April 24, 2017

Word Walls for Big Kids

Word Walls take up a lot of space. If you are like most teachers, you value bulletin boards, so you're not about to waste this precious real estate on something that isn't going to be functional. Some would say that we are even willing to sacrifice a bit of "fashion" for an increase in function! 

When I taught kindergarten, I used an alphabetical word wall. But, once I switched to fourth grade, it didn't seem to make much sense. With 26 letters to contend with, the word wall took up a lot of space, and wasn't the most functional part of the classroom. Students relied more on personal dictionaries or inventive spelling while writing. A word wall at the fourth grade level became a never-ending albatross that was mostly unused and only added a moderate aesthetic value. So, I stopped putting one up.
The fourth grade word wall in September.
A couple of years ago I attended some training and was introduced to the concept of a word wall organized by parts of speech. A huge light bulb went off and it's been glowing ever since.

I now arrange my WORD WALL by parts of speech into four categories: 

The white cards were added by students based
on a text they were reading.
The four categories help the students better understand parts of speech and the concept that a combination of a noun and a verb are needed to create complete sentences.

I add words to the wall when we begin new units of study. The students use it during various activities such as making and breaking words or building sentences. Additionally, words on the wall are in their "simplest form". Ex: nouns are singular and simple verbs are present tense.

I do color code the words based on units of study. And, there are times when words are repeated. The repetition helps reinforce the importance of the words. Ex: detail, setting, explain. And the repetition gives students another opportunity to work with the words again. I also pick and chose words for the wall that will be encountered most often. And, at times, the students will choose words from the text that they feel should be added to the wall.

Using a Parts of Speech Word Wall is a much more organic approach to vocabulary. I find the students refer back to it often and I especially love the chatter of excitement when I've added words to the wall a day or two before a new unit. My students are always buzzing about what they think the new unit of study will be!

Three units of study on display.

March 29, 2017

Ain't Nobody Got Time to Blog

This empty blog post is brought to you by one exhausted teacher (and Girl Scout Leader) who is recovering from the hectic schedule of cookie season... which was immediately followed by NYS testing season.

Regularly scheduled blogging will resume in April.

Until then, I will leave you with a pic that brings me peace and serenity!

February 19, 2017

The Magic of Colored Pens That Will Lead to Better Writing

I'm not sure what the novelty is, but my students LOVE to write with pens. Truth be told, they will write with anything that isn't a pencil! They love it so much, that they will pay (with Dojo Dollars earned during the week) for the privilege of using a pen for the day.

It's not a new concept to use pens or color to help engage students with tasks or to organize writing, but I thought I would share with you how I've implemented and continue to use this strategy to help meet the needs of every student in my class (even those that are most challenged when trying to tackle a writing assignment).

1. Post an Anchor Chart
Classroom Anchor Chart
To stay consistent, I use the same color of marker to code the anchor chart, graphic organizers, and written drafts. The fact that "conclusions" has its own color has shifted the mindset of what conclusions should sound like and how to structure them to fit the writing piece.

I picked red, blue, and black because they are the most common pen colors. However, feel free to choose whichever colors work best for you!

2. Code the Graphic Organizer
As students fill in their graphic organizer, have them use the corresponding color! You can either have the students write in pencil (and then circle the parts in color) or have them write the notes in pen.

Color Coded Organizer
With this organizer, the students were working in their "expert trade groups" to complete the organizer. Using the color helped them determine the structure of the paragraph when moving from organizer to draft. If you stay consistent with color coding organizers, the students will be able to transfer their notes easily because it's the color guiding their text structure and not necessarily the organizer. In a sense, you are keeping the process consistent regardless of changes in the organizer or the content.

3. Draft in Pen
Yup. That's right. Draft in pen. Why not? It's a draft and subject to changes anyway. If following the writing process, it should be changed as it moves to final draft. Whether you skip lines or not, students can adjust their writing later on. I don't let scribbles and cross outs drive me crazy. In fact, I prefer them. It gives the students an authentic look at drafting and dispels the notion that drafts should "look perfect" and that one should erase and re-write in order to edit/revise. Bring on the pens and watch the creativity shift in ways you never imagined!
Student Draft
As the year progresses, students will find their own comfort level with pens and during which parts of the writing process they prefer to use pen. I keep a healthy supply available at all times and stay consistent with the three colors. I do incorporate other way to have fun with pens (#3 Choice Day), but for the writing process, I limit it to what you see in the process outlined above. 

How do you making writing more engaging in your classroom? Comment below. I would love to hear your suggestions!

February 5, 2017

Four Fantastic Ways to Get a Mid-Year Reboot

February has arrived and, if you teach in New York, the glory and wonder of the holiday season has now tapered down to the sludge and muck of winter. Cabin fever is setting in due to minimal outdoor recess and there aren't enough snow days to make up for the lack of energy you have. 

