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5 Things All Teachers Should Do Before Going Home

One of the worst feelings as a teacher is that feeling of being unprepared. And that feeling is even worse when you're hectically running around before school starts, trying to get everything ready for the day. So a few years ago, I made myself a list on a sticky note of things to do before I leave for the day and stuck it on my computer screen. It really helped to focus my efforts after school was over (so that I don't waste 15 minutes catching up on Facebook...), as well as helped me be better prepared for the next day.
One of the worst feelings as a teacher is that feeling of being unprepared. Check out this list of 5 things you can do before you go home each night, so that you can be more prepared when you start the next day.
Here are five things I do every night before I leave school:

1. Change Your Boards

Nothing makes me happier at the end of the day to erase the day's date and write tomorrow's date on the board! On my front board, I also list the tasks my students complete each morning and display our daily schedule. On the side board, I list our learning objectives for each subject.
One of the worst feelings as a teacher is that feeling of being unprepared. Check out this list of 5 things you can do before you go home each night, so that you can be more prepared when you start the next day.

2. Write Your Morning Message

My class holds a morning meeting every day, and one of the components is to write the class a message for the day. I'm embarrassed to admit I have frantically written this message while my students were completing their morning work, just a few minutes before morning meeting starts. So now, I make sure I write my morning message for the next day before I go home. That way, I make sure to include everything I want to say AND it's legible!
One of the worst feelings as a teacher is that feeling of being unprepared. Check out this list of 5 things you can do before you go home each night, so that you can be more prepared when you start the next day.

3. Stuff Mailboxes

Have you ever realized 10 minutes before dismissal that you forgot to put the math homework in mailboxes, and then frantically try to stuff mailboxes AND dismiss your class? I have. More times than I care to say... So every night before I go home, I stuff mailboxes: papers I'm passing back, homework, notes from the office, etc. I keep a tray on top of my mailboxes where I put the papers so that I'm not wandering around my classroom, trying to remember where I put that stack of papers...
One of the worst feelings as a teacher is that feeling of being unprepared. Check out this list of 5 things you can do before you go home each night, so that you can be more prepared when you start the next day.

4. Answer/Write Emails

I hate notifications, and I am not one of those teachers that lets 2,491 unread emails pile up in my inbox. So I always take a few minutes to respond and write to parents, admin, and other teachers before I leave.

5. Clean Off Your Desk

I don't claim to be Miss Organization whatsoever, but I do straighten up my teacher table a bit before I go home.

One of the worst feelings as a teacher is that feeling of being unprepared. Check out this list of 5 things you can do before you go home each night, so that you can be more prepared when you start the next day.For some reason, I always find 187 pens/pencils/markers and 12 pairs of scissors on my teacher table, among MANY other things. This was all the JUNK I found on my table today...
One of the worst feelings as a teacher is that feeling of being unprepared. Check out this list of 5 things you can do before you go home each night, so that you can be more prepared when you start the next day.
My teacher space isn't spotless; I still have my stacks of papers and books, but at least I have a clean spot to work the next day.

Depending on how organized you are, you could even take this a step further. A teacher friend of mine leaves her desk every single night with everything a sub would need in the event one of her kids gets sick and she has to call in. Now that is NOT me AT ALL, but maybe it would work for you!

In all, it takes me about 20-30 minutes to do all of these things (depending on how many emails I have to write!). But it saves me a huge amount of stress when I come in the next morning, especially on Mondays. And it allows me to settle in when I arrive and not run around like a crazy person.

What else would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments!


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One of the worst feelings as a teacher is that feeling of being unprepared. Check out this list of 5 things you can do before you go home each night, so that you can be more prepared when you start the next day.

Building School-Wide Community

Last year at the end of the year, the administration asked all of our students to fill out a survey about our school culture and climate. When the results came back, we were pretty discouraged. Over half of our students reported that they don't feel respected at school. HALF. We are a PBIS school and all teachers use components of Responsive Classroom and Love & Logic techniques school-wide, but something more had to be done.

This summer, our PBIS team caught wind of another school in our district that organized their students into "families." Similar to how high schools have homerooms, every student is assigned a family and stay in that family for their entire time at our school. This idea could be the ticket to getting our school community back on track!
Strengthen your school community by establishing school-wide family groups! Similar to homerooms in high school, a family group consists of students from each grade at your school that travel together as a cohort for their entire time at the school.
We have three goals for the family groups: 
1. To foster a positive school environment
2. To teach character education
3. For students to get to know other children and adults in the building they might not come in contact with.
Every single faculty and staff member in the building belongs to a family: from classroom teachers to interventionists; specialists to special education; pupil services, administration, custodial staff, and even the cook... everyone has a "home."

