Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: September 2015

5 Tips for Teaching Students to Respond to Text

Tips to improve student's ability to write about what they read.

New standards make it more important than ever before that we teach students to thoughtfully respond to text in writing. Having the ability to write about the text shows a deeper understanding of the material and allows teachers to integrate reading, writing and language. But there is NOTHING EASY about teaching students to respond to text!

Every time I would give my students a reading response assignment, I would cry when I saw their work. The wailing with big, fat tears  kind of crying. Seriously. This is a third grade response...

This is nothing like I pictured it in my mind! Where are the complete sentences with proper capitalization and punctuation? Where is the text evidence? Where is the evidence that the child even read the text? Can we spell words correctly that are right in the question???!

After several disappointing attempts at reading response, I knew that I needed to spend more time teaching students HOW to write about text. It has made a HUGE impact on the quality of my student work and I am crying far less! Here are five tips that helped me to teach my students to respond to text.

I learned the hard way that teaching a student to respond to text takes much more than one mini lesson. I now use the gradual release model.

I Do (Whole Group)
I first model responding to reading with my whole group. I use a class read aloud so that every student  knows the text/story. I do not give students any paper. I even like to pull them to the carpet so that they aren't as distracted. I model the entire process while thinking out loud. Students will listen to me as I talk about finding my text evidence. They will hear how I start writing my answer using part of the question. I will talk about how I am extending the response with some of my own thinking and/or examples. And finally, they will watch as I edit and make corrections that improve my work. When I am done, I ask students to share what they noticed. You can create a class list of the things that the teacher did to make the best possible writing.

I have found the greatest success with my third graders, when I do this type of modeling for a complete week. Yup. A week!

We Do (Small Group)
Once students have seen you write about text at least a handful of times, it is time for them to start practicing. They still need guidance and reminders so I like to do this practice in our small guided reading groups. As a group, we can read the question and work to find the evidence in the text. As a group, we can write our evidence in complete sentences, extend it and edit.

Tips to improve student's ability to write about what they read.

After a few times doing it as a group, you might have shoulder partners work together in the reading group. Then you can have each partnership share their answer. As a group, you can talk about what you like about their response and what  could be improved.

You Do (Independent)
After students have had sufficient practice with groups and partners, it is finally time for them to complete a response on their own. Encourage students to use the examples from their reading groups to help them to write their independent reading response.

Tips to improve student's ability to write about what they read.

I have learned the hard way that my students are more engaged and perform at a higher level when I give them as much choice in their reading response activities.

Choice in Text:
I used to require students to respond to the weekly story in our reading textbook. The responses were terrible. And honestly, I got so bored of reading the same response over and over. Now I allow my students to choose to read any book that they want. Sometimes they read a book a little below their level and other times they choose a book above their level. Since it is a book they are interested in, they are more engaged and motivated. They work harder to understand the text and are more willing to go back and look for evidence. Students will read from their chosen book during our read to self center.

Tips to improve student's ability to write about what they read.

Choice in Response questions:
I used to assign the questions that I wanted students to respond to. When I started allowing them to choose their own text, I saw that the assigned questions did not always work. I might be asking about character traits and a kiddo was reading an informational text about sharks. Maybe I would ask about their least favorite part of the book when the child was in love with the entire book. Or I was asking about the problem and solution when a student had only read the first chapter of their book. I realized that I needed to give them choices for questions so that they could choose one that was appropriate for their text. I immediately saw that students were more successful and took more ownership of their work. I now use Reading Menus for all of my reading response assignments. Students have nine choices of questions. Six of the choices are intended for fiction books and the other three work well with non-fiction text.

Tips to improve student's ability to write about what they read.

Students need immediate, meaningful and on-going feedback on any new skill. It takes time and time is something that none of us have much of. However, I have found ways to squeeze it in here and there.

Simple Rubrics:
You are going to want to use a  rubric to grade reading responses since you are looking for more than just a  correct answer. Be certain that you are using a very simple rubric. This makes it easier for you when grading and it also makes it easier for students and parents to understand as well.

