Saturday, June 27, 2015

Teaching with Intention ~ Chapter 4

It's time to link up again with everyone over at the Teaching With Intention book study! Chapter 4 is hosted by two fab bloggers -Ashley over at Schroeder Shenanigans in Second and Positively Learning.

This week's chapter dove right into the meaty question - How can we put our thinking (and that of our students) on display and make it real and authentic with our kiddos?

Debbie Miller reminds us right at he beginning that this is a process - one that looks different at different times of the year.  But whatever we do, we need to remember to base our decisions in our beliefs to get where we want to be.  I had a whole lot of thoughts on this chapter, so I'm going to use some guiding questions to keep things organized.

Honestly, I try to do this A LOT in my classroom and some of the examples Debbie gave let me know I was on the right track.  I'm always sharing my thinking with students when we write, when I'm doing a purposeful read aloud, when we're learning new things, when we're figuring out a math problem or concept, when I'm decoding a word... lots of times!

The part I need to work on is the actual display part.  I really like this quote: "Why is making thinking public and permanent in our classrooms a great thing for us to do? It lets students know that thinking matters."  I need to be more purposeful in writing down what we say - what my students say, not just what I say - so we can refer to it later. I need to let THEIR words become the model, rather than a preconceived way I want it to sound.  Definitely something to work on!

Lots and lots of discussion and questioning! For the past few years, our school has had the true pleasure of working with a consultant who has helped teachers improve in so many ways. I worked with this gentleman as he gave a presentation to parents on how they could encourage early literacy with their children.  The best piece of advice he gave, one that has stuck with me and I use in my classroom religiously, is to not answer questions for students.  Ask them what THEY think. He was using examples like little ones asking, "Why can't we go outside today?" or "Can we go to Grandmas tomorrow?"  Rather than just answering, ask, "What do you think?" 

I have put this to use in my classroom and found it really encourages students to think for themselves and gives them an opportunity to share their thinking with others. Anything from, "I wonder why bats hibernate?" to "How do you solve this?" becomes a learning experience.  Try it - you'd be amazed when you hear what your students are actually thinking!

I have also fond that by modeling MY thinking, my students easily pick up word and phrases to help them explain what they are thinking.  This leads me to the next question:

Aside from, "What do YOU think?", I also use a lot of "Why?" "Tell me more about that" and "What makes you think that?  I've found that these are great ways to help students realize that their ideas come from somewhere - they don't just appear in their heads!  Sometimes it's hard for students to explain their thinking.  I love all the phrases and thinking stems Debbie shared in this chapter to help students clarify and expand on their thinking.  As Debbie says, we shouldn't let students off the hook by moving on to someone else when they don't know or aren't sure about an answer.  These are the perfect times to share strategies for students to use to figure things out!

Although this chapter let me see that I am doing many things right in the area of getting kids to think, it has also shown me that there are so many MORE things I can do to really make that thinking public and authentic.  And that, after all, is what it's all about!

Be sure to visit Greg over at Kindergarten Smorgasboard (thanks for starting this book study!) and read what he  is thinking! Greg talked about having a "Thinking Wall" to record his students' thoughts.... that made me think of using sticky notes for an ever changing display of student thinking... maybe a "Thought of the Week?"

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Tipster Thursday - Teacher Stash

Hi there!  I'm blogging today over at iTeachSecond about an easy tip to help you be ready for any little "issue" that might come your way while you're at school.  Do you have a "Teacher Stash?"

Head over to iTeachSecond to read more about what I have in my stash - and believe me, it has all come in handy!

And don't forget - my Makeover Madness giveaway as part of the TpT Seller Challenge ends on Friday! Click on the image below to head to my post to enter!

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

TpT Seller Challenge ~ Dare to Dream!

Hi everyone! I am absolutely loving this TpT Seller Challenge, hosted by the lovely ladies of Sparkling in Second, Third in Hollywood, Peppy Zesty Teacherista and Teach Create Motivate!  Last week I did a loooong overdue makeover of a couple products. (Check out my blog post to enter the giveaway!)  This week was a whole new challenge!

So, I started thinking.... what ARE my goals?  Honestly, when I first started my TpT journey two years ago, I wasn't sure what to expect!  I really didn't have any dreams or goals for my "business" - jeez, for a while, I don't even know if I'd have called it a business!  Fast forward two years and TpT has definitely become a business (ask my tax guy!) and I have been blessed with many things that have come from my TpT journey.

Sharing with Others
My earnings from TpT have allowed me to be able to share and help others.  I have made donations to causes near and dear to my heart, I can buy my friends and family dinner or ice cream and not have to always worry about being able to afford it.  TpT has given me the ability to worry a little less about money.

I've been teaching for 20+ years, and although I can easily see myself teaching another 20 years, at some time I'm going to have to retire.  TpT has allowed me to put money away for the future and has given me the opportunity to still be connected to teaching when I retire.

Helping Family
I am very close to my niece and nephews, and it is wonderful to be able to buy things for them, help with college expenses, etc.  I am blessed to be able to do so many things for my family and close friends because of TpT.

