Sunday, August 16, 2015

Back to School: Engagement

I am linking up again for the final Back to School in a Flash topic from Ramona Recommends, the Not So Wimpy Teacher, and Fancy Free in 4th.  This week it is all about engagement--how to keep the kids motivated and interested in learning.  I think that novelty is so important in this area--especially with 6th graders.  They are usually game for just about anything--as long as their friends don't scoff at it!  And if they think it is a game, they are usually all in.

Last year, I picked a Jumbo Magnetic Spinner Wheel up on Zulily for a bargain.  It took a while to arrive, so we only had it for the last month of school--but the kids loved it.  I think the physical act of being able to spin it themselves and hear the clicks was a big draw.  I think the applications of it are somewhat endless--so I can't wait to introduce it to my new class.  One of its best features is that it has a variety of different laminated faces with different numbers of sections--and you can write on them with dry erase pens.

Another fun way to keep them engaged is to keep them moving.  GoNoodle, Scoot, Math moving chairs, Scavenger Hunts, Gallery Walks.  There are so many different things that you can do to keep them on their toes.  I know that sitting for hours in a workshop is difficult for me--and I have far more patience than an 11 year old.  Being able to get up and move around is beneficial in so many ways--I try to make sure that we move at least once every hour.

Having students work together in partners or groups is an easy way to implement engagement strategies.  There are so many great activities that teachers post on TPT to encourage this--such as the Stick it Together reader response activity from Runde's Room.  Kagan is also a great resource for engagement strategies--one of my favorite is Sage and Scribe. (You can find a simple explanation of it here.)

I truly think that even your most resistant students can't help but learn when they are actively engaged in whatever the subject is and the more entertained they are, the more involved they will be.  A structured, active class is usually a happy, productive one.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Advice for New Teachers Link -Up

Teaching in your own classroom is a great profession--and as much as they try, your college courses aren't able to truly prepare you for it.  This Back to School Link-Up is a great idea because it gives new teachers some invaluable advice and reminds us that we are not alone.

I remember my first day of teaching like it was yesterday.  I was 21 years old, fresh out of college, and had been hired four days before first day of school.  I was in awe of the knowledge of my new teammates and too new to know the right questions to ask.  Luckily, I was armed with a book called "The Keys to the Classroom" that was developed by the New Teacher Project out of my alma mater UCSC.

And then, 20 minutes after school started, one my new 4th graders blurted out "That's jacked up" when I was going over my expectations.  At that point, I don't know who was more terrified--the student who said it or the teacher who had to deal with it or the 28 other students who were waiting to see what was going to happen.  With a deep breath and a prayer, I asked her to step outside and after I got the other kids busy, I was able to talk with her and found out that she was just scared because there were words up in the classroom that she didn't know and she was afraid that it was going to be a bad year.  It was easy to empathize with her.  I was experiencing many of the same emotions.

So my major piece of advice to new teachers is be empathetic.  There is that saying that goes something like "Be kind for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about."  Too often we make assumptions about situations based on our own experiences. My first thought was that little girl was challenging my authority because she wanted to show off in front of her friends.  Turned out that she was just acting out because of her own fears--she actually was a really neat kid with a really horrible background.  By removing her from the spotlight, it allowed her dignity to remain intact, as well as my own.  And the conversation we had was the first step toward developing a relationship that made her school year more successful.

Two things that are indispensable to me are my Mr. Sketch markers and my planbook.  I make a lot of anchor charts for the kids (we used to call them VIP--visual instructional plans!)  Mr. Sketch markers are beautiful, bold colors that rarely run out as you are creating the charts.  Using different colors helps focus students--for example, you might be showing the steps of long division and can use different colors to match the different steps so that it easier for the kids to follow or refer back to at a later time.  Making sure that you start off each week with plans is essential.  It is so easy to lose instructional minutes throughout the day--especially when you are first starting out.  Planning helps to keep you on schedule and focused.   I doubt you will stick to the plans as written, but they will give you a great framework.  This year I am going to attempt to make the jump to an electronic planbook---I don't know if it will take or not, but I figure it might be worth a try.

Lastly three tricks of the trade--wow, there are so many tricks out there.  Before you know it, your bag of tricks will be overflowing and you won't believe there was a time when you didn't use them.

One of the most important things that I have learned throughout the years is that kids respond much better to positive directions instead of negative ones.  Tell them what you want and expect to see instead of what you don't.  Are there some students who are off-task?  Instead of calling them out, try to say "I see 20 students working really hard on learning right now--thank you so much."  I bet the off-task ones will get right to work.  I am not advocating the "Let's be more like Johnny" approach--refer to table groups, or areas of the room, or just say students.  It really is amazing how much most of them will respond to this method of classroom control--and it helps build a really positive classroom environment.

Another trick I have is clean-up at the end of the day.  My 6th graders love to use our clean-up time to stand around and talk--they aren't too keen about picking up after themselves.  However, if I say that I have a "mystery object" and will give a prize (always small) to the person who finds it and either puts it away or throws it away, you would be amazed by how many kids start scurrying around the room desperately trying to be the winner.  When most of the trash is picked up and things are put away, I pick my object--that is the trick part!  (Although most of them never figure that out!)