It took our counselor and school psychologist about 3 hours to thoughtfully place all of the students into 28 family groups. Part of their strategy was to place some of the hard-to-connect-with kiddos with fourth and fifth grade teachers. Let's build those relationships NOW, so that when they get into the upper grades, the connections will already be there!

My family group consists of myself and our library aide, and we have 16 students in our family group, 2-3 students from each grade, kindergarten to fifth grade.

How It Works

Every Wednesday from 2:30 to 3:00, the entire school transitions to their family groups. The principal makes an announcement for the fifth graders pick up the kindergarteners, the fourth graders to pick up the first graders, and the second and third graders just go on their own to their family group classroom. I will admit the very first meeting was a little hairy, as the entire school met in the gym to learn who their family group teachers would be... But now that we are two months in, the transition is fairly quick and only takes about 3 minutes.

At 3:00, the principal comes back on the announcements to end the family group time. The fifth graders and fourth graders walk their younger students back to class, and then we get ready to go home (we dismiss at 3:10).

What We Teach

I am on the team who writes the lessons for each session. We do our best to provide everything the faculty and staff needs to complete the lessons with little to no prep for them, even down to the exact words they can say for each part of the lesson. We wrote the lessons using a combination of the Morning Meeting and TCRWP Minilesson structure. Each lesson has an objective, usually related to a character trait. We start the lesson with a greeting, then there is a Teach, followed by the students actively engaged in whatever the objective of the lesson is. At the end, we send the kiddos off with a Link, just a final sentence or two relating back to the lesson objective.

Our first three sessions were focused on community building. We came up with a family name, took a photo, made a poster for our group, and set goals for ourselves for this school year.
Strengthen your school community by establishing school-wide family groups! Similar to homerooms in high school, a family group consists of students from each grade at your school that travel together as a cohort for their entire time at the school.
After that, we took the next four sessions to review our school rules: Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Safe, Be Trustworthy.

Click HERE if you want a copy of the safety flip book pictured above.

Now that we have established our families and reviewed the school rules, we are going to switch to meeting every other week. The topics that we cover are going to be based on our PBIS data and what our students need. Our upcoming lessons are going to be about empathy, giving, perseverance, acts of kindness, and being thankful. Lesson plans are flexible, and so if we need to throw in a few lessons on respect, we can do that. We are also planning on having each group do some kind of fun send off for their fifth graders at the end of the year.

Benefits of Family Groups

I don't have any hard data, but walking through the hallways, I can definitely feel a difference. Whether or not it's related to the establishment of our family groups, I don't know. But I do know that I have fifth graders who know my name, and smile and greet me every time we pass each other. I have had three K-2 students from my family group who have traded in their PBIS tickets to hang out with me and play with Legos during recess.

There is a real camaraderie and family feel in the building. I love how the older students take the younger students under their wings and act as a mentor to them. We all feel like we belong and are in this thing called "school" together.
Strengthen your school community by establishing school-wide family groups! Similar to homerooms in high school, a family group consists of students from each grade at your school that travel together as a cohort for their entire time at the school.
And our hallways are too cute with all of the family group projects and activities we've created!



Do you do something similar to this at your school? Let me know about it in the comments! And if you're feeling like your school climate needs to be lifted, share this idea with your administration. We need to take care of students' hearts before we can fill their brains.

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Strengthen your school community by establishing school-wide family groups! Similar to homerooms in high school, a family group consists of students from each grade at your school that travel together as a cohort for their entire time at the school.




Spelling in the Writer's Workshop

"Teacher, how do you spell ______?"

Is it just me, or is that question like nails on a chalkboard to you? How do we deal with this age-old question our students ask us a million times every day? As teachers, we know that spelling isn't our main focus during writing time. We know the importance of invented spelling, students applying what they know about letter sounds and spelling patterns, and stretching words out.

However, instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to give our students more concrete resources and tools so that they don't feel like we've just rejected them. I want to empower my students by giving them the tools and the resources they need so that they can be independent writers.
Instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to empower our students to be independent writers and spellers. Check out a few tools and resources you can use to ensure writing success!

