WONDER: Visualizing Strategy

Thursday, October 13, 2016
As students start reading chapter books, using the visualizing strategy becomes more and more important! Students need to be able to see in their minds what the author is trying to portray. I did a quick visualizing lesson with my students using Wonder, which might be my absolute FAVORITE book ever!
The part of the book we focused on is from Via's point of view. In her section, she gives a detailed description of what Auggie looks like. The chapter is titled "August Through the Peephole".
 I started by explaining what visualizing was to the students. By 5th grade, they should know this strategy well, so this portion was quick. I told them as I read to visualize what Auggie looks like in their minds. Next, I told them that I would reread the same pages, but this time they would be drawing that picture on a blank paper.
Students did a really great job with this task. They were able to take what was in their mind and put it down on paper like their picture books do. 
How do you teach visualizing strategies to upper elementary kiddos?

Introducing My Classroom Library

Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Classroom libraries can be tough to manage! Tons of books, tons of bins and so often I have to go back and reorganize the chaos! I started introducing my classroom library thoroughly at the beginning of the year so students could get a strong handle on what what types of texts were in the library, how to organize the books and how to choose just right books for them.

I start the year by only revealing a small portion of my classroom library.

During my reader's workshop mini lesson, I introduce the bins on the shelf that are uncovered. We discuss the different types of books in each bin and I pull out a couple of high interest texts from each to get students excited.

I then give each pair of students a stack of books - 1-2 books from each bin (I prep this ahead of time). Students have to look at the books with their partner and sort them by deciding which bin they would go into. The students must then come to me and give an explanation as to why they would belong in that bin before putting them away appropriately.

Once students are finished sorting, I give them a few minutes to choose books for their book box. Students then go right into independent reading practice!

Introducing my classroom library generally takes 3-4 days at the start of the school year. I go back occasionally throughout the year to reteach how to use the classroom library and show students when I've added new books - then the students can choose which bin it will go in. I also often get books that can go in more than one bin. (Example: Jackie Robinson biography can go into People and Places or American History.) Students get to decide!

How do you introduce your students to the classroom library?


Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Graduation was a hit! My classroom was packed full of parents, smiles, enthusiasm and positivity! I cannot believe how fast this year flew by.

I started off graduation by giving students fun awards that described their personalities. I would give little hints about who would get each award and the students would guess! This part was so much fun! The kids were laughing, as were the parents! I found these AMAZING awards with a ton of variety from Teaching with a Mountain View on TpT. Find the awards HERE.

After the awards, I made sure to get my principal in to say a few words. She read an excerpt from a book and talked with my students about how proud we all are of them.

I also made a slideshow of the students throughout the year. I made it about 12 minutes long and put 3 songs to the background (Good Feeling, Say Hey (I Love You) and Can't Stop the Feeling). So many parents asked for the copy afterward!

To wrap everything up, I let the students and parents mingle by enjoying the ice cream sundae bar and taking pictures to the backdrop shown below. These kiddos will graduate high school in 2023, so that's what I put on the backdrop.

I also put out graduation hats that I had from high school and college if the students wanted to use them.

Graduation was a success! I am so proud of these kiddos and all the growth they have made this year. I am confident they will do some amazing things once they get to middle school next year.

Year 6 of teaching is a wrap!

Getting Started with Genius Hour

Sunday, June 5, 2016
The idea of Genius Hour...amazing. Getting started with Genius Hour...a bit daunting.

Here is a sneak peek at how I got my students engaged in what would be an incredible learning experience with high engagement and a liiiittttllle bit of teacher exhaustion :) (Well worth it!)
Here is the lowdown of the steps we took. You can find the pack in my TpT shop HERE.
I started by showing students possible ideas for Genius Hour. There are A TON of ideas on Pinterest and Google. I also have a blog post you can check out HERE to show you 10 ideas we created in our classroom.

Then I had my students start with our Genius Hour Booklet. It begins by students expressing their interests and brainstorming what could potentially be their project.

Our next step was to narrow down our brainstorming by giving 3 solid ideas on what their project could be. They chose one of those ideas and created their Genius Hour Proposal to make sure it was a realistic classroom project.

