Saturday, November 30, 2013

Handling Energetic Students

As the year goes on, I have noticed a trend. My students' energy levels are increasing and my patience is decreasing. I've caught myself being short with my kids and I've made two observations: a) fussing at/being short with my students increases my stress and b) it doesn't fix anything.

There are some students who will respond to being "in trouble" simply because they don't like to be in trouble, but some truly can't seem to help themselves. One of the teachers that I volunteered with last year had the most calm, kind voice of any teacher I've ever heard. It was amazing. The classroom was peaceful and since then I've hoped I can emulate that kind of respectful, quiet environment in room. Unfortunately, I've failed plenty of times. But if I want to have that kind of environment, I need to give my students every chance to succeed in my room. We can all whine about how kids should behave just because that's the right thing, but that attitude just breeds negativity and I for one better get crackin' on some new ideas to help my energetic students control themselves and keep my stress levels low.

Here are a few ideas I am going to implement when we come back from Thanksgiving Break:

1) Incorporating physical activity breaks/brain breaks throughout the day. We have a 3 hour block of instruction before we go to our specials area. We do math, writing, and whole group reading before 10:10. Whew! I plan on incorporating some 2-3 minute structured activity breaks in the morning and after our 1 hour long center time in the afternoon. This will include:

  • Activity Freeze: give them a physical movement to do until I say "Freeze!" and they have to freeze their body in the exact position they are in.
  • Give them a multiplication problem and whatever the answer is, they will do that many movements (i.e. 7 x 2 = 14 push ups, etc.)
  • Playing the game 4 corners
2) Implementing a PBIS world (website) intervention for my kiddos with the most intense needs. It's called self monitoring and basically, the students will give themselves a smiley face or a sad face at various "check in" times throughout the day. I already have a behavior monitoring plan that I use, but the warnings are given by me. This will enable them to take some ownership of their behavior.

3) Sing along/dance along songs on YouTube. I'm going to try anything that they can stand behind their chair and groove along with. We had indoor recess and I played some Kidz Bop-type songs and they were totally into it! 

I'm hoping that combining more positive reinforcement with these physical breaks and accountability will really help improve our behavior. Plus I will of course have to include some more procedure practice!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Toothpaste Squirt Lesson {Teaching Kindess}

I felt terrible for a sweet student of mine the other day. She was partnered up with another student during a reading small group activity. The boy blurted out, "I don't want to be with her! She's annoying!" My heart just dropped for her! I looked at her and said "Honey you are not annoying" and proceeded to correct the other student.

Granted, this girl does have some social issues. We are working on it and trying to build her confidence and help her interact better with her peers. But there is just no excuse for rudeness in my classroom. I found a cute activity on Pinterest that requires minimal resources and time. It's a quick 5 minute lesson I am going to do with my friends tomorrow to encourage them to

1. Think before they speak and
2. Try to build someone up who has been put down

A link to the lesson can be found here.

I bought a cheap tube of toothpaste on my grocery shopping trip today. I will have on student squirt all the toothpaste out onto a plate. Then we will discuss how we can't put the toothpaste back in the tube, just like we can't take back negative comments.

The lesson I linked to goes into more detail about what to say to the students. I am hoping to encourage a classroom community of encouragement, as well as give students a visual reminder of the power of words. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Fluent Reader: A Great Addition To Your Library!

I had to read this book The Fluent Reader: Oral Reading Strategies for Building Word Recognition, Fluency, and Comprehension. Don't be deceived! The title sounds a little dry, but it's a super easy read and FULL of great ideas. My favorite part about it, is that all the ideas are so SIMPLE! They take little prep time and they are all research-based and common sense. I'm very glad I read this book.

Since I know that I could read all these ideas, just to forget them by October, I used Post-It notes to help me remember things I particularly liked in the book. This way, I don't have to keep track of another page with notes--it's all in one place. Plus, I don't have to re-read the book to find the strategies I want to use, I can just flip through and read the sticky notes. Obviously a highlighter would serve the same purpose, but I didn't want to mark in this one since it's my school's copy.

If you are looking for a quick, easy summer read that will motivate you to teach literacy, I highly recommend this one!

If you want to try it out, here's a link: Link to Purchase

Note: This is not a sponsored post.

Friday, June 21, 2013

How To Make Cute Binder Covers and Labels

I love browsing Teachers Pay Teachers but I wondered how everyone made those cute little products with all the great graphics. I found an excellent tutorial for using Power Point to make all these! (For some reason blogger isn't recognizing the address).

I found some cute, free fonts at the following websites:

Unfortunately I can't provide these examples I am about to show you as downloadable since some of the fonts are for personal use only, not commercial. But definitely check out these sites if you are looking for some fresh fonts. Also check out CLKER for some cute graphics. I believe this site allows you to use for commercial use, but double check.

