Thursday, July 23, 2015

Birthday Nefariousness

Yes I did just make up the word nefariousness. Today is my hunny's 44th birthday. Last week while driving around with the girls we passed his work and Middle Child said "oh there's dad's car" and I got the idea that for his birthday, we needed to do something silly. Like decorate his car with birthday stuff  (he works for AT&T and just parks at the garage and then is out in the field all day).

So today we blew up some balloons and headed over there. I'm astounded no one came out of the building and asked us what the heck we were doing ;) He told me when he got home that a coworker had text him around 2 pm and said "someone really likes you....or not" and he was wondering what my dastardly plan was.

Here's the inside of his car....full of balloons! We also put paper streamers on the windows. On the windshield is a huge banner that says "Happy Birthday" 

Fortunately he has a sense of humor and thought it was funny ;) 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The {New} Erin Condren Teacher Stuff!

Oh my goodness gracious.

So, in May during Teacher Appreciation, I took full advantage of the sale at to purchase my super fun and awesome teacher planner for next year.

 How can you not LOVE this Sea Horse? Seriously??

I also shared a few things I did to some of the inside pages such as this one where I created a "Pins" and "Projects" space on the extra notes pages for each month and also added a "Reflections" section at the bottom to help me stay positive and look toward the future.

And this fun hack where you mark the end of the lesson plan pages to help you keep track of the marking period (super useful if you have standards you need to make sure you get a couple more assessments in for before report cards -- plus who doesn't love those super fun purple washis??)

And my super hack for utilizing the Absentee Log that I knew I would never in a trazillion years ever use. (And I am just amazed that this little video has almost 600 views on it!)

So with all of this fabulousness that I have already done, you'd think that I couldn't handle anymore, right??

WRONG! :) 

I'm minding my own business one day and BAM! I get an email from telling me the NEW teacher planners are, awesome, yay. I already have one so no big deal, right??


Oh my gracious. Check this OUT.


I want it all! All of it. Now, yesterday, two weeks ago! Wow. Good stuff. 

Even though I totally have my planner already, I am SO getting some of the new stuff. It is just too fabulous for words.

What're you waiting for?? YOU can get 25% off through July 19 (that's Sunday!) using the code TEACH25 at checkout. But you can also save $10 on your first purchase by following this referral link. You will LOVE your purchase, I promise you. I was so skeptical the first year I bought one but I was wow'd, big time. I know you will be too :)

{Edited to add: Since I'm a self-professed geek....I did the math. If you only got the Teacher Planner, you'd save just under $15 on it with the coupon the $10 referral credit. So not including shipping, your planner goes from $59 at base price to just over $34. That's not bad at all!}

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

CRAFT for Cafe for Reading

That's not a very clear title, is it? :) 

Before I begin, let me just say how ASTOUNDED I am at people talking about actually going back to in like, they have to be back in two weeks (or less). What the what?? I'm currently enjoying my sixth week of summer vacation and (don't kill me), I have six more weeks before I have to show up on August 28. {I have trainings on Aug 3-4 and 18-19 but those are things I volunteered to do so if I wasn't doing them....August 28 would be the first day I had to report for school this fall.} It boggles my mind that people are already going back....of course, I'm also certain these people have been out since mid-May but still. It's SO weird to me.

Anyway, on with the point of this post :) As I mentioned previously, I am absolutely adamant that I will use the Daily 5 format with CAFE this coming year. I have put it off long enough and I'm just going to do it. I can kind of take advantage of the fact that I don't know who my partner is and there is a 99.9% chance this person will be a first year teacher....thus I can do whatever I want and just guide him/her to be the best they can be. I don't have to settle for someone else's idea of what we should do. 

That said, I decided I should begin to prepare for this so that I won't chicken out and make excuses to not do it. I REALLY am digging the idea of the schedule I mentioned in the previous post. It obviously won't occur the 2nd day of school or anything but I know that with hard work and building our stamina I can have kids in groups (and fall MAP testing done so I have some baseline info on my students) by the beginning of October and they should be ready for the full schedule by then. I'm excited about it and am very glad I mapped it out for myself -- even if it will inevitably change -- because it makes it seem like something I can tackle. It also helps that I have a student teacher this fall that I can bounce these ideas off of and get her perspective on tweaks as I make the plunge into it. (I'm fairly certain I will be kicking myself by November for not implementing this framework in years past.)

