Sunday, July 27, 2014

Smooth Sailing for a New Year

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't slow down summer vacation! This means that ready or not, it's time for me to head back to the classroom, and I'm sure that many of you are also starting to think about going back to school.

One thing that I love about a new school year is that everyone, teachers and students, has a fresh start. I've always loved the promise and potential that comes with a new group of students. I've always felt that it is essential to get the year started on the right foot, so I wanted to share a couple of my strategies for starting the year on a positive note.
I've never been a believer in the "don't smile until November" rule. Personally, I think that one of the very best ways to develop good classroom management is to build strong relationships with your students. I am not saying be buddies with your students. I am saying that it's incredibly important for your students to know that you care about them and truly want them to succeed. Whenever I discover that I'm going to have a very difficult student, I make it my mission to start building a relationship with that student the first day of school. I try to find a way to make that student feel special and appreciated. I want that student to know that I want them in my classroom, and that I know we are going to have an amazing year together. To put it in a nutshell, I get that student on my side as soon as I can.  Yes, we will probably still have bumps in the road, but it is much easier when they want to please you and have a connection with you.

I am so guilty of wanting to jump into academics as soon as I can. It's a new year. I'm full of energy, and I'm ready to hit the ground running. But I shouldn't. Every year I have to force myself to slow down and spend essential time practicing procedures. I definitely recommend determining your procedures before school begins. Have everything written down and accessible to you. I know that it's easy to get into the moment and completely forget about important procedures. It's also important to remember that routines and procedures are not "one and done".  You will need to review, practice, and reinforce these procedures multiple times over the first part of the school year. Even though it feels like it's slowing you down, in the long run it will save you so much headache!
No matter who you're teaching and no matter what demographic you teach, don't be afraid to set the bar high. Believe in your students and convince them that each and everyone can exceed your state expectations. Students often don't believe in themselves, but if you believe in them, they often live up to your expectations. I've found that my students can usually do far more than they ever imagined. This is one of the reasons I love my new 3rd-5th Grade Guided Reading Unit, because I feel that it provides the rigor and high level of expectations that my students need. I love that it can be used with students of any reading level and includes a balance of fiction and nonfiction strategy lessons.
Another strategy I plan to use next year is the use of Brag Tags. I recently discovered Brag Tags, and I just fell in love with them! I'm going to set up a bulletin board and hang my students' Brag Tags on the board. During the year I'll give students tags for attendance, multiplication facts, and behavior. The coolest thing about them is that you can personalize them for your classroom and school. You can even design your own tag! As a class, we'll develop goals and what students must do to earn a Brag Tag. I'll be posting pictures, as soon as I can get in my room! Below are just a tiny sampling of ideas for Brag Tags.



In fact, I'm so excited about these that I'm giving away two $25 gift cards toward purchasing your own Brag Tags. That's not all! My blogging friends in the link up below are also giving away gift cards with a total value of $50 per blog, so be sure to visit their blogs too.

We are also contributing one or two of our best selling Back-to-School products to a Grand Prize Package worth almost $300. I am giving away my Social Studies Interactive Notebook, which is shown below. When you enter to win the gift cards, you are also entering to win the Grand Prize, so even if you're not interested in the tags, be sure to enter for a chance at the grand prize.
Giveaway Rules

  • This giveaway is open to any classroom teachers.
  • Three names will be drawn at this blog: Two winners will each win a $25 gift card for Brag Tags and the third person will be entered in the drawing to win the Grand Prize Package.
  • This giveaway ends on August 2, 2014.
  • Winners will be announced here and notified by email.


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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Vocabulary Freebie

In my 3rd-5th Grade Guided Reading Unit, I have students add words to a vocabulary notebook on a weekly basis. I've used a variety of vocabulary notebooks in the past with too many different formats to count! Since I want the unit to truly includ everything you need, I thought I'd giveaway the vocabulary notebook I'll be using this year. Once again, I'm keeping it simple! With each word, students will add a definition (in their own words), picture, and synonym.