Here are a few screen shots of items I have made for my classroom using borders from Power Point and the free fonts and graphics mentioned above.

This is a binder cover for all of my math resources ( I made a few of these )

I am going to print these on cardstock and laminate them and attach them to 
boxes that will hold my classroom library. 

These signs will also be printed and laminated and I will put them on my whiteboard and
write the corresponding subject's daily objective next to it. 

If you are interested in learning how to make these check out the YouTube video linked above. She moves sort of fast, so I found myself pausing and rewinding parts but it's very helpful. Making these signs is WAY easier than I ever thought! Try it out!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Differentiated Instruction Made Simple!

Have you ever heard of Edcanvas? I saw a blog post about it on my favorite teaching blog but the name sounded really boring so I didn't read it for a few days.

But I'm so glad I finally did read it because this tool looks like it could be a total rock star in my classroom! Edcanvas allows you to create interactive boards for your students to view instruction and complete differentiated assignments on their own. What a great idea for centers! It looks really easy to use and you wouldn't have to worry about running off more copies :)

Hope on over to The Cornerstone Blog to read the post. Also check out the author of the post's personal blog: The Teacher's Chair 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Procedures For The First Day Of School

Classroom management is such an important part of having a successful classroom. When a teacher has procedures in place for everything students do in the classroom, it frees up time for engaging lessons that could include group work, creating original artifacts, large scale art projects, etc. because students know how you expect them to behave.

On the first day of school, basic procedures should be explained (and demonstrated!). I continue to emphasize, demonstrate, and practice procedures the first 30 days of school and throughout the year, but here are the main ones I try to focus on the first day of school, along with some ideas for you to consider when creating your classroom procedures

1. Class rules: I preferred to keep mine simple: respect yourself, respect others, respect the school and everything in it (a variation of the one from The Cornerstone for Teachers). This might be too broad for some, but I would keep it five rules or less.

2. Your quiet signal/attention signal: You could use something like "Give me 5" or "1 2 3 Eyes on me" or a clapping pattern they repeat back to you. I have seen a very veteran teacher that just quietly says "May I have your attention please?" in a soft voice and it works great. Whatever your signal is, explain to the students what you expect them to do when they hear it, and it needs to be something you can do anywhere: a field trip, during the hallway during a crazy dismissal, etc. You don't want to be somewhere and need the kids to get quiet really fast (say an emergency or during a school-wide lockdown) and be scrambling to find a bell or some other item.

3. How to enter the room/Morning procedures: Do you require students to be totally silent when they come in? Whisper voices? When they come in at the beginning of the day what steps should they follow? Things to include in this procedure include: sharpening pencils, putting away bookbags (where do they go?), turning in homework or parent notes, beginning morning work/bell work.

4. Hallway procedures: Where should they walk? Are they expected to be silent? Whisper voices? Depending on the age you may need to practice how much space to leave between students, what to do/what not to do with their arms, line leaders or line order, etc.

5. Restroom procedures: Do you want them silent? Whispering? How many students can enter at once? Where should they line up when they're done? Will you have bathroom monitors? Include things such as how much soap and how many paper towels they can use.

6. How to pass in/pass out papers? You may want to pass papers up and down rows or across rows. Consider the layout of your desks for the best method to use. Have students practice this (yes, it sounds simple but you might be surprised what ends up being an issue by October :)

7. Your discipline policy: There may be a school-wide policy already in place that you are required to use. If not, decide if you want something like a basic demerit system (pulling sticks or cards, etc.) I have seen an idea in many schools over the past few years that I LOVE. The chart looks something like this ( you could change the wording if you wanted).

Each child begins the day with a clip on the "Ready to Learn" section. Then their behavior can be moved up and down depending on their behavior. What I really like about it, is that if a student moves down for bad behavior, they can always "clip up" if they change their behavior. Sometimes a child might have a really rough morning, but they decide to make a turn around later in the day--and I want to recognize this!

Side note: If you teach kindergarten, I might wait a little while before introducing the discipline plan so they get a chance to learn the rules before getting in trouble for breaking them :)

8. Recess procedures: You could do something as simple as raising your hand and having students line up as soon as they see you. Or maybe you'll use a whistle or some other noise making device. Whatever you do, teach students to line up quickly because so much instruction time can be lost when there is one or two students who wait until the last possible second before lining up. Maybe even have them race against a clock and the first five who get to you get some kind of (very small) reward.

9. Dismissal procedures: Talk about the one part of the day that can be super stressful, especially the first day of school. You have to make sure each child knows exactly how they will get home, where the buses are, where the car rider line is, etc. If you have very young students it's a good idea to clip a bus number or a "car rider" sign to their shirt or put around their necks in case someone gets away from the group. If your students are older, you can call their names and ask them to tell you how they are getting home (and verify it with the list you have). Teach them exactly how to get their bookbags packed, how you will call them to pack up (by table, one at a time, by number, etc.) Tell them where to go when they pack up (back to their desks, sit on a rug, etc.) You don't want a classroom full of students running to the door when the bell rings so practice dismissal procedures an hour or so before the end of the day so it's fresh on their minds what they're supposed to do.

