Thursday, June 15, 2017

Getting Personal

Who doesn't love connecting with other people?  I enjoy hearing about the personal side of the bloggers I follow.  I haven't really shared much in that arena, although I am going to try to do better. One of these days I might even try Facebook or Instagram.  (Whoa!  That makes me get the shakes...)

So here it goes...  Personal stuff...

I really do have a good sense of humor.  But the things I think are really funny are not necessarily appropriate for a teacher blog.  I haven't figured out how to let my humor show in my blog without getting into trouble.  I've been using a really strong filter so far.  😎

We have a lot of "fun" days in our school.  I don't know who enjoys the dressing up more, the teachers or the kids!

I think this was for "Wacky Wednesday."

Ugly Sweater day in December.  I won a prize!
We have a really fun staff.  I love the diversity in ages and personalities.  It keeps things fresh and exciting.
This was a during teacher appreciation week.

Last year, one of our fabulous first grade teachers taught us how to dance to "Thriller."  We performed in the talent show.

I'll share some more stuff in the future.  I just needed to break the ice a bit with "getting personal."  Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Camping Themed Fun and Some Freebies

If you are looking for some camping themed ideas, I've got you  covered!

Each year, in the last few weeks of school, our school has "Camp Read-A-Lot."  We decorate the front entrance, bring in tents and camping supplies, and plan a week of camping themed fun.  I think the teachers love it as much as the kids.  I know I do!

One fun activity we did this year was play the headbands game.  The kids loved it!  We played as a whole class, but you could play in small groups also.

In math, we did some graphing activities based on student choices of tent or camper.  We also voted for our favorite camping food.  Then we did some opinion writing about our choices.

We also made class books with a camping theme.  The kids were very motivated by the topics and wrote some great stories!

On the last day, we had a scavenger hunt with clues that led us around our school.  It ended in the courtyard where we found some fun treats to take home.

Here are some links to my camping themed products on TPT:

Here are some camping freebies for you:

I love our camping themed fun!!  Do you do any fun camping themed activities in your school or classroom?  Please share!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Building Character Schoolwide

How does your school address character education?  In my district, we have a character education committee that plans some of the activities that we do each year.  We also work at the building and classroom levels to incorporate character education into our teaching.

One way our school supports positive behavior and/or good character is by using "Character Rocks." The rocks are small flat stones that can be purchased at craft stores.  Each teacher or staff member has a supply to hand out when they notice students exhibiting great behavior or showing good character. Students can earn these rocks in their own classrooms or anywhere on school grounds.

Each classroom has a container for collecting the rocks.  At the end of each month, the rocks earned by each grade level are collected and counted.  The grade level with the most rocks for the month earns some type of reward.  In the past, it has been things like extra recess, a popsicle, or a "craft day" in the multi-purpose room.

The display that you see above shows each grade level's current count.  There is a key at the bottom of the display that tells that each colored circle stands for 5 rocks.  The star next to second grade indicates that grade earned the most rocks in the previous month.  Although second grade has the star for the month, kindergarten is in the lead for most rocks earned.

I love that our school has a universal way to recognize good character.  The students really take pride in earning "Character Rocks."  I  am not sure who came up with the idea for the display above, but I love it!

How does your school or classroom recognize good character?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Revision Success- Tips to Help Young Writers

Revision can be a difficult process for young writers to grasp.  Though part of the writing process, it's not frequently done with enthusiasm, especially by primary grade writers. It's hard enough for these little darlings to get their thoughts out the first time.  "Now you want me to change or add more?  But I'm done." How can you avoid this frustration and still have kids experience revision?

One key point is to get into the writing BEFORE the student is "finished."  I hate to admit this, but until the last few years, I often conferred with students just at the end of the writing process.  When a student had a completed piece, I would meet with them and offer suggestions.  Now I see the error of my ways! I have learned to confer early in the process and ask questions instead of offer suggestions.