One of my favorite tools in my classroom is my Word Wall. There are some gorgeous word walls out there in Pinterest-Land, but for me, a word wall needs to be first and foremost FUNCTIONAL. I want my word wall to be accessible to my students so that they can easily take words down. In order to make this happen, I put all of my word wall cards on a ring and hang them from hooks on my whiteboard.
Instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to empower our students to be independent writers and spellers. Check out a few tools and resources you can use to ensure writing success!

I also encourage my students to use the other visuals in the classroom like anchor charts and posters when stuck on a word. Here is one of my friends who independently made the connection between the literary essay unit to the current persuasive essay unit, took out this anchor chart, and copied down one of the sentence starters. This was, by far, one of the proudest moments I've ever had as a teacher!
Instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to empower our students to be independent writers and spellers. Check out a few tools and resources you can use to ensure writing success!

Another tool we use is these Give it a Try booklet. Students love it because they're not messing up their story, and teachers love it because their students are still using what they know about letter sounds and spelling patterns to stretch out words. It's super easy to use. If a student is stuck on a word, they try to write it three different ways in their booklet. Then they bring it to me, and I will either circle the correctly spelled attempt or write the word on the right side of the dark vertical line.
Instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to empower our students to be independent writers and spellers. Check out a few tools and resources you can use to ensure writing success!
I would say that 75% of the time, my students are able to spell the word correctly on their own. They just need that little boost of confidence to know they spelled the word correctly. An added bonus is that the Give it a Try will eventually become an individualized dictionary for each student! Click HERE to get a FREE copy!
Instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to empower our students to be independent writers and spellers. Check out a few tools and resources you can use to ensure writing success!

Speaking of dictionaries, my students also keep their SUPER SPELLER in their writing folders. It has frequently used words for every letter of the alphabet, as well as color words, number words, and family words. Because I can't even tell you how many times I've been asked how to spell the word "cousin" in the last 11 years!
Instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to empower our students to be independent writers and spellers. Check out a few tools and resources you can use to ensure writing success!
I've recently updated this resource to also include an editable version, if I didn't include a word that your students need. Click HERE to check it out!

What else do you do in your classroom to guide your students to be independent writers?
Instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to empower our students to be independent writers and spellers. Check out a few tools and resources you can use to ensure writing success!


Teach the Reader. Not the Book.

I was sitting in a professional development class this spring where we were watching a webinar previously recorded from the Heinemann Group, and one of the instructors made this statement:
Using knowledge of text bands of complexity, learn how you can "teach the reader and not the book."
Have you ever heard something and you thought, "Wow. Just WOW." That's what happened to me when I heard Dan Feigelson say, "Teach the reader, not the book." I felt like I was smacked in the face by a 20-ton truck. In a good way. If that's possible.

For so long I had been doing just that, teaching the book. For 10 years the bulk of my reading instruction was through guided reading. I would pick out books, preview them with my group, students would read individually (yes, I did have the common sense to know that round robin reading is NEVER OK!), and I would pop in and listen to them read, often asking comprehension questions during and after reading that were text specific.
Using knowledge of text bands of complexity, learn how you can "teach the reader and not the book."
Did my readers grow? Of course. But was it because of my teaching? Wellll.... I'm not entirely convinced. Even as I transitioned this past year to conducting more strategy groups and individual conferences instead of guided groups, I still fell back to teaching the book. It's the easy thing to do.

Here's the problem with teaching the book: it doesn't grow the whole reader. Students answering surface level or even higher level comprehension questions based on a book doesn't help the reader when s/he reads his/her next book. And besides, teachers would never be able to keep up. We cannot possibly read and be knowledgeable of every single book that our students will read during the school year.

So how do we teach the reader? 

Instead of focusing on individual books, focus on what skills and strategies students need to work on at their reading level. Fountas & Pinnell, in conjunction with the Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project has placed all guided reading levels A-Z into groups called text bands.

What is a text band, you say?

A text band is a single or a small group of F&P levels that have similar characteristics. Within these text bands are instructional considerations related to decoding, word work, comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, and structure you can work on with your students. Have you ever wondered why it is so hard for students to make the leap from level M to level N? It's because they're in different text bands. And let me tell you, that jump is HUGE!

What's the difference between an M and an N?
In a nutshell...
Level M: Traditional story structure with one clear/central problem/solution in the text. Character feelings change but the traits stay the same.
Level N: Moves away from traditional structure with characters dealing with one (or more) complex problems that are harder to identify. Characters tend to be complicated and conflicted.

Of course there are many more differences between the two, but those are my big takeaways.