Tips to improve student's ability to write about what they read.

This rubric is included in my reading menu product.

I also included the same rubric directly on the response paper. This has helped me to be able to grade quickly and save paper!

Tips to improve student's ability to write about what they read.

Student Conferences:
When we first start reading responses, I try to meet with every student to discuss their work and the rubric. It really only takes 2-3 minutes per student. It gives me an opportunity to explain the rubric, compliment areas that they did well and offer suggestions for improvement. I like to pull a few kids during writing time, bell work or another time where students are working independently. Have the rubrics out on your table so that you can grab a student and work with them on a moments' notice. I also find that this goes faster if you have the child read the response to you rather than trying to read it to yourself. This also helps me to see past spelling and handwriting to focus more on content.

Later, I only conference with students who are struggling. It takes a lot less time. If several students are struggling with the same skill, I can meet with them all at once for a little mini lesson.

When I meet with individual or small groups of students, I like to give them one goal to focus on. The entire rubric can be overwhelming for some students. Having one goal can help them to practice a needed skill. I will give them a goal and then ask they they underline evidence of their goal in their next reading response. They are proving to me and themselves that they are meeting their goal. This strategy has helped my lowest readers and writers to be successful on reading response activities.

You can grab my goal setting sheet for FREE by clicking HERE.

Tips to improve student's ability to write about what they read.

I have found that teaching students how to self assess  has increased the quality of the work my students are turning in. The end goal is to have students check over their work and turn in work that meets all of the set requirements. You can't just tell them to check their work. You need to teach them HOW to check their work.

Practice with Rubrics:
My students love to pretend to be the teacher. During a reading group, I will give them all a copy of a reading response (one that I did with intentional errors) and a copy of the rubric that I use. As a group, we will read the response and decide on the  appropriate score using the rubric. I like to start discussions by asking things like, "What would the writer have had to do to get a better score for completion?" or "Why did you choose to give the writer a 2 for evidence?" This type of practice and discussion helps my writers to see just how I am grading them. Before they turn in their next response, I will remind them to look over the rubric (they keep a blank one in their notebooks and it's on their response sheet). They will know how to do this with a more critical eye now.

Tips to improve student's ability to write about what they read.

I have found that students LOVE to check things off of a list. (Honestly, I love to as well! I add things to my to do list just so that I can check it off.) I now add simple reminder checklists to the bottom of my reading response sheets. 

Tips to improve student's ability to write about what they read.

If you start to see that a student is starting to just check things off of the list, but not actually doing the item in their writing- ask them to color code evidence. So if they check off that they used text evidence with a blue crayon- they need to underline the text evidence in blue. This helps to hold students more accountable. 

Tips to improve student's ability to write about what they read.

FREE Halloween Writing Menu

I am always looking for ways to keep my students engaged the week before Halloween while still working on our standards. I created this writing menu and some graphic organizers to give my kids a fun Halloween themed writing activity that reenforces our writing lessons. The menu includes 3 narrative prompts, 3 informational prompts and 3 persuasive/opinion prompts.

I put a writing process checklist on the bottom of the menu to help students to work through each step.

I included a graphic organizer for each each type of writing to help students plan.

The freebie also includes several cute Halloween themed writing papers  for their final drafts.

Would you like some more classroom tips and Halloween freebies? The talented bloggers from Upper Elementary Snapshots put together this FREE Halloween eBook! You will find all kinds of helpful information and links to ten FREE products, including my writing menu. Click on the picture below to download.

{Click to Access and Download the FREE eBook and Printables for Upper Elementary Students}

Managing a Classroom Economy that is Super Simple!

I use class money ad I blogged on iTeach Third about how I keep the system simple and still motivating! Here is the post...

I am excited to share some simple strategies for making a classroom economy work in your classroom.

I have used a classroom economy before and could never keep up with it. I was supposed to pay the kids and I totally forgot for weeks on end. I was supposed to sell coupons and I just never found time for the sale. After feeling terribly guilty, I would sell the cute coupons- but then the students actually wanted to use them! I didn't have time for that either! "I am sorry that you bought a show-and-tell coupon. I have 38 standards to teach today and there won't be time!" "I know you bought a lunch with the teacher coupon, but I have two meetings and photocopies to make during my 15 minute lunch." By Christmas, the economy just faded away.