When I am conferring with students, I often ask "What is the one thing you want your readers to remember after hearing your story?  What sort of sums it all up?'  If you are teaching with the traits, they already know about having one clear message and thinking about their audience and purpose. If they can't really answer those questions, and it's not clear in the piece, I need to ask some more questions to help the writer uncover his or her focus.

I also ask, "Who is this piece for?  Who do you think would want to hear or needs to hear this piece?" I am trying to get the writer to think about the audience.  Considering the audience helps the writer strengthen his or her voice in the piece.  Connecting with the reader is an important goal for the author.

Here's an example that recently occurred in my second grade class.  While conferring with a writer, I noticed her piece seemed to lack a clear message.  It appeared to be a list of things she did in the day. (I call these "list" writings.  Others call them "bed to bed" stories.)  She wrote "First I do ….., then I do…after that I do…."  It was not a very captivating story to say the least.  I was wondering where she was headed with this piece.

At first, I didn't think she had any real message in mind while she was writing.  I think of these stories like diary entries.  This is usually what I tell the kids too. Sometimes I write things like that in my diary because I want to recall things I did on a certain day.  But those are not stories that anyone other than me would want to read.  It doesn't mean I can't write them. I just don't expect to share them.

One of the things she told me was that the writing was for other kids to learn.  As I  talked to her, I got the feeling that she had something else in mind when writing her piece.  When I  started asking more direct questions, she revealed that the heart of her piece was  really a lesson.  She wanted other kids to know that they should get their work done before playing.  The lesson was "Put first things first" so to speak.  She had not yet mentioned that anywhere in her piece though.  Through questioning, we were able to uncover her one clear main idea.

We talked about what she could do to make her message more clear.  She was very motivated to go back and add some new details to her piece.  She really just adjusted her beginning to include a few more direct statements.  These adjustments also made it easier for her to end the piece.  She now knew what her concluding statement should be. It made a HUGE difference in the quality of her writing.  She was so proud to share and to explain how she had revised her work.

By conferring with her while she was still drafting, she was much more willing to revise.  Revision does not only come at the end!  Asking questions helped her to reflect on her piece and find places where changes would improve her message.

Do you have any tips for revision?  What questions do you ask writers?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Poetry Packs a Powerful Punch!

April is National Poetry Month!  Although we will do some special poetry related activities during the month, we also enjoy poetry throughout the year.

We start every day with a poem displayed on the Smart Board.  It's there from the moment the students walk in.  I keep the same poem up for one week as we use it for repeated readings, phonics, and vocabulary work.

I like using poems in this way for several reasons.  First, kids like them!  They are short and often funny.  Even reluctant readers enjoy reading these poems.  They feel a sense of accomplishment when they are able to read an entire piece independently from start to finish.  It's a great way to build fluency skills as we read and reread every day.  It only takes a few minutes at the beginning of our day.

After announcements are finished, we read the poem together one time as a class.  This choral reading supports everyone, even those who may find the reading challenging at first.  Next, I choose 1 person to read it alone.  This is always voluntary.  We often talk about expression, rate, and attending to punctuation in the poem as we read.

Each day I pick one small area to focus on.  For example, we might look for certain "hunks and chunks"or spelling patterns.  We will underline them and discuss what we see.  We also might choose 1-2 words as vocabulary development.  Poetry provides a rich resource for interesting words.

The whole process takes about 5 minutes out of our day but provides many opportunities for learning.  In addition to seeing the poems on the Smart Board, I have each poem printed and bound into a book for the students.  They keep them in their book boxes and use them during Daily 5.  Again, it's a great way to develop fluency skills, and it's fun!

How do you use poetry in your class?  I would love to hear more ideas!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Positive Parent Partnerships

We all dread having to make a phone call to a parent that is NOT so positive.  It's a reality that every teacher faces from time to time.  You can increase the odds that you will get parental support by taking a few steps throughout the year to build a positive relationship with your parent partners.