 Wondering what the text band groupings are? I made this little chart:
Using knowledge of text bands of complexity, learn how you can "teach the reader and not the book."
I feel like this chart is the missing piece to my reading instruction puzzle. I always wondered why my students struggled to move from I to J. And then J to K. That's because up until Level I, we were hitting decoding strategies hard. Once they get to J, they should have more automaticity in decoding. In J we are switching our focus to more comprehension and students have to hold on to longer stories. WOW. Did that 20-ton truck just drive by again??

So how can I use this information I now know about text bands to teach the reader, and not the book?

If you are well versed in the characteristics of the text bands, you will know the skills and thinking work your students will need to do in order to move to the next text band. So, for example, I know that if I sit down with a student for a conferring session who is reading a level N book, that child is going to need to do a lot of inferring and putting the pieces together to understand the central story line and struggles & motivations of the main character. I might comment or ask questions such as:
  • "Talk about why the main character does what s/he does."
  • "What does the text seem mostly about?" (and teaching that this does and can change over time)
  • "What is the big, underlying problem?"
  • "How does the setting play a role in the the plot/character development?"
These types of questions can work for any text at this level because they are relevant to all books at the NOPQ text band. And as the teacher, I can coach in to students who are struggling with any of these concepts, as they will need to have them mastered to move on to the next text band.

How can I find out more about text bands? 

I got my information about the characteristics of text bands from the Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project. Because I don't know the copyright of the document I have, I don't feel comfortable sharing it out on the world wide web. However, if you do a Google search of "text band characteristics," several links/documents are available for you to do your own research. Personally, I found the ones from Fountas and Pinnell to be the the easiest to locate and pretty straight foward. I also thought this site had some great information on what to work on for each text band if you click on her Band Aids section :)



I hope this blog post has been an "aha!" for you, just like Dan Feigelson's simple statement was to me. As for me, I am really looking forward to digging into the text bands more this summer, so I can really teach my readers. The whole readers.


2016 Wisconsin Teacher Blogger Meet Up!

We had such a blast last year, that we've decided to do it again this year! Please join Jessica from Mrs. Plemons' Kindergarten, Paige from Our Elementary Lives, and me for the second annual Wisconsin Teacher Blogger Meet Up! It will be an awesome opportunity to meet, connect, collaborate, and grow your business with other Wisconsin blogging friends.
This year we are moving the meet up to a location a little more centrally located: Madison! The plan is to meet up at Erin's Snug Irish Pub on Saturday, July 30th from 11:00am-3:00pm.
Erin's Snug is conveniently located just off of Hwy 151, one mile off from I-90/94 on the far East side of Madison. We'll meet in the County Dane room to have lunch, give away awesome prizes, and chat and get to know each other in REAL LIFE! We will also sneak in some Teachers Pay Teachers/blogging tips and tricks you can apply to your own small business. You'll also take home a sweet bag of SWAG to kick the 2016-2017 school year off with a BANG! If you want to see the fun we had last year, click here!

To join us, please CLICK HERE!

Please note that you DO NOT have to be from Wisconsin to attend :) Madison, WI is about 2 hours from Chicago and 4 hours from Minneapolis. Please RSVP by July 21st so we can make sure we have enough goodies for everyone! Our space can only accommodate up to 40 guests, so make sure you sign up right away.

We can't WAIT to see you next month!

What's the Deal with Collective Nouns?

Not sure where to begin when teaching collective nouns? This blog post contains ideas, visuals, and activities for teaching your students all about collective nouns!!
I first learned about collective nouns when we made the switch to the Common Core State Standards several years ago. The standard reads: L.2.1a Use collective nouns. And my first thought was, "What the heck are collective nouns??"

So just like every second grade teacher, I Googled it:
Not sure where to begin when teaching collective nouns? This blog post contains ideas, visuals,freebies, and activities for teaching your students all about collective nouns!!
Then I Googled "examples of collective nouns" and got a ton of them. But, really? Do second graders really need to know that a group of geese is called a gaggle? And did you know, a group of geese could also be called a flock, a skein, a team, a wedge, or a plump, depending on whether they're on the ground or their position in flight? REALLY?! Who cares??? It all seemed very surface-y, very rote to me, and from what I've learned about the CCSS, the focus is depth rather than breadth.

So at first I decided to focus on collective nouns that students could relate to: class of students, band of musicians, team of athletes, school of fish...
Not sure where to begin when teaching collective nouns? This blog post contains ideas, visuals, and activities for teaching your students all about collective nouns!!
I found this really great PIN that helps students to see that collective nouns are everywhere around us. But again, besides matching the noun with the prepositional phrase and memorizing a bunch of people, things, and animals and their collective nouns, what's the point? What am I missing???