It's on the basic side, but I've learned that if I want to use something all year, I have to be realistic with my goals. I do plan to make front-to-back copies of these notebooks, but I still may have to make two sets for the entire year, because with the units, students will learn about 200 new words. That's a good problem though! That means my students are learning all kinds of new words!  You can click here for a copy!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Data Notebooks

As a teacher there are some things that I'm really proud of, and other areas where I feel like a complete failure. Data notebooks are one of those things where I've failed miserably. I've tried them over and over again, but I've never been able to make the notebooks work for my class. It frustrates me, because deep down I believe that they can be a powerful teaching tool that will help my students monitor their own progress. I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew, so I'm pretty sure that it's my own fault. I've just never been able to keep up with the management end of the process. I felt like I spent waaaaay too much time working in notebooks, and they ended up losing their value for me.

However, I'm not giving up! I'm going to keep tweaking things until I find a system that words for me! This year, I'm making myself slow down and take baby steps.  Rather than having students graph every.single.standard. they are only going to create ONE graph that is organized by math domain. I'm also only going to use ONE class profile sheet that is also organized by domain rather than by individual standard. Please don't interpret this as me saying that it's bad to keep data by standard. I think it's great, and I wish I was organized enough to keep up. I'm just looking for something that I'll actually maintain all year, and not quit in the middle of October.

This is my class profile sheet. I love how simple this is!

I'm going to keep my students' graph in the front of their morning work folder. I chose to store it there, because that's something they keep with them all day. I still haven't decided if I want to use the graph that's organized by pretest and post test or the graph that's organized by pretest, midpoint, and posttest.

This is the graph that organized into pre and post test only.
This is my pre, mid, and post test graph. I went ahead and colored in my wishful thinking data. Yes, the coloring is awful, but all I had at home were my daughter's big, worn-out crayons.

Another thing that always gave me a problem was that my assessments all had different numbers of problems, so it was hard to determine what increments to use on my graphs. Then, I'd have to help all of my students determine how to graph their score when it didn't fall on an exact increment. This year I'm making everything the same. I'm using my Common Core Math Mini Assessments for my data tracking assessments, so I didn't have to create anything new, which is always great news! I did adjust each page to make sure that everything was consistent. I also added a third assessment to each domain, so that I could give a midpoint assessment.

These are examples of the assessments I'll be using. 

For once, I'm actually confident that I'm going to stick with this all year! I liked that this is simplified, and I really think it will go well with my math instruction, because I don't necessarily isolate standards as I teach. Many times I teach multiple standards at the same time, so this may be a more natural assessment for my students. I did write the standard for each question, so if I'm feeling ambitious I can analyze my data at a deeper level.

What are your tricks for staying organized and keeping up when tracking data? I really want to make this work!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Guided Reading

I had great intentions of being a good blogger this summer. I had all of these great ideas that I've yet to write about.  I feel like summer is whizzing by in a complete blur. It may have to do with the fact that I stay on the road during the summer. It's kind of hard to blog without Internet! I promise, I will get better! I already have a couple of posts 90% finished. I just have to take a few pictures to tie it all together.

In the meantime, I did want to share with you a new project that I recently finished. I hate to talk about TpT again, but I wanted you to know about this before school starts back. It's one of those products that I'm incredibly proud of and really think it will be beneficial in almost any classroom.
This 3rd-5th grade guided reading unit  has been a long time coming, because it's taken my years to decide how I wanted to transform my reading instruction. With the shift toward a greater emphasis on informational reading, I no longer felt comfortable teaching an isolated fiction unit and an isolated nonfiction unit. However, that's how I've always taught, and I had the hardest time determining how to integrate fiction and nonfiction. I finally used my own planning advice and broke down the standards with the end in mind. I came to the conclusion that I really needed to have everything taught within five 30-day units, because I'm sure that most of us need to have our students ready for state testing way before the end of the school year. (If I make a sixth unit, it will be for something fun after the test!)

This unit is begins with an overview and a 30-day layout. I always like to have one document that shows the entire unit, because it helps me grasp the big picture a little better. Each unit is broken into six weeks (30 days) worth of lessons. The lessons are written in workshop format with a mini lesson, independent reading time, and closing. They are all detailed, but they are also incredibly flexible and can be used with almost any approach to guided reading. The mentor texts are all suggestions and can be replaced with any book of your choice. There is also an optional printable for each of the lessons. These can be used with the whole group, as a center activity, or in your guided reading groups. It's for whatever works best for you!
Click on the picture below for a copy of the Reading Interest Survey!


