Thursday, July 12, 2018

Setting Your Students Up for Succes Part One

The fourth of July festivities have passed and traditionally have signaled the time for me to start thinking about the upcoming school year. Sigh. It's cool though. Last year my team was sent for training on Universal Design for Learning or UDL, and I'm looking forward to setting up my classroom with new ideas. The best way I can think of to describe the overall concept of this framework is Differentiated Learning on steroids.

  UDL encompasses all of my teaching beliefs. Many of the same strategies and techniques from my ebook, A Common Sense Approach to Differentiation, is embraced in UDL. As well as my premise of my blog name to set up a classroom balanced for all learning styles. However, UDL takes all of this even further in that is a proactive set up that allows all students choices and access to many resources to engage in lessons and show what they know. 

This is post one of my series, Set Your Students up for Success. In order to model the UDL framework in your classroom, it is imperative to get to know your students' motivations and interests. That should be a priority from day one. This year I'm going to stick with tradition but step it up and begin taking notes from the first day of school. I've always had students bring in a "Me Bag" with five items inside that tell about them. I staple a tag with the directions onto a brown lunch bag and give them out at open house the night before school starts. The students share their Me Bags on the first day of school.  Click the picture below to download the Me Bag Tags for free.

This year, I'm pulling out an old teaching tool I used years ago and dusting off the cobwebs.  The Tab Notebook. Below is a picture and video showing how to make this using a regular college ruled notebook and scissors. While the students share their Me Bags, I'll jot down notes about them in this notebook. Each student has their own tab with pages for me to write down things throughout the year. In the past I've also kept this notebook with me during guided reading time. I've found out a lot of information about their interests during this time that was valuable. As I continue my posts in this series, you'll see why it's so important to learn what motivates and interests your students. The next post will be about setting your classroom environment up for success.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

An American Student

Journal Entry One
"This is a lock down" echoed through the sound system today sending my heart into overdrive. My body couldn't help but to react to the words even though my teacher told us we would have the drill today.  Huddled in the dark corner of my classroom, my mind raced with thoughts of what if....  What if it was real this time?  What if a gunman shot through our locked door?  My teacher always places herself between us and the door. What if the gunman shot her? Would I be next?  Relief flooded me when the news of the drill was over and we could go back to our normal day. But what about next time? Will it be a drill or real?  
  I guess this must be normal...right? To worry about these things when I go to school every day? 

                                                              An American Student

"American 15-19 olds are 8200% more likely to die from gun violence than children in any other developed nations."  Dr. Jill Stein

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Creative Christmas Lessons

   Excitement for the holiday ignites the hallways at school. I love this time of the year. Planning lessons around the Christmas theme gives me a much needed spark of creativity. One project we finished up this week was our opinion writing.  After reading the story, Peter Claus and the Naughty List, the children wrote an opinion paragraph stating whether or not Santa should remove Peter from the naughty list.

I designed the templates for their writing based on The Collins Writing model. 

The children created little Santas holding a list with Peter's name and a place to check mark for the naughty list or nice list.  I like that no two Santas look the same. They turned out adorable! 

You can download free winter holiday lesson ideas by The Best of Teacher Entrepreneurs. So many fun ideas! 


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Management Tips for Reading/Writing Workshop

The clock ticks.....70 minutes. 3 Classes. 75 students. I've completed thirty-five minutes of whole group Language Arts instruction with my first third grade class of the day. In order to make the most of my guided reading group time, my reading/writing workshop needs to run like clockwork. After three interruptions in the first five minutes of meeting with my first group, sweat forms on my brow, heat rises up my neck...the clock continues to tick. Each tick a strike of a bass drum in my ear. (I know...tend be a bit dramatic when I write.)

 Aside from the dramatics, the time crunch is very real. I've had to learn to make the most of this time with as little interruptions as possible, along with holding each student accountable for their time.  Here are the tips and tricks I've picked up.

Clear and Posted Expectations 

The expectations need to be clear and concise for your Reading/Writing Workshop. I have a chart displayed that tells what the students' jobs are during this time along with what my job is.  This is something we've practiced since the first week of school so that it is routine. Here is an example of what the chart looks like. 

