Monday, July 25, 2016

New Table for Alternative Seating

Thanks to Tara from 4th Grade Frolics for the  "Monday Made It" link up!  This is my first time trying to join a link up and I'm excited to share what I made.

Don't you love getting something new from something old?  I found a small table at the thrift store for $25, and I had a coupon for $10 off. (Woohoo!)  With a little crafting fun,  I got a new table for my classroom, and it only cost $15.

I have decided to try some alternative seating in my classroom this year.  I have already purchased a few rocking seats and some stadium cushions for my classroom.  I needed a low table for students who want to sit on the floor.

I didn't really want a huge table as I am just dipping my toe in this alternative seating thing.  I want to try it out and see how it goes in my classroom.  I was excited to find this table at the thrift store because it was just the right size… sort of.

"Before" table
It was the right width and length, but it was a bit too high for what I wanted.  So I had my husband cut the legs down to a height that would work for students sitting on the floor.

Table with legs cut

Next, I had to decide what I wanted the finished table to look like.  Since my classroom has a paw print theme, I knew I wanted to have that.  Also, most of the colors in my room are primary colors.  I love chevron and polka dots, so I thought I might want to incorporate those.

I have to be careful not to get over zealous with the painting thing.  I'm like the kid who starts painting, creates a pretty and colorful picture, but finishes with a big black blob because she can't stop painting.  I have a hard time remembering that you can't erase paint!  Anyhoo, I decided to add some chevron and leave the polka dots for another project.

In the end, I'm happy with how the table turned out.  I plan to use some stadium cushions as seating for this table.  I can't wait to put it in my classroom!  I love starting the year with something "new."

Monday, July 18, 2016

5 Fab Finds!

Each year, I love to add something new to my class decor.  I spend so much time in my classroom, I think it should be aesthetically pleasing to me and my students.  Plus, it's just fun to shop!

Look what I found at Five Below!

These are stadium seats that I plan to use as alternative seating.  There were a few colors available.  Since my classroom is mostly primary colors these blue and red work for me.

This is a mirror that I found in the clearance section.  I'm not exactly sure where I will hang it, but it was too cute to pass up.  You might not be able to tell in the picture , but it is about 16 inches tall.

I also got these globe lights.  Again, I'm not sure where they will go…maybe around a bulletin board?

This is a light up chalkboard sign.  I haven't tried writing on it yet.  I'm a little nervous about that.  I have a feeling whatever I write on there will need to stay because it doesn't appear that it will erase easily.  Still, it was one of those cutesie things I just wanted to get.

My last Fab Find is not from Five Below but from a thrift store.  I want to use lamps to light parts of the room this year.  I think the soft lighting has a calming effect in the classroom.  I already have one small table lamp in my room, but I found this one.

I think it will look cute in my classroom!  I have considered painting the shade or maybe just adding some accent ribbon on it.  Maybe I will use some fabric paint pens and write a message on there.

I can't wait to get back to my classroom and start arranging and decorating again!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Teachers Are Students Too!

When you hear "professional development" do you  cringe or smile?  It probably depends on your past experiences, but I would say that I do both.  I absolutely LOVE learning more about teaching and learning.  I have been a teacher for a pretty long time , but I know I still have lots of room for improvement and growth.

The thing that makes me cringe when I hear professional development is when I am mandated to attend a workshop or meeting with no choice and no voice in what I learn.  Even if it's a topic that I like, I am still a bit leery about it.  I know, it's a poor attitude to have.  I also don't care for "sit and get" workshops  that don't stimulate my thinking or at least make me laugh.  I have to have a connection of some sort.  (See how teachers are like students?)

The best professional development is when I get to choose what I learn.  The CHOICE is so important to me (as it is to our students).  I am automatically more invested in the PD because it's an area of interest.  I already have some connection which is what my brain is searching for.

As teachers, we need to be mindful that we are students too.  We should NEVER stop learning and striving to improve.  We can wait until our district tells us that we MUST attend a certain PD or we can pursue our own interests.  Even though I am a technological turtle (I am always the last to learn), I have so many newly acquired skills because of technology and the Internet.  These resources are easily accessible and convenient.

I have recently learned about podcasts.  One of my colleagues had shared an interesting one that she had listened to.  I did not even know what a podcast was!  Now, I can say that I have listened to quite a few.  I take walks with my earbuds and iPhone and I'm exercising and working at the same time!  It really makes the exercise time go faster.