I'm not sure I really have any BIG goals for TpT.  I'd love to continue to grow my business and do even better each year.  I've made friends, helped teachers and impacted the lives of students, all by creating resources and sharing ideas.  What more could you ask for?

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Teaching With Intention ~ Ch. 3 Environment

Being out of school means that I can start to seriously get into this book study.  This week's chapter was a favorite of mine - classroom environment and layout!

Right at the beginning, Debbie Miller states, "When things are going awry for teachers, things are probably not going so well for kids either!" Ain't that the truth! She suggests looking at your room and thinking about three things: (1) areas you like, (2) things you don't like, and (3) your vision for how you would like your room to look - both from your perspective and a student's perspective.
Your classroom layout needs to reflect things that you value as a teacher - and those things should be easily apparent when someone walks in your room.

One of the biggest things that is important to me is a central meeting area where we all fit comfortably.  My rug area is bordered by a wall and 2 shelving units - which not only gives definition to the space, but also gives students a comfortable place to rest their backs. (This picture is from before the beginning of school last year - just keeping it real!)

This is an area I love!  We spend a great deal of time here during the day, sharing ideas, reading books, discussing math strategies, etc.  We start the day with Morning Meeting and end the day with Closing Circle.  My SmartBoard is right there, as is my whiteboard.  The shelving units hold materials we use often, such as unifix cubes, namecards, markers, post its, etc.

Another part of the classroom Debbie talks about is the library - I love the idea of my WHOLE classroom looking like a library, not just one space.  I have books out everywhere, arranged and organized for different purposes.

This year I switched my student book organization from levels to genres and themes.  I was inspired by a quote from somewhere that talked about students needing to learn to choose their own books - no one goes into the library or on to Amazon and says, "Where are the books in the yellow boxes? Or the level 24 books?" This idea really resonated with me there is definitely evidence of it in my classroom.

The books on the black shelves are sorted by author, theme, series... etc.  I always make sure there are a variety of different "levels" in each box, if possible.  I also have books related to current themes (fall, landforms, etc.) on a wooden display and in colored book bins on the shelves.  Books we've shared together as a class (read alouds, mini lessons, etc.) are usually lined up on the ledge of the whiteboard.

Another belief that is important to me - that you see in my classroom layout - is allowing students choice about where they sit, and in the importance of collaboration.  I have 3 bigger tables that seat 6 each in the middle of my room.  Yes, we have assigned seats, but believe me, we're usually spread around the room. I have smaller tables, a couple desks, camp chairs . . .  choice is important and students feel comfortable working in different places depending on the task.  Collaborative discussions require groups to sit together, while independent work needs more privacy.

These three areas are definite "likes" in my room.  But I also needed to reflect on areas I do not like. My biggest issue is my lack of student work and anchor charts on the walls.  I could say that I do not have a ton of wall space, or that the fire marshal disapproves of covering the walls with student work... but in reality, I have to work with what I am given.  Debbie calls it getting into "acceptance mode."  So true!

So how can I change things? I have a bulletin board near our meeting area that right now holds our calendar, birthday names and a couple posters.  (I can't find a picture of this area itself, but you can sort of see it in the above picture on the right - see the blue fabric board?) I do not use this as my calendar area.  I have about 10 slides we do each morning on the SmartBoard that I use to review and practice calendar, math and LA skills.  I'm thinking about Debbie's quote: "Everything on the walls should be purposeful and authentic." I could move the calendar to another place in the room and use that space for anchor charts.  It's not big, but it's a start. And I really need to find one of those old metal chart stands - that way we can hang the current charts and put the older ones on the chart stand for students to refer to as needed. The white board that spans pretty much the entire back of my room could also be put to better use.

One of the final things I took away from this chapter was the idea that "Classroom environments are organic - they grow as we do."  I love that!  If we want students to feel invested in their learning, then they need to have a say in how things are organized.  I've always found that I never really know what each class needs until we've been together for a few weeks.  One year, collaborative space is a necessity... others year my kiddos crave having a space of their own... It takes time for us to get to know each other and how things will work in the classroom before we make the room ours for the year. And things will change as the year progresses!

This chapter has really gotten me to reflect on how everything in my classroom is set up.  I've realized that some things are where they are just because that's how they've always been! It's time to relook at my classroom layout and make sure each area, each space... is a reflection of my beliefs.  It's exciting!

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

TpT Seller Challenge ~ Makeover Madness

Woo-hoo!  I am FINALLY out of school! Friday was my last day, and I will admit - I had something pushing me to get report cards and end-of-year stuff done quickly.  I am participating the  4-week TpT Seller Challenge, hosted by the wonderful girls over at Third in Hollywood, Teach, Create, Motivate, Sparkling in Second and Peppy, Zesty Teacherista.
Week 1's challenge was to do a little makeover.  Well, folks... I'll tell you.  I figured with me still being in school, I should stay small for this one.  I decided to give the cover of one of my bestsellers a little facelift.

