Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Okay, I really should be working on report cards.  Really…they are due in less than a week and I’ve got nothing – not even names on them!  BUT, I just have to share a few pics of my cuties enjoying their Halloween activities today!  I posted a few weeks back about our school’s Fall Festival, which takes the place of a Halloween Party.  No costumes, no treat bags….no chaos, I suppose.  Well, I couldn’t help but add some Halloween stories and some of the super cute freebies out there!  Here we are enjoying them!  AND, I realized that I forgot to share a Halloween freebie of my own!  Mix up a batch of Golden Grahams (monster scabs), witch’s warts (chocolate chips), candy corn (pumpkin teeth), and marshmallows (ghost droppings), and this math activity will be a hit!  I guess you won’t be able to use it this Halloween (oops!) but I hope you’ll be able to store it for future use! 
Halloween Write the Room.  My kids just love doing this writing activity.  They were totally silent as they did it - so focused!
Sorting and graphing our Halloween Mix!

Click the picture to get my freebie!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Hurricane Day...?!

Well, today was my first ever “Hurricane Day!”  Most of the schools in Northeast Ohio were closed, due to Sandy’s constant rain, dangerous winds, and even snow in some parts!  It’s crazy that the effects have reached all the way to Ohio, especially when just 4 days ago it was 80 degrees and sunny here!  I’m thankful that we aren’t in any real danger, and I’m praying for those of you in the storm’s direct path.  Stay safe!

Over 200,000 people in our area lost power, but we are among the lucky ones who did not.  So, I spent most of my day with the laptop, catching up on some things I’ve been wanting to share for awhile!  My newest TpT addition is a set of Science & Social Studies Classroom Resources.  While they are specific to Ohio’s Academic Content Standards for First Grade, the topics may very well fit your curriculum, even if that is not your area.  Check it out to see!

The packet includes a curriculum map for science and social studies, a set of standards display cards (I put them in my “What are We Learning? pocket chart), and a list of 34 books to use with the different standards.  I put together these text sets in 2011 as a graduate student, and I am thrilled to say that after sharing the lists with my colleagues and then our Curriculum Director, the administration purchased a set of the books for each first grade teacher in our district!  They’re great to have on hand for read alouds during science and social studies.

Click the picture below to check out these resources.  I hope you find them useful!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dear Diary, Ch. 1

Hi friends! Well, I am excited to write my first Dear Diary blog post.  And here’s how it came about…

This school year has been extra stressful.  Sure, every year is busy, but this one is MUCH more so.  Our district has some new administration with new initiatives (inclusion for the first time in years and major technology changes), we have some state-wide changes in education looming over our heads, my colleagues and I are trying out some new programs (Daily 5 and Math Workstations), our staff has been downsized a bit which means bigger classes… even our principal is feeling the pinch…for this year (and this year only, thank goodness!), he is the principal for two elementary buildings!  Needless to say, it’s been a whirlwind.  We all feel like we’re being pulled in a million directions.  I’ve logged a huge amount of hours working at home, more than ever before.  Which brings me to a problem many of us face at different points in our career…

Teacher “stuff”….meetings, paperwork, plans, etc etc. etc etc…. has taken over and clouded the time spent actually teaching our little ones.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel that I’m doing a better job than ever teaching quality lessons with quality management techniques, thanks to the amazing teachers who share their lives through blogs and TpT!!  But, I can’t help but feel extremely, extremely, frustrated in the moments when I get distracted by all that “stuff.”  Just let me teach, please!!
This is where Dear Diary comes in.  A teacher friend who had been experiencing similar stress in her class shared a super fabulous idea with me.  Every day, before leaving her crazybusy classroom, she stops to write down one positive thing about her classroom.  It could be a lesson that went well, a success story from a kiddo, a positive interaction with a colleague, anything!  Anything to, well, remind her why she’s a teacher.  Anything to help her clear the clutter of “stuff” from her mind and leave for the day feeling calm and happy.  

I immediately decided this was what I needed to do to get me through this year.  And so, here is Dear Diary, Chapter 1.  These posts will be short and sweet.  Meant to remind myself (and hopefully you!) why the “stuff” is worth it.   I hope you enjoy reading, because I know I will enjoy writing!  (P.S. I won’t be using students’ full names, just initials.)
Dear Diary, Ch. 1
Monday – A* had just one bathroom interruption today, as opposed to his usual 5 – 6!
Tuesday – All kids being Progress Monitored made gains during this week’s assessment!  They were ittybitty gains, but hey, I’ll take it!

