Sunday, August 23, 2015

Back to Basics: Long Term Planning

Step two of my "Back to Basics" series for the summer, inspired by all the little things I unintentionally thought I had "outgrown" as a teacher. HA! 

Step one was {click for that blog post} ... 

So what's step two?  Plan backward! 

I know this is sort of "duh" ... but I honestly moved away from this in my fifth and sixth year. I think it might have been because I moved to a new school whose units weren't aligned to an assessment, but it might also have been because I felt like I'd taught second grade for long enough to "know" what my kids needed to know. {Just keeping it real!}

BUT last year I checked myself and reigned myself back in. Truth be told, it was really hard to integrate the Common Core State Standards with the necessary MAP skills in each unit, and making sure that each of my students met his or her MAP goals (when skill levels ranged from Kindergarten to seventh grade ...) was really difficult. I needed a better plan. 

So I took it old school and made a long term plan {or yearly pacing, or scope and sequence} for reading and math that included both remedial goals and enrichment goals, then used those to plan assessments. From there, I was free to plan the series of lessons that would most effectively help my students. 

It. was. SOOOO helpful! That little bit of "back to basics" really freed up my mind while I was planning, because most of the "heavy load" had been done before hand. Not to mention our pull-out teachers loved it because they had the scope and sequence for the whole year, in addition to the key points we'd be using to teach. All the sudden pull-out classes became an extension of our classroom, rather than a separate entity. Kids and teachers rejoiced!!! ... {That might be an overstatement, but it was really helpful.} ;) 

 Using the UbD format, each of my unit plan includes:
  • Common core standards addressed
  • Vocabulary addressed (base level and extension) 
  • Learning targets paced throughout the unit 
  • Key knowledge and understandings 
  • Essential questions 

Below, I've shared my long-term plans in my TpT store - maybe you can use them. Happy planning! 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Pump Up Music

You know when you hear a song and it just pumps you up? It makes you feel like you could do anything? 

When I hear one of the song below I'm all: 

Sometimes you just need it. Anyway, I need more of those songs in my life, as I get ready for the school year. Leave me a comment and share your favorite pump up song! 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Homework Craziness {End the Madness with Choice Boards!}

Y'all, I really don't like homework. Parents stress about it, kids refuse to do it, teachers dread checking it - it's just a fight. 

Two years ago, I decided I wasn't going to participate in that cycle anymore. I sat down and decided to pare away some of the "fluff" from my homework - I needed to focus on the purpose of homework, not my ideals about what "should" happen at home.  I decided I wanted homework to achieve three goals: 

At the same time, I thought it was equally important to decide what homework was NOT about: 

With that being said, I asked myself what homework would look like if it achieved all my goals, while being simpler for me, for my kids, and for parents. With input from my team and our curriculum coach - I settled on a choice board ---- and I. LOVE. IT. {And so do parents and kids!} 

Every three weeks I send home a choice board. Here's what weekly homework looks like -- each week, students must complete three tasks: 
  • Reading {for 20 minutes each day} --- The research says that reading MORE is the best way to become a better reader. This is simple and EASY. Just read! 
  • Math {five boxes from the choice board} --- The choice board I give my students includes math work from all strands of the Common Core, and it's set up to run from simple to complex. Student have to complete five problems a week. They choose the problems. They write the answers. 
  • Other {one choice of "reading response," "writing," "research and current events" or "other fun stuff"} ---- These are fun, real-life activities that help kids explore the topics we're learning about in class, in ways that make it seem less like work. Setting up a lemonade stand. Reading about current events. Writing a diary entry. Bringing in a book they love from home. FUN STUFF! 

Here's a close-up of the choice boards that I use: 

That's it! Read, do a math problem, and do something fun. Students bring in their work on Fridays and share the work from their "other" section with each other. I look through it and give feedback immediately. All in all the process takes around thirty minutes, and the benefits are SOOOOOO great: 

