Saturday, June 30, 2012

Effective Communication Tools for an Interdisciplinary Team

While I know that all grade levels have their intricacies, I find 6th grade to be tricky in the sense that at times the students can seem so very mature and grown-up, yet they are still 6th grade kiddos.  They need reminders, follow-ups, and complete structure and consistency.  To help our students and families get a feel for some of the "ins and outs" or expectations and understandings of the year, I put together this document as a resource for both students and parents. 

There is a whole lot to communicate about our year, and this truly only touches the surface, but still I find it to be a very helpful tool.  It is placed in student planners and in the Parent Folders that go home on Meet the Teacher Night to answer some of the questions parents have about specific things!  Let me know of any tools you utilize that communicate information most effectively that you incorporate in parent folders.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Summer Day in the Life of a 6th Grade Teacher

I spent the first ten or so years of my teaching career trying to convince “those that DO NOT teach” that teachers work their tails off in the summer months to make ends meet-that we are SIMPLY not on vacation. I put in ten solid years of teaching summer school, coaching varsity athletics, working at Pottery Barn, tutoring, and putting my time and extensive energy into the restaurant industry to SURVIVE.  In fact right out of college, my first salary as a 5th grade teacher in a Catholic school was $16,900. While that was 1998, I gave teaching my all and still had to bartend to pay rent, my car payment, and all that comes with not being in college any longer.

Fast forward to TODAY…one of the best things about being a teacher with a family is that from Memorial Day until around the first week in August the majority of my summer days can be spent enjoying my kiddos and pretty terrific husband. Currently we are fortunate enough for him to have his own internet marketing business and he works from home. Fifteen years into teaching, I have the opportunity to attend summer workshops and professional development, develop units for my students, participate in novel studies, and blog on my own schedule during these rejuvenating summer months, which I find to be pretty AMAZING! However, never does my mind go into “VACATION” mode.

Like the majority of teachers my “teacher mind” is NEVER TURNED OFF! I am ALWAYS thinking about: a book, activity, item needing to be purchased for my incoming students, an update to my classroom, a song for the end of year video, a template I want to use in place of another I didn’t find quite as helpful, how I can improve upon something that I believe needs a little something else, etc.

I know those of you reading this can relate 100%. So while I no longer feel the need to justify what I do during what I like to call my “Summer REJUVENATION”-here is a look into a day in my life…

6:00-6:30AM: wake-up, make a cup of coffee, check/respond to e-mail, and check blog stats, read a few favorite blogs, and maybe take a peek at Pinterest

6:30-7:30AM: Run…I love running! It is a favorite stress reliever and there is nothing better than pounding the pavement first thing. I also love a butt-kicking cross-training class with my friends Maria and Rachel. Often Maria and I catch up for a few minutes about teaching..

7:30-8:30AM: my kiddos wake-up, breakfast, get dressed, figure out the day ahead if there is no football camp, basketball camp, or swimming lesson

8:30-9:30AM: morning playtime, we may read some books, build Lego creations, dress-up, draw some pictures, or JUST PLAY

9:30-12:00: maybe we play outside, go to a park, go to King’s Island or Soak City, visit the Cincinnati Zoo or the Newport Aquarium, the pool, an indoor play place, etc. Snack falls into that timeframe somewhere, too and I NEED a coffee from Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts-venti/x-large and cream!

12:00-1:00PM: lunch time-outside is the best!

1:00-2:00PM: more playtime-grocery store, pet shop, explosions of yelling, chasing, running, whining (not my favorite)

2:00-4:00PM; naptime for my daughter, but not before book time and a few minutes of Food Network-Giada is her favorite…for my son, it is time to do some work. He journals in his Daily Journal about an event of the day, we read his STAR words, go through sight word flash cards, (100 of them), we read 5 books and outside we go so he can play with his friend

4:00-5:00PM: “THE WITCHING HOUR”-I like to call this complaining time. Kids are hungry…

5:00-6:00PM certainly not an hour is spent at the dinner table, but that is the time frame when we cook and eat. Our favorite is eating outside.