Once the proposal was approved, students got to work researching and creating. Each day they would reflect on their learning.

After the project was complete, I had my students present their project to the class. They had to complete an end of project reflection that you can find HERE.

Finally, to wrap up Genius Hour, my students wrote a persuasive piece arguing why Genius Hour was or was not a good idea for the classroom.

Dive into Genius Hour! It is an incredible opportunity to explore their interests and almost tricking them into reading, writing, speaking and listening skills! Use this resource HERE in my TpT shop to get you started!

10 Genius Hour Projects

Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Genius Hour was such a hit in the classroom! Student engagement was at an all-time high! The only problem - getting my students started! I had to get them to wrap their heads around what they COULD do, not had to do - a very tricky concept for some students. Here are a couple ideas to help you and your students get started!
1. Give students the opportunity to create a craft! Two of my students took this route and I already had the materials in my closet!
2. Let students cook a meal! I brought a crockpot into the classroom and we all got a taste it was delicious! I had another student back a Giant Reese's Peanut Butter Cup!
3. Another student put together a gum ball machine. It was tricky, but he worked it out!
4. A student went down to the workroom with our amazing para and learned how to use the binding machine. (I don't even know how to use it!) She had a great time and showed us all how to use it after she was finished.
5. Two students worked together to create a character from their favorite video game. They have been carrying it around ever since!
6. A student built a volcano! She spent so much time on it and after she was finished, we went outside to watch it erupt!
7. A girl in my classroom taught herself how to fold origami. All the kids were hooked and wanted her to teach them.
8. A boy in my classroom loves to build things. Here he built a boat that would float when placed in water.
9. Puppies! How could I say no?!? This kiddo brought in his new puppy and wrote up a whole presentation about how to take care of his puppy.
10. Another student built a sculpture of a character he enjoys. He spent so much time perfecting the details!
Each of these ideas were student led and we asked for resources around the building to help them! I hope these ideas help you and your students get started!

Check out my Genius Hour product HERE to get you started! The blog post describing it all is HERE! :)

10 Classroom Management Strategies

Thursday, May 5, 2016
1. Structure and Organization
A classroom that is organized, de-cluttered, and labeled makes for happy students. Students are able to find materials quickly, they know where to go for information and with less clutter comes less distractions. Structure is also key - a classroom schedule and calendar is great for students to know what to expect throughout the day. Stick to that schedule as much as possible. Of course, things come up, but set them up for success by communicating any changes in schedule or change in routine.

2. High Expectations
Challenge your students! Be sure to model those expectations and practice! Students need to know what those expectations sound like, feel like and look like before they're able to follow through with them. Same goes for lessons - be sure to model!!!

3. Be Consistent
Be sure procedures, routines, expectations and consequences remain constant. If you find something that doesn't work for your students, then of course, change it, but be sure to stay consistent with your high expectations mentioned previously! Wavering in those expectations means they can get away with a lot more.

4. Hold Them Accountable
Don't allow for opt out situations. During lessons, pick popsicle sticks for students to answer, have students turn and talk with THINKING PARTNERS or give choral responses (all students must respond before moving on) to give students several opportunities for buying in. Make sure they don't have the option for opting out of a lesson, discussion or project because you're prepared with multiple opportunities for them and they know your expectations.

5. Follow Through
Empty threats are the worst for students. If you threaten to call their mom and they don't turn it around, DEFINITELY call. If you ask them to turn their body to face their partner, make sure they are doing just that. If you ask them to complete a task before moving on, come back to be sure it is happening. If you tell them something will happen, then follow through. When students know they got away without follow through, behaviors don't change.

6. Be Firm, Direct and Explicit
Battling it out with students, power struggles, and yelling do not work. During a misbehavior, be very specific about what you expect, be firm and to the point then move on. Dwelling on a misbehavior, ridiculing students and getting cranky with them can ruin a relationship and make a student more reluctant to change.

7. Know Your Students and Build Relationships
Figure out what makes your kids tick, what gets them excited, what irritates or frustrates them. Ask them about their weekend or remember special dates. Listen to them and connect with them on things that are important to them. Also, know that what works for one student in terms of classroom management may not work for the other. What you might be able to say to one student might not affect the next student at all.

