love me a class clown! As long as there is no disrespect...) as your helper.  They want attention so give them positive attention and a place to channel their energy.  

5.  Reflect.  Before I started subbing I knew there were going to be some tough days and I would need to figure out what I could learn from these tough days in order to be a better teacher. For this reason, I made sure to have a dedicated reflection journal ready to go and with me at all times! Before, during, and after my sub jobs I reflected habitually. Don't just run out of the building after a tough day and never think about it again!  Reflect and think about what you would do differently next time.  When next time rolls around you WILL have a better day.  This journal is also a great place to write down the names of all the teachers and staff that you meet for when you come back to that school next time!  

6. Don't complain.  There are going to be tough days.  Even if you've had a nightmare day, DON'T take to social media to vent your frustrations. DON'T partake in complaining about the students even if it's another teacher who started the conversation!  And DON'T spend all night complaining to those around you.  If you can't help but do one or all of the above, DON'T take a job at that school again!  It's not worth your frustration and will not help you get more jobs if you are miserable and have nothing nice to say about the experience. Staying positive will help you prepare for whatever comes next.  You can do it!

7.  Keep an excel sheets of your jobs.  Accounting departments make mistakes.  Make sure you keep track of the days you work, where you work, and the pay for that day so that you have all the info you need to make sure your paychecks are coming out correctly!

Well, I had plans to make lots of installments of my tips for subbing, but this will be my last blog on the topic because one of my subbing positions turned into a full time teaching position!  Check out my blog on How To Get a Teaching Job from Subbing next!

Happy teaching :)  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Reason We Teach

I was sitting here enjoying a beautiful (okay, another rainy!) morning, a nice strong cup of coffee, and seeing what the internet has to offer when I came across this wonderful TED talk.  It is short, but worth the nearly 8 minutes of your day to feel impassioned about what we do and why we do it: in order to educate, we must form relationships.

Those of us who teach don't do it to merely disseminate information.  We do it to transform lives (including our own!)  This is a great reminder of why we work well beyond that final dismissal bell and pour ourselves into our classrooms and our students.  We're not simply there to make sure the students learn x, y, and z.  It's about teaching them what to do with that information...setting them on a path that will take them to some expected and many unexpected places.  There is so much more I love about this TED talk, but I'll leave it at that and let you enjoy it already :)

Click on the picture above to be rerouted to the webpage with this wonderful Ted talk!

Happy teaching y'all!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Labor Day Bundle!

Labor Day!  While I know many teachers will just be gearing up to start school again after Labor Day (I’m looking at you friends and colleagues in Chicago!), many of us have already been back to school for weeks!   

Typically, especially as time marches out, Labor Day is thought to be just another day off of work and school.  My goal for this year is to create meaningful classroom materials for these holidays that might otherwise be overlooked or brushed aside.

A lot of the materials floating around the internet in regards to Labor Day is very much aimed at Jr. High (or Middle School if you prefer...the kids around here in Knoxville look at me like I'm crazy when I say Jr. High!) students and beyond.  I wanted to create something accessible and appropriate for the early grades that would resonate and impress upon students the importance of Labor Day and why it should matter to them!

I came up with this fun interactive book that focuses on what Labor Day is, dictionary skills, and text features such as bold words and a glossary.  The book is intended to be colored in, drawn in, and written in.  I have found that allowing young students this opportunity to interact with the material that they are supposed to be learning from increases their engagement and understanding.  I also chose to focus on things that need repetitive reinforcement for mastery in the classroom such as dictionary skills and text features. Also included is a vocabulary activity to draw upon those text features and help students synthesize the information they just learned! Check it out in my TpT store  by clicking here or clicking on the pictures below!