I have been a regular user/visitor of The Teaching Channel.  I love getting to peek into other teachers' classrooms.  There is so much food for thought there.  I am so inspired and motivated after watching these teachers!

I read as many professional books as I can and then I read them again.  It's sinful, as my mother would say, that I have such a huge collection of professional reading.  I look like a hoarder of teaching books. I can't help it…It's a sickness.  Reading these professional books really rejuvenates me during the summer.  It's like getting a shot of adrenaline or something.

One of my favorite ways to grow professionally is to share.  I want to hear other people's ideas and I want to share what I know.  Again, I think of our students.  Don't they seem to thrive in an environment where sharing and collaborating are  common place?  That is why I love to read blogs and ultimately why I wanted to start my own.  I want to connect with like minded educators who are willing to share.

A few years ago, some teachers at my school started a group we call TIPS. TIPS stands for Teachers Inspired by Professional Sharing.  We started this when the Common Core was new to us.  We were also facing great changes in our teacher evaluation system (OTES).  These were some big changes facing us, and we wanted to feel supported and in control of our learning.  It was a time when morale was low and people were a bit uncertain of the future.

We started this group and invited anyone to join us.  Our mission statement is "We are a group of teachers committed to creating and maintaining a positive learning environment.  We strive to implement best practices in teaching so that our students may achieve to the best of their abilities."  The foundation of our group is really to try to visit one another's classrooms and share and learn.  We made an observation form based on the items that were being observed in walk throughs completed by our principals.  But our observations are not in any way evaluations.  We are just colleagues sharing ideas.  We always frame our comments in a positive way.

Observation Form 

Besides visiting each others' classrooms, we meet once a month to not only share notes from observations, but also to exchange ideas.  Our meetings are very structured and productive as we have a few "jobs" to keep us accountable.  There's a timekeeper, a secretary, a happy talker…These "jobs" keep us on task, so we are sure to keep the meeting moving forward and relevant.  We have a meeting agenda too which keeps the focus on the important stuff.
Sharing Form

Basically, the first part of the meeting is devoted to observations.  If you visited another teacher's classroom, you tell what you saw and share any ideas or practices that inspired you.  (Always focus on positive.)

The next part of the meeting is for sharing teaching tips and ideas.  If you found a great website to help students with math, share it.  If you learned a great engagement strategy, share it.  Anything that you think other teachers may want to know, you can share.  Sometimes we have inspirational videos or articles from magazines.  It's a very open forum and a very supportive environment.

The last part of our meeting is devoted to needs.  Maybe you need an idea to help with a challenging student.  Maybe you want someone to observe you and focus on a certain problem or area that you want to improve.  Maybe you feel stuck on a concept that your students are just not getting.  Whatever the need is, the TIPS group can help.  We can do so much when we put our resources and talents together.
Meeting Agenda Form

Our meetings typically lasts for about 45 minutes.  In the beginning, our group was rather small.  But each year, the group seems to grow.  We have started branching out a bit too.  We began putting lesson ideas on a shared drive for our school.  This serves as an idea bank or model for teachers planning lessons for evaluations.

We have also started leading some of our own professional development.  Last year, we had a Daily 5 class that was held throughout the year.  We met once a month (a different time than TIPS meetings). We focused on learning and supporting each other as we implemented The Daily 5.  There were some teachers who had been using D5 for a number of years, and there were some teachers who were just learning.  The key to our growth was that our PD was ongoing.  It wasn't just a "sit and get."  Part of the class requirement was to visit other classrooms and see Daily 5 in action.  I really enjoyed that class and felt like it kept me accountable.

This year, a couple of teachers are leading a class on The Cafe.  I am really looking forward to this as well.  We will meet throughout the year and learn and grow together.  I think this is the best kind of professional development because it comes from us, the teachers.  We CHOOSE what we want to learn and we take ownership of our learning.  The TIPS group and these classes are not things that our principal or district administrators told us we need to do.  These things are FOR teachers BY teachers.

We have a bulletin board in the teacher's lounge where we post the minutes from our last meeting as well as additional observation forms.  The bulletin board also serves to inspire us and give us a place to share.