In an effort to combat these midyear woes I offer up four ideas to help give you and your classroom a mid-year reboot.  

#1: Get a Gimmick

If it's the first or third Wednesday of the month, I will be greeting my students at the door wearing my sombrero headband. This cheesy fun is a sure fire way to start the day with a smile. In fact, students from other classrooms have now grown to look for the hat and if I'm not wearing it on Taco Salad Day I have some serious 'splainin' to do!

Another fun reboot that I started this week is "Fat Pencil Fridays". I found a box of old-fashioned fat, beginner pencils and wanted to find a way to wiggle them into my routine. Thus, Fat Pencil Friday was born. The faces were lit up and the engagement was 100% at my "Teacher-Led" station on Friday. They loved it.

Taco Salad Day!
#2: Spontaneous Spirit Week

To bust up the routine of school, sponsor your own Spirit Week! Some suggestions to get you started:
- hat day
- PJ day
- formal wear
- inside out day
- twinsie day
- snowman "winter wear"
- school spirit

If you are really struggling for ideas, ask your students. They are a pretty inventive group and odds are if they were part of the decision-making, they will be more likely to participate. You'll get an extra boost to your room if you participate too!

#3: Choice Day

Designate a day of the week (or a block of the day) to "choice". Students love choice and control over their learning environments. Offer them carefully selected options. Some examples:

- lunch in the room or the cafeteria
- choice of pen color to complete work (especially "boost"ful at the elementary level)
- homework A or B
- solve odds, solve evens
- activity A or B (if you use flexible groupings)
- choose your seat (if you use more traditional seating methods)

#4: Host a Book Tasting Event

This was a hit. I had heard about these in the fall but I hadn't actually completed one until this week. I set it up while the students were at special. It took about 30 minutes start to finish. 

I used:
* plastic tablecloths
* place mats
* genre table cards
* books
* student response "menu"

The students rotated through 5 (out of 7) tables in the room. Each table had a designated genre. The students sampled the books on the table for about 5 minutes. Then, they selected one book to jot down in their menu.

I can say that the level of engagement was high and the students were excited to explore at their next rotation. Plus, students finished the tasting with at least 5 new titles they want to read at a later date. 

My students asked to do it again. We even discussed them recommending books for the tasting and inviting other classes to attend. If we pull it off- I'll keep you posted!

Thanks for stopping by. Hopefully one (or two) of these suggestions will beat back the mid-year blahs. Comment below to let me know what you do to keep your classroom engaging!

January 21, 2017

Sticky Note Shenanigans to Increase Student Enagagement

It's no secret that I have a love affair with sticky notes. It doesn't matter the color or the size, I will find some way to use them in my class. And, just as I have a love for them, so do my students.

In September, I establish a SMART Goals routine with the students. We record weekly goals with sticky notes. Then, the students archive their goals within their data folders. The ability to stick, remove and re-stick is awesome! The students get a kick out of going back into their SMART Goals data and reflecting and analyzing where they were at the beginning of the year compared to where they are now. 

SMART Goals Recording Form 
I use a different color each month.
SMART Goal Anchor Chart 
One quick look and I can see if a student
hasn't posted their goal yet.
I use flexible grouping in my classroom. There is a lot of collaboration and small group/partner work. To help increase the engagement and accountability, I use sticky notes! I will prep chart paper to house the student responses. Sticky notes are passed out for students to record their thoughts. I often will use colors to distinguish which groups have responded and how many times.

Venn Diagram Comparing Cultures

Finding Explicit Details
Anchor Chart
Students also have a bookmark
to remind them of codes. Most will
create their own codes when
these won't suffice! 
As a part of Reading Workshop, students are asked to use sticky notes as part of their reading routine. They use them to record their "Thinking Codes" in their novels. Those codes help students respond in writing when it's their turn to write in their Reading Response Journals. They also use them when they come to the group to discuss the novel. 

Codes Within a Novel
(cut a sticky note into thirds)
I also ask students to use them when working on Character Traits. Students will find evidence in the text to support their opinion. They record the page number and quote.

Anchor Charts for The Hope Chest

Character Trait Chart (8.5 x 11)
Students find evidence and record it.
They are only allowed three.
So, they must rank their own evidence!
These are just some of the ways I use sticky notes. If you have a favorite way, please share! I love learning new ways to incorporate these lovely little bits to increase student engagement!

January 7, 2017

How to Create the Best Home/School Connection with Just ONE App

Are you ready to hit a home run with home/school connections? Then look no further than Class Dojo.

I have been using this app for the past few years and I'm not leaving it anytime soon.

Although there is a myriad of amazing things this app can do for you, I am listing my top 3 favorite things I use it for...

