Saturday, 7 October 2017

TpT Gift Card Giveaway




It's time for TpT gift card giveaway.  
The giveaway has been organized by Kelly Malloy (An Apple for the Teacher), with the following 
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Sunday, 24 September 2017

Twenty-Five Years In and What I've Learned

Last fall, I received my 15th year pin from my current workplace.  Before that, I worked in educational contracts, taught continuing education to English language learners, supply taught, taught art classes, ran a small business selling painted furniture and name plaques while raising my children.  I wasn't the teacher who landed a job right away.  Some were luckier.  Timing was on their side and so was who they knew. I didn't let that stop me.  I went looking for work. It didn't come to me.

I decided to leave contractual teaching for two years to start a small business.  I sold hand painted furniture,wall plaques and taught people how to paint.  The work was hard but I loved every minute of it.  Why?  I had a group of ladies who would come out to paint, drink tea, eat muffins and gabble just like the our grandmothers did before us.  I knew that this balance was best for my young family.  It freed up time for play time at the local community centre, playdates with friends from school and appointments.

Then, opportunity happened.  I was at my children's school and they needed a teacher.  I started working part-time and eventually moved to full-time.  Being a teacher has had its ups and downs.  But I have learned something from being in education for 25 years.

1) Be good to yourself.  It's easy to burnout.  I can honestly say I did once.  It was one of the lowest points of my career.  I took on too much and I didn't know how to get out of it.  I was taking care of an ill parent, dealing with a volatile student, running way too many clubs and staying in at recess to help students who were struggling. I've learned to do things that I love and to build them into my day.  It could be as simple as a walk at lunch, going to the staffroom to eat a lunch, reading a book, getting pampered or making time for a quiet dinner.

2) Remove toxic people from your life.  If you're a generally trusting person, then they will come to you.  I promise you they will.  I'm not saying not to trust but to be cautious.  Recognize the signs.  These people are often surrounded by drama, always need to be right, play the victim, hold grudges and are negative about anything and everything.  I've learned to acknowledge how they feel but I won't get wrapped up in their negative energy.  I did that one too many times and learned the hard way that it isn't worth it.

3) Stay current.  Keep yourself informed.  There are wonderful professional development opportunities out there and some are free.  Look for like-minded colleagues who want to explore current pedagogical practices.  Often, they're right in your building.  Some districts have virtual learning series that are free.  Ask about them.  As well, read.  Ask your administrator or librarian if he or she has come across any good resource manuals for current educational practices.

4) Think of Parents as Partners.  If you start to see parents as a negative force in your life, then you've set yourself up for a very difficult year.  You may not agree with every parent but they are responsible for their child and so are you. Learn to listen.  I often call parents the first week of school to welcome them and to ask how their son or daughter's week went.  Believe me, I have been met with gratitude.  Why?  It shows you care if you reach out.  We are after all working to educate and nurture little humans.

5)  Expect the Unexpected.  Have you ever been excited about a lesson only to find out it flopped?  It happens.  The fire drill goes off, someone barfs right in the middle of the classroom, the phone rings, there's someone outside your classroom causing a raucous, the internet isn't working.....  It happens.  So expect the unexpected and roll with it.  Don't fret.  There's always tomorrow.  Plus, if you're teaching through Inquiry then nothing is expected.  The students steer the boat and their learning might just surprise you.

These are a few things I've learned.  I'm still learning.  Are you?

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Fall Resource Round Up

A few days away, marks the Fall season.  It's time to take a look at some fun resource to keep your students engaged. 




Fall Poetry  With his fun Fall Poetry Writing Unit, you will find helpful parts of speech associated with fall terminology, templates for writing poetry, some samples to help students get started and task cards to add to your poetry station. Fall templates include the following poetry forms: ABC Poem, Acrostic, Cinquain, Concrete, Couplet, Diamante, Free Verse, Haiku and Quatrain Poetry. A student-friendly rubric is also included.




Fall Math Games  You'll find 5 math games with a fall theme.  They range from basic operations games to creating glyphs. A description for each one is found below:

1) BUILD A SCARECROW MULTIPLICATION CHALLENGE: Students will generate products and develop a glyph based on the products generated.
2) BUILD A SCARECROW ADDITION CHALLENGE : Students will generate sums and develop a glyph based on the sums generated.
3) MULTIPLICATION BUMP GAME: Students will play this game with product from 1 to 36.
4) ADDITION BUMP GAME: Students will play this game with sums from 1 to 20.
5) SCARECROW RACE: This game is played using division of the number 2. Students will choose to be a decimal or whole number for the quotient. 