Finally, a handy trick that I have learned with creating my anchor charts in front of my students is the pencil trick.  Create a chart ahead of time lightly in pencil.  Then, when you are making it with the students as you are providing direct instruction, you just go over the pencil marks with your markers.  Your chart ends up looking pretty good, it helps keep you on track with your lesson, and your kids think you are a superstar as you create the chart with ease!

Hope you have a fabulous year and--when you get a chance to breathe--remember to enjoy it!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Giveaway & BTS in a Flash: Decor

Hi there--

My $20 TPT giveaway ends soon, so if you haven't signed up, click here.

I'm joining the Back to School in a Flash Linky Party that some great bloggers (Ramona Recommends, the Not So Wimpy Teacher, and Fancy Free in 4th) have put together.  This week it is decor and more!  

I use colored pencils a lot in my teaching.  I am not a huge fan of markers because they run out of ink so easily and crayons can be difficult to use due to their thicker I encourage my kids to use colored pencils on a regular basis for their coloring.  I also use them to underline specific things we are looking for in our reading, instead of highlighters (mainly because they are cheaper and you have a greater variety of colors.)  I used to just toss my extra colored pencils in a bin and when my students needed to find a particular color, they went searching.  However that took a lot of class time--waiting for them to root through the container.  A few years ago, I saw a teacher who separated colored pencils by color and then I spotted the pails at Target.  It has been one of the best improvements in my classroom!

Another thing that helps me out a lot in my room is the words that I have hanging from the ceiling.  They are the different verbs for Bloom's Taxonomy and are a great visual reminder for me when I am discussing any subject matter with them.  In the past I would tend to ask questions that were mainly knowledge or comprehension--but now I hit the higher level thinking questions with greater regularity.  In addition, having the those academic words posted is great for the kids to see on a daily basis.  

I can't wait to see what other teachers have posted...there are so many great ideas out there!

Saturday, August 8, 2015


I have been attempting to get my room ready for the new school year and I have come to the realization that I simply have too much stuff.   Education, like fashion,  is cyclical and, if you are in it long enough, you see the things that you did 15 years ago come around again.  There is usually a new name and a small tweak, but the bones are the same.  I was in a meeting at the end of last year and one of our new administrators was talking about using the "gradual release of responsibility instructional model."  Not recognizing the phrase, I googled it as quickly as possible--only to learn that it is essentially just a combination of many excellent teaching methods:  scaffolded instruction, collaboration, Madeline Hunter.  And combining a variety of teaching methods to maximize instruction is something that good teachers do on a daily basis, throughout the day.

When the next new thing comes around, I am reluctant to just toss the old thing out just because it isn't new.  Change in the classroom is good--lessons should be looked at every year to see ways in which they can be improved upon.  Teaching is an art and artists are rarely satisfied with their creations--there are always little tweaks to make it better, a section that just isn't quite right, a desire to make good into great and the great into amazing.  The kids are different too--which means the lessons have to adjusted to meet their needs.  But when it comes to getting rid of manipulatives, books, materials, etc., it can be hard.  Because that manipulative is perfect for teaching adding positive and negative numbers, and that anthology has a fabulous story in it that the kids love to read.  So I save.  And 20 years later, the room is full.

So, I have been making some tough choices and discarding things that I haven't used in 7+ years.  Rather than keep 30 copies of an anthology because it has one great story in it, I have saved one--and I can read the story aloud.  Sets of chapter books that I collected but don't really use because there are not enough days in the school year to have them read all the novels I want them to can be given away to the kids to take home.  Testing materials that practice the old way of testing with the old standards--they can go.

My cabinets have more space now and my new materials---task cards from TPT, new literature books, etc--have a permanent home.  The feeling as I was doing it was bittersweet, but, in the long run, I know it was a good choice.

And now I am going to move on to my closets at home.  :)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

BTS in a Flash: Curriculum Musts and a GIVEAWAY!

Hi there--

I am joining the Back to School in a Flash Link Up from Ramona Recommends, the Not So Wimpy Teacher, and Fancy Free in 4th.  I love curriculum that is specifically designed to teach a particular standard--it just makes so much sense.  Sometimes can be so frustrating to try to figure out how a textbook meets the standard as it claims.  It feels like it is easier to make your own or head over to TPT to find the perfect piece of curriculum.

One product that I created that is a lot of fun for the kids is a decimal operations scavenger hunt.  Scavenger hunts are fun for the kids as they get to be really active while practicing their newly acquired math skills.  I love them as a teacher because they get immediate feedback on their work---if the answer isn't there, a mistake was made.  They are also great because they allow kids to work at their own pace.  And this one's panda theme is just fun!

One product that I purchased last year that I love is the Greek and Latin Root Word Trifolds from Teaching in Room 6.  My students really learned a lot from doing these on a weekly basis.  I love the fact that it includes a review on a weekly basis. The kids really learned a lot of new vocabulary and we incorporated the words into our spelling program as well.  It was a great purchase.

And tomorrow I am buying a few things from Teaching with a Mountain View.  I love her products and so do my kids.  I think that her Back to School Math Project is going to be a great addition to our first week activities.  Plus it will let me immediately see the strengths and weaknesses of my new students--but it will do so in a way that is fun and at a lower stress level than an assessment.

Finally, I am going to try to have a rafflecopter TPT giveaway to celebrate the start of the new school year!   I hope that it works correctly!

a Rafflecopter giveaway