Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: 2017

How do you teach writing?


How do you teach writing?

Do you have any idea how many people ask me this question every week? I think they ask so often because writing is so darn hard to teach. Am I right? 🙌🏻

Everyone is hoping that I have some magic fairy dust that I can sprinkle on their students' notebooks that will magically create complete sentences, paragraphs and well thought out responses. 

I have some bad news...

There is no magic fairy writing dust. #sosorry

But I do have some good news...

I have screwed up teaching writing for so long, that I have learned a few things that actually improved my students' writing! Good news for me, right?! Would you like for me to share? #ofcourse

So here is my version of the magic fairy dust...

Teach writing in units of study. #seriously


Huh? What are you talking about, Jamie?

Let me explain... 

Some teachers spend a few days working on an informational report for science. Then they have their kids spend a couple days writing a letter to the local fire department. Next, they spend a week on an opinion project that they found on TpT. They go back and forth from one genre of writing to the next.

Does this sound like you?

Well stop it!!!

You don't get good at something by doing it for a few days and then moving on to a new skill. That is just teasing. 

Students need to practice a writing genre for an extended time so that they can master the skill before moving on. Every type of writing has different skills that are needed. For example: narrative writing requires dialogue, opinion writing requires evidence, informational writing requires research. Some skills remain a constant, like writing a lead, but others change based on the style.

They need lessons specific to that type of writing. They need to see modeling. They need guided practice and they need independent practice. 

If you teach it thoroughly, they are so much more likely to remember how to do it when that nasty test comes along.


Here is the order of the units that I taught in third grade in a Common Core(ish) state:

1. Personal Narrative

I would start with this because everyone already knows a story about themselves. It does not require any research. It is also a great way to get to know my new students.

2. Informational

I move on to informational because I need students to master this one early. We will do informational writing, reading and research all year in science and social studies.

3. Opinion or Persuasive

This is actually my very favorite type of writing. Kids love to write about their opinion! I do this after the informational unit because fantastic opinion pieces require research and I teach that in the informational unit.

4. Fiction Narrative

I end my year with fiction stories. I do this because they are super fun and the perfect way to end the year after all of that dreaded testing. 

Don't tell kids what they have to write about!


If you want to see your students' writing improve dramatically, stop telling them what they have to write about! Seriously, no one likes to be told what they HAVE to do. Give them choice. 

Story time...

I hate snakes. I live in the desert, but I can proudly boast that I have NEVER seen a snake in the wild.  (Knock on wood.) I hate snakes so much that I refuse to go in the reptile exhibit at the zoo. I would send my kids in alone. No Mom of the Year award for me!

If you told me that I had to write an informational report about snakes, I would pee my pants. I'm NOT looking up facts about snakes! There will be pictures! I will have nightmares! 

Trust me...it's going to be one sad and pathetic report. 

I love my Golden Retriever. Cash is the most handsome dog ever. I know that you think your dog is handsome, but he's not as handsome as my dog. For real.


He's so intelligent and I love the way that he protects his family. I would totally geek out on a report about Golden Retrievers. I would want to read books about them and look at every website I could find. I bet my report would rock. 

Your students are just like me.

Well not JUST like me.... #thankgoodness

Your students have interests. When you let them write about something that excites them, they will produce their best work. 

My only rule about writing topics is that the topic must fit in the unit of study that we are currently working on. So the Golden Retriever report would have to wait until we got to the informational report unit.

Share and Celebrate Writing ALL THE TIME!


Give your students a reason to want their writing to improve! 

First, writers need to share their work. Otherwise, why write? I know that lots of teachers do an author share chair where one kid comes up and reads their story. I'm sorry to burst your bubble---but that's kinda boring for everyone else. #truthbomb

Plus, only one person is sharing. The others have to wait a couple of weeks before they get to share. That is NOT motivating.

Let your authors share every day. They don't need complete published pieces to be able to share. At the end of your writing time, have kiddos turn to a partner and share something that they added to their piece. It can be a sentence that they are proud of or even something they are struggling with.


Lots (not all) of students will be more motivated to write if they know that they will need/get to share their writing with someone.

Besides sharing, make sure that you are actually celebrating your writers. 

At the end of a unit, have a writing celebration.