Brag Tag for the Weekly Victor!
I track each student's behavior every day. They can earn (or lose) points at any given point in the day. This includes walking in the hallway, when on field trips, or at an assembly. Parents can link up to the dojo and see where and how their child is earning points. Each week the student who has earned the most points is awarded and recognized as the Class Dojo Champion!

Classroom reminders help
parents keep track of
what's going on!
Classroom Stories runs like a mash-up of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. The best part is, only people with the class code can see what's going on. To make it even better? The fine individuals at Class Dojo occasionally throw pre-made, ready-to-go graphics into the mix that you can choose to put into your class story!

Stories lets me take pics of what my students are working on during the day and post it for families to see. I include everything: group shots, individual shots, spirit wear days, bulletin boards. I have even taken short 15 second videos and been able to share those too! A quick click of a shot and a few swipes later and I have shared a piece of our day with my students' families. 

Screen shot flyers and
parents can refer to the
class feed if they forget!
I also use stories to take pictures of flyers for upcoming events such as: character ed assemblies, after school groups, or spirit weeks. Then, parents have a go-to place where they can access information about places and times. 

Class Dojo messages (similiar to texting) are a work of genius! Once a parent has linked to the Dojo I have the ability to contact everyone all at once (as a group text), or contact a selected/small group, or a parent individually. When a parent responds, the response only goes back to you. Messages allows parents to contact you about any issue using a confidential, direct format.

Ultimate Blend of
Behavior Management
Aside from the home/school connection that Dojo offers, it's a great behavior management tool. That's why I originally started to use it. But, it's now morphed into so much more. If you already have a rockin' management system in place, do not fret. Dojo can blend with anything! I have been using a combination of Dojo and WBT seemlessly for 3 years. I have simply incorporated those adorable dojo monsters onto anchor charts for the WBT prompts. And, I sometimes award Dojo points when the class beats me on the Scoreboard.

If you have not been using this handy-dandy (and free) app I highly recommend that you stop reading (!) and go HERE to download it to your device.

If you are looking for Dojo resources, check out my TpT store in the "my store" link above!

December 31, 2016

Connecting to Characters or, (Sh!t, Carrie Fisher Died)

As a teacher, I am always striving to help my students connect to characters. I have so many memories from childhood of curling up with books and diving into a different world. Suspension of disbelief came easily to me. It translated to film as well.

Princess Leia was the first character that I truly connected to. She was smart, strong, and sassy. I wanted to be her. I had hair long enough to not only make those iconic Princess Buns, but I could pull off the Ewok Village Headband Braid as well. 

Connections in childhood remain as we grow older. And, as we learn who the characters are played by, that connection transfers to the actual person. I never watched When Harry Met Sally and didn't think of Princess Leia, but I grew to appreciate Carrie Fisher's talent and impact on the entertainment industry.

Celebrity deaths are nothing new. But as I've grown older the impact has changed significantly. At four years old, I didn't understand why my mother was crying over Elvis Presley dying. But I get it now.

The loss of childhood connections can be an adjustment. Losing Roald Dahl in 1990 wasn't as tough for me. Although we lost an amazing writer, my connections to him remained safely secured in the books he had written. Richard Harris' death wasn't as difficult either because I had grown to love Dumbledore in the books first. My connection to Dumbledore was through J.K. Rowling; not Richard Harris.

For me, it's not grief insomuch that I knew Carrie Fisher and I will miss her personal connection to me. But, I do feel the loss of a piece of my childhood. A sadness that settles when you realize that Princess Leia is gone forever. No one will ever be able to replace her. She was the first Leia I knew and the connection is now gone.

Conversely, was I heart-broken when Kylo Ren put his lightsaber through Han Solo? Of course! But it wasn't the same level of grief because I knew Harrison Ford was still alive. Odd, but true...

Be still my Geeky Heart!
Lately, my connections to literature and film have begun to merge. The geeks out there know what the rest of us geeks want. My favorite Christmas gift this year was a hoodie my hubby bought me. Nothing beats a mash-up of Star Wars and Harry Potter!

I am not sure how my students will respond to Carrie Fisher's death when I get back in the classroom. For many of them, I imagine it's a small blimp on their screen and won't be mentioned at all. But it will linger with me for quite a while. 

As the New Year begins, I will continue to encourage those character connections; keep guiding students to delve into their novels and find that character that speaks to them in a way no other character can. Hopefully, they will leave my classroom with at least one character that they will mourn the loss of later in life. But it does beg the question: Are characters in novels "safer" than those on the screen? Either way, there is no denying the deep-rooted connection I have to Leia and many other characters still "out there". Connecting to characters is an ever-evolving gift that I endure to share with my students.

I do have Episode VIII to look forward to next year. It will certainly have a much more meaningful impact knowing that it was the last time Fisher played her in real life. And, I have very strong feelings about what should be done with Episode IX (all Star Wars geeks do).

RIP Carrie Fisher, you will be missed.