One of the first things I do at the beginning of the year is invite parents to write a letter to me about their child. Some parents send a handwritten or typed letter.  Others send an e-mail.  I ask the parents to share any special information they think I might want to know about their child.  What are their child's likes, dislikes, strengths, and challenges?   Have they had any special trips or experiences that are unique?  I ask parents to tell me what their goals are for their child and what they expect from me. Parents often enjoy writing about their kids and they appreciate the opportunity to have a voice.  I explain that this information helps me to get to know my students personally but also gives me ideas to help the students with writing topics in the future.  I keep these letters to refer to throughout the year.  When a child is stuck and can't think of anything to write about, I have some ideas to help.  I try to follow up  with a personal e-mail to the parents.  I let them know I received the letter and also mention something interesting that was shared.  Again, parents appreciate being heard.  The personal response lets them know you are listening.  It doesn't take that long to send a quick e-mail.  Since most of these letters come in rather staggered the first couple of weeks of school, I only have to respond to a few each evening.

Another way to build positive relationships with families is to send postcards.  I make address labels at the beginning of the year for each student.  Then I attach one label to a postcard.  I use the cards to send a quick positive note home.  You can thank a child for being a great leader in class, for sharing their writing ideas, for doing well on a math test…  There are so many opportunities to use these cards. The students LOVE getting mail and the parents appreciate the positive communication.

Although the next idea takes some planning, it's worth it.  Each month I host one parent or family meeting in the evening.  The topics cover a wide range of things from daily routines and class expectations at the beginning of the year to a family science night later in the year.  Here's a list of the topics and meetings I host each year.
parent night list
Although it does take some time to plan and organize each meeting, once I have the structure and idea, I can use the same material each year.  It's much easier to implement when I have thought out what I want to do and say.

Here are links to some resources I use for family math night and family science night.

Give parents an inside look at your teaching methods with apps like Educreations.  I have created numerous short videos that explain what we are working on in math and how parents can help at home.  I know there are other apps and programs available as well.  Again, there is some work to do up front but once these videos are created, you can use them from year to year.

Our math series provides school to home connection letters for each chapter.  I make sure and utilize these so that parents stay informed.  I created similar letters for some of our language arts standards. This is another way that I keep parents informed.

Most teachers send a monthly newsletter and/or weekly update about what is happening at school and in the classroom.  These should be foundational things that take place in every classroom.  As a parent myself, I always appreciated getting communication from my son's teachers.

I think the key to positive parent partnerships is frequent and consistent communication.  When parents feel supported and informed, they are more likely to be receptive to communication from you that might not be so positive.  The bottom line is to follow "The Golden Rule" with parents.  Treat them as you, as a parent, would want to be treated.

How do you build positive parent partnerships?  What tips can you share?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Second Grade Science Day

What do you do the day before spring break?  Have a science day!  Let's face it.  The day before spring break everyone is ready for a break.  My second grade colleagues and I decided that we would try this out and it was awesome!

There are 5 second grade teachers in my building.  We each planned a fun science activity that would take about 45 minutes to complete.  The activities we picked were ones that focused on second grade science standards.  In my class, the students made marshmallow shooters as we learned about force and motion.

The students came in this morning to the tune of Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me with Science." For morning work, they used their iPads to draw a scientist on Doodle Buddy.  They were so excited!

We spent the whole day doing fun activities that met our science standards.  The students rotated from room to room while the teachers stayed in their own rooms.  When we did have a little down time, we watched a Bill Nye video on inventions.
That's me on the right and one of my colleagues on the left.
I enjoyed working with all of the second grade classes.  Plus, it was kind of nice to get a break from my own "little darlings."  You know what I mean??  I have empathy for my coworkers and they have empathy for me!  Anyhoo, the whole day was a blast.  We want to do it again next year!

Do you do anything fun on the last day before spring break?  What kind of "special days" do you do at your school?