Wednesday – I* is really starting to show some confidence in his work!  He’s trying things out without my help!  YES!

Thursday – G* finally brought back her math homework!  Have I won this battle??  Stay tuned…

Friday – I am SO HAPPY with how my Guided Reading groups are going.  Confession (please don’t judge me):  I was really bad at Guided Reading my first two years.  Really bad at making time for groups, and really bad at making them interesting.  I was lucky if I met with one group on any given day.  This was mostly due to my Centers routine.  It just stunk.  I’m not ashamed to say that because….insert Daily 5 this year, and our Guided Reading is fabulous!  (Also, just to defend myself a bit, my previous kiddos DID make plenty of progress in reading….just without much help from those small groups.)  Now, I meet with 2 groups each day, plus do individual reading/writing conferences.  In a week’s time, I meet with my two lower groups 3 times, and my two higher groups 2 times.  And the instruction is super awesome.  And I love it.  And they love it.  And we all feel sad if a special circumstance prevents me from seeing a group.  And I know this day’s entry is very long, but I’m just so excited!  Now I’m done. :)

Friday, October 19, 2012

It's....Conference Time!!

Well, it’s safe to say that school is in full swing!  After 35 days, we are pretty awesome at four out of five Daily 5 activities (although Listen to Reading is a total headache with the ancient cassette players we’re using, but that’s another story.)  We are writing “how-to” books that are super cute and creative.  We are rapping our doubles facts (4 + 4 = 8, that’s great!).  We are Math Workstation pros.  And, we are pumpkin experts!  And us teachers?  We are assessing, assessing, and assessing…. at least, that’s how I feel..  One problem our team is facing right now is we are teaching the new Common Core Standards, yet our first grade report card lists completely different skills, related to the old standards!  Ahh!  So frustrating, but the administration is aware and promising a solution soon.  

Anyway, report card time means parent-teacher conference time.  I cannot believe it’s already here!  I know we say this every year, but time is just FLYING by!  Just when it seems that my little ones are getting rolling in reading groups and such, it’s already time to communicate their progress to parents! 

After 3 years of conferences, I’ve finally got a handle on what works best for me, as far as scheduling and making the 15 minute meetings worthwhile.  A typical conference looks like this…

*I review the child’s current report card, note weak areas that can be supported at home, and answer any questions about the report.
*I share some kind of material for the parents to use in supporting those weak areas, or at least a few home activities for mixing up the regular reading routine. One of my favorites is Reado from Two Can Do It
*I inform the parents of their child’s current reading level and give them a handout about Scholastic Book Wizard – a GREAT resource for finding book lists matched to any level.  Some parents really appreciate this to guide them when picking out library books or books to add to their home libraries.
*I share a few recent assessments, writing samples, fun activities done in class, etc., all of which I have in my GIGANTIC data binder.
*I address any other questions or concerns that the parent shared on their pre-conference questionnaire.

Can you believe all that is accomplished in 15 minutes?!  Sheesh!  As I’m sure you know, an evening packed with conferences is quite a whirlwind.  I’ve compiled (and spruced up) the set of tools that I use at conference time, and it’s now available on TpT.   Click the picture below to check it out – I hope you can use it too! 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Google Drive...Amazing!

My husband introduced me to the greatest thing this week – GOOGLE DRIVE!   Am I late to this party?  Do you guys already know about this??  If so, sorry!  If not, you should absolutely check it out.  We teachers love organization, and this just makes my heart (and brain) so happy! 

Google Drive is similar to Dropbox.  I created a Dropbox account months ago, and all my personal life things are stored there – photos, wedding day documents that I can’t part with, etc.  This type of storage is amazing because if you sign up for an account, you can access your files anywhere.   However, I quickly filled the space that Dropbox offers for free, and I was hesitant to pay for more storage space.   That, and for some odd reason, Dropbox is restricted from being accessed at school!

