Friday, November 27, 2015

How I Plan with Erin Condren

Over the summer, I shared a video wherein I hacked a section of the Erin Condren teacher planner into something I thought would be more useful. That video has had over 2,000 views. Small beans for someone who has an active channel, tons of videos and lots of subscribers. But for me? That's huge. I never thought so many people would check it out.

I'm back with another video which discusses the progress of my hack as well as how I am utilizing the calendar area to help me maintain my sanity on those oh-so-insanely-busy weeks!

Disclaimer: I actually made this video on Wednesday and had planned to post it on Wednesday but it took 10 hours for the video to upload. Ugh. (Also sorry for the tripod is at school.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving Break

Whew! How is it that sometimes the short weeks are the hardest and/or craziest??

Stupid full moon. My students were WIRED this week. I am so uber thankful we do not have school tomorrow! I'm not sure we would have made it! They have just been IN-SANE.

My student teacher has two weeks left. It will be super weird without her there, but I am really anxious to get my class back. I think that is a normal feeling to have. We put so much time and energy into our teaching that sharing the kids long-term in this way can be a challenge. Next week she is only teaching one subject (reading) and then everything is back to me.

I can't even tell you how very glad I am to have a few days to decompress. Seriously. I'm not even teaching the whole day and I'm just plumb worn out. I love my kids and my school but these friends come with a lot (and I mean A. LOT.) of baggage. It's that extra stuff that just makes it so hard sometimes.

Hopefully once the crazy/busy month of December ends and we have some time over the holidays, I will be more consistent with blogging again. It's weird because I feel like I've had much LESS to blog about since I haven't been teaching everything like usual. We've done lots of cool stuff but I haven't taken pictures or anything so I don't post them. Oh well.

I will try to be better about it because it's more fun to see pictures! :)

My girls do have school tomorrow (they are not impressed) and I have a chiro appointment early. Otherwise I plan to get my nails done, get my oil changed finally and then spend the rest of the day at home working. I actually have most of my lesson plans (except reading) planned out until winter break. I just need to review my plans and make sure I didn't overlook anything. I also have a little paperwork I need to do on kiddos who will be up for evaluation. It also won't hurt to get a bit ahead on grad school.

Then Thursday-Sunday are family time. Technically we have assignments due for grad school but we have an extension. I won't take the extension, I am going to do the best I can to get everything done tomorrow so I can just take a mental break and be with my family.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

3rd Grade Reading Challenge

Once upon a time, I read a blog post by a fellow 3rd grade teacher. She wrote about this super awesome product that she made that was a challenge for her students to read 30 books during 3rd grade. I was totally pumped and put the item on my TPT wish list. A bit later when I was ready to purchase this super fabulous product, it was no longer available in her store. I left her a comment on the blog about how excited I had been to try the product but was sad it was no longer there. She emailed me back and said there might be a possible issue with the inspiration for the product but offered to send it to me anyway for free. She did, I love it and my 3rd graders and I are living happily ever after.

For reals. Marianna over at It Happened in 3rd is kind of like my hero right now. Seriously. Partly because a) she made this awesome product and b) she shared it with me for free because I was so interested in using it even though she was unsure about selling it after some drama (not aimed at her) around the inspiration for the product.

I have been meaning to write this post for awhile because I really do love using this product and I'm so, so grateful that she was so kind and shared it so willingly. With my trip to Minnesota for the Teacher Powered Schools conference (which was fantabulous) and conferences the last two weeks, I haven't had time to really think let alone make a blog post about this. So here goes nothing :) 

Since I teach in the inner city, time spent in texts is even more important for my young friends. Our students, many of whom are language learners also, tend to come to kindergarten well behind in their reading skills and a lot of them are not read to anywhere but at school. I have 29 students in my 3rd grade class and a big chunk of them are at a kindergarten or 1st grade reading level (yikes!). Thus I needed to find something to inspire them to read without making it into a huge issue.

I learned super fast that this group of students I have are very competitive. They love to try to meet challenges. So this 30 in 3rd reading challenge is PERFECT. 

Here's how we set it up.

First, each kiddo got a file folder. (Totally high tech, right?) I recycled them from years past when I used them for student files.

Then I made each friend a library card. They are just index cards a label on them that we then laminated. (Side note: I may have laminated more stuff in 3rd grade this year than I have in my entire career combined!) I wrote the kiddo's Lexile from the fall MAP test and then the color code they are in for our classroom library (which was labeled by colors well before we ever started using Lexile). This is one of my higher leveled kiddos. I picked his to show just because I knew it would be neat and organized :)

The kids keep that laminated card inside the 30 in 3rd folders which they keep in their book box. (This allows me to check them any time I want since I don't have to dig into their desk for them.) Inside are the pages from the product that Marianna shared with me so generously.

This first page is a tracking sheet to help the students make sure they are reading a wide variety of books. The kids were so excited to see they got to pick 8 books of whatever genre they liked! :) I ask them to fill this part out when they FINISH a book.