8. Pick Your Battles
Not every little thing that drives you crazy as a teacher needs to be addressed. When a misbehavior is disrupting the entire class, then yes it needs to be addressed. Some misbehaviors are not intentional on their part, so a quiet reminder or quick discussion often works. Also, be absolutely sure of what you are redirecting. They are innocent until proven guilty. You must have clear evidence of what you are redirecting before doing so, otherwise it will cause more issues and throw a wrench in your relationship with that student.

9. Be Subtle
Redirections can happen in subtle ways. One thing I often do during a whole group discussion is say something like, "Jasmin, can you hold your thought to share with the group? I want to make sure everyone is giving you respect and following expected behavior." Using this strategy doesn't directly call a student out for poor behavior and generally sends a clue to the whole group. I also give praise to students who are following expected behavior. "Donte, you look like you're ready to learn and be a leader in the classroom." This gives other students a model of how they should be acting and they generally follow.

10. Respectful Talk
Encourage respectful talk in the classroom. Model it for them and practice it with them each day. Have students practice respectful and encouraging talk to each other and to you. Going back to #1, they need to know the expectation that disrespectful talk and remarks are not acceptable in your classroom.

Hope these tips are helpful for you!

Adding and Subtracting Fractions

Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Alright, so let's talk adding and subtracting fractions! It can get really difficult, so here is a quick way I give students a conceptual understanding of the concept!
First, I gave each student 5 strips of paper - multiple colors to make it more fun, but all the same size. Then I let them work with the strips to create equal parts. We started with 1/2, 1/4/, 1/8, 1/3, 1/6 - all in that order. Through this, students practice how to break apart a whole. The thirds and sixths can get tricky and it really challenges some of them!
We partitioned the strips and labeled the parts. This gave students more of an understanding of taking the whole and partitioning it into parts.
Next, we started working with addition problems using the strips to help us along the way! I would give them an addition problem: 9/6 + 3/6 + 1/6. My students would grab their sixth strips since that is the common denominator. Students would them count out 13 parts of the sixths. There were 5 unused, so we covered those up with red markers.
After seeing the answer represented by the strips, they were able to give their mixed number answer by seeing the 2 wholes and 1/6 left!
This strategy can easily be used for subtracting fractions as well! Several students can easily follow a procedure for this concept, but I think giving students the hands-on materials that they made really help solidify their thinking. What ways do you teach adding and subtracting fractions?

FREEBIE: Motivational Posters

Thursday, March 17, 2016
A friend of mine showed me these amazing quotes related to growth mindset, so I made a set for both of our classrooms!

Get these posters for FREE!!!

Why do we READ?

Friday, March 4, 2016
It's THAT time of year! Cabin fever is at an all-time high, we're waiting for the snow to melt and my kiddos are CHECKING OUT!

What is my solution???? I want to make sure my students continue to understand the importance of why we're all here! So, in the spirit of Read Across America, I wanted to give my students purpose to stick with their reading. First, I created a list of reasons why we read. I was about to create the anchor chart when I decided to leave it blank and have my students share their ideas. Then I combined our answers to create one strong anchor chart!

It's now hanging on our wall to be referenced every day. I was super impressed with the answers they came up with! Giving students a purpose for what they're doing really helps!

10 Ways Your Students Can Make Teaching Easier

Monday, February 22, 2016
We all know how crazy busy teaching can be! The list can go on an on of things that need to be done (and on and on and on...). We need to prioritize. Our energy should be going into creating amazing lessons and building relationships with students, not sharpening pencils and making sure the classroom library is in tip-top shape (Is that just me? Because it's one of my pet peeves as a teacher when it's a hot mess in that corner.)

Here are a few ways I use help from my students so those things can get done and I can focus my energy on their learning!
Change the Daily Schedule
Print off your lesson plan template with the subjects and times. Give it to your students and let them go nuts. Have them write the date on the board and any announcements - the handwriting doesn't need to be perfect! It's just going to be erased again anyway.