6:00-6:30PM: walk to the library for new books

6:30-9:00PM: play outside with our neighbors-bouncehouse, sand or water table, run through the sprinkler, football, basketball, wiffleball, chase, swing, eat ice cream cones, etc

9:00-10:00PM: bathtime, booktime, snack, a show, more books, 5-minutes of Food Network (Chopped or Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives) bed for kiddos

10:00-11:00PM: check and respond to e-mail, check blogs, blurt out any new ideas, read a teacher resource or teaching-related text, jot down some thoughts, and head to bed


Perhaps this is vacation to some, but I find I am a little exhausted at documenting it all. Most importantly, I don’t feel compelled to defend what I do as an educator during my “Summer Rejuvenation” because I know it helps me be my best from mid-August until the next Memorial Day! 

...until then, I'll be eating some popsicles with these handsome guys and running through the sprinkler with these silly chicks...


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Middle Grades Word Work Resource...Check It Out!!

Research shows that “expanded vocabulary and correct spelling allow for more fluent reading and writing thus speeding up the ability to comprehend what is read and get thinking down on the paper.”
- Gail Boushey and Joan Moser~ authors of The Daily 5 and The CAFE

While I implement "Word Work" into my balanced literacy instruction, I am ALWAYS looking for additional ways to enhance my students' understanding of the words surrounding them in literature, in conversation, in song, and in movies.  For the past few days I have been doing some research and work to make a "Word of the Day" word work resource in order to enhance my students' work with words.  The words are for grades 4-8 and include part of speech, definition, and a picture to help students visualize the words in order to enhance their understanding. All classrooms vary in the amount of instructional time that can be dedicated to "Word Work,"  but I see it as an essential tool for effective reading instruction.  Here is a simple tool you can be utilizing with a SMARTboard and a Vocabulary Notebook/Journal for just a few short minutes a day.  Check it out in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.

How will I utilize this in my classroom?
  • Each morning students will come in, get settled, and organize for the day.
  • Students will take out their Vocabulary Journal-a composition notebook with a copy of the Word of the Day Organizer on the inside cover for reference.
  • Students will write the word at the top of the page followed by the part of speech and the definition.
  • Students will also determine if the word has a prefix, suffix, and its root or base.
  • Students can draw their own sketch of the meaning of the word to help them visualize the meaning more concretely, or copy the image provided. 
  • Students will work to develop a sentence using the word correctly.
  • Students will list synonyms or antonyms that they can recall, or utilize a thesaurus.
  • Students will list words that look/sound similar.
  • Students will decide where they may see this word.  Ex. novel, song, nonfiction text.
  • Students that finish, can put their Vocabulary Journal off to the side until quick "Peer Share Minute" at the end of class.
  • At the end of class students can quickly discuss their sentences during "Peer Share Minute" to share their well-written thought or edit their incorrect sentence.
  • After "Peer Share Minute" take two student volunteers to share their sentences by adding them on the Smartboard/MIMIO.
  • This is a student resource that I can check over when I meet with students independently or in small groups, but students can utilize this resource for writing and reading.
The more vocabulary they have in their toolbelts, the better readers, writers, speakers, and thinkers students will be!
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Monday, June 25, 2012

Music in the Classroom...A Classroom Playlist

I teach in a school building that is 101 years old. In addition, it is located on a city block surrounded by busy streets. It reminds me of the poem "Street Music" by Arnold Adoff.  A few times a day we hear the sirens of the police cars and fire trucks wailing, lawn mowers mowing, and of course the screaming students playing soccer on the blacktop right below my third story window during the multiple recess times. While some are able to block out the noises of the day, with windows open due to high heat, I struggle. My solution-I play music.

I LOVE to play music in my classroom! I use Rhapsody,, a subscription music service, is truly a hit with my students. While I mostly play calming music when they work independently or in small groups by Enya or "Nature Songs" as my students endearingly call spa-meditation music, I love to introduce my students to different artists.