This isn't necessarily a comprehensive list, but these nine procedures are definitely on the must-list for the first day.

Tip: One of my students' favorite ways to practice procedures (even with sixth graders) is a game I call "Yes No Yes". To play, pick a procedure to practice (say, passing in paper). Ask students to demonstrate the correct way to follow the procedure. Next, ask them to do it the wrong way. Finally, have them practice it the correct way again. It sounds so simple but they get the biggest kick out of getting to practice it wrong, and somehow it really cements the "right way" in their head. I guess it's a little reverse psychology! BUT be careful when you practice this for procedure such as restroom breaks. For whole class procedures, have one or two students demonstrate for the class instead of having 30 students acting crazy at once. Just an idea. Good luck with your first day!

Last tip (I promise!): A fun idea to practice procedures is to take pictures or video of students following the procedures. These can be used throughout the year to remind students of what to do. Or (even more fun) have a colleague take a video of you doing a procedure wrong (think: splashing water in the bathroom or ignoring another teacher's quiet signal). Play it for the students and ask them to point out what you did wrong.

Easy PD and iPad Apps

Have you ever used It's a great place to connect to other educators and attend really useful webinars. I "attended" one hosted by Kathy Schrock in April and was very impressed with the amount of useful ideas I walked away with. Here's a quick shot of the upcoming webinars on their site:

Not bad, right? The webinar I attended with Ms. Schrock was all about iPad apps to use in the classroom while aligning apps with Bloom's taxonomy. She has a site called which has a ton of resources. Her Presentation Resources link lists apps and activities for all six levels of Bloom's, as well as some other good links:

Next time you need some good ideas Kathy Schrock and EdWeb are great resources!

Friday, May 3, 2013

My Favorite (Easy!) Ways To Reward Good Behavior

Angela Watson over at The Cornerstone for Teachers has such a fabulous website and blog. She was a lifeline for me during my first year of teaching! I got my idea for a ticket system from here (link to her blog post below). Here's how it works:

First, you need to create the tokens. This could be something simple like small round game pieces that you write a number on with a permanent marker. I took foam paper from the craft store and cut it into 1-inch squares and wrote numbers on them with a sharpie. I found this to last well. Each child will need roughly 15 tokens.

Assign each student a PIN (Personal Identification Number). Many teachers use this already to organize files, have students write their number on papers they turn in, etc.

Next, find a divided container (craft stores/craft sections of stores have them for jewelry making, etc. Or you could use a tackle box-type container). Place each students tickets in a compartment.

My ticket organizer

(another example of divided container)

Here's the fun part: Use it to reward behavior all day long! Anytime a student is following a rule, ask them to draw a ticket. They can go to the ticket container, pull out a ticket with their name on it and place it in a jar, a bag, or whatever place you have designated for drawn tickets. It doesn't have to be complicated, I used a recycled plastic coffee can! This is especially great giving quick, positive recognition, especially to those students who need some positive reinforcement :)

It's up to you how to reward students who have gotten tickets. I used to draw two tickets at the end of each day to pull a small prize from my prize box. I made it my own policy that anyone who had a ticket could receive a prize, even if they had broken a rule that day. I wanted it to be a purely positive thing. That's your choice, but make it clear to students either way before you begin this system so they know what to expect. Once a student's ticket is drawn, it goes back into the divider. However, these tickets can be used to draw names for all kinds of things such as:

Line leader
Table washer (my kids really liked doing this!)
Restroom monitor
Paper Passer
Run an errand
Assist the teacher during a lesson

The possibilities are endless! This can also be used to monitor hallway behavior (i.e. "Samantha you are following hallway procedures, please get a ticket when we return to the room"). Once students know you are "handing out" tickets, they perk up a bit!

Now, there are a few other easy (easy!!) ways to reward behavior that take even less effort than making at ticket system. Here are a few I have used (they aren't my original ideas, they've been floating around the teacher world for awhile...but they work!)

If you want to reward individual students, but are short on time (or need something you can use immediately or on special days of the year) try pre-made tickets! You can get the kind that has duplicate tickets so you can call out numbers for prizes, or you can allow students to turn in a ticket (or a certain number of tickets) for a prize such as a homework pass. This can admittedly get expensive, but it's great to have a roll of these on hand for days that the kids are just "off", or they just need a little extra incentive (think: end of school year, afternoons on testing days, party days, etc.)