Fall Writing Paper  This package includes fall letter writing paper and lined paper for emergent and established writers. Art work created includes scarecrows, leaves, pumpkins and an owl. 




Fall Word Work - Silly Sentences for Fluent Readers Silly sentences have always been a fun way to explore sentence building and recognizing parts of speech. Students in grades 3 through 6 will have the opportunity to use subject, verb and complement cards to build and simplify silly sentences using a Fall theme. Challenging verb cards are included with this unit as well as a blank sentence building template, display and label cards and a synonym chart. This is a perfect activity to use in your Word Work Stations or as an extra project for early finishers. 




Fall Roll a Story Here's a fun way to work on writing skills. All you need is a dice, pencil and activities in this pack. Students will be prompted to tell or write story with a fall theme. This unit includes a story prompt sheet, graphic organizers, word lists (fall & transition words), rubric and specialty writing paper with full and half lined pages.

Here's a free download:





Fall Word Wall Words This unit contains 44 word cards for fluent readers. Words are based on a fall theme. Included is a "Fall Words" banner, 44 word list for individual use and 44 shape word cards for your word wall or writing station. 



Sunday, 27 August 2017

Reading Conferences with Your Students

If you're looking for one of the most effective formative assessments for reading, the reading conference is it.  You will gain insight into your students' reading interests, habits, and strategies.  The reading conference is an essential part of the Independent Reading time. My last post about reading featured tips to get started with Independent Reading.  You may view it here.

Creating a reading conference binder is a way to quickly flip through anecdotal notes and checklists I have created.  These include question prompts for reading strategies.  I have a focus on  Retelling, Relating & Reflecting for Fiction and Non Fiction texts, Activating Prior Knowledge Prompts, Monitoring Comprehension Prompts, Sensory Images Prompts, Questioning Prompts, Determining Importance Prompts, Inferring Prompts and Synthesizing Prompts.  A binder cover sheet, an Independent Reading Observation as well as a Summary of Reading Observations Form is included.     

I use a binder and dividers (one divider per student).  Prompt sheets are placed in each student's slot.  I also provide a running record using the PM Benchmark running records toolkit.  I start the school year with a reading interest inventory.  It's a snapshot of my students' reading interests.  It also helps me choose materials students are interested in reading for my classroom library and future literature circles.


For a free printable reading interest inventory, click on the link below:

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Building Self-Esteem in the Classroom

If this is your first year teaching or your twentieth, you know that students come to you from very different backgrounds, languages, experiences and needs.  Getting to know your students is never easy.  Even with parent conferences, documentation from previous teachers, or questionnaires, your goal is to know your students well while providing a safe place to learn and grow.  My greatest memories as an elementary school teacher are not of the students who were outspoken, commanded attention or were "good" at everything.  It was of the students who came into the classroom painfully shy, uncertain and a bit overwhelmed.  Those were the students who needed me most.  They needed a boost of confidence and a place the build their self-esteem.  The suggestions I provide below may not work for everyone but they certainly helped with ways to jumpstart discussions and to build a classroom community.

The Magic Box




As a decorative artist, I always look for ways to create whimsical things for the classroom.  This box was made of wood and was a blank one waiting to be brought to life.   I used acrylic paint to "wash" the box inside and out.  Then, I painted some fun designs to make the box inviting.  The box opens up to reveal something "magical" I tell my students.  As I gather them in a circle, class by class has had a peek into the box.  I ask the students to slowly peek inside the box, close it and pass the box to the next student.  This activity is completed with "no" words.  I have used the box from grades 1 through 6 and each group of students have different reactions:  smiles, surprises and looks of wonder.


The box contains a mirror that is glued in.  Why a mirror?  It showcases the greatest gift to our classroom:  the student!  I tell the students before they open the box that they are going to see something magical and wonderful.  There is nothing else like it.  It is one of a kind.  Beginning the school year with these powerful messages sets the tone for the year.  Everyone is valued, everyone is respected, everyone is validated.

By mid-October, students are very comfortable in the classroom and usually the quietest ones are the ones who come and tell you things about themselves when you least expect it.  

Read Alouds



What I Like About Me! by Allia Zobel Nolan is a fun way to build self-esteem with younger students.  It's a message about being different and why that can be a special thing.  At the end of the story about wearing braces, glasses or even having large feet, you will find a mirror.  The mirror is a way to take a look at what makes the students so special: a great way to reflect about themselves.

Blessings Jar



The Blessings Jar was introduced to find a way to bring students closer together.  The jar includes little blessings discovered throughout the day.  I began putting blessings in the jar but as the year unfolded, the students would add things to the jar as well.  These could include thank you notes to other students for their help, things they are grateful for and random acts of kindness.  Reading the blessings during our weekly gathering was a great way to set the tone for the rest of the day.  For a free link to the jar labels, click here.