Maybe students can be stars for the day! Have them come dressed up. Roll out the red carpet. Students walk the carpet while you take pictures. They will take their place at the mic and share their published piece. The crowd will go wild! (Holding an applause sign will ensure this.)

Maybe you can invite families for an open house where writing is displayed for everyone. Or even invite a buddy class and share writing with each other.

Have you ever thrown a writing pajama party? Everyone loves a bedtime story! Lay out some pillows and blankets, dim the lights and let your authors be the readers. 

The point is....have fun! If it is fun, students will naturally want to improve. 

They will be excited for the next celebration! You can count down the days on the board and keep the specifics a secret until that day. Build it up!

The Secret Sauce


Although I cannot magically turn your students into award winning authors, I can make it just a tad bit easier to teach writing in your classroom!


I have writing units that include EVERYTHING you need to teach fun and meaningful units of study. 
  • lesson plans
  • anchor charts
  • student printables
  • mentor text passages
  • task cards
  • videos
  • rubrics
  • celebration ideas
and MORE!

All you have to add is the excitement and the sharpened pencils. No fairy dust necessary!

And because I love you so much.....I put all of my writing units on sale for a very limited time! 



My brand new opinion unit is 50% off and my personal narrative and informational units are 20% off. What a deal!!!! 







Have a Not So Wimpy day!


Flexible Seating


Well hello all you Not So Wimpy fans!!  I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I am to be a guest blogger on the Not So Wimpy blog.  I am Amanda Quisenberry and I teach 3rd grade for a wonderful school in West Texas (GO PIRATES).  I am married and have three fantastic kids who are growing up way too fast.  I am just starting my 5th year in the classroom, and I still can’t believe how blessed I am to get to do what I do everyday.  

I never thought in one million (word form) years that I would ever be asked to write for Jamie’s blog.  Why you ask?  First of all, I DON’T WRITE.  Anything, ever.  I almost didn’t apply for graduate school because the 500 word essay totally freaked me out.  However, if you teach in Texas, then you are familiar with T-TESS and all that that implies.  

Anywho, my personal goal this year is to implement Writer’s Workshop, which is why I stumbled upon Jamie’s blog one sunny day in June, and my life has not been the same since.  Seriously, now I actually print things in color. I also thought if I expect my kids to write, then I guess I better write, too.  So when Jamie asked for people to submit our names and ideas, I jumped at the chance.  With both feet.  Into sub zero waters.  Without a life jacket.  

But I made it, and I am here to tell you all about how I utilize flexible seating in my classroom.

STOP!!  DON’T RUN AWAY!

Many teachers shudder at the thought of flexible seating.  I did too at one point, but I am here to tell you, if it is done right, it can be a game changer.  Let’s go back to July 2016 when I first jumped on the flexible seating bandwagon.  I bought really cute chairs from Target and a couple of yoga balls.  I stuck those suckers out there and called it done.  Sounds good, right?  What could possibly be wrong with this scenario.  

Ummmm, WHAT IS RIGHT WITH THIS SCENARIO?!?  For starters, I did not put any type of system into place for who was going to get to sit in the fun seats and when.  I mean, they are mature 3rd graders, they should be able to handle this.  Let’s just say that within two weeks I had given all the “fun” (notice my use of quotations this time) seats away.  

However, I was bound and determined to find a way to make it work.  I obsessed all summer long about how to implement a functional flexible seating arrangement for the new school year and by golly, I think I’ve got it.  

THE MOST IMPORTANT PART

Some may think the most important part might be the actual seating, but for me, that was the easiest to tackle.  I kept 7 desks as is, took the legs off 3 desks, bought some kid friendly beach chairs on clearance at Target, 3 lap desks from Michael’s, and found a fun round table in storage at my school.  Flexible seating options done!!  

Now, what do I do with all of this?  Anyone who knows me will probably tell you I am uber organized and structured so the idea of NOT having assigned seats was something I could not wrap my brain around.  How do I manage who sits where?  What do I do with those kids who just aren’t making the right choice?  Do I get rid of all my desks?  So many questions and so few answers.  

