Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: February 2017

5 Reasons I Don't Use Dictionaries for Vocabulary

I am truly passionate about teaching vocabulary in my classroom. I know that my students need a good grasp of tier two words to improve their reading comprehension, word choice in their writing and increase their performance on standardized tests. All of that is important. But the reason that I really enjoy teaching vocabulary is that I love to see my kids get excited about words. Playing with words is actually fun!

I have a vocabulary routine in my classroom that takes ten minutes per day. We never take out the dictionary during our vocabulary time. I do not give students a list of words and ask them to look them up during centers. NEVER. I am required to teach students how to use the dictionary. It is our language lesson one week. And then we put those books away. 

I don't believe that dictionaries should be used for vocabulary and here is why...

1. Words have multiple definitions. 

Students can look up one word and be bombarded with a dozen definitions. Some are close in meaning and some may be completely different- even a different part of speech. Students have no idea what definition you want them to learn. They typically just pick the first one to record or they pick the shortest definition to record. 

2. Definitions are full of tricky words.

Even student dictionaries have definitions that are full of tricky words. So a student wants to know the meaning of one word and ends up needing to look up two or three other words. In the end, you have students who are just writing down a definition that they don't understand or you have students who are frustrated and confused.

3. Definitions often include the word you are looking up!

This drives me crazy! I looked up envious and the definition is: "showing envy." Well that clears it up! Even better- I looked up beam. It has quite a few definitions including nouns and verbs. One definition was: "to send out in beams or as a beam." WHAT?! How is that supposed to help anyone?!

4. Dictionaries take too much time.

If you have never watched a third grader look a word up in the dictionary, you are really missing out. Grab a Snickers bar because you aren't going anywhere for a while. No matter how many times I teach them how to use guide words, they just can't. They tend to just scan every page looking for the word. By the time they get to the correct page, I am jumping out of my seat and pointing at the word. "It's right there!!!!" 

I hope I am not the only one... At any rate dictionaries do take a lot of valuable classroom time.

5. Technology is making dictionaries obsolete.

Let's be honest- dictionaries are going to be a lot like the dewy decimal system. They will be something that only us old folk will remember. I can type a word into my phone or iPad and get definitions, synonyms and example sentences in just a few seconds. The definitions are not necessarily any better than using a traditional dictionary- but at least it didn't take much time. As classrooms implement more and more technology, I believe they will be able to retire the dictionary.

Related Blog Posts

Would you like to read more about my classroom vocabulary routine? Click on the picture below.

If you want to try some free and fun vocabulary games, click on the picture below.

Related Resources

Are you looking for engaging vocabulary lessons? I have year long units for 3rd, 4th and 5th grades. Click on the resources below.

The Dos and Don'ts of Test Prep

How can we make test prep engaging and valuable? Here are a list of dos and don't to help guide you as you plan your class test prep!

In my last post, which you can read HERE, I talked a lot about why I believe that test prep is necessary. It can help to increase student confidence and relieve some of their test taking anxiety. However, only quality test prep will help! If you are not using test prep time to review important skills and strategies while building your students up- you are wasting valuable time. 

I have compiled some test prep dos and don't to help guide you as you plan for your class test prep. 

Test Prep Dos

1. DO plan fun review activities.

Test prep should NOT be boring! Test days are boring enough. Let's keep the days leading up to testing engaging. Get kids out of their seats. Play games and rotate through centers. Creating a fun test prep environment will help to alleviate some student test taking pressure and decrease the negative connotations associated with testing.

You can read more about this FREE vocabulary game by clicking HERE.

You can read about how I used games and crafts to encourage my students to work extra hard on test prep activities by clicking HERE.

You can read about some ways to use task cards for test prep by clicking HERE.

2. DO teach test taking tips and strategies.

It is a good idea to teach (or review) test taking strategies. Talk about marking up the text, reading all of the directions and eliminating obvious wrong answers. It is a good idea to remind students that skipping a question will automatically make the question wrong. As a last resort, it is best to give an educated guess than to leave a question blank. I also talk to my students about the importance of rest and healthy food choices. We read books about perseverance. (My favorite is Thank You, Mr. Falker.)

These test strategy posters, along with other fun test prep activities, can be found in THIS test prep resource.