This is the other tracking page. Each time my friends change books they are to write the name of the book and the author. As they finish it, they put the date (this friend put 10-15 each time because he thought I wanted the month and year *wink*) and then they rate whether or not they liked the book. This helps me to know what kinds of books to recommend in the classroom library or our school library if the student is having a hard time finding a book at any given time. 

In keeping with my uber fancy tracking (hello recycled file folders), we are using this pocket chart to track our progress. I only check the folders every couple of weeks. The students know that I might ask them about their books at any time so they should actually be reading and finishing the stories. It is only once the book has a "finished" date that they move up on our chart. We have several friends who have already hit the 5 or 10 mark. 

The students on the very bottom are either a) not being very serious about their reading or b) are higher readers with longer books that is taking them much longer to get through their books. My lower readers who have easier books are asked to read each of their books 3 times before they mark it as "finished" so that it is fair since their books are shorter. 

I LOVE this. Really. A lot of it is an honor system and I don't count at home reading for this. This one is solely in-class reading because it is reading that I can monitor and ensure they are doing it. Each time students have been allowed to change their books and update their folder, I collect them so I can check up on their progress. Only one student has not been honest on her log and all of the other friends have been able to talk to me about their books which is awesome.

The reading challenge has been a great and motivating addition to our class, especially for my lower readers. The other day my student teacher was helping some of the kiddos update their books and one of our students, who is very, very sweet but struggles to read proclaimed "Mrs. Wood was right, reading IS fun" and I know that this book challenge is helping her find reading more fun and motivating too :)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015



Sometimes, every once in a while, a special student comes into your life and makes you realize that God has a purpose for every single person crossing your path.

I saw a post on Facebook over the weekend that said every single person you have ever interacted with would be different without you. Think about that for a moment. It's pretty heavy.

The guy I smiled at this morning at the grocery store before work was affected by me. I may have been the only person today to smile at him (I hope I wasn't). If I had not been there in that moment, there may have been no one there to smile a hello to a fellow shopper. That's deep stuff to think about.

And then I have moments like today where it is reinforced to me why I do what I do and why every child, regardless of their ability, has a purpose for being in my room. And I don't mean that their purpose is to learn.

I have said about a billion times that last year was rough. In so many ways. I needed a change and a good year because a rough year can drain you. Do I have a perfect class? Gosh, no! Not by a long shot. They are 8 and 9 years old. They talk too much, they are loud, they forget their manners. It happens.

BUT every interaction makes a difference. It could be good or bad but it is a difference.

My class has struggled to respect my student teacher. Let's face it. I've had years to perfect my tough love approach and not everyone can operate that way. It works for me. I don't expect it to work for everyone. Today the kids went to the lab and some were very disrespectful. My student teacher took away recess and made those kids write a behavior reflection. I am all about that. Help them learn to own their choice.

One boy refused to comply and just went on a tirade about how mean her and I are, crying and stomping his feet. She pointed out, very calmly, that as upset as he feels, enough to be crying, that she has feelings too and he hurts her feelings when he is disrespectful. It was the perfect response.

He just went on and on about how his mom wants him to have mean teachers so he is stuck with us and so on. I knew he was just blowing off frustration, but at one point he said all the kids think I'm super mean. Another student who had lost his recess too (same reason) was watching us and I asked him if he thought I was mean.

He said "no, you are nice". I nearly fell over because I really expected him to say yes. So I asked him why he didn't think I was mean. He thought for a minute and said, "Well you do stuff for us and you get on us because you care about us".

Wow. It doesn't get any more powerful than that! This is a child whom I have had to get on his case daily all year. Sometimes more than once a day. He is very impulsive and doesn't always think before he acts. I get that about him and have just waited for the moment to really make my connection with him (believe it or not it is not something you can magically obtain with every child in the first couple weeks....some kids it can take half a year and some kids, despite your best efforts, you never really find a way to connect with).

My patience thus far has paid off today in spades because as we were leaving at the end of the day, he and I were at the end of the line and he said "Mrs. Wood, I am going to try my best to have a great day tomorrow". ♡

It just takes time make the connection with the hardest students. Sometimes it's a challenge to like these types of kids because they can be so frustrating. But then, you have your breakthrough and it is purely magical. Angels come down and sing and you know, without a doubt that you are where God wants you to be.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Teacher Power!

This weekend I have been in Minneapolis at the Teacher Powered Schools Conference. I flew in yesterday and barely made the bus for the site visit which was the coolest thing ever (aside from the Finnish schools obviously).

Today has been wonderful in terms of the learning I have had. We have had four individual sessions and a couple of full plenary sessions. The food has been amazing and everyone here is so friendly.

For me, it is so refreshing to be in a room full of people who see the vision that I have. I have taken so many notes and learned so much today and last night. I am so incredibly glad that I came here. I have networked and found people who will help me if I have questions and people who don't laugh when I tell them I want to start a teacher led school.

In fact, I have lost count of how many times these last two days I have had people say to me "You're here and that's an awesome first step. You can do this!"

It feels daunting to be the only one in my area really pursuing this idea....but the brainstorming session we had yesterday afternoon helped me to realize that I am absolutely able to give voice to what I want to do and now I have some ideas and plans to help me to make those things a reality.

