Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: May 2015

End of Year Desk Cleaning Made Fun!

This is the perfect activity for the last day of school! The desks are getting cleaned and students are having a blast!

Today was my last day with students. I am CRAZY tired, but I really wanted to quickly write about a fun activity that I do every year to get my desks cleans. It is a student favorite and very effective on that last day!

My kids blow sloap bubbles on their desks!

This is the perfect activity for the last day of school! The desks are getting cleaned and students are having a blast!

You will need a few ingredients:
  • a dish tub or other small plastic container
  • dish soap (Dawn works best.)
  • straws
  • a plastic cup
  • dish rags (I ask my students to bring them from home.)
Fill the dish tub with water and a generous amount of dish soap. Use the plastic cup to put a puddle of soap water on each student's desk. Students use straws to blow bubbles. My kids love to see who can blow the biggest bubble. Or who can blow the most bubbles connected to each other. They have a blast for 15-20 minutes! (I do give them extra soap water from time to time.)

This is the perfect activity for the last day of school! The desks are getting cleaned and students are having a blast!

After lots of time to experiment, students use their dish rags to scrub their desks and chairs. I encourage my kids to really use their muscles!

This is the perfect activity for the last day of school! The desks are getting cleaned and students are having a blast!

I often use a Clorox wipe when they are done just to be sure that germs are killed, but the soap does a great job of cleaning the dirt, dust and pencil marks!

Clean desks and happy kids! Win! Win!

This is the perfect activity for the last day of school! The desks are getting cleaned and students are having a blast!

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8 Changes That Made This Teacher Happy

This was my first year of using Whole Brain Teaching in the classroom. It was such an amazing change in classroom management and student collaboration. I loved teaching the classroom rules. Each rule has a hand gesture and the kids practiced teaching each other. When I noticed that the class was a little chatty, I would just say "Rule #2!" The class would says, "Rule #2: Raise your hand for permission to speak." While they said it, they did the hand gesture. This is much more effective and fun than saying "Shhhh!" I had to do it A LOT at the start of the year and very rarely after that.

The part of Whole Brain Teaching that I loved the most was Teach-Okay. Basically, the teacher says something (only a sentence or two), then claps and says "Teach." The students clap and say "Okay." They turn to the person closest to them and teach their partner what the teacher said. I only gave a few seconds and then called them back with "Class. Class." I would do this constantly! I might call one every few minutes. The kids knew they had to be listening because otherwise they wouldn't be able to teach their partner. It also gave kids an acceptable time to talk. They couldn't just chit chat, but some kids just need to be able to use their voice. This whole strategy is a pair-share on steroids. I will never go back...

This year I pushed my kiddos to reach their goals through data tracking! They would set quarterly goals, track their progress and then reflect at the end of the quarter. Data tracking put learning in the hands of students. It improved their motivation and willingness to work hard.

At the beginning of the quarter, every student would set goals.

Throughout the quarter they will graph everything from reading fluency, math facts, spelling tests and each of the Common Core math and ELA domains. Students are always working to improve on their last score. It is very visual. They can easily see when they make improvements and when they need to work harder. They also come in handy during parent conferences.

You can find my second grade and third grade data tracking charts in my store.

Book clubs made my guided reading groups more meaningful for my students and so much easier for this teacher to prep and plan for! I have done them in the past, but this was the first year that I did them with all of my reading groups and used both fiction and nonfiction chapter books.

I choose a different book for each of my guided reading groups. I was able to pick books that best met the reading levels and interests of the students in the group. I could never do that when I was using the readers that came with our basal.

I keep the books in tubs for each group. When they come back to meet with me, we read aloud together. I do not assign jobs like some do. I do not do this because I prefer to use my book clubs to practice our weekly target skill. So when we are learning about character traits, I want ALL of my kids to be thinking and writing about character traits- not just the one assigned to be the character captain. We use my book club graphic organizers as a reading response.

My students would litterly moan if I had to cancel book clubs for any reason. They were so engaged and invested in the text. When we would finish a book in clubs, students would rush to the library to get the next in the series! You can click HERE to read more about how I inspire life-long readers in my classroom.

I simplified classroom jobs this year and it makes things much easier for me! I used to be one of those teachers that had a bunch of jobs and rotated kids through the jobs. This was a pain because I had to remember to change the jobs every week. I also had to train the students on each job. Since they only had it every once in a while, many students would forget how to complete the task. And in reality- I didn't use all of the jobs. The student had the job in name only. Anyone else have this problem?

This year I put my student numbers on baseballs. I split them into two groups and hung them on the wall. Everyday, I flipped the two balls. The two numbers would be the two students who were my helpers for the entire day. They did anything I needed.