3. DO teach students to properly bubble answers. 

If students have not had much experience with bubble tests, make sure you practice. It might sound silly, but it's important! Show them how to darkly color in the bubble without ripping the paper. Also, practice erasing if they change their mind about the answer.

Bubble sheet practice can be boring! Bring in some bubble gum as a fun reward for afterwards! 

4. DO tell students you believe in them.

During test prep, tell your students how proud you are of them! Remind them that it is okay if they don't know the answer to every question (no one gets a 100%!), as long as they did their very best. You might be the only person that believes in them, so make sure they know! 

5. DO plan a post testing celebration.

Testing is tough so I like to plan a celebration. It's a chance to have some fun with my kiddos! Since I have a game day theme for test prep, we have a baseball themed party. You can read more about it HERE.

Test Prep Don'ts

1. DON'T expect test prep to replace great instruction all year.

You can plan the most engaging test prep activities, but if you haven't been differentiating instruction and creating hands-on learning experiences all year- test prep won't fix the gaps. Test prep should be a review. If they never learned it, they probably won't learn it the day before the test either.

2. DON'T cram two months of curriculum into two weeks of test prep.

Testing rarely occurs at the very end of the school year. With this being said, we are very rarely done teaching all of the curriculum. That is okay! Hopefully your curriculum map has the skills that make up the least percentage of the test questions scheduled for the end of the year. Perhaps you have been able to teach a few extra skills to your enrich math group. Still, there may be questions that students are not prepared to answer. Warn them, but don't cram the skills down their throats. If you try to teach everything that is left during the week or two before the test, they won't learn it well and will be totally stressed. That's not helpful!

3. DON"T give more classwork and homework.

Increasing the work load due to the upcoming test will only make students and parents grumpy. You may want to change your homework and make it more spiral or more differentiated. But if they are struggling with multi-step word problems, giving them 20 of them for homework will not make them better problem solvers! 

4. DON'T make test prep a series of worksheets.

Worksheets are not engaging. In fact, typically, they are just plain boring. The test will be boring enough. There is no reason test prep can't be more fun. Incorporate games, centers, task card scoots and project-based learning into your test prep. Students remember more when they are engaged and moving anyway!

5. DON'T disrupt classroom procedures and routines.

If you change everything about your classroom procedures during test prep, you are going to have confused students and an increase in discipline issues. Do your best to keep the procedures and routines relatively in tact. For example, I continue using math centers and guided math groups. The only thing that is different is that we are reviewing skills rather than learning a new skill. I only completely disrupt our schedule for one day to do our Work Hard, Play Hard centers. Keeping rules and routines gives my students some semblance of normalcy. 

6. DON'T tell them how much you hate testing.

You can hate testing, but you can't tell anyone but your spouse and your closest coworker. Don't tell the students and don't tell the parents. Whining about the test will just decrease motivation and effort. It creates a negative atmosphere and there is no benefit in that. 

Related Posts

Should we even bother with test prep?

Should we take time to do test prep activities? Is it a waste of time or beneficial to students?

I don't love standardized testing, but it is a necessary evil. I don't agree with judging schools, teachers or students on the results of one test. I don't believe that money should be handed out or taken away based on test scores. I am certainly not a fan of schools being graded on test scores alone. That being said... testing isn't going away anytime soon. Please don't kill the messenger!

I think we had best look at the bright side of testing, even if we have to dig a bit to find it. Testing teaches our kids to persevere. It shows them that they can do hard things. Students will eventually need to take exams such as the SAT, ACT, college blue book exams and career certification exams. Many jobs even require on-the-job performance evaluations. Sadly, testing is part of life. So we may as well show kids now that they CAN do it and give them strategies they can use for years to come. 

Testing is a necessary evil, but should we bother with test prep?

Through the years, I have heard many teachers say something like, "I don't do test prep because I teach quality lessons all year." Have you ever had a teacher tell you that? It sort of ruffles my feathers, because it makes it sound like teachers who bother with test prep are doing so because they weren't good educators the rest of the year. 

This may be just my humble opinion, but even quality educators SHOULD bother with test prep!!! Here's why:

Give Students Strategies

Our students have little (or no) experience with these high stakes testing. And as I established earlier, testing is going to be a part of their life for some time to come. Test prep gives students strategies for dealing with stress and pressure. It can help them to understand how to eliminate answers and take their time. Test prep is our chance to give them the skills they will need to be successful on not just this year's test, but all of those future tests.