Next is my favorite part of the bundle!  I must admit that having worked with 3rd graders for the first time last year, I came to realize that I have not been teaching writing using best practices!  When my 3rd graders took the standardized state test writing portion, they were given several pieces of information (written essays, etc.) and then asked to answer a prompt using the information they just read!  I absolutely LOVED this format…only I hadn’t once exposed them to this unfamiliar way of doing things.  I felt terrible and spent the rest of the year (albeit short) doing as many writing activities in this manner as possible. (Check out my kiddos’ favorite, our Who Would Win writing activity!) 

Now whenever I create a writing prompt, I do so using the aforementioned format to prepare students for what writing assignments will be like all the way through college! (I see what you did there college and career readiness standards...)  For Labor Day I have created one essay for the students to read and 3 different prompts that can be used with it.  Use 1, 2, or all 3! The essay delves into the laws and protections that have been afforded to laborers as well as a little on child labor (meant to resonate with the young students and have them think globally!) The informative prompt asks students to tell about three laws that now exist to help protect workers, the persuasive asks students why child labor should not be allowed, and the creative asks students to imagine what it would be like to be a child laborer and how they would feel.

The last page includes and extension activity to support an organization aimed at stopping child labor around the world.  Volunteerism can be a great way to unite a classroom and teach students about the importance of community and what people can accomplish when they work together!  Choosing one cause to focus on all year is a great way to teach kids about follow through as well as allow ample learning opportunities and opportunities to see their effort grow into tangible results! The fact that it is focused on children should heighten your students' interest and empathy. Hope you all enjoy the back to school season and the first day off from school to celebrate all the hard work you do ;)

Happy teaching y’all!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Tips for Substitutes

Having arrived in Knoxville just a week or two before school started and still waiting on my TN teaching license (deep breathes, count to ten, jump through hoops..), I have forged ahead with my plan to substitute this year!  The school system I’m subbing in has a great website that lists all available jobs on-line which allows for the ability to be selective about only taking certified teaching positions and most importantly the ability to plan ahead instead of taking a call at 5:30 in the morning to work that same day!  

After obsessively refreshing the website at all hours of the day and night, I’m happy to report that I have taken a job every single day that I have been able to work!  The very first job I took was for the second day of school in a Jr. High! I'm not going to lie, as an early elementary school teacher I have always thought that teaching Jr. High seemed slightly terrifying (yes, I said it!).  As it turns out, I have absolutely LOVED the opportunity to get to work with Jr. High students! Who knew?!  (Note to self: TEACHING Jr. High is not the same as BEING in Jr. High!)

Aside from expanding my horizons in the vast world of education, I have also loved getting to be in so many different schools and learning from each and every one.  Every school operates differently and I have been trying to glean as many best practices as I can!  Exactly one week into this subbing gig, I have learned a few things to expect/be prepared for:

  •         No lesson plans!  Being a teacher and having years of experience (and Pinterest boards full of fun activities) has given me a leg up on this one!  Rest assured, I am brainstorming some little-to-no material activities to get me through those surprise days with no sub plans.  (Check back soon for what I come up with!)
  •          Breaking the Ice.  Maybe it’s just because it’s the beginning of the year and I’ve been in mostly Jr. High classes, but I’ve enjoyed doing ice breakers just to put the kids at ease and help class flow smoothly!  2 Truths and a Lie has been my go-to thus far.  
  •       Downtime! Sometimes while subbing you find yourself with downtime-sometimes quite a bit of downtime!  What I wouldn’t have given in the past while working at new charter schools with not much infrastructure to have all the great planning time that a big district offers their teachers! After offering to help with anything in the front office during these planning periods, I have enjoyed a little time to myself that I probably wouldn’t make for myself otherwise! I always have a book to relax with or my computer to work on creating fun Teachers Pay Teachers goodies!

The year is off to a great start and looking forward to all this year will bring into my life! Hope you all are enjoying back to school season as well!

Happy teaching y'all!

**UPDATE!  That first day of subbing at a Jr. High that thrilled me so actually led to me being offered a job there a mere 2 and a half weeks later!**

Monday, August 3, 2015

Back to School Freebie! Holiday Calendar 2015-2016!