I like to generate playlists of songs that I know they might not ever hear if I didn’t play them. I will find videos on You Tube and allow the students to view an artistic interpretation of the song. A few of my favorite artists to consistently play in the classroom are Mat Kearney, John Mayer, and Jack Johnson. With this music service, you can find the songs that will work in your learning environment, create a playlist, and it will play until I make it stop. To drown out the “hard-to-listen-to-noises-while-we-concentrate” here is a sample playlist of fun to listen to songs while we work and take care of 6th grade things:

What You Know-Two Door Cinema Club
Shuffle-Bombay Bicycle Club
Trojans-Atlas Genius
Ships in the Night-Mat Kearney
Closer to Love-Mat Kearney
Count on Me-Mat Kearney
Annie-Mat Kearney
Better Together-Jack Johnson
Sitting, Waiting, Wishing-Jack Johnson
Good People-Jack Johnson
Never Know-Jack Johnson
Flake-Jack Johnson
Bubbletoes-Jack Johnson
Why Georgia-John Mayer
Waiting on the World To Change-John Mayer
Clarity-John Mayer
Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight-Amos Lee

I will play a random “Brain Break” dance song just to get the kids out of their seats and shaking their tails. A few favorites were: Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen and What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction.

Check out this video by Mat Kearney-my students were fascinated...


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Pictures to Videos and the Music to go with...

Starting about now I am already in "full ear to radio mode" listening for potential songs for the end of year video that I LOVE making of all of the pictures I have taken of my 6th graders throughout the course of the year.  My "in your face" photography style begins on day one of the school year and is in full effect until the last week of school.  I am the same way with my own children, of course.  However, there is something about 6th grade that I have to document the growth of the students from beginning to end because the growth is tremendous!  While all pics don't make the video, I utilize them in our weekly newsletter that I create through Smilebox.  If you haven't checked out that site and you are a teacher or parent-YOU MUST! 
Welcome to the Teacher's Toolbox

If you look at the past months of my blog you will see a variety of newsletters, slideshows, and scrapbooks I have created through this awesome site.  If you are a teacher, you can submit an application for Teacher's Toolbox.  Smilebox will give you a one-year subscription for free, although the $40 price is well worth it!  Parents love seeing their kiddos engaged in daily school events, and I love that I have the whole year documented and can share it very easily.  While I don't use this site for my end of year video, it is a hit with parents because I can e-mail them the newsletter or print off copies to share. In addition, parents can print the pictures or share the pictures with others through e-mail or Facebook.    Be sure to check the link above, you will not regret making this site a part of your life.

Here is the list of songs that made the 6th grade video this year:
  • Every Tear is a Waterfall-Coldplay
  • Count on Me-Bruno Mars
  • Shining Star-Dan Zanes
  • Feels So Close-Calvin Harris
  • When We Stand Together-Nickelback
  • Dynamite-Taio Cruz
  • Eyes Open-Taylor Swift
Songs I have used, but try not to repeat because I teach brothers and sisters and I want the video to be unique and focused on that group of students:

  • Everyday-Dave Matthews
  • I Gotta Feeling-Black Eyed Peas
  • Kids Again-Chris Rice
  • Smile, Smile, Smile-Dan Zanes
  • Don't Stop Believin'-The Glee Cast (I know Journey has the original)
  • Better Together-Jack Johnson
  • We are Going to be Friends-Jack Johnson
  • Backyard Super Kid-Justin Roberts
  • Yellow Bus-Justin Roberts
  • Great Big Sun-Justin Roberts
  • Giant-Sized Butterflies Justin Roberts(We have seen him in concert 3 times! He is a great performer.)
  • We Are Okay-Joshua Radin
  • Live Like We're Dying-Kris Allen
  • Did Ya Ever Look So Nice-The Samples
  • Something Good Can Work-Two Door Cinema Club
Here is a printable of all of the songs in case you want to utilize it for your own personal use.

I LOVE to include music from the school year, but sometimes the "appropriate-lyric factor" is tricky.  Let me know of other "picture perfect" songs you find...



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Friday, June 22, 2012

How do we turn this DEPLORABLE story into a TEACHABLE moment?

As a middle grades teacher I find that a HUGE chunk of my day is spent working on community building with my students. Arguments are triggered from an unkind look or passing comment, and the day is unsettled and learning cast aside until we take care of the matter at hand. My 6th grade girls refer to this madness as "DRAMA!" I despise that term, but it is truly fitting. As a reading teacher we read dramas in the literary context, identify the fictional elements, determine the theme, and move on to the next passage or text...kind of like the "DRAMA" that focuses on a problem, a solution, and we hope to learn a lesson, so we don't have to revisit the same unpleasant experience.