Use a Timer

As simple as this sounds, it is a must for me. I try to keep my small group meeting time around 13 minutes. To start the week, I meet with my higher leveled groups first. With these groups, I can review the skill or strategy of the week with them, do an example together with the first couple of pages of the leveled reader, and send them on their way to finish up while I call the next group. Sticking to this format allows me more time in the long run for the groups that need more guidance.  By the end of the week, my meeting time with my higher groups is shorter. We meet enough time to make sure they are on track with the skill or strategy and to give them an enrichment assignment if needed. With the extra time, I can add meeting time minutes to the groups that need more. 

Reading Workshop Exit Ticket

 How can I hold seventy-five students accountable for their Read to Self time while I meet with groups? It's nearly impossible to check with each student daily on their self selected reading. I require that the students keep track of the books they read during this time in their book logs. Once a week, they need to pick a book they've read from their log to fill out a Reading Workshop Exit Ticket on.  I randomly choose students to share their exit tickets with the class, so they need to be prepared.  I have exit tickets for both fiction and nonfiction books. You can grab a copy here. 

Book Baskets

Even though the students are told to have enough reading material ready to read the entire time, I've found that it saves interruptions and wasted time to have book baskets ready for each table in case more reading material is needed. Each week I rotate the baskets so that new books are available. I choose high interest books in a variety of reading levels.   Some of the favorites for third grade are the Who Would Win? Books,  Diary of a Wimpy Kid,  Weird School Books,  Superfly name a few. 

I hope you find these tips useful. Feel free to share your own tips in the comments section!

Here are the books mentioned in the post and the baskets I use.


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Off and Running

   The new school year is underway. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may remember that last year I had a big change, teaming with two other teachers. The three way rotation took a bit of getting used to but we made it work. This year I'm still teaming with the same teachers, however I am taking on the Language Arts for all three classes. Yeah....75 third graders for reading with Ohio's Third Grade Guarantee looming over pressure😳Thankfully, my two colleagues are great to work with and we support each other 100%.    Another positive, I love to teach Language Arts, so teaching it three times a day is awesome.

     Something new I found for reading this year are finger lights for the kids to track their reading. The kiddos love them! On Friday, we shut the lights out for Read to Self time and they used their finger lights to read.   Another way I found to use them is to find text evidence in guided reading and shine a light on the evidence. It's a little thing that gets them motivated.      

Sunday, July 23, 2017

It's That Time Again

 I'm basking in the glory of my summer with books and sun. Then....BAM! The first back to school ad hits me out of nowhere. I don't even see coming. When I recover from the shock, I have to face it. It's that time once again.  Slowly, I allow my mind to drift in that direction.

  In anticipation for a new year, I created a Parent Reading Survey to pass out at Open House. Basically, I'm fishing for information on how the parents feel about reading with their child at home. The feedback I get will determine which path I take for required reading at home. You can download a copy of my survey here  if you'd like to give a try.  Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Peculiar Plants

The clouds parted and sunlight shone down on us. Sounds of cheers and songs of joy filled the air. It all happened Friday after the last state test in my classroom was submitted. No more testing the rest of the year!  I might have exaggerated a bit, but it did feel like the clouds were lifted.

  Every year we race to get all of the curriculum taught before state testing. Once it's over, I take a deep breath and always ask the same what?  With a month left of school, and all the state standards taught, there's an opportunity to....should I say it? Let the kids be creative!

One project that allows my kiddos to apply what they've learned while putting their own creative spin to it, is the Peculiar Plant Project.

Here is a list of tasks the students do for the project:

Task 1: Draw a diagram of a plant they designed with the correct anatomy of a real plant with one exception, they create a special element of their plant that no other plant has.

Task 2: Create a life cycle foldable for their plant and explain each stage.

Task 3: Write a paragraph introducing their plant, what's unique about it, where it grows, what it looks like, etc.

Task 4: Design the plant and put everything together on a poster and present their plant to the class.

The kids love this project. It allows them the freedom to utilize their creativity and own interests. I can honestly say there are no two plants alike.  Check them out:

Enjoy your after testing bliss! 


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