Last year, our school stopped using SmartBoards and this was how I held my kids accountable for taking their own attendance.  I am pretty sure I was late on attendance everyday.  You see, prior to that, my kids all had a balloon that they could “pop” when they arrived.  Whoever’s balloon wasn’t popped was absent, and I desperately wanted to get back to the kids doing something to mark their attendance.  The only thought that kept coming to me was clothespins.  And then it hit me like my 3rd pregnancy did.  

Why not combine attendance with the ability for the kids to choose their own seats? Thus the Flexible Seating and Attendance chart was born.  I am taking suggestions for a better name.

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Here are some of the pictures from the chart that is hanging in my room.  I actually have five other choices as well, but I figured you would get the idea with just these pictures.  As you can see, there is a picture of that choice with the rules a student is expected to follow if they choose that seat.  The numbers represent how many kids can pick that choice.  Each student has a clothespin with his or her name on it that is clipped to the left side of the chart.  

The chart hangs right inside my door so the first thing the kids do when they come in in the mornings is move their clip over to the other side and place it on a number to show they are present and what seating option they are choosing for that day.  If someone comes in and wants the RelaxiRug but both numbers are covered, then that choice is not longer available.  Bummer. This has actually worked great for me.  I have not had any issues with kids moving other kids clips or fighting over seats.  

“BUT MRS. Q, I AM ALWAYS LATE...I don’t ever get to choose what I want.”

At my school the doors open for students to come into the building at 7:15.  For those kids that arrive that early, they must go sit in the cafeteria until the first bell rings at 7:45.  Now, I do have some kids whose parents show up right around 7:40 and they are allowed to just hang out at the entrance until the bells rings.  

What this means is that those kids who have been here since 7:15 don’t actually get first choice.  The kids that come down from the cafeteria are usually the last ones in the room, and they get the less-fun leftovers.  I thought long and hard on how to handle this situation.  

At first, I was using Class Dojo to randomly pick two people at the end of the day to go ahead and make a choice for the next day.  That worked, but one day while the kids were getting the room cleaned up and getting ready to go home, I had two sweet friends who were doing everything the way they were supposed to.  They had gone through the checklist of Stack and Pack Procedures, done them all, and were sitting quietly at their spots showing me they were ready to go.  

So guess who gets first choice now? You got it.  The first two people to Stack and Pack correctly and sit at their spots quietly get to choose their seats for the next day.  It works like a charm.  For now at least. I am sure I will need to come up with something more creative in the future.  

“BUT WHERE DOES ALL MY STUFF GO?”

Community supplies, community supplies, community supplies.  Need I say it one more time?  We utilize community supplies in my classroom and it keeps the mess down to a minimum.  My kids have certain items they know they are supposed to keep at their desk every day (box with pencils and crayons, Unfinished Work folder, binder, and IPads) and nothing else.  I am always very specific with how I want things to be left when we line up to go somewhere.  

Once everyone is lined up, I check around the room and if anyone’s spot is messy, they have to go clean it up before we can go anywhere.  I was a stickler about this the first two weeks and now I rarely have to ask anyone to go back and straighten their spot up.

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These are just a few examples of how my kids are expected to leave their spots when we go somewhere.  I cannot even begin to tell you how much this has helped keep desks and lockers cleaned out and decluttered.  For those kids who are sitting at a traditional desk, they have to clean their stuff out everyday because there is no guarantee they will sit there again tomorrow.

COME ON PEOPLE...REFOCUS

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I am just about finished, but I also wanted to share my Refocus Desk with all you patient readers. This is exactly what it sounds like.  If I have a student who is not making the best choices, or just isn’t staying on task, he or she will go to the Refocus Desk for 10 minutes.  After that 10 minutes, they are allowed to go back to their seats.  

However, if they have to make another trip the the Refocus Desk, they will lose free choice for the next day.  Now, I wish I could tell you if this actually works or not but I can’t.  I have never had to send anyone to the Refocus Desk more than once in a day.  The kids realize very quickly that it is not a fun spot to be.  So hey, I guess it does work.  Woohoo!!

HAPPY FLEXIBLE SEATING

I leave you with pictures of my kiddos enjoying their seating.  I hope that I have enlightened you a little about flexible seating.  It doesn’t have to be a monster, but can be if not approached with a well, thought out plan.  I would also like to thank Jamie Sears for this incredible opportunity to step out of my box and trusting me to do it.  