Each student got to be the helper more often, I didn't have a bunch of jobs that I didn't need and it took less time to train my students. I didn't have to spend valuable class time at the beginning of every week going over job assignments.

I have been using interactive notebooks for a couple of years. This year, I feel like I really used interactive notebooks to their fullest potential. I used my notebooks for informal assessment. Students would do the activities during guided small groups and I would peak at their answers. I was able to quickly decide if the group needed a reteach, if a student needed to be moved to a different group or if a group needed some enrichment. Quick peaks during small group also mean that I didn't have huge stacks of notebooks to grade!

If a student showed mastery with the notebook activity, I would check them off on my standards mastery checklist. The checklist was used to plan and guide future instruction.

Interactive notebooks weren't working well for me in the past because they were taking too much time. Click HERE to read about some time savers that made interactive notebooks so much more successful this year.

One of the professional goals that I set for myself this year was to keep my guided groups fluid. I wanted to be certain that students were in the correct group ALL year and not just after testing and screening. Student groups changed all year. I wanted my students to always know what group they were in and what center they should be at. I needed them to have a reference that was not hard for me to keep up with. So I made blank posters for each reading and math group. At the bottom, they list the center rotations for that particular group. I laminated the posted. Then I used dry erase markers to list the students in each group. This made it super simple to change out groups weekly or at the end of a unit.

A simple change that made me a more accountable and differentiated teacher!

As a parent and a teacher I despise homework. As a parent I don't like homework because my kids come home from school tired and it makes homework time very trying. This is not how I want to spend our family time. As a teacher I don't like homework because it takes a lot of time to prep and grade. Some kids get help at home and some kids just get their homework wrong every day. Even though I dislike homework, I know that it can be a valuable way to communicate with parents.

This year I decided to use weekly homework packets rather than nightly homework. I staple together 3-4 math sheets and a language sheet. The students get the packet on Monday and it is due on Friday. This gives parents the flexibility to decide how much time to devote to homework each night based on their schedule and their child. Some get it done on Monday and Tuesday and take the rest of the week off! It also means that I only have to check in homework once per week. Huge time saver!

I also attempted to deal with the issue of students not being able to successfully complete homework on their own. If I taught lessons 1-4 this week, I would send those homework sheets home the following week. This gave students more time in class to practice the skill before they had to do it independently without my support. I think this was a HUGE help!

I have a weekly language skill that I teach and assess. This year, I used tasks cards and scoots to test all of my language skills. It was a fantastic Friday activity because kids barely noticed that they were being tested!

Brain research shows that we are more focused and remember more of what we learn when we are moving. This form of assessment was quick, quiet, meaningful and FUN!

I had so much fun reflecting on my school year! What went well in your classroom this year?

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Inspiring Life-Long Readers

I love to read. I am a book nerd. I always have been. I was THAT kid who sat on the wall and read during recess. In high school, I had a job at the local library. In college, I shelved books for Barnes and Noble. Now, I have an Amazon Prime membership just so I can get books delivered within two days. When I finish a book, I get sad because I feel like I am saying goodbye to good friends. Yup, I'm a book nerd!

As a teacher, I strive to inspire life-long readers! I want to have a room full of book nerds. At the end of the year I will judge my effectiveness as a reading teacher, not on standardized test scores, but on the desire and excitement that my students show towards reading. I will chant this to myself repeatedly as I analyze the test data.

Here are some ways that I inspire kids to LOVE reading!

If you want your students to love reading, it is imperative that you have a fantastic library. You need to fill your class library with current books, popular authors and series and books from all genres. It is important that you understand what books the kids want to read. I know that my kids love the Wimpy Kid series. I don't LOVE it. But I love kids reading. So my library includes an ample supply of Wimpy Kid books. During the year I will get them interested in lots of better series. But until then, I will put up with their choices!

If you look in this picture of my library, you will see that the Wimpy Kid bucket is empty. That is because every one of those books is being read by a student at the time the photo was taken. If I were to take this picture today, the Humphrey book bucket would be empty!

Teachers are not rolling in the extra dough so we need to be creative about how we fill our classroom libraries. Here are some ways that I add new books to my library on a regular basis:

  • Write a Donors Choose project. See my post HERE for some tips and tricks.
  • Send home monthly Scholastic book orders. I attach a letter to my orders, email parents, include a blurb in my newsletter and text with the Remind app. I always have a handful of kids place an order. Then I can use my bonus points to get books for FREE for the classroom! 
  • Purchase books from a used bookstore such as Half Price Books. Once or twice a year, I head to the used book store to splurge on new-to-us books for the class library. These stores often have extra teacher discounts so don't be shy about asking.
  • Purchase books from retiring teachers. Every year, there is a teacher or two who is retiring or leaving the profession. I ask about their classroom library! I have had the opportunity buy (for a super reasonable price) a ton of books this way! 