I'm thrilled to be a student and a teacher.  I love to teach, but I also love to learn.  Just like my students, I am motivated by choice, and I need ongoing professional development.  I might get that from my district, but I prefer to take ownership for my learning by utilizing resources like blogs, podcasts, videos, and teacher groups.

How do you take charge of your professional development?  Can you share a great resource or website?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Our Typical Day in Second Grade

Making the most of every minute in the day is so important!  Out learning time is precious, and we can't get it back if we waste it.  This is why I put a great deal of thought into my schedule and how things will flow throughout the day.

I thought that blogging about it will help me reflect on what I currently do.  Also, maybe someone will have an "aha moment" to share with me.  There's always room for improvement, so I am open to new ideas.

So what does a day in second grade look like?  Here it goes…

Our students begin entering the classroom at 7:25 AM.  (Yup, it's early).  The bell rings to officially begin at 7:45.  As students come in, I always have a poem displayed on the Smart Board.  We call it the poem of the week.  After morning announcements, we read the poem a few times. Sometimes I model it, sometimes we read as a whole class, and sometimes individuals read to the class.  The purpose is to get some fluency practice in and make it fun.  We also use the poem to look for hunks and chunks from The Phonics Dance or root words, prefixes, and suffixes.

Students unpack their things and get iPads.  (Every student has one.)  Our school implements something called "ESpark."  It's an individualized learning program for reading and math.  Each day we focus on either reading or math during this morning time.  Students are working on "quests" that teach them about a concept or skill.  Typically, I am greeting students by the door and/or troubleshooting iPad/ESpark issues.

As soon as the bell rings, we have morning announcements.  Then we read the poem mentioned above.  I take attendance and send it to the office while students are working.  We move to our carpet area around 8:00.

We start out at our whole group meeting area where we identify the Star Student for the day and determine who gets to sit on the bench.  Every morning, I choose one person to be the Start Student based on how well they came into the room and got started on morning activities.  This person gets the privilege of sitting in the Star Student chair, AND they get to pick sticks for who sits on the bench.  (It is such a coveted honor).  Of course, the Star Student also receives a brag tag and sometimes a star sticker or eraser (if I have any).

After taking care of these important duties, we talk about the day's schedule.  I briefly tell the students what we are doing and/or learning during the day.  I let them know of any changes in the normal routine.  I think it's helpful and comforting when they know what to expect in the day.

Then we start with a core lesson for language arts. This is also a time that social studies and science lessons are integrated.  During this whole class lesson, I  usually  teach a reading strategy or skill.  I often read a mentor text and model how to use a certain strategy.  This whole group lesson gives us common language and experiences we need as a foundation for future learning.  I really try to have every student in class for the whole group instruction.  That means nobody leaves for speech, OT, PT, APE, or interventions.  This doesn't always work, but I try to have 30 minutes of "sacred" time in the day.

Following the whole class lesson, we start Daily 5 rounds.  We usually have 3 rounds, each lasting for 20 minutes.  Last year, my grade level started doing flexible guided reading groups.  Because of this, we really have to stick to the schedule.  I have mixed feelings about this time, but I'll save that for another post.  Anyhoo, we meet with students for guided reading while others are completing a Daily 5 choice.

We have a morning recess at 9:30.  It's a good time for a break as both students and teachers need one around now.  We take turns having recess duty.

When we come in after recess we usually have spelling/phonics.  I have mentioned that I use Word Journeys and The Phonics Dance.  While students are working on sorts or other spelling activities, I meet with small groups to focus on their word feature or pattern for the week.  We usually have spelling for about 30 minutes.

Following spelling, we have writer's workshop.  I like to have spelling first and writer's workshop right after that because students who finish with spelling activities know they should just start writing. It's a routine that we establish, and it helps cut down on lost transition time.  Oh, I forgot to mention, before students go to recess, I try to have them put their spelling notebooks on their desks.  This is another way I strive to tighten transitions.  Any time we can be ready for the next subject, we try to be proactive.

I have already shared a lot about writer's workshop, so I won't go into any detail here.  When we finish with writer's workshop, we do math warm-ups.  Math warm-ups are quick practice and/or review problems we do each day.  We have booklets made for each quarter of the school year.  There are 5 problems to do each day, and the days are numbered in the book.  So, on the 6th day of school, we work on lesson 6.  While students are working on math warm-ups, I start sending teams to the restroom to get ready for lunch.  This is one of the few times we take a whole class restroom break.  Even then, it's really not the whole class at one time.  Some students stay in the class and work, while others go to the restroom.  It's pretty easy for me to monitor both groups because the restrooms are right across the hall from me.