This first unit focuses on basic comprehension strategies with fiction and nonfiction text. Some of the strategies/concepts taught are:

  • procedures
  • visualizing
  • making connections
  • asking and answering questions
  • inferring
  • predictions
  • summarizing
In addition to the comprehension lessons, I've also included a fluency passage for each week for students who need a little extra fluency practice.
There are also eight vocabulary words introduced to students each week. Students will complete a graphic organizer for the words and take a vocabulary quiz for each set of words.
I also included a weekly reading choice board that could be used for homework. I think that this will be a fun way to get students thinking about what they're reading! You can click on the choice board for a copy!
If you're interested in see a detailed preview, click here or on the picture below! I sincerely hope you love it!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Math Constructed Response

I feel like thinking about, much less writing about, high stakes tests in the summer is a crime. We teachers shouldn't be thinking about such things. We should be sitting by a beach relaxing! However, I don't know if I can ever really completely put it out of my mind.

Let's backtrack a little......Two years ago my class was somehow selected to pilot the math PARCC assessment. My students took the constructed response portion of the test on a classroom set of laptops. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, and I knew that the test didn't count toward anything, so I gave my students absolutely no preparation for the test. I just told everyone to relax and do their best. Once the test began, I was blown away when I saw the first problem. I had never seen such a difficult and confusing question before. Even as the math teacher, I felt like I would need to sit down with a piece of paper and a pencil to actually solve the problem.  Every problem I saw had several steps, and most of the steps required students to use multiple operations within each step. Within a few minutes of testing, I had several students flat out crying which Broke. My. Heart. I'm a laid back person, but that just about made me lose my mind. I was so upset, because I felt like I had failed my students.

Needless to say, I thought and thought and worried and worried about the test. Why couldn't my students do it? What did I do wrong? What am I going to do if that test actually counts? How will I fix this? You get the picture. After a lot of time and a lot of thought, I came to the conclusion that it wasn't the content in the math that stumped my students. It was the test itself. My students had no clue how to break down a multi-step problem. They could easily solve multi-step word problems, but this was more than that. It was, for lack of a better word, bigger. I ended up making it my mission to learn everything I could about constructed response math problems.

Honestly, there wasn't that much out there, but I did the best I could. Below are some of the books I read that did help me learn more about writing in the content area.
 After a lot of reading and work with my students, I came to the conclusion that there were seven essential students in solving these extended constructed response problems.
I spend a considerable amount of time working on each of these steps with my class. Some of the were fairly easy for my students, and others required a quite a bit of time and practice. I also spent time teaching my students about different types of questions and how to answer each of these questions.

 I also created three different graphic organizers that my students could use to solve these constructed response problems. I really feel like they needed a visual to help them break down the problem into steps. This makes is so much more manageable for students.

I've found that my students need extra scaffolding with this type of problem. I like to start the year with just addition and subtraction two-step problems and then move into all four operations two-step problems. Once they get comfortable with that type of problem, I then move my students into three-step problems with all operations, fractions, geometry, and measurement.

I think the hardest part of the whole process was writing the questions, which is why I've compiled everything into my new Math Constructed Response pack. It has tons of tools for teaching students how to solve extended constructed response math problems. This pack includes posters, bookmarks, graphic organizers, and 30 constructed response questions.






 I organized the questions into six different categories, so you can build upon your students' progress and gradually increase the level of difficulty of the problems. I am so excited to have this pack ready to use at the beginning of the year, because I plan to give my students one problem a week to complete for the duration of the year. I feel like this will be the best way to prepare them for their high stakes test. I certainly learned the hard way that this type of test does take practice!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Fourth of July Sale

Happy Independence Day! Sometimes, when I step back and reflect on our country, I'm just overwhelmed with how blessed we really are! I hope that everyone has a safe and wonderful day!

Since this is one of my favorite days of the year, why not celebrate with a little sale?
I've placed all of my materials on sale from today July 4th through Sunday, July 6th. Here's a little list of the social studies activities you can find!

Government Close Reading
Help your students dig deeper into nonfiction reading with these United States government close reading passages and questions. (Each passage is written on three levels). There are five leveled nonfiction reading passages based on a variety of topics related to U.S. government. There are also three sets of questions for each set of passages.