I kept the Prefix Power resource itself pretty much the same - just updated the fonts and added a fourth activity (an "I Have, Who Has?" game). Here's what's inside:

Thennnnnn... it happened.  I decided to do a quick update of my Grammar Games resource.  I love using this in my class, but for some reason it wasn't getting the attention it deserved.  I had redone the graphics twice prior to this, but it still didn't help.  This time I decided to not go with a "theme" (dinosaurs, space, etc.), but to keep it neutral.  (And of course, what a great reason to buy new clipart!) Melonheadz to the rescue!

Wow!  What a difference!  I purposely kept the boxes big and included only 12 in each game.  I found that 12 was PLENTY for my students to do at one time. I like to have my kiddos write the answer on the line in each box first, THEN go around and find who has that word and write their name in the box.
 And, of course once I did the grammar one, I had to update all the math ones to match!

There are 2 different sets for the math - one focuses on naming numbers (expanded form, base ten form, etc.) and one focuses on adding and subtracting tens and hundreds.  You can buy each of the math ones separately, or I bundled them together and included a third game (place value) for free!
And if you want all the math and the grammar, there's a bundle for that, too!

Whew!  Who knew I could get so much done and still finish report cards, data sheets, pack up my room . . . wow!

To celebrate all this makeover madness, I'm giving away a copy of my Prefix Power resource and the Math and Grammar Games Bundle!  You can enter using the Rafflecopter below.  And because it's summer, I made it really easy to enter. :-)  I'll pick two winners - one for the Prefix Power and one for the Games Bundle. The giveaway ends Friday at midnight.  And just in case you don't want to wait to win, I'm putting both resources on sale through Friday, too!

Now that I'm on summer vacation, I'm ready for next week's challenge! Bring it on!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Monday, June 15, 2015

Teaching With Intention - Chapter 2

Happy Monday! I'm excited to be joining up Kindergarten Smorgasboard and writing about my thoughts on chapter 2 of Teaching With Intention.  Once school gets out this Friday, maybe I'll actually post on time!
This week's chapter is all about walking the walk - how do your practices, the things you do everyday in class with your kiddos, measure up to your beliefs?  Debbie Miller starts by challenging teachers to develop their own set of beliefs - and then look critically at what goes on in the classroom. 
 So... what are my beliefs?  After a lot of thought, I came up with two ideas that are central to my teaching.  There are more, but these seemed most important to me.
1. Building a community of learners is the single-most important path to successful learning.
This belief is the cornerstone of my teaching.  Creating an environment that is respectful, open to discussion and differing viewpoints, where students know each other and care about what goes on, not only in the classroom, but in each others' lives.... this is the kind of learning community I strive to build every year.  We have morning meetings and closing circles (rooted in Responsive Classroom), spend time throughout the year modeling and practicing how to be a good listener, questioner, team player and partner. I pride myself on really getting to know every student in my room on a personal level - and on learning about each other as a class.  I could go on and on about ways we build community (maybe another blog post? :).  But this is definitely a belief I have held for a long time.
2. Start from where you are and grow to where you want to be.
I know this is really broad - and it encompasses other beliefs that probably deserve to be on their own.  As I'm typing this, I am realizing I really need to tease out the different parts of this belief so they each stand alone. Debbie Miller talks about always having a plan, and knowing where you are going.  Where do you want to be by the end of the year?  In January? In the spring?  I think that is important. Keep that plan in mind, but take students from where they are NOW - not where you WANT them to be, or even where they SHOULD be. Every child is on his our her own journey. And the starting point is going to be different for everyone.  Our everyday decisions should be made based on data from our students, taken from formative and summative assessments, anecdotal notes and observations - not just on what the curriculum map, anthology or lesson plan says.  Yes, students should be learning certain things at certain points of the year.  But you can't teach plural and possessive nouns if your students aren't completely solid on what a noun is.  And that is ok. And it's ok if the teacher across the hall is teaching plural nouns and our kiddos aren't ready.  They will be. Just give them time.

"Where is the evidence of these beliefs in the classroom?"
This was the biggest takeaway for me from this chapter.  We all have mandates, programs, pieces of curriculum, units, etc. that we may not agree with - but that we have to do.  How can we teach what we are asked to teach, and still be true to our beliefs? Debbie encourages everyone to take an in-depth look at every little thing that goes on in the classroom.  Does it align with your beliefs? If so, then keep doing it! If not, then you have to make a choice.  Change your beliefs, or change your practices. 
This chapter has really made me take a look at what my beliefs are and how they play out in the classroom.  After 20+ years of teaching, I can say that my practices may have changed, but my beliefs have stood strong. And I need to keep remembering to be true to myself - and my students, in everything I do.
That's all for chapter 2! Make sure you stop over and visit the three lovely ladies hosting chapter 2 and check out other teacher's thoughts.  Lots of link ups!      
 Stay tuned for chapter 3 coming later this week!

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Beach Editing - a Freebie

Happy Sunday!  Are you looking for a quick and easy-prep activity for these last few days of school, summer school or even next year? I blogged over at iTeachSecond today and shared a sample activity from my Bundle of Beach Fun.
Hop on over to iTeachSecond to find out more!

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