For Students: 
  •  LOVE the choice! They love to pick. They LOVE that their homework is "fun." 
  • They learn valuable lessons about how to manage their time. We always start the year with a conversation about how they get the work three weeks in advance, so they can decide when the best time is to do their homework. Maybe they have swimming on Tuesday! They'll need to do more work on Monday so they have time for swimming. Or maybe they know that one week is going to be super busy, so they plan to do homework on the weekends so they have no work. 
  • They get to share their work with others! Kids LOVE this - it's immediate feedback, and they want to impress their friends. There's no better investment tool. Seriously. 
For teachers and parents: 
  • Parents LOVE that they get the work in advance. 
  • There are always conversations about how much parental involvement is best, but the vast majority of parents let their kids do the work. 
  • The amount of choice for kids means that there are MANY fewer disagreements at home. 
  • I love that I print out homework once every three weeks, and that I can give feedback immediately. Other than that, I spend very little time on homework. 
  • I LOVE Fridays, when the kids share their work. It's such a great community-building time, and it's SO interesting to see the different ways that kids approach their assignments. I went from dreading homework turn-in day to waiting for it with bated breath! 
  • I love seeing how my kids independence grows. It's magical. 
If you want to use the {EDITABLE!!} files I use {for the whole year -- 33 weeks!}, as well as information about how I set up homework folders AND my feedback forms, check out my product listing at TpT here.

The preview for that product includes the first three weeks of homework free {!!!!}. If you have questions, leave them in the comments! 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Using MailChimp For Classroom Newsletters

Y'all, one of my co-workers showed me a program/website/company that changed the way I send classroom newsletters and I want to share with you! It's called .... MAIL CHIMP! 

It's a silly name for a seriously awesome product --- and it's FREE. Here's what awesome about it:

  • Using e-mails means you can link to things and it's ALWAYS in the inbox. 
I used to do paper newsletters .... they made it home mmm, 70% of the time. And then they got lost 100% of the time. E-mailing parents directly means that it gets straight to parents (no child middle man), they receive it instantly, and it can't get lost.

Plus, you have the chance to link to SignUpGenius for volunteer opportunities,  embed files (permission forms, surveys) directly into the document so that all parents have to do is CLICK! So easy.
  • Import a list of names and use it over and over 
I import my parent list once, then send them the link so they can add themselves to my list. No more "did I get this e-mail correct?" SO. EASY. 
  • Format your e-mails in a SUPER professional way 
Presentation is really important. MailChimp's templates make everything look super professional and I like things that are well done. :) 
  • Track your opens, clicks, downloads, everything 
That's the really, really, take it over the top part --- you know who has opened your newsletter, who has clicked on links, etc. You also know when e-mails have bounced out of mailboxes, etc. I can't tell you how often this has helped me figure out when a parent's filter is sending my e-mail to their spam folder. It's also cool to see what things interest my parents - the click through percentage is primo. From my last year using this --- pictures of the kiddos are always #1. :) 

Want to see what it looks like? Here's a sample e-mail that I sent to my kids' families a week ago, as soon as we got our class lists: 

In this e-mail I'm getting a TON of information across in one super super simple e-mail. Everything my parents need to be ready for the year is in this one e-mail! Hallelujah! 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Back to Basics: Setting Class Goals

Next year will be my eighth year in the classroom. WHAT. Teaching is still hard - every day is something new and I've never, never, never had a year that I did the exact same thing as the previous year. That's wild, right? It reminds me of this quote  --

Ain't that the truth? We have to keep it fresh - for ourselves AND out students. 

There are inevitably parts of our practice that we begin to leave out as we grow as teachers. I know  that I'm a better teacher than I was in my first year (by a lot), but there are things I had sort of decided I'd outgrown. When I examined them closely, I'm not sure why. Maybe my "simple is better" mantra? Maybe I thought I was doing those things in a less formal way? 

Whatever the reason - I brought back five best practices last year, and it made a HUGE impact only my classroom. Maybe you need a little inspiration to bring back these "oldies but goodies"? I'll share one goal per day until we've shared all five!

This is so simple, but I haven't done it since my first year of teaching. Sure - we set smaller goals during the year, but there is *nothing* like setting some long-term academic and culture goals, and investing kids in them. Last year my goals were: 
  • We will become voracious readers by naming our favorite books and reading as much as we possibly can.  
What's so great about this goal? It's focused on the habits and mindsets of students, rather than something external that they can't control. It also tells not only what they will become, but how -- by reading as much as they can. Here's where the measurable part comes in - I change the amount that correlates to "as much as we possibly can." 
  • We will become published writers by meeting or exceeding our "second grade writer" goals on our writing rubrics. 
What's so great about this goal? Writing is super important to future success. Think about how many times you've had to communicate your message effectively using writing. All day, every day, right? And I know  many of us are guilty of judging the grammar of others ... 