Know Your Students


If you show that you have an interest in your students' hobbies, likes, and dislikes, you become the caring classroom teacher.  Yes, we teach the curriculum but we also teach students.  I begin my first week of school with an "All About Me" showcase.  I often ask for empty shoeboxes from colleagues, parents and will often collect them from friends and family.  The shoebox becomes a treasure chest for the "Me" Showcase.  Students are asked to select 5 artifacts that describe them well.  I often create my own box and go through a "me" presentation.  I bring a family photo, a paintbrush, Zumba gear, a piece of jewellry that I have made, and a writing tool.  I ask the students to predict what they may mean to me. While I introduce each artifact, I tell, relate and reflect upon each one.  The outside of the box is decorated with whatever the students like.  Some students have attached hockey cards, stickers, ribbon, decals, logos, etc.

With older students, I provide a planning sheet, prompts and rubric to help guide them.  Students are encouraged to practice at home first.  The boxes are presented over a week with anywhere between 5 and 7 presentations a day.  I often introduce jot note taking as well during the activity.  Students are encouraged to take jot notes of 2 of the 5 or 7 presentations.  They then pick one jot note to summarize.  This is all modelled through my presentation first.  For the "All About Me" presentation guide, click on the link here.



Sunday, 13 August 2017

Planning for Independent Reading

Are you thinking about some ways to differentiate teaching that supports students in developing reading proficiency?  This is something that I have struggled with over the years.  A highly active classroom often gets the better of me and my independent reading practice goes by the wayside.  The suggestions I provide are not foolproof but they are practical enough for anyone to implement.  Once independent reading is established, the goal is to use this time to work on small group guided reading with your students.  Begin by setting a time for uninterrupted reading.  I usually do this for 20 minutes each day.  Your students will thank you for it!  The "I don't know what to read" will diminish if you give students some choice.  During the first week, we gather with a few read alouds.  As I read aloud, I talk about ways I'm reading the book.  This includes how I hold it, how I read the book jacket, looking for the copyright date, the author, the illustrator and even where it was published.  Students love when we can find out "how old the book is."

I then ask students to select books they may be interested in reading from the classroom library.  The library is filled with bins and labelled genres.

Students are asked to choose 5 books to read at the beginning of the week.  They are then placed in labelled magazine box holders with students' names on them.  Choosing 5 books allows them to not travel back and forth to the classroom library.  They have chosen 5 books just incase one is not appropriate.  Books range from graphic novels, reading series, sports, hobbies, science, math etc. I often keep double copies of my read aloud so that one goes back in the classroom library.  Sticky fingers off my own read aloud selection!

We create an anchor chart for what Independent Reading looks like, sounds like and feel like.  I model Independent Reading time.  I often invite another teacher in to demonstrate or a student I taught from the previous year.  Once students "see" the process, they are able to co-construct an anchor chart.  

Over the next few days, during independent reading time, I interview each student.  I can usually get through 5 a day. This involves taking a reading interest inventory.  

This practice allows me to know what the students might be interested in reading.  Often they have repeatedly said "I don't know what to read" or "I don't like reading."  They slowly realize that they do have an interest in some genre.  When I know what that is, I make an effort to stock my classroom library with things they will like.

Once independent reading time routines are in place, I can begin working on exploring reading levels through running records. This usually happens during the second or third week of school.  Within the first month, reading interests are discovered as well as reading levels.  I am then able to focus on my guided reading groups during independent reading time.  

Sunday, 6 August 2017

First Week of School Survival Tips

Our jurisdiction begins school in September.  This is the month to begin prepping for a week of  getting to know your students, understanding their needs and building a positive classroom community.  A first day can be filled with multiple subject areas that reflect on students. Here's a fun math one: a great way to decorate a classroom is with a name glyph.   I have used these to create borders that stay up all year.


Each letter is traced onto a large paper. I used precut letters.  For example, the first letter asks if the student is a boy or a girl.  A design is completed based on that.  Once the glyphs are created, they are all different but the students are able to "read" them based on the glyph criteria.  The older the students, the longer the glyphs take to make.  They are quite meticulous by 6th grade when it comes to designing and colouring them.

Add more colour to your walls with these self created student portraits. After tracing their hands and feet, students sketch in their faces and bodies.  This becomes a "Falling into Grade......"  Students can write poems to accompany their portraits or short stories.  It's a mini biography of sorts.  One year, I posted the portraits at the top of the wall.  These stayed up for "Meet the Teacher Night"  with autobiographies under them.


Another great way to get to know your students is this free downloadable questionnaire.