It also helps that I have a course coming up in January in my doctoral program where I get to design a school. This could very well be the springboard to getting a proposal for my school put together.

I am so energized and excited about all I have learned and all the tools I now have in my toolkit. :)

Sunday, November 1, 2015


Happy November! Gosh this school year is already flying by! We just finished our first marking period and its on to report cards and in a couple of weeks....conferences! Wow. 

Of course, a new month means a new Currently too :)

Listening: Today is Middle Child's 14th birthday! (Seriously a birthday the day after Halloween might be the best birthday ever.) Grandpa gave her some birthday money and this year so did we and we went on a shopping adventure so she could pick out what she wanted (teenagers are so fickle!). She got a new PS4 game and that is what I will likely hear until the goes to bed (or her dad kicks her off the TV lol)

Loving: Don't get me wrong....I love my students. I do. What I don't love is my students hopped up on sugar and unable to pay attention (they have a hard enough time keeping on task without sugar!). So when we got our schedule this year and saw that a) Halloween was on Saturday and b) we don't have students until WEDNESDAY this week, I'm quite positive we all cheered just a little :)

Thinking: I am such a procrastinator. Seriously. I never learn. I do things at the last minute all the time. Once I even bought a coolie that said "If it wasn't for the last minute, I'd never get anything done"....uh, truer words were never spoken! Thus, it should not surprise you that I am flying out of town on Friday and I have nothing prepared....nothing. I don't have my hotel and flight info ready to go or any freaking idea what I'm going to wear at the conference I'm attending. I'm quite sure I'll get to it all...Thursday night around 9:30 lol

Wanting: Oh report cards. The bane of my existence. Seriously. My life would be so much easier if we just did letter grades by content area....but nope, each area has about 2 million (maybe a *slight* exaggeration) correlations that I have to input grades for. It takes fiveever and I'm procrastinating on that too (you are shocked, right?)

Needing: nails are looking like crap. I am lazy and go 3-4 weeks between fills and then they look like crap and I complain about it. But aside from being a procrastinator, I am also a cheapskate so I refuse to go sooner than every 3 weeks. But my nails can not look like hell when I fly away on Friday so it's on my to do list for tomorrow after our PD day.

Yummy: My maternal grandmother passed away 5 years ago today. Yes, on Middle Child's birthday. :( The thing is....every holiday we had as kids, I remember them solely because we went up north to grandma's and she always had her super extra special  yummy fudge. Forget Mackinac Island Fudge....grandma's fudge was the best. And no one can replicate it. They just can't make it the way she did and I miss that (and her of course) so much.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Infamous Fred

We have a special member of our 3rd grade class. He was also a member of my 4th grade class. His name is Fred. He is really nosy but always has a smile on his face.

The Master of Disaster, Fred

I won Fred during a NaNoWriMo writing contest in the fall of 2012. They had a silent auction and one of the items was a "Mystery Bag of Awesome". Being a person who quite likes suspense, and knowing it was for a good cause, I bid $30 on the bag and no one else bid at all. It was chock full of uber cool items--many related to writing, many not--and Fred was among them.

He hung out at my house for a couple of years and last year when I learned about Restorative Circles, he came to school to serve as our talking piece. (I have no idea why I named him Fred. He just kind of looks like a Fred, don't you think?)

Restorative Circles, in case you didn't know, are a community building routine that you can use in your classroom. 80% of all of the circles are just fun stuff, but you can also use them to address classroom problems such as bullying or many students not turning in work, etc. My favorite part about teaching 3rd grade is that they are just young enough to possibly believe me when I blame all of the nosy questions on poor Fred! Fred is also a tough guy and a spy! He lets me know what goes on when I am not in the room. After 7 full weeks of school, even the kids say "Oh that Fred!" when we detail some of his antics. He is kind of like a Flat Stanley but SO. MUCH. COOLER.

The kids are just silly enough to let me blame everything on Fred and they roll with it. Usually in circle (which we do standing up because there are 30 of us and it's too hard to form a circle on the floor without moving all of the furniture), we do two questions per day. Usually, I blame the uber nosy questions on Fred (that's when you'll hear "oh that Fred!" from some of the kids). Once, Fred wanted to know if we would rather eat bugs or have 2,000 spankings! Oh that Fred! (The answers were quite interesting though!)

The kids are quite hilarious and try to take such good care of Fred. You aren't allowed to talk in the circle unless you are holding Fred (except for me because sometimes I have to ask the kids to speak up so we can hear or will ask a clarifying question if I know the other kids are confused). If someone drops Fred, 27 little people gasp in horror. If someone holds Fred too tight, the other friends in the class will gently remind that person to be more careful with our friend Fred. If someone holds Fred by his head (which he does not like by the way), the other friends in the class correct that person. 

It. Is. Hilarious. 

I never knew how much I needed a Fred in my classroom. Plus, the kids are just okay with me blaming MY annoying and nosy questions on HIM so it works.

(It's even funnier because my former student teacher, who now teaches 1st grade at our school, posted a picture on Facebook of some of her students' writing and they both had written [student name] is a good fred and she wrote "a good fred is hard to find" :D)