Run Errands
I don't know about you, but I always have mounds of things that need to be returned, delivered, shared, etc. Let the students take care of those running around tasks because you have more important things to get done during your prep time. Students LOVE the breaks and honestly, some of them may need the break.

The never-ending war of pencils - make your students be in charge of them. I have two buckets of pencils in my classroom: sharp and dull. When the dull pencils get too high, a student will volunteer to bring them to the teacher workroom and sharpen them all in less than 10 minutes. Again, this gives those students a break while making them accountable for taking care of our classroom.

Charging Electronics
I battled this one for awhile! "Mrs. B, my iPad is dead." "Mrs. B, my computer won't turn on." Now I keep those chargers easily accessible and it's up to my students to recognize when an iPad has low battery.

End of the Day Clean Up
We don't leave the classroom until everything is in order! Chairs and stools need to be stacked up, floor cleaned, desks cleared. Makes for a very easy morning and I love to keep our custodians happy!

Clean House
Tables, counters, and desks get sticky, gross, dirty, and just plain disgusting. Pass out a Clorox wipe and give them 5 minutes - they'll go crazy!

There is always a student that wants to stay in at recess and help! Why not let them for a day? When some kiddos just don't want to go outside in 10 degree weather, I let them reorganize the classroom library, put books back in place, make sure the centers are cleaned up or take down old bulletin projects. It makes such a difference!

Returning Books
Piles of books accumulate around the classroom - small group, whole group, library books. Show your students the correct place to return them and you'll never have to return a book on your own again.

Print and Copy
Okay, I don't let my students use the copier, but I do let them pick items up off the printer. I also have an amazing office staff that will make copies for me if I send a kiddo down with the papers.

Answer the Phone
This year, my phone rings off the hook! I have so many kiddos pulled for intervention groups, so I have taught my students how to answer the phone. This way, I'm not getting up from my desk multiple times during small groups or it doesn't interrupt my whole group lesson. If the teacher needs me, they always ask!

Try out some of these tips and if you have more, please share! We have to keep moving without the small things slowing us down!

5 Reasons I DON'T Give Homework

Saturday, January 30, 2016
How do you feel about homework? When I started out teaching, I gave out homework almost every night. Throughout the years, it seemed to be less and less valuable - for my students AND for myself! Here are the reasons why:
1. Workshop Model
I teach using the workshop model. My students have a mini-lesson, guided practice, and time for independent work for math, reading and writing. Students are provided a lot of opportunities to practice skills in small groups and in centers as well. Because of this, they are getting a lot of content in very meaningful settings. I am also there to help and support them through any struggles within the classroom.

2. We Teach Different Than We Were Taught
Think about how we learned different math strategies. They are so different than how we teach. We look at text-dependent questions when teaching reading instruction and several teachers integrate their content. When talking with parents, they get frustrated trying to teach their students using strategies they learned years ago. Students respond, "It's not how my teacher taught me." Yet, they still struggle through homework and no one can help them.

3. Less Grading
We are all SO BUSY all the time! When I did assign homework, it was pushed aside to be graded later. We all know what that huge pile of ungraded papers looks like...not fun. In all honesty, sometimes I wouldn't even waste my time and recycle them since the pile was getting so stacked up and outdated. #realtalk #notproudfoit

4. Is Your Homework Meaningful?
If the homework you assign is meaningful, inquiry based and requires deeper level thinking, then by all means, go for it! So often we give worksheets. Kids won't remember what was on their worksheet years later. Heck, they won't remember a week later. It's a procedure and they just go through the motions. There are few assignments that can be given that are meaningful, plus simple to create/find and easy to grade.

5. Resources For Students
All schools have a different population of students. Even within that population, students have different resources they're accessible to at home. In years past, some of my students have come up to me saying they didn't have their homework finished because they didn't have a writing utensil at home (in these cases, I know it was true). So why would I assign a homework assignment that in theory is amazing, but realistically students can't participate in without appropriate materials?

Here are my thoughts! Don't we want our students creating meaningful connections outside of school, such as free play, interacting with others, enjoying extracurriculars? Let me know what you think!

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