Happy first day of school to so many hard-working teachers out there! Lots of love to all my amazing friends and colleagues who have just about survived the first day of school! Remember to run to Teachers pay Teachers August 3-August 5 for the beginning of the year sale!  20% is a great way to start the year!

Since moving to Knoxville and waiting for my TN teaching license I am LOVING having all the time teachers wish we had to create meaningful materials for the classroom.  One goal I have this year is to create great holiday resources for the classroom and easy month-long bundles for easy planning.

In doing my holiday research I created a little calendar I thought that y'all (totally loving the south!) might want in order to keep on top of the holidays throughout the year.  No more holidays sneaking up on me!  Hope you find this a helpful addition to your teacher binder!

Remember to check back to the blog and my TpT Store regularly to see the great holiday resources I'll be whipping up for early-mid elementary. If you want anything specific...any grade level...I'd love to make it for you. Just leave a comment and we'll be in contact :)

Enjoy this FREEBIE by clicking either picture below.

Happy teaching y'all!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Beginning of the Year

What a fun and hectic time for all those teachers out there getting ready to welcome students back to the first day of school!  I suppose some might call the preparation period before the kids arrive more hectic than fun...but what I wouldn't give for that kind of hecticness right now!

My life has been a different kind of hectic lately. The packing, driving across country, and unpacking kind of crazy! I have just moved to beautiful Knoxville, Tennessee with my amazing fiance!

The Dotmobile getting ready to be towed across county!

Unfortunately due to the timing of our move and an unfortunate incident with a Praxis score that was too old to be used, I wasn't able to get my TN license in time to get a full-time teaching job this year.
So instead of texting all my teacher friends and living vicariously through them I've decided to put my energy towards ramping up my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  (Okay, after some texting!)

I had big plans for creating a zillion resources for TpT over the summer!  And while I didn't get to everything (see: packing, driving across the country, and unpacking!), I got some products up that I really love!

The first is a standards based grade book complete with a standards organizer and intervention tracker.  I used something like this last year in a basic form.  It was hand created with lots of scribbled in lines and notes!  So over the summer I decided to create this dream for my teacher binder. With this you can track when you first teach a standard, when you assess, when you reteach and most importantly students who need further intervention in that standard.Everything in one place!  Hallelujah!  All of that is then complimented with fun, yet simple Standards-Based Grade Book! Click on any picture below to go check it out in my store!

The next has been a labor of love!  2 assessments for every single CCSS 2nd grade math standard!  After all my Child Study and IEP meetings this year (with one of the most amazing teams!) I learned one thing: never walk into a room to discuss a student without data!  One of the most important lessons I learned was the importance of tracking a student's rate of learning.  For this reason I have found it invaluable to give pre- and post-assessments in order to track how and if a student is learning the material.  These assessments also feature handy "I can..." statements for students, easy grading for teachers, a good range of open-ended questions to get at student thinking mixed with multiple choice questions to prepare them for standardized tests (yes in 2nd grade!) and an adorable student self-assessment to gauge their confidence.  Click on any picture below to go check them out in my store!


And who can start a year off without assessing where incoming students are?  For this I created this beginning of the year packet for those brand new 3rd graders! These pages are based on 2nd grade standards so a teacher can assess any gaps students are coming in with to best meet them where they are and fill those gaps in for the most productive 3rd grade year possible!  35 pages of fun writing, reading (phonics, alphabetization, etc.), and math pages are included! Click the picture below to check it out in my store.

And last but not least, I posted a fun reading log Freebie that was a big hit with my kiddos last year.  Yes, you read that correctly.  A FUN reading log!  I struggled so much last year with getting my kids to read at home and having parent support.  I believe reading at home through the young years to be THE KEY to future success.  I don't need the kiddos writing an essay or identifying vocabulary words at home (happy to do that in class!), I just need them reading.  One of my kids was taking karate so the karate themed reading log was born!  Hope you enjoy!