 If you want to recognize whole class positive behavior, try marbles! I kept a bucket of marbles and dropped one or two in a clear container for different positive behaviors such as:  whole class was on-task, good behavior during lunch or special ares, or just because I love 'em! When the container is full, the class gets to pick something fun to do like watch or movie or extra recess. I would make the container big enough that it takes them awhile to reach their goal, but not so long that they lose interest. This would vary depending on grade level and your students' needs.

Tip: This sounds obvious, but if flat marbles (shown above) are what you have on hand, you may want to add more than one or two marbles to your container at a time because it takes a lot longer to fill up a container with these.

Also, you can use the marble system if you have multiple classes (departmentalized elementary, or middle/high school). Just make a separate container for each class and buy more marbles.

Hope you found these ideas helpful!

Click here for Angela's Easy Ticket System Blog

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Beginning Of Year Parent Letter {Downloadable}

I like to send home a letter at the beginning of each school year to give parents highlights of what to expect in my classroom. I outline my behavior plan, grading/school work/class work, class rules, etc. This helps parents remember highlights from open house night. It's also helpful if the student will have more than one teacher (departmentalized elementary school, or middle/high school) or if the parents have more than one child attending the school--it's hard to remember which teacher does what!

The screen shots below show what information I included in my letter from a few years ago. As you can see, it was written for a sixth grade class. To make things easier for you, I included a link to my Google Docs version of this letter so you can download it and format it for your classroom.

Click here to access the Parent Letter file!

I think it's important to keep this letter short and to the point. This letter is a little less than two pages. I have done a longer one, but longer doesn't always equal better.

Great Teaching Binder

Jenn at Beyond the Grades has a really great teaching binder that puts a lot of essential paperwork that we need to access every day in one binder. Her binder makes it super easy to grab one item for conferences, parent phone calls, grading, team meetings, faculty meetings, etc.

In this binder she has a calendar in the front pocket, an EZ Grader in the back pocket, and divider tabs for each section. The sections she includes are:

  • Important Information: schedules, class lists, transportation info. This can easily be removed to place in a sub folder for the days you are out.
  • Student Data: Important assessment scores (MAP scores, etc.), contact information, conference sheets, etc. 
  • Curriculum Calendar: Curriculum and testing calendars
  • Grading: She keeps 9 week grades in spreadsheet format here. Again, very easy to refer to during team meetings, conferences, etc.
  • Lesson Plan Ideas
  • Team Meeting Notes
  • Faculty Meeting Notes
  • PLC Meeting Notes
I like how easy it to manage all the paperwork you get during meetings: simply place it in the appropriate tabs. You could include one of those small 3-hole punches that fit in a 3-ring binder so paper gets filed immediately. Great ideas Jenn!

Click here for access to Jenn's post

A Cute Behavior Management Tool

The teachers over at Primary Possibilities have a cute idea for managing student behavior. 

At the beginning of the day, she writes a student's name on a certificate that looks like this (it's free to download on the site linked above):

Then she places it in the magnetic container shown above. If students are getting chatty or off-task she will comment "I need to check on my secret student" and this reminds an off-task student that the secret student could very well be him/her!

At the end of the day, she pulls out the certificate. If the student had a good day, they get to take it home. If not, she quietly puts it in her pocket and says, "My secret student didn't make very good choices today. I hope it's better tomorrow." I love that she doesn't tell students who it is if the behavior wasn't up to par. This provides motivation to try harder tomorrow. While this isn't a replacement for a whole class management system by any means, it's a fun little surprise for students, a motivator to make good choices, and also a good way to keep students' attention at the end of the day when everyone is a little wiggly :)

Utilizing Your iPad

I found a great infographic from Tony at that shows various ways to use your iPad for showing your iPad screen to the whole class, managing the classroom, assessment, interacting with students, accessing your files, creating instructional media, and learning new things. Here's a screen shot of the beginning of the infographic:

Click Here to see the full infographic

This infographic shares a ton of great apps to try for the classroom (and indicates if they are free or paid apps). One I'd really like to check out is Three Ring where you can digitize student work. This would be great to avoid losing papers, but also for creating portfolios, tracking student progress. You could also use it during parent/teacher conferences or you can even be shared with parents. Pretty cool!

Explain Everything is an app that records your voice as your draw on a whiteboard. I could see this being great for homework help. For example, you're teaching how to add fractions and send home some homework. Mom is trying to help her child, but can't remember if the denominator needs to be the same before adding the numerators. Include a link at the bottom of the homework sheet or post the video to the class website and mom has a tool to help her child succeed! Excellent idea.

These are just two apps that look very promising. Check them out!

Monday, April 29, 2013

My Philosophy of Education

Education is a wide, deep field with room to try new ideas and get creative. The core of education is the students. The decisions a teacher makes should benefit students and their learning. Teaching should be research-based and data-driven, but should take advantage of teachable moments and emphasize relationships with students. All students can learn and the core of teaching is to instill a love of learning and help students become the best version of themselves as possible.