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