Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: February 2018

Ditch the Worksheets: A Better Way to Spiral Review

I can't sugar coat this. I just can't. I am sorry if this offends you, but I have wanted to say it for so long. So here goes...

I HATE worksheets.

I don't just dislike worksheets. I literally hate them.

I have no choice about using them in some cases. We are required to use the math worksheets that come with our math curriculum. I do everything I can to make them quick and engaging. That is about the only time you will find my students doing a worksheet. 

I know that lots of teachers use worksheets for spiral review. I see teachers asking about worksheets with daily language or math problems that spiral through the standards. I have used them in the past too. #iamnotperfect 

I am issuing a challenge.

Ditch the spiral review worksheets.

Hear me out..

Why ditch the spiral worksheets?

Worksheets are boring. 

A list of questions that students have to sit in their seats and answer just isn't fun! And what's worse? I was using my spiral worksheets as my bell work. It was the first thing that students did when they walked into my classroom. It set up their day. And I was boring them to tears. Not good!

Spiral worksheets don't match our pacing guide.

It is HIGHLY unlikely that any spiral worksheets that you will find will match the order that you are teaching the skills. Therefore, it's not really a "review." My kiddos would feel frustrated when they were asked a question that we had not yet learned. I would find myself doing a quick half-hearted lesson when we were really supposed to be reviewing. 

The worksheets can be a time sucker. 

Students need time to complete the daily problems. Then you need time to go over the answers together. Then you need time to reteach or introduce the skills that your students had never seen before. What started as a simple five minute activity, can easily turn into a 20-30 minute activity. 

How should I spiral then?

I am not suggesting that spiral review is a bad thing. I strongly believe in spiral review. I love to teach in units of study, but if you never come back to the early skills, students will forget. We remember what we do repetitively. I just think that their are better ways to spiral then just giving a worksheet.

Build spiral review into your centers and small group time. 

The best part about using small group and center time for spiral review is that you are able to differentiate the review! Every student doesn't need the same thing anyway.

During math centers, my students have a rotation that is completely based on review. Since they are doing review activities, they are able to complete them more independently. When they are struggling, we can work on the activity together during our small groups. During reading centers, my students have a rotation that includes spiral review through reading response.

During reading small groups we have discussions about main idea or character traits weeks after we learned and were assessed on the skill. In math groups, we will use white boards to solve problems from math lessons taught last month. (They don't remember that they already solved the same problem, so I just grab the problems from past homework sheets.)

Give students engaging review activities rather than worksheets. 

Give them centers. Give them games. Give them projects. Get then up and moving around!

I use my math center sets as my students' math spiral review. They are engaging and fun. My students like to do them. To make it a review, I give them a skill that we have already covered whole group. For example, they won't do the multiplication set until we have finished the multiplication unit from our curriculum.

Keep task cards handy.

I love to use task cards in my classroom. We do at least one task card scoot every week. It is part of our grammar routine. The kids love getting out of their desks and moving around the classroom as they answer the questions on the cards.

Task cards can be used for super quick spiral review too! It really helps me to get more bang for my buck after prepping these task card sets.

I keep a few sets of task cards that we have already done whole group (or didn't have time to do whole group) on my table or counter. If we happen to have a couple extra minutes before recess or specials, I grab a few of the cards. I will read the question aloud and call on a student. If they answer it correctly, they get to get in line first. We continue until our time is up and the rest of the class joins to line to leave for specials.

This is super simple!

Look for natural times to review during lessons. 

Spiral review does not always have to be an extra activity that students must complete. It can be super quick additions to your current lesson.

For example, when I am teaching students about adjectives, I also have them point out the nouns and verbs. Later, during guided reading groups, I can point to one sentence in our book or passage and ask them to find the adjectives. 

The same can be done with math. Students are finding the area of a rectangle. Ask them what they know about rectangles to review geometry. Throw in multi-step word problems so that your students have more opportunities to practice addition and subtraction even during your multiplication unit.

They need the repeated practice. I didn't have to prep anything else and it takes just an extra minute or our time. Simple!

Use price of admission when students are entering the classroom.