This year, I rethought the entire process! I found ways to make it super simple on ME! And it doesn't take any extra time!

First, let me explain why I feel so passionate about using an economy:

  • I don't have a behavior clip chart and so I needed some way to reward students and to hold them accountable for their choices.
  • Students are more motivated when they actually get something that is tangible. Students will work harder for this piece of paper than they ever did for a clip up.
  • Students gain experience with counting money.
  • Students must make decisions about spending and saving money. This is a huge life skill!
  • Fines can be assessed privately so that students are not embarrassed. 
  • When the money comes out- my kids all turn into SUPER students! They see the reward and they will turn it up a notch! 

In previous years I paid students for classroom jobs and turning in their homework. NO MORE! I told my students that behaving, taking care of the classroom and turning in their work are things that I expect them to do. They do not get paid for these tasks. I don't want to create a classroom of students who will only do a job if they get paid. That is laziness! I don't don't get paid for making dinner, mopping the floor and paying the bills. There are tasks that everyone must do each day that they do not receive compensation for. Kids may as well learn this lesson now.

In my classroom students earn money for going ABOVE & BEYOND the expectations! Some examples include:

  • Helping classmates
  • Excellent participation
  • Compliments from other staff members or substitutes
  • Extra classwork (fast finisher activities) done in a way that shows significant effort
  • Exhibiting positive character traits
  • Explaining strategies
Since there isn't a payday in my classroom, I am able to keep up. I walk around my room with a stack of classroom money. I just drop a $1 and a compliment when I see the above and beyond behavior. Other students will hear my compliment and it will push them to work harder. 

Isn't this set of class money super cute? It comes in B&W too. My sweet friend Amber made it! You can get it HERE.

I have a really important rule in my classroom: You cannot ask for class money. If you ask for it, you won't get it. I will decide who gets the money and when. I tell students that the same task won't lead to money over and over. Additionally, I will be fair, but not every kid will be treated the same. A child who never talks will be more likely to get participation money when they speak up than the child who always offers answer. I am pushing each students to be their best possible self. Students know that asking or complaining about a difference in pay will lead to a fine.

I do not have a clip chart for negative behaviors, but I still need a way to hold students accountable. I use class fines. I always give a verbal warning, but then if a child continues to be off task, talking or disrespectful- they are fined. I decide the fine based on the offense. If you whine or complain- the fine will be doubled.

Students do not get paid to turn in their classwork and homework, but they do get fined for not turning them in! I don't get paid to make dinner, but there are consequences for not making dinner: starvation and whining children!

Last year I was having trouble with students who were losing important class papers such as math facts, centers work and spelling words. Now I am fining students who need new copies of papers! I tell them that they need to pay me for the time that it takes to make a new copy.

Finally, students accrue fines for late school library books.

Obviously a classroom economy would not be effective if the students didn't have something to spend their money on. I mean, I wouldn't care about my paycheck if I couldn't spend it all at Target! The problem I have had in the past was TIME. I started with a class store. That was pricey and hard to find the time to let kids "shop." So I decided to use coupons. Again, I didn't have time to sell them or to allow kids to redeem them. I needed a new plan...

Here are the ways that my students can spend their money:

  • Additional restroom breaks: I include this as a privilege rather than a fine. It appeases parents, but still holds kids accountable to not spend the whole day in the restroom. I am being sneaky here. Shhhh. 
  • Bring a stuffed animal to class: The animal must be small enough to sit on their desk. I always ask my students what the animal's name is and I talk to their animal during the day. They think it is funny. The best part is that it doesn't take any time. The student just hands me the money when they come into the classroom. No show-and-tell. Students understand that if the stuffed animals becomes a distraction, it will be taken away and money will not be refunded. I was surprised how many 3rd graders are still excited about this one!
  • Rent the MVP class supplies: Many teachers have a VIP basket, but I have a sports themed classroom so we have an MVP basket. I put fancy school supplies in the basket. It has smelly markers, mechanical pencils, colored pens, metallic crayons, stickers and more. Students LOVE this basket. For $5, they can rent it for the day. They just bring the money to me and grab the basket. Simple!