Basically, Google Drive was exactly what I was looking for.  Lots of storage space, for free, able to be accessed anywhere, even school!  No more carrying my USB drive back and forth from school to home (and fearing that I’d lose it and my entire professional life in the process)!  No more trying to keep home desktop folders and school desktop folders synced.   Everything is saved to Google Drive folders, in one easy, neat place!  I’ve also decided that I like having my personal and professional files in separate spaces.   It really helps me organize the many, many, MANY awesome things I have acquired from TpT and blog friends! 
You can create your own Google Drive account here. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Autumn Activities!

Remember when I said I loved fall?  Wasn’t kidding.  Check out my recent grocery store purchases:  

Yum!  Breakfast time now makes me a happy girl! But…guess what else I purchased at the store:

Yep!  My second sickness of the school year.  Sigh.  However, it didn’t stop me from enjoying Fall Festival week with my firsties.  Here are some pics of us on our field trip to the pumpkin patch, and then square dancing for parents in our Western attire!


Are they cute or what??  Our 3-day week was filled with autumn activities.  Holiday weeks are so exhausting fun!  In place of our regular curriculum, we did fall read alouds, games, writing activities, and more..  Check out my Autumn Activities Pack to have some Autumn fun in your own classroom!
Click here to get my Autumn Activities!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Reading Lesson.

A colleague posted this comic in our teacher workroom this week, and I laughed out loud, but seriously, is it not SO fitting to what we deal with when teaching reading?  Especially in the youngest grades?  We teach letter sounds and spelling patterns until we’re blue in the face... and then we have this??  And who can blame the little ones... after all, they’re using what we taught them!  Sometimes I think about our language and all its crazy random rules of spelling, and I wonder how in the WORLD any of us ever learn to read! :P

Of course, we do learn to read, at one point or another, eventually.  Guided reading is when much of that magic happens, so I am always on the lookout for ways to make my GR lessons more effective and my GR routine more efficient!  Therefore, I put together this packet of Guided Reading Tools for Teachers.  It includes…

·         A Guided Reading 2012 – 2013 binder cover, in 3 different styles
·         a schedule template for tracking when groups meet
·         a reading/writing conference template for tracking when you meet with individual students
·         a Literacy Data record sheet for recording students’ scores/information in one place
·         a Guided Reading lesson planning page
·         signs to use for labeling group bins or folders with color names for up to 6 groups

These tools have really helped me get Guided Reading up and running in my classroom!  To get your set, click on the picture below.  Happy reading! J

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Math Workstation Madness!

Our math workstations are officially up and running, yippee!  We started the year learning 10 or so number sense games, one each day with partners.  Then, we made an I-Chart for math workstations (inspired by Daily 5, at the suggestion of one of my kiddos!).  This describes what workstations should look like and sound like in our classroom, and it promotes independence!  (Which equals teacher happiness.)
If you do Daily 5 in your classroom, this probably looks familiar!

Fast forward to this week, and the kids were ready for workstations!  Each day after our math meeting and math lesson, they check the pocket chart to discover which station they will visit with their partner.  Partners will probably stay the same for the first quarter, and then we'll switch!

The partners get their station tub.  Each tub has one of the games they’ve learned and an additional activity or game to practice a current math skill.  And soon, each tub will also have a math book.  (That is, whenever my Scholastic order decides to arrive! J) The point is, no more early finishers! 
I've found that these dollar store tubs aren't the easiest to get out and put away, but they were cheap and they'll work for now!  I decided to put one student in charge of stacking them neatly and in order for us at clean-up time, and that has worked well!
The partners go to their station’s designated working spot, which is shown with number signs posted around our classroom.  No more questions or arguments about where to sit!  Easy, done!

The kids work on their activities for about 20 minutes each day.  While they work, I travel around the room, teaching those extra activities in their tubs.  And eventually, I will pull kids or small groups to the teacher table for skill practice with me.

To support math stations even further, on Wednesdays, my teacher friend and I combine our firsties to teach a new math game.  She doesn’t have a Smart Board in her classroom, so it gives her kids experience with ours.  It also gives our kids the chance to partner up across classes!  After that lesson, we put our new game in a workstation tub.

If you’re using math workstations in your classroom, check out my new freebie, Fall Ten Frames.   Click on the picture below to get your copy!

That's all for now friends!  I hope to soon compile a larger set of math workstation activities!