I find this story from Greece, New York heartbreaking, but nonetheless, I will be sharing it with my 6th graders. How does something like this happen? My children are three and six years old. In my house we stress manners, thoughtfulness, and kindness. I stress to my husband that our children don't have to be the smartest or most athletic, but they DO need to be the KINDEST, MOST THOUGHTFUL and RESPECTFUL. In my 6th grade classroom, we stress manners, thoughtfulness, and kindness. Where are we falling short in our work as parents and teachers that a human being is exposed to such DISRESPECT, UNKINDNESS, and UNTHOUGHTFULNESS?! While I know every case is not exposed and brought to light like this story, we must view this as a reminder that there is great work to be done, and no one from toddlers on the playground to senior citizens monitoring busses should ever have to endure this abuse.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Looking For Me...novel unit is READY and POSTED!

After a HUGE learning process, I am so excited to say, I have posted my first 2 items to Teachers Pay Teachers!  It was a goal of mine to tackle this task by the end of summer, and procrastination just isn't my thing.  I could really use some feedback from middle grade teachers, so my first 10 followers will have the chance to get a free copy of my common core based unit! Also, please take a look at the product description in my Teachers Pay Teachers store and let me know what you think.  Thanks for inspiring me!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Looking For this great big family-Novel Unit

Despite the fun and adventures of summer, I am thrilled to say that I have just completed my first novel unit that will be for sale on TpT.  What a learning process, but how very exciting?!  I was at the library checking out books with my own kiddos, and this book caught my eye.  What a great read!  In fact so great that I was inspired to take on the task of creating and developing an entire unit.  Please check back in with me as I am going to be giving away a few free 40+ page units to my first followers. Thanks for your support! Please check back in to give me some feedback! 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Teachable Moments...

First let me say, I LOVE Kroger. It is a Cincinnati-based company and I support them whole-heartedly. I am a regular customer, and I will continue to be a regular customer. However, when looking for Father's Day goodies to add to a fun celebration for my husband being an AMAZING dad, I just couldn't pass up this cake. My daughter couldn't take her eyes off all of the frosting, my husband loves cookies, and as a writing teacher, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to buy this cake, take a picture of it, and utilize it in a lesson on grammar.


With vacation travels lying ahead, I plan to try my darndest to find as many examples of incorrect grammar as I can possible find, photograph them, and share them in a lesson on grammar with my students upon returning to school.  Billboards, shop signs, advertisements, and grocery store bakeries are a few places I will focus.   Feel free to grab this image for a lesson of your own. Keep me posted on any "sweet" grammar issues you may find in your quest for teachable moments...


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Monthly Learning Themes in the 6th Grade

I am especially fortunate to work on an awesome interdisciplinary team. While we are each assigned to teach a specific subject area-I work with two teachers that are creative and are ALWAYS thinking of ways to teach our superstar 6th graders. With the integration of Common Core into our instruction-we are working diligently to implement lessons that integrate knowledge and ideas from different mediums to increase student understanding of topics/concepts more effectively. Therefore, we have created our monthly theme focus:
6th Grade Bulldogs
Monthly Team Themes
August/September: Back to School

October: Goal Setting/Teamwork

November/December: Traditions

January/February: In the News

March: Poetry and Prose

April/May: The Future

All learning the students will do will focus upon these themes in each classroom. While we have curriculum calendars in place, I am currently developing book lists to incorporate with my Balanced Literacy instruction in my reading/language arts class. In addition-the students will have 6 different opportunities to work in our school cafeteria in a whole grade-level group setting on projects that are the monthly focus. We tackled three of these whole group activities last year with The Great Pumpkin, Symmetrical Snowflakes, and Toothpick Towers. Our “hamster wheels” are turning and we are in planning mode for the other three learning experiences.
An image of The Great Pumpkin
(estimating, carving, storyteling)


Monday, June 11, 2012

Thanks for an UNFORGETTABLE year!


After having a few weeks to rejuvenate after a very busy, but fun, end of the school year, I just wanted to say thanks to students, parents, and families for such a wonderful year.  I look forward to hearing all of the wonderful stories about the middle school and the successes our students are headed to accomplish!  See you all soon! We will miss this crazy crew!