I love this quick and simple activity! It is similar to an exit ticket, but no copying is needed and it happens as kiddos are entering the room.

I print THIS sign, laminate it and staple it to the wall next to my classroom door.

I use a dry erase marker to write a question each day. It is best when the question is a yes/no question. It is even better when there is more than one correct answer.

Give me an example of an adverb.
Give a x12 fact.
What is one ingredient needed for photosynthesis?
What was one cause of the Civil War?
What is one way to make a noun plural?

My questions come from prior lessons and let me see what students remember and what they need to review.

My only rule is that you can't give the same answer as the person in front of you in line. If it is a question with just one right answer, have students whisper the answer in your ear.

If a student doesn't know the answer, I have them go to the back of the line and I tell them to listen real carefully! They usually have a correct answer by the time they get to me again. If lots of students get the answer wrong at first, I know we need to review during small groups!

You can also use this activity to get to know your students better. Once a week of so, ask a personal question.

What did you have for breakfast?
What do you like to do after school?
What is your favorite TV show?

I just love learning little details about my students. It helps me to really connect with them in the classroom.

What do you think? Can you take me up on my challenge to ditch the spiral worksheets?

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

Classroom Organization: Lesson Plan Materials and Resources

A time saving tip for getting your classroom resources prepped and organized!

How tight would you hug me if I could help you to save lots of time prepping your teaching materials resources this year? What if I told you that I could save you time? #cantbreath
My teaching buddies would often make fun of laugh at my craziness. 
I have to fess up. I was the annoying teacher photocopying her Valentine's Day activities in December. I was the OCD teacher who had a label, binder or folder for EVERYTHING. I was the goofball who color-coded my lesson plans.
Do you know someone like that?
My friends might have gotten a good laugh out of this, but the truth is that my crazy organization usually saved me tons of time.
I regularly left school at my contracted time and almost never came in on a weekend or break. I carried a tiny teacher bag because I didn't cart home papers and projects. 
Home is for family time.
So how dow did I do it? How did I meet the crazy demands of teaching and still prioritize my time with family?
I am going to share the number one routine that I feel saved me the most time and helped me to be a prepared and less stressed teacher. It's a three step process.

Step One: 

Make copies of the resources that you know you will need for the entire quarter.
I am supposed to be telling you how to save time, but the first thing I tell you to do is a ton of work. Give me a chance to explain...
If you take the time upfront to get a bunch of your copying done, you will open up time in your schedule the rest of the quarter. This means you will be able to go home early more often.
Here are things that I always had ready for the entire quarter:
  • spelling lists
  • vocabulary lists and assessments
  • grammar notebook activities, task card recording sheets and assessments
  • book club printables
  • math facts
  • math assessments
  • math center recording books
  • bell work
  • holiday, science or social studies activities that I knew I wanted to do
That is a ton of work!
Do you have a teacher that you can team up with? Maybe one of you can do ELA and the other can do math and holidays?
Are you allowed to have a parent volunteer do some copying? I had a volunteer who came in for 30 minutes once per week. She was able to get tons done for me and it was a very small commitment for her.
Having all of these weekly materials ready to go will mean that you don't have to have a melt down when the printer or copier breaks, the copy line is two miles long on your break or you have to have an unplanned substitute day. You are ready to go!
I promise that this is the hardest step and that it gets so much easier from here.

Step Two:

File all of your copies into weekly folders.
The worst thing that you could do is take all of those stacks of papers and pile them on to your desk, shelves or tables. That will stress you out every time you look at the pile! Plus, you will waste time trying to find what you need.
The solution?
It is simple, Put the papers in folders labeled by week. 
Organizing all those papers into weekly file folders!

Step Three:

File the papers for the next week in daily drawers before you go home on Friday.

So if next week is week three, you will take everything from the week three folder and put it in the correct drawer. I will put my spelling lists in the Monday drawer and my grammar assessments in the Friday drawer, etc.
It will be so easy to find what you need each day and you don't have a ton of papers piled on your table.
Organize your daily classroom papers into drawers with labels!
What do you think? Are you going to get ahead and get organized? I am rooting you on!

A time saving tip for getting your classroom resources prepped and organized!

Have a Not So Wimpy week!