After much thinking about this standard, I think I finally figured out how I can make it meaningful and applicable to my students' writing. While it's important for students to learn examples of collective nouns, I think the focus should actually be on the verb. Collective nouns name one group of individuals, therefore the verb is usually singular. Consider these two sentences:
Eight geese fly south for the winter.

The flock of geese flies south for the winter.

Notice the first sentence has the irregular plural noun geese, so the verb is plural. But the second sentence has the collective noun flock, which is singular, so the verb is singular. Forming irregular plural nouns is another second grade CCSS, so these two standards would work well together as you teach your students subject-verb agreement when using plural nouns and collective nouns in sentences.
There are instances when a plural verb can be used with a collective noun (Ex. The band of musicians play at the concert), but the reason why is more complicated that what our second graders need to know. Although if you're a grammar nerd like me, if a collective noun acts as a single group, the verb is singular and if the collective noun acts as individuals, it is plural. In the sentence above, each musician is individually playing his/her own instrument in his/her own way. Wowsers! I don't recommend trying to explain that to a second grader :) One way you could work around that example sentence is to take out the prepositional phrase and say, "The band plays at the concert."

If you'd like a FREE copy of the two posters and the sorting activity above, click HERE! If you're looking for a way to teach singular, plural, and collective nouns (with a little possessive nouns thrown in as well), I have this resource in my TpT store.
Not sure where to begin when teaching collective nouns? This blog post contains ideas, visuals, and activities for teaching your students all about collective nouns!!
It's been updated recently to include the collective nouns component. Check it out HERE!
What's your biggest struggle when teaching collective nouns? Let me know in the comments! I hope my perspective has helped to clarify your own thinking and teaching of this tricky, yet fun to teach standard.



For more language/conventions teaching ideas, check out my Pinterest Board:

Student Writing Keepsake Books

I try not to send my students home with a lot of paper. As a mom myself, I have plenty of clutter around my house; I don't need school clutter as well! But one of my most favorite things to do in my classroom is to make my students a keepsake book of all of their published writing pieces throughout the year.
Keep your students' published writing pieces from throughout the year and bind them into a finished book. It will be a great keepsake for your kiddos to remember the year they spent with you. Blog post includes a freebie table of contents, dedication page, and about the author page.
Organization is key for this project, so I always start with creating a file folder for each of my students before school starts. I used to store all of my writing pieces by genre but I was always scrambling to assemble the books at the end of the year. Not this year!! Take a few extra minutes to organize by student and it will save you a HUGE headache in the end!
Keep your students' published writing pieces from throughout the year and bind them into a finished book. It will be a great keepsake for your kiddos to remember the year they spent with you. Blog post includes a freebie table of contents, dedication page, and about the author page.
Then, as we publish pieces throughout the year, I add them to each student's file folder in chronological order. We always have a few personal narratives, an information report they write from their own knowledge, a persuasive essay, a literary essay, a fairy tale, and my favorite is their final piece which is a persuasive letter to the next year's grade level stating why they should move onto that grade!

During the last week of school, my students and I head outside so that I can take individual photos of them standing against the brick exterior. I don't know why, but I just love photos of kids in front of a brick wall! I use the photos to make the cover of the books. My students get to choose what color card stock they want for the front and back covers. I glue their photos on the colored paper and laminate the front and back covers.

Before I bind the books, I add a table of contents, dedication, and about the author pages.
Keep your students' published writing pieces from throughout the year and bind them into a finished book. It will be a great keepsake for your kiddos to remember the year they spent with you. Blog post includes a freebie table of contents, dedication page, and about the author page.
Click HERE if you'd like a copy of these pages. 

Lastly, I use my school's comb binder to bind all their stories into books. If you don't have access to a comb binder, you can take the books to an office supply store and get them spiral bound for a few dollars a piece. Yes, it's a little pricey, but the looks on my students' faces when I give them their books is priceless! They chatter excitedly with their classmates, taking a walk down their third grade memory lane. My hope is that these books are stored in a safe place and when my students are "80 years old and all wrinkly" (those are the exact words I use!), they can have a small piece of their childhood to look back at.
Keep your students' published writing pieces from throughout the year and bind them into a finished book. It will be a great keepsake for your kiddos to remember the year they spent with you. Blog post includes a freebie table of contents, dedication page, and about the author page.

For more writing ideas, check out my Pinterest Boards!



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