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Thanks for reading,

Amanda



Lots of FREE ELA Resources!


Did you look all of my free math resources? I sure hope so!

Today, I am crazy excited to share some free ELA resources that I have made for you. Enjoy!

Free Vocabulary Games

Are you having fun with your vocabulary words? How about playing some games in a center or as a whole group. Click HERE to read about my vocabulary games and grab all of the printables for FREE!

Free Grammar Activities

If you have never used my grammar sets, you might want to try one for free! This set includes a PowerPoint lesson, notebook activity, writing activity, task cards and an assessment to cover common and proper nouns. Click HERE to grab the whole set for FREE!


Free Writing Course

I am so insanely proud of this email course! I share tons of tips for teaching writing. And more importantly, I share tons of freebies: lesson plans, anchor charts, rubrics, conference forms and more! Click HERE to sign up for this free course.


Free Professional Development Videos

You might not have known that I am a movie star! I star in a couple ELA videos! They are short and full of good tips. Click HERE to watch my writing video.



 Click HERE to watch my vocabulary video!



Free Reading Center Posters

Do you need a simple way to show students which activities they should be doing during reading centers? I laminate posters that list the centers. Then I can use dry erase marker to write in student names. It makes it easy to move students from one group to another when necessary. Click HERE to grab FREE posters.



I hope that you enjoy these free ELA resources! 



Have a Not So Wimpy day!



Lots of FREE Math Resources!


I absolutely LOVE my job! Helping teachers to meet the needs of their students makes me giddy. When I can save you a little time, I get crazy excited. And every time one of your students uses a Not So Wimpy resource, I like to think that they are my student too. 

I love to show my appreciation by creating free resources for you! 

Did you know that I have dozens of free resources? For real! Let's take a look at some of the math resources that you can grab for free!

Free Problem Solving Notebook

Do your students need some help with solving word problems? Click HERE to grab these free problem solving notebook activities.


Free Addition and Subtraction Notebook

Have you tried my math interactive notebooks? Click HERE to sign up for a free addition and subtraction notebook.


Free Multiplication Games

Do your students need practice with their multiplication facts? Click HERE to sign up for lots of fun and free multiplication games.


Free Geometry Centers

Are you using my math centers? Click HERE to grab a free mini set of geometry math centers. 


You will also want to click HERE to grab free labels for your math centers!


Free Area and Perimeter Game

Do you students need some extra practice with area and perimeter? Click HERE to grab a free area and perimeter game board.


Free Geometry Riddle Activity

Do you need a fun geometry activity? Click HERE to grab this free shape riddle printable. 


Free Math Centers Video

Do you need some ideas and tips to get math centers started in your classroom? Click HERE to watch a free video about organizing your math centers.


Free Math Centers Posters

Are you looking for a simple way to display the math centers your students should complete each day? Click HERE to grab posters that you can personalize and laminate. Use a dry erase marker to write in student names. This makes it so easy to move students to different groups when necessary. 




I hope that you are able to enjoy all of these math resources in your classroom.

Would you like some FREE ELA resources?! Of course you do! Click on the photo below to check them out.



Have a Not So Wimpy day!


Tips for Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences


I'm not gonna sugar coat it. I have to be 100% honest. Here goes...

I hated doing parent-teacher conferences. Yup. I used the H word. #sorrynotsorry

It really has nothing to do with my kiddos or even the parents. It's just that I already have a million things to do. I am barely staying afloat. Having 25 meetings was just completely overwhelming. 

Besides complete exhaustion, I struggled with balancing being sensitive and being honest when talking to parents. I only have 10-15 minutes. I couldn't spend all of that time telling parents how much I loved their child. I always felt like I had to get to the weaknesses and goals quick or we wouldn't have have time. Many parents don't like hearing about weaknesses. 

I have had parents cry during conferences. I have had parents yell at me during conferences. I even had a parent threaten to sue me. No joke.

I have learned a few things after having some bad experiences with conferences. I can't promise you that a parent won't get upset with you, but hopefully these tips will make conferences just a tad easier!

1. Use Sign Up Genius

When I first started teaching, I would send home a paper that listed our conference date and asked parents to fill in their top three possible conference times. Then I would take all of these and try to make a schedule that would make everyone happy. WHAT WAS I THINKING!