We have lunch from 11:15-12:00ish.  (It varies a few minutes each year, depending on how many class we have).  I usually take a few minutes of my lunch time to get ready for the next subject which is math.  If I need any manipulatives, I get them ready. Also, I put the math lesson on the Smart Board.

When we come back to class after lunch, we start with a few minutes of calendar math.  We then have a whole group math lesson followed by small groups.  Overall math time is about an hour.  The last thing in the day is usually specials.  Next year, I will have to adjust a bit because our special time will be earlier.  I'm still thinking about the best way to get everything in, but I am sure I will figure it out.

Do you have any tips for making the most of instructional time?

Monday, July 4, 2016


Do you give students homework?  I am not a big fan of homework overall.  I feel that students already devote 6-7 hours of their day to school.  They need time to be a kid!  For this reason, I RARELY send paper/pencil work like math sheets or other fill in the blank stuff.  I feel that it is more likely busy work and not really helping the student move any closer to understanding the standard.  Not to mention, many students have no support at home and completing paperwork is a source of frustration for them, not a source of learning.

Every year, one of the first things a student (and sometimes a parent) asks is, "When do we get homework?"  It seems that it is a novelty and they WANT to have some homework.  At my open house for parents at the beginning of the year, I always explain my homework philosophy to the parents.  I think the most important activity a child can do at home to support learning is to read.  I talk about reading all of the time!  When parents ask what they can do to help at home, I say READ!  You can read to your child or with your child.  You can listen to them read to you.  All of it is important!

But then I have to explain that reading is thinking.  At first, parents think I just want them to say the words on the page, you know… word calling.  Well, this is not what I am talking about when I say "read."

I give parents all kinds of information about reading strategies and how to engage with the reader.  But the short version of what I tell them to do is:
*Talk about the book before you read.  Talk about what you expect to find out or what questions you have.  You want to have a purpose for reading.
* Stop every couple of pages and retell what has happened so far in the book.  Think some more about questions you might have.  Think, read, talk...
The important part of "reading" is the thinking and the conversation that happens while you read.  Reading without thinking is not reading.

So, the homework that I give my students is centered around reading.  I would love it if every parent read with their child, but I know that is not a reality.  I also know that it is difficult to manage time in the evenings and weekends when you work a full time job,  have children involved in extra curricular activities, and/or have other family obligations.  I am very empathetic to "family" time.  My homework is very flexible and allows for choice.

Basically, I am trying to appease the people who want "homework" but also make the homework meaningful.  I don't send specific books home with students to read.  I tell them that they can read anything they want.  Most of my students have access to books at home in addition to library books from school.  However, if I have a student who may not have lots of reading material at home, I send baggies of books home about every other week.  I make sure they have reading material at their independent reading level.

Students take home the homework sheet on Monday (or the first day of the week) and return it the following Monday.  This gives them a full week to complete it.  I don't tell students they have to do a certain thing on a certain date.  They have some flexibility in completing the assignments.  The stars are for student reflection and accountability.  If a student only does a small portion of their homework, they color in one star.  If they complete each activity and meet their reading goal, it's 2 stars.  If they complete each activity and read MORE than their goal, it's 3 stars.  As a class we strive for 2 and 3 star homework papers.

There are essentially 2 things for the students to complete during the week.  The first one is to study spelling words.  I use the DSA spelling framework from Word Journeys.  The students can study their words as much or as little as they need.  I leave that up to them.  All they have to do is answer that they did study their words.  By the way, we spend some time each day working on our spelling words.  For this reason, most students are able to be successful on their spelling list even if they never study outside of school.  I believe I should be providing the support they need to be successful and not force them to rely on support outside my circle of influence.  I can't be sure that every child will get support at home.  Therefore, I make sure they get the support at school.