I read aloud to my kids. I almost never skip a day. I read chapter books that challenge and entertain my third graders. I choose books that introduce them to series and authors that they might not be familiar with. The books serve as mini lessons at the start of my reading block. However, I am careful to not stop and ask too many questions of my kids. After all, when you are invested in a book, interruptions are a big bummer. And my goal is to inspire life-long readers. They need to love books to become life-long readers.

Some of my favorite read alouds for the third grade include:

  • How to Be Cool in the Third Grade
  • Third Grade Angels
  • Gooney Bird Greene
  • The World According to Humphrey
  • Rules
  • The Penderwicks
  • The One and Only Ivan
  • Fish in a Tree

Book auctions are such an easy way to get your kids excited about books. I do two different types of book auctions. After I finish a class read aloud, I hold an auction for the rights to read the next book in the series or another book by the same author. The students are always excited to be the first to read a similar book! They all get a ticket (purchased at Wal-Mart), and I draw one name. That person gets two weeks to read the next book. Then, I draw a new name. The excitement continues for weeks! After a few rounds, I quietly add the book to the class library.

I also do two book auctions per year where all students get a new book to keep! During the year, my students earn raffle tickets for behavior and turning in homework. They use these tickets in the book auction at the end of the semester. I get the books for this auction using Scholastic bonus points and through Donor's Choose projects. Sometimes I buy Scholastic $1 books for the auctions, but I never have to spend much. These auctions are so exciting! Kids are cheering, jumping and applauding. All that is excitement over books!!! You can read all about how I organize this auction by clicking HERE.

I love to use book clubs during my guided reading groups! Book clubs, or literature circles, inspire life-long readers because they allow the teacher to carefully choose interesting and on-level books for a small group of students. Book clubs are another way that I am introducing my students to series and authors that they may not be familiar with. Book clubs are not the one-size-fits-all text that basal readers are.

After we finish a book in book club, the entire group is excited to read another book in the series! Kids who weren't in that group are always asking me if they can read the book too! Kids that beg to read books in my classroom will continue reading long after they leave my classroom. I use my Book Club Graphic Organizers for Fiction and Nonfiction to practice all of our reading standards during book clubs.

It is your turn! How do you inspire life-long readers? What do you want to change or add next year so that you have a classroom that is book centered?

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Increase Parent Communication with Friday Journals

Two years ago, I made a professional goal to increase parent communication. My school requires a weekly class newsletter. Yes, I said weekly. I keep mine short and sweet, but I estimate that only half of my parents ever read them. My students complete an agenda every day with their "I can" statements for the day. Again, parents do NOT read. And then the idea for Friday journals came to mind. They won't read what I write, but they love to read what their child writes! (Especially when their child is begging and pleading!)

I LOVE, LOVE my Friday journals!

All of my students have a notebook. I use composition books, but spiral notebooks are fine.  During the last 10 minutes every Friday, my students write a letter to their parents. They write about the activities that we did during the week, new facts or skills that they have learned, their goals and their proud moments. I spent some time at the beginning of the year teaching the friendly letter format. Since I encourage students to use their best writing, grammar, spelling and handwriting skills- this is a great writing practice.

Friday journals are so much more than a writing assignment. Since kiddos are writing about what they learned during the week, it is a form of an exit ticket or a closing to the lesson. Kids have the opportunity to reflect on their learning and teach their parents. This is powerful!

Students are also helping me to keep the parents informed about our classroom happenings! Parents are so much more likely to read a letter from their child than they are to read my newsletter! And now the kids are doing the work, instead of me.

Students love the Friday journals too. I let parents know that they can write a letter back to their student in the journal! As my students unpack their backpack on Monday, they find their journal and excitedly read the note from their parent. I love that parents are encouraging their student and complimenting them on their growth. They have fantastic conversations in those journals that warm my heart and bring smiles to the kiddos' faces! Sometimes a kiddo doesn't have a letter in their journal, but they don't mind too much. They will just remind their parents next week. And if a kiddo really never gets a note from their parent- I grab their notebook out of their desk every few minutes. I leave them a surprise letter!

It costs about 50 cents (or less) for a notebook and 10 minutes of class time per week! So doable!

How about a FREEBIE?! You can download my Friday journal cover and a letter to parents (that I glue on the inside cover) by clicking on the picture below.