Happy teaching y'all!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Who Would Win Research and Writing Project

After those wonderful and amazing state standardized tests I sat down and did some thinking! The writing was just so different from what my kids had ever seen. Before the test, we pushed writing hard focusing on the writing process, the 7 good traits of writing, conventions, topic sentences and conclusions.  However, it just wasn't enough! The MERIT test here in Arizona had the kiddos read two passages and using that information answer a persuasive writing prompt.  Talk about stepping it up!  And I like stepping it up, so it was turn to up my game.  I started to think about what we could do for the remainder of the year to mimic this process demonstrated on the test and set my kids on the path to success.

And then it came to me: Who Would Win? If you haven't heard of the Who Would Win? book series and you work with early-to-middle-elementary school students drop everything and check them out! ( These great HIGH INTEREST non-fiction books choose two animals and pit them against each other in a book to see who would win in a fight. Along the way students learn all sorts of great science!  

My kids go nuts over these books in my classroom library.  So I raced home to do some research and write up to two passages about different animals. The idea was to have the students read the passages and use the information they found to write a persuasive essay about Who Would Win?!  But then I thought, why would I do all the research?  Doing research projects is part of the standards and a great way to incorporate technology into the curriculum as well as give the kids some control over the material they/re learning.   So instead, I went to the library and picked any book about vicious/fun looking animals and brought them into the classroom the next day and let my kids go to town.  What a great scene to see kids eagerly searching through NON FICTION books and loving learning!  Here are the basic steps of what followed:

  1. Choose Animals. After looking through the books and getting some ideas, students choose the two animals to pit against each other. Once they have teacher approval...
  2. Pre-Write. Begin research on each animal ranging from scientific names to ways they protect themselves. Library books were the primary source to begin with and then we moved to the internet focusing on googling search skills (my how times have changed!). Once they feel they have sufficient information they teacher looks over it and a) suggests more info they might need or b) gives approval for the...
  3. Draft!  Fold up some pieces of paper hamburger-style, staple the edges and have students use a Who Would Win? book from the classroom library to mimic the format.  As kids began drafting you could have heard a pin drop!  This allowed me time to help the kids who were struggling with completing their research.  Once done partner kids up to...
  4. Peer Revise and Edit.  Once peer editing is completed come see the teacher for further aid in revising and editing and then...
  5. Publish!  I created lined paper on white paper with a space to draw a picture on each page and included a black piece of card stock as a cover.   We folded it up and we had some great looking books! 
  6. Persuasive Essay. This was the goal of the project! When students completed their publish they then wrote a persuasive essay about who would win and why!  
  7. Author's Chair.  We had a session where students could read their Who Would Win? books to the class and field the many adoring questions from the audience!

Kids finished each step at very different times, those who finished early with the whole process (before Author's Chair) were able to chose a research project of their own to create any book they wanted. Some kids did another Who Would Win but some people chose to research people. 

This project had to be the highlight of they year in writing. I was able to reach EVERY student and see measurable growth...and they didn't even know I was trying to help them on standardized testing next year ;)

Happy teaching!!! 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Organizing Lessons and Handouts with CCSS

I'll tell you what I tell my students: organization is not my forte!  Which means I have to put in a little extra effort to stay organized!  Last year I taught at a school with almost NO curriculum.  Talk about late nights scouring TpT, Pinterest, and creating materials. This led to ever-accumulating piles of paper! Over Spring Break I finally decided to tackle the papers strewn in every corner of my car...and my home! And this is what I came up with:

I tried to be cute at first with nice, pretty binders.  However, my 2nd grade math exploded into a bigger 3" binder and all I could come up with was black.  To be honest, I might have to split that up into two before the year is out!

The key to this system is that everything is filed by standard!  I will walk you through my math binder to get an idea.  I started by typing up all the standards for quick referencing.  I can't help it, I wanted it to be a little cute :) 

Then I tabbed every individual standard.