Many years ago, Kristen at LadyBug's Teacher Files modified the CAFE system to spell CRAFT (you can read about it here). I know I got this file a million years ago because it doesn't even look the same anymore ;) Anywho, I found the file that I had downloaded oh-so-long ago and printed them out and used my circle cutter to cut them into perfect circles.

I thought I'd be slick and put them up on the spare wall at home in my office to check on how big of a space I'd need in my you can see, I totally don't have room on this wall :) I am not going to be able to use a bulletin board because mine aren't big enough to hold all of the cards that tell what each letter stands for!

Fortunately it is not a total disaster. My room this fall will be my old 2nd grade room and I plan to put my small group table in the same spot as in this picture below.
See where that black cabinet is? I will create a makeshift bulletin board there (with a black tablecloth and borders pinned up) and put the CRAFT board there. It actually will be super smart because I want the kids to really use the strategies while they are at the table with me (since ideally I will confer with kids the last few minutes of their group work each time we meet) but it will still be visible from the rest of the room. Plus right to the right of this space will be where our whole group gathering area is so this wall is the ideal place to put it. {And thank the Lord that last year I bought some wonderful fabric to cover those shelves because looking at this sort of thing drives me insane! This picture was setting up for the year which is why it is such a mess.}

I am excited. I have a plan. I WILL execute this plan this year.

But first....I am going to spend most of the next six weeks being on summer vacation. I don't want to do too much work until mid-August just in case anything crazy happens with the work situation. It has happened before and while I am confident that it won't change, I am being a bit cautious just in case.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Integrating Daily 5 with Reading Street: A Plan

Ever since I found out I was moving to 3rd grade for this fall, I have had ideas swirling in my head about how best to tackle literacy instruction. 3rd grade has, historically, struggled in our district to make the gains needed to get and keep kiddos on level for the next grade. It is utterly absurd to assume that means every 3rd grade teacher we have is incompetent because that isn't true. We have very hard working teachers in our district for the most part. But I know for me this means I have to do things a bit differently than I have done working with bigger kids.

For many years I have really wanted to give Daily 5 a whirl but I have always found a reason to resist it. I don't know why. Maybe I'm just deep-down-honest-to-goodness afraid of giving up that level of control. Alas, I think this is going to be the year I have to kick myself in the pants and just make it happen. We use Reading Street and for a long time I really felt tied to what the "5 day Plan" our district created told me to do. Partly because I knew this was going to be something my principal would look at when I was being observed but also because I didn't feel confident enough to really make the call to go outside of what I was told to do.

I'm not afraid to break the mold anymore. Not because I am just a big brat (although I kind of am), but because I feel confident enough in my own teaching ability to know what is right for my kids and for me. I want to move as much away from whole group teaching as I can. I really think if I can focus the vast majority of my teaching day on small group instruction, I am going to get better results and have happier, more engaged kids. 

I will still use several aspects of Reading Street that I really think help me see if my students are making progress on the skills I am teaching them but I want to try to integrate those things into the Daily 5 process. There are some skill based sheets in the Readers Writers Notebook that comes with the series that I like to use with my kids to really focus in on skill building which I can utilize in my small groups along with phonics work and other authentic reading strategy work. Plus, one thing I was thinking since I'm reading the 2nd edition (which is SO much better than the original book) is that I can utilize the whole group focus lesson times for a combination of shared reading, word work /grammar and CAFE lessons. I am actually keeping a list of ideas going in my home office as I think of them so I'm ready to really dig in once I start actual lesson planning for the year (which won't happen until I have a schedule of my specials, recess and lunch times). 

I think I will use a Daily 3 format with 3 rounds, one of which has to be Read to Self. Two days per week the kids will utilize Read to Someone to do focused reading in our leveled readers and two days per week they will do grammar/word work. My low groups would meet with the teacher four times and the high intermediate and high kids would meet with the teacher three times each week. This setup would ideally allow the kids to have 1-2 "extra" rounds each week to practice in an area they feel they need more work or to catch up on something if they were absent or were pulled out for something. The schedule itself will be worked out once I have kids and have been able to do some initial testing to place them in groups. (Writing is not included because it would be in a separate writing block entirely.) 

In the 2nd edition of the Daily Five, they emphasize not going over 10 minutes in the whole group focus lessons. I think this is a great reminder because sometimes *I* have trouble focusing longer than that if I haven't had some movement or a shift in thinking to keep me engaged. I want to utilize the videos that come with Reading Street for the introduction to the weekly skills and story and they are very short and would fit into this format. 