  • Extra treat at classroom parties: I have some sort of holiday party at least once per quarter. We always have some kind of treat at the party. Everyone gets the treat. Students can use their money to buy an additional special treat at the party. I ask parents to donate party treats so this is free for me. I am already having a crazy day- so this is a good time to offer them something to buy.

  • Extra raffle tickets for our book auctions: I do book auctions before Christmas break and before summer break. I collect books using my Scholastic bonus points and I purchase some of the $1 books. Every student receives a free auction ticket. If they wish, they can buy extra tickets so that they can increase the odds of getting their first choice book. I was already doing these auctions and so using the money doesn't not add any more work for me! You can read more about my book auctions HERE.

My suggestion to you is to think of special things that you are already doing for your students. How can you increase the fun for those who want to use the class money? Keep it simple! Kids are perfectly fine with simple! They really don't need elaborate class stores!

A Simple Tip for Taking Attendance and Connecting with Students

Many classrooms have students do the attendance. Students are using a digital white board or a clip chart to record their presence. Not in my classroom! I have a student led classroom, but taking attendance is one thing that I will NOT let go of. Here is why....it is the perfect time to connect with each and every child! 

When I call attendance, I do not just call a student's name. I always look right at the student and use their name. So It sounds like this, "Good morning, Tyler." I smile at him.

My students are trained to look at me, smile and reply, "Good morning, Mrs. Sears." 

I have talked with my students about it feels so good to be called by name and that smiles can change a person's mood. My students are encouraged to learn all of the last names of volunteers, aids and specialists that work with them. If they know their names, they can properly address and thank these adults.

It would be easier and faster to have students move a clip on a chart or to just look and see if there are any empty desks. But it feels so good to start every day with 24 smiles and greetings. I start my lessons with a full and happy heart and that makes me a better teacher. Some of these students are never hearing their name spoken kindly at home. They need the positive connection that my voice and smile can offer first thing in the morning. I feel the three extra minutes that it takes is time very well spent. 

How do you take attendance? How do you greet your students in the morning?

4 Simple Steps to Solve a Word Problem

I LOVE teaching third grade math! If I could find a way to teach nothing but third grade math- I would be in heaven. I did not like math as a child. I just couldn't understand WHY! I was THAT kid asking, "When will I use this?" "Why does that work?" My math teachers hated me. And because of that experience, I strive to give my third graders a better experience with math. In my classroom, we always talk about why they need to know it and why it works. 

Third grade math is not easy though! They spend Kindergarten, 1st grade and 2nd grade working on addition and subtraction. Then in third grade, we are expected to teach multiplication and division to mastery. We double the number of operations that students have to be competent in and will see in word problems! Using key words in word problems may have been a suitable strategy in previous years. However, students quickly realize that many of the addition key words can also be used in a multiplication problems. Many division key words look similar to multiplication key words. It isn't easy! They NEED MORE THAN KEY WORDS! Students need to be taught a problem solving strategy that will work every time. 

In my classroom, students are required to use a four step process anytime that they see a word problem. And they see them ALL the time!

It might seem obvious that we need to start the problem solving process by reading the problem, but the reality is that students want to start doing something with the numbers before they finish reading. I require my students to set down their pencil or dry erase marker and read the entire problem. I ask them to visualize what the problem is stating rather than trying to form a plan to solve. I have found that they are much more successful when they really think about what they know BEFORE they start drawing and solving.

After my students have read through the entire problem once, they will begin rereading the problem. This time, I ask that they just read one sentence or phrase at a time. They should draw a math model as they read. The models tend to be much more accurate if students are only reading one piece of the problem at a time. However, sometimes they will get to the end of the problem and discover that their model is not going to help them solve. That's okay! Use the power of the eraser! I call them models rather than drawings because I want my students to understand that math models are not the same as a picture you might draw in art class. No one needs to be an artist in math class!

