Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Weekly Parent Communication Tool...Try Smilebox

Staying in constant communication with families is essential as a teacher.  While phone calls, e-mails, and letters are absolutely necessary-I also think sharing photos of students in action in the classroom and school setting is something that many parents love the opportunity to see.  I find it invaluable as a parent!

My son's kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Bell, introduced me to when she sent a slideshow of her family vacation as a way of introducing herself to her new group of students.  From that first viewing, I was hooked and realized I needed to incorporate this incredible tool into my classroom and blog to enhance my communication with families.  In fact, that is what I have done the last two school years so that my students get to know me a bit better.

If you go back to older posts you will note that I have utilized Smilebox for weekly newsletters and slideshows throughout the course of the school year.  I truly can't say enough about how easy it is to create such unique resources for students and their families.  If you are looking for an easy way to showcase what is happening in your class-try it out.  As a mom and a teacher, I highly recommend it!  

Be sure to check out Mrs. Bell's site
The woman is the most incredible kindergarten teacher, a technology genius, and has ideas that are inspiring to any teacher at any level.  She is a true expert at her craft! 

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Writing, I-Pick Books, and Book Boxes, Oh My!

Three days is not an incredible amount of time, but it was time for my 6th graders to get a solid start to the school year.  With some procedural stuff and lots of paperwork to be organized, those first days can fill up quickly.  I was bound and determined, however, to lay our foundation for the Daily 3 and hit the ground running.

I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am for this school students are enthusiastic, my team is incredible, and our schedule is ideal.  I am a lucky reading/language arts teacher for sure!!

Here is how I began our Daily 3 work this very first week of school...
  • On Wednesday students organized their Reader's/Writer's Notebooks-these are 1-inch binders with a pack of paper and one divider separating the two sections.  I utilized Beth Newingham's Reader's Notebook template, but I can't remember which site/blog I found it.  If you send me an e-mail, I will happily send it to you...
  • Once our binders were ready, we began work as writers.  I wanted students to have the opportunity to open those Writer's Notebooks up to a fresh piece of paper and begin their journey.  I explained that I wanted to get to know each of them a bit better and that presented the perfect prompt for the I-Chart.  Students made a giant I in the center of their paper, and after a few examples, they worked to fill their I with all things about them-athlete, 6th grader, brother, sister, roller coaster rider, cotton candy eater, etc.  

They came up with great descriptors.  This gives them the chance to share, but also brainstorm topics to write about in the future.  I then gave them time to share, which allowed for students to add things to their I-Charts they hadn't thought of.
  • On Thursday we began our narratives about "How I Spent My Summer Vacation."  I read the picture books How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Mark Teague and The Sand Castle Contest by Robert Munsch as mentor texts.  Then we utilized the ABC Brainstorm to generate ideas about things we did over summer vacation as a whole group.  Finally, I asked students to select one event from their brainstorm organizer to write about and begin writing.  Off they went...a few were even willing to share.
How I Spent My Summer Vacation (Dragonfly Books)
 The Sandcastle Contest

My goal for my students this week was to get them thinking like writers.  I stressed that none of the pieces we work on is ever 100% finished and that they will always have the opportunity to go back and include more details, fix organization, add dialogue, etc.  They were especially responsive and excited to write.
    • On Friday we focused on reading!  YAY!  I brought in pairs of shoes-my son's, my daughter's, my husband's, and my beloved running shoes.   I showed them all about "Good Fit" shoes, which led us to "Good Fit" books that we will be filling our book boxes with.  They loved watching me try to squeeze my foot into my daughter's shoes that she wore as a baby.  The little things!  We took a few notes on "I-Pick Books", students decorated their book boxes, and began finding books that they wanted to read based on that criteria.  Check out some of their great designs...

    I leave you with a song I wrote to help my students understand the idea of "I-Pick Books."  The song is called "My Favorite, Maybe" and they are currently memorizing it and preparing to star in their own music video.  As soon as the video is completed, I will post it.  I wrote the song to "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen.  I figured it is a tune every person on the planet knows by now.  If you are looking for some inspiration to help your students learn about "I-Pick Books", feel free to utilize.  I hope they love it as much as my students!  If anything else, they will love to hear you sing-I am certainly not a talented singer, but I have no problem singing and dancing away, if it makes my students excited to read!



    Wednesday, August 22, 2012

    Meet My 6th Graders...and away we go!

    Today was an awesome first day!  My students were eager to start out the school year and seemed to "hit the ground running."  While the first day is always an introduction day-interest inventories were completed, Reader's and Writer's Notebooks were organized, I-Charts sharing personal descriptors were started, and students were active particpants, it doesn't get much better. 

    Here are the students working on I-Charts, interest inventories, and enjoying some much needed run-around-time at recess...
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    I am already excited for what tomorrow will bring.  Tomorrow we begin our work on personal narratives sharing "How We Spent Our Summer Vacation."  I can't wait. 