Show Them What They Know

Test prep, if done well, can help to alleviate the stress and pressure that our little babies tend to feel about testing. Through test prep activities, we can show our students just how much they really do know! Sometimes a student gets so overwhelmed by that one skill that is tough that they forget just how many other skills they have mastered during the year. Help them to see just how smart they are!

Have Some Fun!

Test prep can be super fun! I had a blast with THIS test prep activity last year. Several of my kiddos wrote in their end of year books, that the test prep day was their favorite third grade memory. Wow! Having fun during test prep can help replace those negative feelings about testing for our kiddos. 

Should we take time to do test prep activities? Is it a waste of time or beneficial to students?

Not all test prep is good! My next post will be about the dos and don'ts of test prep. Don't miss it!

Related Posts:

February Stitch Fix Reveal

Check out the clothes I got in my February Stitch Fix box!

I have been using Stitch Fix for almost all of my clothing purchases for the past five months. I have been posting some pictures on my Instagram and have had several requests to see a full reveal. Ask and you shall receive!!! I get a Stitch once a month and so I will share my reveal with you each month.

If you are not familiar with Stitch Fix here are the details:

It is a personalized styling service and it is amazing. You simply fill out a style profile with sizing and preferences. Then, your very own stylist selects five pieces to send to you to try on at home. I love being able to try the clothes on with my accessories and shoes! You can keep what you love and return what you do not want in a prepaid envelope. You are charged a $20 styling fee, but the fee goes towards any of the clothes that you keep. I am always keeping something, so I never really pay that fee! Plus, if you keep all five pieces, you get 25% off of the entire order. And you never pay for shipping! 

Click HERE to schedule your first Fix!

Please keep in mind that I am NOT a model!!! Now on to the pieces from my February box. For this Fix, I request spring items. It's already pretty warm here in Phoenix. 

Harriette Woven Hem Knit Top- KEEP

I fell in love with the floral pattern on the bottom of this shirt the moment that I pulled it out of the box.

Then I tried the shirt on and fell in love all over again. The blue material is so darn soft!!! It is super comfortable. It also has sleeves which makes it nice for work.

There was no doubt in my mind- this one is a keeper!

Jefferson Cross Front Detail Knit Top- KEEP

This top is a pretty pale pink color. I love that color for spring. I would have loved it even more if it was patterned. It is a very thin material which will be nice as the weather continues to warm up.

The neckline with the cross detail is my favorite thing about this shirt. Honestly, it is the reason that I kept it. It's comfortable but still a bit sexy.

Corrie Black Cut Out Knit Top- KEEP

I asked for a black top for a date night. I was not thrilled with the one that my stylist sent.

There is nothing really wrong with this top, but it just isn't what I had in mind. I was hoping for more of a nice blouse and this is just a cotton tank top.

It does have a cool back though.

I ended up keeping this for the discount. It would have cost me money to not keep this one, so it made more sense to just keep it to wear as a casual top during the summer.

Dear John Little Distressed Cuffed Denim Short- KEEP

I asked for a pair of shorts and my stylist delivered!

I am in love with these shorts! They are very comfortable and a perfect length. I also like that they have a little bit of distressing. These are the perfect everyday shorts! It's a keeper! Next time, I think I might ask for patterned shorts or colored shorts! 

Skies are Blue Myriam Lace Knit Dress- KEEP

I pulled this dress out of the box and did a happy dance. Literally. I mean- it's perfect!!! It's long enough for work, comfortable enough for any day and it is blue and white striped! 

The lace detail on the top is so pretty! 

There you have it! I kept all 5 pieces! And this is the second month in a row that I have kept the entire box! My stylist is seriously starting get me!

Here is the breakdown:
Harriet Woven Knit Top: $44
Jefferson Criss Cross Top: $34
Black Cut Out Top: $28
Dear John Shorts: $58
Myriam Lace Knit Dress: $58

Subtotal: $222
Buy 5 Discount: -$55.50
Affiliate Credits: -$75

Total: $91.50

I ended up paying about $18 per item! I think I got a steal of a deal! 

If you are ready to schedule your first fix, click HERE to use my affiliate link.