Tenatively (very tentatively) I am thinking of something like this:

R1: Concept Talk & Envision it background videos (6-8 minutes total)
R2: Grammar Jammar video & vocabulary activity
R3: Fresh Read mini-lesson on the weekly reading strategy

R1: Spelling pattern activity
R2: Grammar activity (on chart paper whole group)
R3: Skill lesson activity (on chart paper or overhead)

R1: Grammar activity
R2: Cafe lesson
R3: Cafe lesson

R1: Spelling pattern activity
R2: cafe lesson
R3: cafe lesson

R1: Grammar activity
R2: Cafe lesson
R3: Cafe lesson

It is a huge work in progress but I like this format because a) I can utilize areas of Reading Street that I think do really help me focus my instruction on what kids are expected to know (and will be tested on at the end of the week) and b) there is a nice balance between the lesson areas from RS and the CAFE lessons that just support kids as readers. Sometimes I have felt in the past that I didn't have enough time to really help my kids focus in on the grammar skills that are sooooo important. If I can make this sort of schedule work, it will allow me to reinforce those grammar concepts in our writing block later and the kids are really getting double dipped on it without realizing that's what we are doing. 

I am also thinking of how I would best utilize my small group time. I do not want to use the leveled readers in my small groups because I have another strategy I have used with those before that I'd like to use again (that's a post for another day!). Instead, what I really want to do is take the main story selection into my small group time and then focus on the skill and strategy concepts within the group. I am not a huge worksheet kind of teacher BUT I do really like the skill and strategy pages that Reading Street has for two reasons 1) the texts are short so my low kids don't get overwhelmed and my high kids can really focus on a set skill without worry of overanalyzing and 2) the texts usually go along with the main story but with different characters which helps boost comprehension as it is almost like paired reading selections. 

In my perfect teaching life, I will have 4 groups: 1 low, 1 low-medium, 1 medium-high and 1 high. Of course I realize it won't split super evenly like that but it would be ideal. It wouldn't surprise me to start with 2 "low" groups either with summer slide and all of that. What I'm thinking right now is that my low and low-medium groups would see me four times per week as those are the students who are going to need to have more face-to-face time. My medium-high and high kids are going to see me 3 times per week. 

The medium-high and high kids would read the story with me in small group one day and then the other two days would utilize the skill/strategy worksheets and/or grammar/spelling focus sheets to provide focused teaching where I can quickly assess their understanding but also correct misconceptions. The low and low-medium kiddos would have the same types of set up but we would spend 2 days on the actual story reading to help scaffold their reading and provide the front load those friends are more likely to need.

I'm quite honestly terrified and thrilled to be considering this format. I think it will be much more engaging for the kids as they will have focused things they can choose to work on in their Daily 3 and I am not going to be spending my time trying to reign in kids who have lost their focus. I've got some more brainstorming to do on this for sure, but once I get into my school and have my hands on my materials (not to mention know who my teaching partner is and can plan with him/her!) I am looking forward to really refining what this will look like and tweaking it from what it looks like in my brain to how it will really work with children to make them into amazingly awesome readers. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Currently {July 2015}

How is it JULY?? Where did June go? Seriously. My mom told me once when I was younger that the days/years would just fly by the older that I got. I thought she was crazy....but it's so true! Of course, if you really consider how our entire lives are just a blink in the universe, it also puts things into perspective. 

Listening: The youngest is bashing monsters (or creepers or whatever they are called) in Minecraft and I keep hearing them screech as they die. (Nice, right? lol)

Loving: I AM loving being on summer break. No worries, no cares, just being. It's amazing.

Thinking: You's now July. That means I'd like some summer weather (you listening Mother Nature?). We've had a few hot days here in June but not much. Almost every weekend this summer so far as been cold and/or rainy. We want to go to the beach already! So warm up, would ya? :)

Wanting: My teaching partner in 3rd grade quit last week. She is due with her first baby in October and I long suspected that she would not come back. Due to the awful transition I had this past year, I really want my district to hire my former student teacher into that job....her and I would kick 3rd grade's butt together. I need someone I can teach with who isn't going to leave me hanging.

Needing: My new grad class started this week and I've got some homework I need to finish up if I want to be able to enjoy my holiday weekend! 

All Star: People always come to me with their problems or issues, usually just to vent, not because they want me to fix it. I just listen and let them get it out because we all need to do that sometimes. If they want my advice, I give it but usually I just listen and affirm their feelings. It's amazing how far that takes you in life. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How NOT to encourage readers

I've spent quite a bit of time since my school year ended reading for pleasure. I have always been a reader. My mother and my maternal grandfather have always loved books as well. My grandpa died when I was 19 years old and I remember when he had passed and we were tasked with helping my grandma clean out grandpa's version of a man cave. It was full of books!