    Friday, August 17, 2012

    What Does it Mean to be a 6th Grader?

    The start of the school year can be an anxious time for students.  I find as a veteran teacher, I am always a little nervous myself, and I know what to expect.  Usually...

    To help with some of that anxiety my students might be feeling, I thought showing my new 6th graders a slideshow of last year's students in action might ease some of their worries.  I often find that I do my best when I seem to know what is expected of me as well as what I am "in for."

    Along with each familiar face is a caption with some encouragement and thoughtful expectation of what is to come in the 6th grade.  Take a peek, I think it looks like a whole lot of fun lies ahead...

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    Wednesday, August 15, 2012

    Twas the Night Before the First Day of School...CELEBRATE!

    Neighborhood get-togethers are a HUGE part of our life.  We spend a ton of time playing outside in our front yard, which has helped both my children and my husband and I develop some great friendships.

    We gather most frequently in the spring, summer, and fall months.  We never really need a reason to spend time with our neighbors, but we are always delighted when a fun occasion arises.  As a school teacher, I think I am a celebrator by default...

    This is our 2nd Annual Back to School Party!  It is the last night before our kiddos head back to their learning.  We don't do much-pizza, juice pouches, fruit salad, and cookies, but it is a celebration of the year to come.  The trumpets were a cheap, noisy, and fun touch-that is what they are blowing!
    The start of the 2012-2013 school year
    Elliott-2nd grader, Brennan-1st grader, Lilah-Preschool, Emmie-Kindergarten, Andre-2nd grader

    The start of the 2011-2012 school year
    Elliott-1st grader and Brennan-Kindergarten-the other characters just got a fun pizza dinner!
    I feel like I need to celebrate and capture these moments because they seem to come and then head out so quickly.  For that very same reason, I feel that it is such an important job as a teacher to always have the camera ready to capture those exciting moments in the classroom as well because they quickly come and pass too!

    The "big kiddos" will head off to elementary school today.  The "littlest girls" will begin their learning journey again on Monday.  More pictures are to come for sure!  Good luck to all of the moms and dads sending their kiddos off to school in the coming days.  I will be thinking of them all day as I put the finishing touches on my own classroom and get it ready for my students' 6th grade learning journey.  Happy start to the 2012-2013 school year-it is going to be a great one!

    These were a few of the goodies I made for the kiddos...



    Sunday, August 12, 2012

    6th Grade Reading/Language Arts Lesson Plans...What template works for you?

    Today I REALLY feel like I spent far TOO much time trying to re-invent the wheel.  For whatever reason, I got into my mind that my format for lesson plans is insufficient.  That they should look different, be in concise boxes, somehow cuter than what I have utilized for the last 5-10 years.

    Each week in my school building we are asked to submit our lesson plans in order for title staff, intervention specialists, etc. to be able to see the work that is occurring in the general classroom setting, so they are able to support students in the most effective way possible.  Makes sense that if someone working with one of my 6th graders sees my lesson plans, they will know exactly what learning is taking place within my classroom and they can work to meet student needs.

    I have long given up the handwritten model of lesson plans, but I have kept those smudged, penciled-in archives that I struggle to part with at every end of the year "clean out."  I am a "pitcher/thrower-outer" by nature, but something about all of that time and effort forces me to keep them around.  I love to show them to student observers, so they can see what planning looked like before help from Word and the internet.  I laugh at the thought of all of that laborious effort each week. 

    I feel like I scavenged the internet with Google searches and  played around on Microsoft Publisher trying to create the PERFECT template.  Then I realized that just like each entry on my blog, I have far too much I need to get down for the words to fit into a pre-sized box.  Some weeks my plans are 4-5 pages long.  I find that I need to almost narrate what I am going to teach and how I will teach it within my weekly lesson plans, so that I implement my lessons most effectively.

    I have shared my plans for the first three days of the school year.  Keep in mind that after this first week standards will be listed, assessment tools will be shared, reading and writing notebooks will be awaiting student thoughts and notes, and data analysis will be taking place.  All of that essential information will also need to be included into my plans for weekly meetings.  I will get to that before my new plans are due the following Wednesday.

    For now, however, I will accept that the time I spent today was not necessarily wasted, but instead it just reinforced that the template that I have been using for lesson plans is the one that is most fitting for me.  Sometimes it is fun to think about how something can be jazzed up, "cutesified", and re-invigorated, but sometimes it is OK to accept and keep utilizing what is working the best.

    If you have a moment to take from your planning, I would love to hear/see what planning template/strategy works best for you.  Good luck as you embark on your first lesson plans of the school year.

    Pinned Image




    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

    Daily 5 Book Boxes-UUUUUGGGGGHHHHHH!