Weekly Social Studies Review
I am so excited to incorporate these quick reviews into my morning work! These 23 reviews are organized into five sections-one for each day of the week. This will allow students to review a little each day to prevent forgetting previously taught material. There is a large variety of questions: multiple choice, graphic organizers, matching, and more! This would be an amazing review strategy for the CRCT or any state test!




Social Studies Interactive Notebook
There are 60 different activities and topics addressed in this interactive notebook! Each activity includes a photo of the finished product and a student page/template with concise directions. I can't wait to show you my plan for a 3 part notebook for math, science, and social studies! Stay tuned for that blog post! (I'm not making new notebooks-I'm just playing with how to organize them!





Elementary Economics
This is an engaging economics unit that students will love! It is one of my favorite studies topics to teach, because it is so hands-on! There are lots of fun activities, as well as skill building worksheets that your students will love.





American Government Worksheets and Activities
This is one of the first units I ever made, and I have seriously updated it a dozen times! This government unit includes: 
-3 government projects
-9 worksheets, graphic organizers, or sorts
-1 government cubing activity
-3 versions of a government fortune teller/cootie catcher
-1 set of branches of government task cards
-1 government choice board 
-5 writing prompts
-9 vocabulary posters 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Hands-On Math

Anyone who works with me (and hopefully anyone who reads this blog) knows that I'm a math person. I LOVE teaching math! It's by far my favorite subject to teach, which is funny because it's my least favorite subject as a student. As a math teacher, my overall goal is for my instruction to be rigorous, yet fun and student friendly. It's not always easy to find that balance, but I keeping working for it.

Last year, one of my new strategies was to implement math interactive notebooks. I had never created math notebooks before and spent the first half of the year limping through them. In fact, I almost gave it up, because I was really struggling to come up with new ideas for each entry. I can't tell you how excited I was to find Blair Turner's (One Lesson at a Time) Third Grade Common Core Interactive Notebooks. They made life so much easier for me, because she has multiple ideas for every single Common Core Standard. It was such a great find!

     

Of course, I'm always looking for something new, so once I found my rhythm with the interactive math notebooks I started thinking of follow-up activities. After my students complete their INB entry, I usually spend the rest of our math time teaching about that skill or concept. I already have plenty of math performance tasks and skills practice with all of my math units, and I also have several sets of task cards for my math stations. Despite all of those resources, I still want something new-something totally unique and different from what I already use. (Can you tell that I like to have a huge variety of instructional strategies)? After weeks of playing with different ideas, the light finally turned on, and I have all of my snow days to thank. We missed a lot of school last winter, which made me fall way behind. I was pulling my hair out trying to find ways to make up for all of our lost time, because our big test certainly wasn't going to be postponed. I had to find ways to get as much as possible out of what little time I had left.

I created math booklets for the standards I had left to teach. Each booklet contained four hands-on activities and five skills practice pages. The first booklet was for teaching volume, which I blogged about here. My students LOVED it! I still remember many of them saying that it was their favorite math lesson of the year, so naturally I made more. I kept making and using these booklets for the remainder of the year, and they become one of my favorite parts of my instruction. You can also see examples of the place value and rounding,  addition and subtraction, multiplying by multiples of ten, and perimeter with some of my previous blog posts.

To make the booklets, I just print what I need.

Cut them in half. Be sure to leave them stacked-no sorting is necessary!
Staple on the left side.
I'm going to send my booklets off to Best Value Copy to have printed for me. That way if I have a parent volunteer ***please, please, please*** I can have her help me get them ready.

All of the hands-on activities come with a recording sheet, and many of the pages require students to write about how they solved a problem.  The practice sheets are all very engaging and require some real thought. 
 I love the irregular hexagon! I would have never thought of that!

 The way the booklets gives me a lot of flexibility in what manipulatives I can use. I don't need a class set of any of the manipulatives for these activities. I usually just have one or two for each station.
 I can't tell you how much my students loved using Legos as a manipulative!
 Unless foods involved, of course!
 Grid paper is always so useful!


I have to of the booklets for FREE in my TpT Store! Take a look at them, because I think you'll love them!


You can find booklets for all of the remaining standards in my TpT Store. I have also created a bundle of all of the booklets for extra savings!