5 of my Favorite Classroom Resources

Innovative classroom resources won't mask poor teaching, but fantastic classroom resources can magnify great teaching. Having quality resources to teach reading, math and writing can help you to be a more creative teacher who is able to meet your students' various needs. Having great materials can also help to save you loads of time when planning and prepping your weekly lessons! 

I have used countless resources in my third grade classroom. It is difficult to choose my favorites! However, I have compiled a list of five resources that I could not live without.

1. Math Centers

I have been using math centers since my very first year of teaching. I found that I was spending hours each week prepping new centers. I was also using a lot of valuable class time teaching students how to complete these centers. I decided that there had to be a better way to conduct a meaningful math center time.

So I created math centers for every third grade skill and kept the directions and format similar throughout. I included student friendly directions that made it simple for students to be independent workers. I made each unit with ten different centers and just one recording book so that the centers take 3-4 weeks to complete. Now I am only prepping new centers approximately once a month. And since they are not holiday themed, I know I will be able to use them year after year regardless of how the order of my instruction may change.

Third grade teachers have been loving these so much that I have started creating the same type of centers for more grade levels!

You can read more about how I use math centers in this awesome math center blog series!

2. Math Interactive Notebooks

I love to use interactive notebooks and math is my favorite subject this use this resource. My students are so engaged by the hands-on activities. They actually cheer when they see a new activity waiting to be added to their notebooks.

I love how these interactive notebooks cover so many important skills and math strategies. There is also built in differentiation for most activities. All students can be working on the same notebook activity, but groups of students can have different numbers that help me to vary the level of difficulty. 

But the very best part of these notebooks is that they have super simple cuts! My students figure out how to cut these activities and are able to do it independently and without wasting class time. 

You can read more about how I use interactive notebooks in the classroom by clicking HERE.

3. Vocabulary Word Builders

After years of watching my students struggle with vocabulary and getting frustrated with the random words included in our reading basal- I decided to create vocabulary units that would make my instruction 100% more valuable.

Since time is super tight in the classroom, I created a routine that would only take ten minutes per day. I wanted the weekly words to be tier two words that students are most likely to encounter when reading text. So I poured over research, books and the dictionary to come up with grade level lists that are meaningful. 

I also included biweekly assessments rather than weekly assessments. Honestly, I don't need one more thing to read every week (even if it is a super easy assessment to grade). I also discovered that biweekly assessments do a better job of assessing a student's understanding of the words because they have more words to recall and work with.

I am super excited that my students (and so many others around the country) have become excited to truly study words! 

I made these units for third grade, fourth grade and fifth grade.

You can learn more about my vocabulary routine by clicking HERE.

4. Reading Response Menus

I have always had an independent reading center where my students are encouraged to choose any book and enjoy time reading. I firmly believe that this helps to cultivate a love for reading. 

I wanted to incorporate reading response into my centers. I thought this would help to hold my readers accountable, integrate writing and help to practice various reading standards. But I had a problem! Since I allow my students to choose any book that they want, assigning a specific reading response question to my entire class didn't work. My student reading a nonfiction book about sharks could not answer a question about character traits. And my student who had just started a brand new book could not write about the problem and solution. 

I knew that I needed to create a resource that could be used with ANY book and allowed for student choice. These reading menus fit the bill! There are 36 menus, so I can assign a new menu every week of the year! Each menu includes nine different question- six that are intended for fiction text and three that are intended to be used with nonfiction text. (I did this because more of my students choose fiction chapter books.)

I included a simple rubric directly on the response sheet so that students would know exactly what was expected of them and it makes grading a piece of cake. 

You can read more about how I teach my students to respond to text by clicking HERE.

5. Writing Units

Writing was always such a tricky subject for me to teacher! All of my students seemed to be struggling, but there isn't just one right way to write. After lots of failed attempts to help my learners, I finally found a good routine! I using writing workshop!

I created writing units t hat include everything needed to provide engaging and meaningful writing lessons. The units have lesson plans with build in differentiation, mentor text passages, anchor charts, student notebook printables and so much more. 

The units are a stand alone writing curriculum, but they work well with Lucy Caulkins. too.

I have a personal narrative unit and an informational report unit. Opinion will be released in October!

If you are looking for more information about getting writing workshop started in your classroom, I have created a FREE email course. You get lots of freebies that can be used during the first week of your writing workshop. Then your students will be ready for the personal narrative unit!

I hope that that these resource suggestions can help you and your students!