You don't have time for this craziness!

If you have never used Sign Up Genius, you NEED to! You can set up times that you have available for conferences. You send the link to parents and they choose a time and sign up. It even sends them a reminder email when the date gets closer. 

Did I mention that it is free?

2. Ask About Concerns BEFORE Conferences

Conferences are kind of like doing improv theater because you never know what the parent is going to say, but you will have to respond immediatly. There is nothing worse than a parent showing up for their conference and surprising you with a concern that you aren't prepared to talk about. 

Send parents an email. 

"Dear Families,

I am so excited to meet with you next week to discuss your student's progress and goals for this year. In the meantime, can you do me a favor? If you have any specific concerns that you would like for me to discuss with you during our conference, can you please reply to this email? I will look into your concern and offer suggestions when we meet. Our conference time is so short and I want to be certain that we have time to address these concerns.

Thank you so much!"

When parents email back, you will have time to get data, get suggestions, find resources, talk to the student, etc. 

The conference will be quicker and you won't feel unprepared.

3. Have Real Data to Show

If you take the time to prepare properly, conferences will go so much smoother. Making time for the preparation is key. Start early.

I like to start by filling out THIS conference form for each student. 


Students are all so different and so their goals should be different too! Don't just make a list of the grade level standards. Take a moment and really think about social, behavior and academic goals that would benefit this one particular student.

After filling out the form, gather data for each of the students' goals. Data will decrease crying and arguing during conferences! 

Some data is easy to find. Perhaps the students' goal is to learn the first 300 sight words. You probably know that is a goal because you have already tested the student. You can share the number of sight words that the student has already mastered. Easy.

Other data is trickier, but so important. Let's say that the student's goal is to stop talking out of turn during work time. Collect data for one day. Keep a sticky note on your lanyard and make a tally mark every time that the student talks out of turn. At the conference you are able to say, "For example, last Wednesday, Jenna talked out of turn on eight different occasion." This helps parents to really understand the problem.

Data is important, but make sure that you are not talking in teacher language! Get rid of all of the acronyms and talk to parents like they are real people.

Make a copy of the conference form before the meeting. It will make it easier to prepare for the next set of conferences! You can update their goals rather than starting from scratch. 

Let parents take home a copy of the conference form. This makes it easier for them to share with their spouse. As a parent of four, I totally get mixed up after going to all of my kids' conferences! 

You can grab the free conference form by clicking HERE.

4. Give Resources

I always want to try and make parents a part of the team. Not every parent wants that, but I am going to put that ball in their court.

After I have shared student goals and data, I like to give parents some ideas for how they can help their child to meet these goals. 



If the child needs to work on sight words, I might give them some sight word flashcards or a list of the sight words. If the student is struggling with reading comprehension, I might give the parent a list of good grade level books and some questions they can ask their child while reading. If the child is struggling with math facts, I might suggest the xTra Math website. 

Warning!!! 

Don't make it seem like you expect the parent to do all of the work! Some parents will think that you are passing the buck and expect them to do the teaching. Trust me. This has happened to me! 

Make sure that you share with parents the things that you plan to do in class to help the student to meet their goals. 

5. Stay Organized

I suggest having a file folder for each student. You can throw papers in there from time to time to make a portfolio of student work. I like to include some writing samples and a few tests. 

The work in the folder helps me to fill out the conference form. When completed, I  throw my conference form in the folder. 


I print out my conference schedule from Sign Up Genius and put my folders in the order of my conferences. 

I am able to give the entire folder to parents during our conference. I don't always have time to go through every paper in the portfolio, but at least parents have something to bring home. I know that some will never look at it, but most will appreciate it!

You can grab the free portfolio covers by clicking HERE.

6. The One Thing You Need to Say

Do NOT forget to tell every parents that you are so happy to be their child's teacher! And mean it!


Their child may challenge you, but you are lucky to have them. They are helping you to grow as an educator. If you don't feel that way, you need to have a heart to heart with yourself. (Please don't hate me for saying that.)

Don't let a parent leave without knowing that their child is loved in your classroom.


I hope that these tips make your conferences a little easier and more meaningful! Good luck friends!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!