Models that my students might draw (because I have modeled them):
Equal Group Pictures
Tape Diagrams (also known as Bar Modeling)
Number Bonds
Number Lines

Most students want to jump to writing an equation or number sentence, but in my class, it can't be done until the model is drawn. Once the model is drawn students can better understand what the unknown is and write a number sentence that will help them to accurately solve the word problem. I always remind my students that they need to examine the model before writing the equation. After they solve the equation they need to ask if it is reasonable and then put it back into their model to check for accuracy.

I always require my students to write every word problem answer in a complete sentence. I teach my students to go back to the question and use part of the question in their answer. This increases the probability that students will actually answer the question that was asked. I also require proper capitalization and punctuation because I believe that integrating writing into math will help students to be more successful in both subjects. 

How do you increase student success when tackling math word problems?

Crock Pot Recipes for the Busy Teacher

I wanted to share this post that I wrote for iTeach Third.

After a long day of differentiating, assessing, managing, data analyzing and communicating with parents- I am shocked to come home and discover that my children want to eat dinner. Don't they know how tired I am?! Do they really need to eat dinner EVERY day? Tired mommy and hungry kids taught me the value of the crock pot! I now use it to make the majority of all of our dinners! I love the ease of throwing simple ingredients in the pot in the morning and coming home to a finished meal. Here are five of my family's favorite crock pot recipes:

1 1/2 pounds of boneless chicken breasts or tenders
2 cups of your favorite salsa
2 cans of corn (do not strain)
1 packet of taco seasoning
Shredded cheese
Sour cream

Place the chicken, salsa, unstrained corn and taco seasoning in the crock pot. Cook on low for 6-9 hours. Take the chicken out of the pot and shred with a fork or with a hand mixer. Mix the chicken back into the ingredients in the crock pot. Prepare the rice. Serve the rice with the chicken mixture on top. Add shredded cheese and sour cream as desired.

My family LOVES this meal. We actually triple the chicken recipe and freeze the extra two meals in Ziplock bags. Then we have two meals that just need to be thawed and heated up in a sauce pan! Add rice!

Thick cut pork chops (Thick cut allows you to leave it in the crock pot longer without the meat getting dry and tough.)
1 can of tomato sauce for every 4 pork chops

Place the pork chops and tomato sauce in the crock pot. Add enough water so that the pork chops are immersed in liquid. Cook on low for 6-9 hours. Serve with rice, apple sauce and veggies!

So simple and the meat is VERY tender!

4 boneless chicken breasts
1 large onion
1 can of cream of chicken soup
8 oz of rice
1 can of corn
1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese

Place the chicken at the bottom of the crock pot. Sprinkle the onion over the chicken. Cover with the soup. Cook on low for 7-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours. Just before serving, stir in cooked rice, corn and cheese.

I think this tastes like a comfort food!

4 boneless chicken breasts
1 packet of dry Italian dressing seasoning
1 softened 8 oz cream cheese
2 cans of cream of chicken soup
Cooked pasta

Place all of the ingredients in the crockpot. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. If the sauce is too thick, add milk. Serve over a cooked pasta.

This is a rich meal that has lots of flavor! Mmmmm!

1 30oz bag of frozen shredded hash browns
3 cans of chicken broth
1 can of cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup of chopped onion
1/4 tsp of pepper
1 package of cream cheese (Do NOT use fat free because it will not melt!)

Place all of the ingredients EXCEPT for the cream cheese in the crock pot. Cook on low for 6-9 hours. About an hour before serving, add the cream cheese and heat until the cream cheese has melted. Serve with toppings you like such as sour cream, shredded cheese, chives and bacon bits.

We love to have this soup with a grilled cheese sandwich. I love this soup anytime, but it is especially yummy on a cold day! We usually have left overs and the soup reheats nicely for lunch or dinner the next day.

I hope these recipes help to make back to school just a tad easier!