After that I invested in plenty of sheet protectors and started filing!

Now this year I had everything I needed for teaching right at my fingertips!  Every time I use something in class...or can't resist downloading the TpT freebie...I throw it in my "To File" pile.

I have it on my weekly to-do list to file every Friday after school. However, it might only happen once every couple of weeks.  Don't judge...I teach two grade levels which means twice the lessons and twice the handouts!  But I know I'll be set for years in the future.  Hopefully you find a filing method that works for you because teaching is hard enough without recreating the wheel every year!  

Happy filing and happy teaching! 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Behavior Modification

Behavior Modification.  Big words to tackle a big problem!  How can we as teachers change a behavior that has been years in the making? How do we help our students succeed? Obviously we try to implement best practices in our teaching and classroom management. But what about those kids who just can't seem to get it together? The kids who can not manage to do a stitch of homework, who write two sentences in an hour writing lesson, who are bullying or having trouble with their recess behavior, those with ADD or ADHD who don't complete classwork, or kids who talk out of turn? Obviously whole-class classroom management tools aim to help these behaviors.  Perhaps you use a classic clip chart in your classroom.

Image result for clip chart

Perhaps you've embraced ClassDojo in your classroom. (See my previous blog on this wonderful resource here.) 

Image result for class dojo

 But when that is not enough, I recommend an individual behavior modification chart. This simple tool has been embraced both in and out of the classroom.  There are many different versions, but the goal is the same: externally motivate a child positively in order to change a certain behavior.  Provide a chart of some sort to track the new positive behavior you are seeking and reward the child when they exhibit that behavior with the promise of a big reward when the chart is complete. This successfully combines both short-tern and long-term motivation factors to keep kids motivated through one lesson, one day, and beyond!

 A special note about rewards:  It is important to let the kids choose what they are working for because they will work harder for something they want and have chosen!  In the classroom it can be having lunch with the teacher, a no homework pass, a prize from the prize bin, extra computer time, a piece of candy, etc.  If coordinating with parents at home, the prizes can be bigger and more varied: dad and daughter 'date' night (great for kids with one or more siblings), dinner out, movie night, a trip to an amusement park, etc. Many teachers still rely heavily on punishment. Punishing bad behavior with detention, time-outs, stern talking, clip downs, etc.  While it is very important that students understand that there are consequences for their actions, including negative consequence, it is important to realize that by giving attention to the negative behavior we are often strengthening that behavior.  Whenever possible I try to focus on positively incentivizing the behaviors I want to see instead of punishing and drawing attention to the behavior I want to abolish.

 One example of how I have used behavior modification charts is to target bullying. I have a student this year who came in and was bullying kids throughout the building.  Obviously this is a very big deal and has been addressed with administrators and parents.  However, the biggest factor in changing this student's behavior, a learned and practiced behavior by 3rd grade, was putting him on a behavior modification chart.  Every time he 'used his words and actions to make people feel good' I had him add to his chart.  When the chart was filled up I allowed him to choose his prize: a piece of candy, extra computer time, be the 1st grade helper, tablet time, prize from the prize bin, etc.

A completed chart from one of my students!

Another common use for behavior modification charts in my class is helping kids complete classwork and do so independently.  (A challenge for many of my ADD and ADHD kiddos!) To target these behaviors I give a student a behavior chart and write in 'complete classwork' or 'complete classwork independently' for their goal. Every time a student achieves that goal, they can fill in their behavior chart.  The progress we have made this year has been astounding using these simple charts!  Often times with ADHD kids, I have to change the behavior chart every week or two so they get bored with them.  For this reason I have created a new set that can be found at my Teachers Pay Teachers store here, or click on the image below.

Behavior Modification / Sticker Chart

 Also take a look at my editable free choice board here, or click on the image below, that I often use in conjunction with behavior modification charts so the kids are working towards different rewards each new chart!

Editable Free Choice Board