    A few weeks back I was doing some shopping in our local IKEA. I know, we are incredibly lucky to have that "wonderland" in Cincinnati.  On that furniture shopping extravaganza, I spotted the FLYT Magazine Files that were 5 for $1.99.  Perfect for Daily 5 book boxes.  I even blogged about it...
    My cart was full with a bed for my son, bedding, towels, lamp shades, etc.  I was trying my darndest to include a bookshelf, but darn those things are HEAVY-certainly NO room for 15 packs of magazine files...

    If I could go back in time, I would!  I wish I would've piled those inexpensive files into my cart, dropping them all over the floor as I grunted toward the checkout, but the optimist in me thought, "You will be back soon, pick them up then!"

    So I headed back today with my daughter to return lamp shades that didn't fit.  Just a tip-Ikea lamp shades don't work on Pottery Barn lamp bases.  I was so excited with the thought of picking up some of the last supplies needed to get my classroom up and running, and my students off to an organized start.

    Off we scrambled to the office organization section.  I searched and searched, but only seemed to come across more sturdy files that I would've loved, but were 2 for $4.99.  Definitely not in the budget!  So I stop a most kind employee and ask her where I can find these coveted Flyt Magazine Holders...

    "I am so sorry," she shares, "we are sold out and they are being discontinued."  "I know," she continues as she looks at my deflated face, "you must be a teacher!"  She kindly walked me to her computer to check on one possible last delivery.  Good news for those of you that want to pretend that Sunday morning is Black Friday-an order of 200 will be coming into the Cincinnati store on Saturday night and available for purchase on Sunday morning.  "Get here early!" she kindly reminded.

    I thanked her and went on my way to the register planning my Sunday morning strategy.  Moments later my daughter and I were in the "AS IS" section of the store by the checkout.  It was a bit of a frenzy.  Upon seeing these maniacal people, I saw a sign reading "Wacky Wednesday!"  Apparently this means all items in this section are 1/2 off.  No wonder there was a bit of pushing and shoving...

    To my defeated eyes I spotted 16 Flyt Magazine Files.  While I was ready to go to battle for them, everyone else had their eyes feasted on furniture.  I do need about 45 more, but it was a random bit of luck today.
    Upon returning home I googled Flyt Magazine Files.  I have a long run planned with my running buddy on Sunday, and no time to head back to Ikea.  I found these and ordered two sets to complete my needs for my students...

    These are a bit more pricey, darn you Amazon, but I am ready to have my classroom in order.  If you are looking to tackle this "quasi-deal" on Amazon, get there quickly.  It looks like their supplies are almost gone as well.  My hope is that organizing these book boxes for my students goes more smoothly than the purchasing part.  Good luck with your search for the perfect Daily 5 book boxes.  I will post pictures once they have found eager readers and been filled. 

    Now, off I go to write to the head of the office supply section of Ikea, to beg and plead for these files to somehow be brought back from the discontinued list and back in stores for student book boxes next year.


    Monday, August 6, 2012

    Teaching Summary

    Today was a BIG day at my house!!!

    My husband made a request about two years ago that all kid's shoes in the house need to be velcro because "it makes his life easier."  I get it!  There are moments when we need to get out of the house quickly and tying shoes "tight enough" can be a bit of a pain in the rear.  So until today, I happily honored his request.

    My son is now six and is headed off into first grade next Wednesday.  I was thinking that perhaps I had dropped the ball this summer as a mom, as I sent him back to school in yet another pair of velcro shoes.  You see, teachers make the request also that students wear shoes that they can "fasten" themselves. 

    So at the shoe store today we found some perfect shoes.  Got feet sized, plucked shoes from the box, placed them on feet, and raced around the store to test them out.  The only problem, the shoes with velcro, "didn't fit tightly enough" or "were just too big."  Oh dear!

    So my son and I made a pact-today would be the day we would pick out the perfect pair of lace-only shoes, we would go home, and learn how to tie them.

    Here is how it went--and here is how I will utilize this exciting experience with my students-TEACHING SUMMARY!  I utilize the summary strategy:
    • Somebody
    • Wanted
    • But
    • So
    • Then
    Wanted-new shoes with laces
    But-he had to learn how to tie them himself

    So-he learned to tie them correctly

    Then-he got to wear his new shoes.

    After my students are able to come up with the somebody, wanted, but, so, then-I have them take their organizer and turn it into paragraph form. The final summary paragraph should look something like this:

    Brennan wanted new shoes with laces, but he had to learn how to tie them himself.  So he learned to tie them correctly.  Then he got to wear his new shoes.

    I am a bit of a stickler on my students being able to summarize.  I am excited to share this exciting experience with them in order to teach, review, integrate this essential reading skill.  I always find that when I attach personal stories to my teaching, students remember so much better!  Connections are HUGE!

    Here is an organizer that can be utilized with students for a summary mini-lesson...