When I was a kid, if I was really bad, my parents didn't ground me from the television or video games, the grounded me from books (I know, I know). That is how deep my love of the written word is. I love to read. It saddens me every year how many students I have (often boys but not exclusively) who just do not like to read for whatever reason.

Over the years I have used many methods in my literacy classroom. As I move to 3rd grade, knowing how vital 3rd grade reading scores are in determining the future success of the students, I have been doing a lot of research on my own on how best to modify my literacy teaching. With National Board Certification in Literacy, I certainly have a lot of knowledge and experience to draw from....but sometimes that goes out the window once children are actually in front of you. Every child is different and has different needs.

I have found over the five years I have taught at my current school that choice is magic for my kids. I'm in a low-income inner city school; for a lot of our kids the tough love approach is the only one that works because they need the absolute consistency of high expectations. I will never forget the guilt that permeated my class this year when I was absent and the students were horrible. I did not yell and scream at them (though I kind of wanted to!), I just calmly told them how disappointed I was that they would treat a guest in our school so poorly. They knew they had disappointed me and that was worse than me yelling. They were very different people for the few days following that because they knew how disappointed I was. Expectations make a big difference. So do those choices. It is its own brand of magic.

One area I have insisted my students have a lot of choice in is the things they read for Silent Reading. I have a huge classroom library--probably the biggest in my school (although one of my 5th grade colleagues may have me beat). I have about 900 books of my own plus the books that I have available from my school. I am always buying books for my students. The wide selection of books is vital to helping students begin to love reading and I am certain that is why I usually see huge gains in my reading scores each year.

We use MAP testing at our school and it provides each student with a Lexile range.  While I do expect that my students read on their level when reading independently so they can practice their strategies in a "just right book", I do also allow them to select one book in their book box that is any book they want, regardless of its level. This may mean a child who is at a 300 level will pick up the first Harry Potter book or a Percy Jackson book. They relish that one "off level" choice. They also know that if they aren't successful with it, they can try again with another off level book. This piques their interest and often pushes them to read better because they want to read harder and more interesting books.

Which brings me to my rant and the point of this post. The Littles are now 12 and 13 ( did that happen??). They both have late year birthdays (November and December). Middle Child is dyslexic so getting her to read is a tough task. She is going into 8th grade but reads on a late 4th grade level. Unfortunately there aren't many books at a 4th grade level that capture her interest anymore. My 12 year old is going into 7th grade but also has a lower reading level. I suspect she is just not a good test taker because I know she can read and comprehend books at a higher level than where she is testing at school (also late 4th grade). This girl also loves to write creatively and rarely have I seen a child who likes to write but doesn't like to read.

I have the entire Harry Potter series and most of the Percy Jackson series in my library. I am a die hard Potter fan having read all of the books multiple times (even sending the kids to my mom's for the night when Deathly Hallows came out so I could read it uninterrupted and I about 7 hours). I had not read any of the Percy books and in talks with my students this year figured I'd better.

I watched The Lightning Thief with the Littles so I knew what it was about. I told Middle Child that she must be a demigod  because she's dyslexic just like Percy. I asked both girls if they had ever read it before and Middle Child said no because it wasn't her kind of book (she loves Hugh Jackman and is obsessed with all things Wolverine, including comics). The Youngest said no because my teacher won't let me because it's not on my level.

Friends, I may well have seen red at that declaration. I was SO livid. Yes, I do entirely understand and appreciate the "just right book". However I would NEVER  tell a child they couldn't read a book because it wasn't on their level! (Sidenote: I actually do say that to kiddos when it comes to library books from the school library since they have them for such a limited time but if the child really is interested in a particular library book and I don't have a copy of it, I'll either make an exception or I'll check it out myself and let the child read it since I can keep it longer. I don't just say "it's not on your level too bad for you!") Way to kill their interest in reading!

So this just makes me absolutely more adamant that I will not stifle children's curiosity and what they WANT to read (unless it is obviously inappropriate--I wouldn't let a 3rd grader read The Hunger Games for example because the content is too much for that age).

Provide boundaries but make them reasonable. Don't tell kids they can't read a book just because it's not "on their level"! Let them try. Chances are, they will rise to it and work to understand because they are invested in the content.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Erin Condren Teacher Planner Hack

What do you think? Would you use this hack? 

Interested in getting your own Erin Condren Teacher Planner? Use this referral link and get a $10 credit!