SO writing has to be part of the goals of the classroom. I also like to throw that "or exceeding" in there too - ain't nothing wrong with an overachiever, y'all. 

  • We will ALL meet our individual MAP goals in the Winter and Spring. 
Ugh. Standardized testing, am I right? We use NWEA's MAP assessment at my school. I will say that one boon of this test is that it offers individualized growth goals for each students. I really appreciate that it doesn't set one set goal. More on MAP later. 

  • We will look a challenge in the eyes and smile. 
This one is my favorite, y'all. It's all about the grit. I can't tell you the difference it makes for kids when you set perseverance as a goal for the class, name it and LOOK for it. When a student says to themselves, "This is hard for me, but I'm up for the challenge." It. is. so. good. 

Welp -- those are my goals for my class. What are yours? 

Up next in the "Back to Basics" series: Plan Backward 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

EASY Tech Tip!

Technology, technology, technology. That's one of the buzzwords at my school ... 21st Century Learning ... Integration ... Rigor ... Data ... Assessment ... WHEW! 

I'm not one to hop on a bandwagon before I know for sure it will make my life easier or vastly improve my students' learning experience. Well ... I HAVE to tell you about this super awesome tech tool that is changing my classroom (and the classrooms of my teammates!). 

It's called ... PLICKERS

Paper + Clickers. Yup - a super easy way to assess ALL the students in the classroom at once, or even just a few at a time. Plus you can save SO much time by adding the rest of your teammates' classes onto the application. Saving time + easy assessment + fun for kids? WIN, in my book. 

Here's what you do: 

1. Sign up each student for an individual Plickers number using the computer app. 

2. Download the Plickers app on your mobile device.  
3. Plug in a question you want to use for your assessment. It has to be a multiple choice or true/false question. 

4. Print and pass out Plickers cards to your students. Each shape is different, and has a number written on it very lightly in gray. Also written on different sides of the image are the letters A/B/C/D. Students will pick the answer they think is correct, and hold that side upward. 

5. Assess! To assess you open the app on your computer and mobile device. The question on your mobile device is mirrored in a test format on your computer for projection. Kids hold up their cards, and you use the camera on your device to "scan" their answers. The results show up on your phone immediately! 

I even added classes for the two other teachers in my team so that we could share the burden of loading questions onto the program. 

How did it work? Like a dream! I had immediate, accurate data on what my students understood and didn't understand. I was able to access the data immediately, and give feedback to the kids. I even cleared up a few misconceptions almost immediately. 

I highly recommend! Let me know in the comments what YOU think of Plickers! 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Outfit Remix: Using What I Have To Dress For School

**Classroom Decor Extravaganza 2013 is being interrupted for a quick teacher clothes post!**

It takes me 15 minutes to get ready in the morning. What I mean by that is: from the time I roll out of bed until the time I get into my car, 15 minutes elapses. I'm pretty proud of that, but what it means is that I don't have a ton of time to get creative with my teacher clothes. 

The other issue is ... purchasing clothes. I *do not* need to spend a bajillion dollars on more clothes, I definitely have enough {that doesn't mean I won't *want* to}. So - I decided that before school starts, I'm going to work on picking one article of clothing, and building different "looks" around it. That way I'll have idea of what to wear before that 15 minute crunch time. 

First up - my white eyelet top. I found this picture in a magazine and thought I could pretty reliably re-create it with things I had in my closet. 


This is what I came up with -- 
Skirt and shoes {Target}, Top and belt {Gap}
Next, I tried on these colored skinny jeans. They were ttiiigggghhhttttt but they went on, with only a few squats {hallelujah}. 

Pants and shoes {American Eagle}, Top and belt {Gap}, Cardigan {Who knows}

 For the last outfit, I kind of liked the idea of adding a collar to the shirt. I don't have a white button-down, so I grabbed one of Mr. BBZ's old ones. The result is kind of bulky, but I don't hate it!

Shoes {Sperry}, Pants {J.Crew}, Top {Gap}, Cardigan {Tommy Hilfiger}

Next up: black cotton dress {which is sort of like cheating, because it goes with everything}. Oh well! 

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