Every child sets a goal for reading each week. This, again, is using choice as a motivator.  They choose the total number of minutes per week that they plan to read.  At the beginning of the year, I help with goal setting.  We talk about who likes to read at home and how much.  I explain that to get better at anything, we must practice.  If you want to be a better reader, you will need to read.  There are no shortcuts.  The power to improve is with each person, but it is a choice.  To start with, I tell them to consider how much they like to read at home.  If they say they really don't do it, we start with a smaller goal.   This is fine.  We talk about how we want to set a goal that we can do and work on growing as the year goes on.  I really want each child to feel in charge and comfortable with their "homework."

Some students are already avid readers.  Believe it or not, I sometimes have to tell them to set a LOWER goal.  I love that they want to read, but a kid has to eat and sleep too!

The only other thing on the homework sheet is to write a little something about what they read.  This varies from student to student. Some students write a detailed summary about something they read during the week.  Other students tell their favorite part.  Still others tell about strategies they used while reading.  I really don't care what they choose to tell me.  I just want to be sure that THINKING is going on while reading.  Also, I feel that this homework approach is naturally differentiated.  Students who are capable of reading and writing more will do so.

I collect the homework each week and write a note or two on it.  I want to give some feedback to encourage each reader and nudge them forward.  Sometimes I ask a question and sometimes I just comment on what they did.  Also, we have a class goal for 100% participation each week.  I put a little blurb in my newsletter about our percentage.  I don't give negative consequences for not doing homework.  I just focus on the positive.

For me, giving homework is more about motivating students (and some parents) to read at home.  I know that time spent reading is powerful.  My goal is not necessarily to teach students responsibility, although it is inherently part of "homework."  I feel that I can work on teaching responsibility in the classroom with other choices and natural consequences.

Overall, this system works for me.  I have been using it for a few years now and plan to use it this year as well.  Do you give homework to your students?  What is your philosophy on homework?  I would love to hear your thoughts!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Quick Tips for Word Work

If you have a word work time or spelling time in your day, you may want to try these organizational tips.  They have really helped me in the past few years!
First, this is our Making Words folder.  Once a week I introduce a new "hunk and chunk" (or two) to the whole class.  We practice making words with the hunk and chunk and then make a page for our class book featuring that word part.

I usually have a blank page displayed on the Smart Board.  Students use their letters to make words with the hunk and chunk we are learning.  As they make words and share, I type them on the Smart Board.  Then we print that sheet out and add it to our class book.  The students use the book to help with spelling during writer's workshop.

In the past, each of my students had a baggy with letters in it.  On the back of the letters was a number that identified who the letter belonged to.  I had assigned each of my students a class number, and that was the same number that was on their letters.

This process worked OK, but I was frustrated by 2 things.  First, it took FOREVER for the students to find the letters we were using.   It seems like we spent the whole time searching for an "e" or whatever letter.  Also, we were constantly picking letters up  off of the floor.  Well, that just about drove me NUTS!  It made me dread our word work and spelling time.

I can't remember where this idea originated (I'm sure I borrowed it from someone!), but now our letters are velcroed to file folders.  Each student has his or her own folder.  I tried to put double vowel letters and double some consonants.  I also included some blank cards to make letters with our dry erase markers.

This has saved us lots of class time and it's much less frustrating.  It took awhile to make a class set of these folders, but I had a parent volunteer help with it.  I started by laminating the folders and letter cards.  Then we put velcro on the back of each card.  (I used the sticky dot kind).  I attached the other side to the inside of the folder.  I made a few extra folders in case I get new students.

Another tip that has really been a big help in the classroom, is using facial cleansing cloths for dry erasers.

I bought the facial cleansing cloths at The Dollar Tree.  They were in packages of 4 or 6.  I can't remember. Then I attached one side of a sticky dot piece of velcro to the back of the marker board.  I attached the other side of the sticky dot to the facial cleansing cloth.  Now the kids don't lose their erasers!  It has been so much easier than using old socks as erasers which is what I used to do.

Surprisingly, the velcro has stayed on the cloth and the board without any problems.  I might have had one student whose sticky dot fell off, but it was a rare event.

By the way, the marker boards that you see in the picture are really the shower boards from Lowe's.  I asked a sales person at the store if he could cut the boards.  He knew exactly what I was talking about.  I think he had done this for other teachers as well.  I got about 30 -35 boards for $14.  I added the cute duct tape to the edges.

I hope you find these organizational tips helpful.  If you have a good tip to share, please let me know.  I love finding ways to make my life easier!