Monday, August 11, 2014

Introducing Yourself to Your Students

Do you introduce yourself to your students before meeting them? Every year, I send a letter telling the students (and parents) about myself and reminding them about our Meet the Teacher Day. I love sending a letter and every year I get fantastic results. I have found that it makes students feel less anxious about meeting me because they already know what I look like and some facts about me. I have also found that parents tend to use what I wrote as an icebreaker to start a conversation with me.

Below is the letter I will be sending this year to my students. We don't start until September 2nd, but I like to get this out of the way so that once my school opens, I can spend my time setting up my room.
*I am currently doing 5 things at once, so please let me know if there is a typo in the letter. Thanks!

 I also made my letter into a FREE editable template for grades K-6. You can download it at my TPT Store.

I would love to hear how you acquaint yourself with your students at the beginning of the year.

UPDATE: Due to some requests, I recently updated my homework post with an editable template as well! Click here to view the post.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Five for Friday - August 8th

This week was awesome! Here's why:

We returned from our vacation to Myrtle Beach. It was our first time taking our little one (15 mo.) on vacation and we were worn out. Next time, we are taking the grandparents. Thank God for the peaceful car trip both ways! It was almost 7 hours and SG slept at least 5 hours both ways! My Toddler Travel Basket helped keep her calm during the time she was awake.

I finished my Homework Packet Cover for the year. Whew! I have spent so much time thinking about homework this summer. I'm glad I finally got it out of the way. Click here to read more about how it works in my classroom.

I have been hitting the gym more and more lately. I am actually starting to enjoy working out and I look forward to it! Now, If I could only get my eating habits under control, I would really start sheding the pounds!

This week was the last full week I have to myself. Next week I go in 2 days for meetings, the week after that I am able to start setting up my room, and the following week is our "work week", so I need to start getting prepared. While I was at the beach I picked up a brand new teacher bag, yay! My old teacher bag was a tote from Old Navy that I got free with a purchase. Not cute, but useful and durable. I walked into a little, empty, dusty store and found this baby on sale for $25! I love it, it's huge and has pockets!

I went to the only teacher supply store in my town this week. It was lovely. I found so many cute things, including this border. I asked my Instagram friends if I should get chevron or moroccan and most thought moroccan. When I got home I realized the moroccan is turning out to be my thing this year, I had already bought contact paper and Washi tape with the same pattern!

Don't forgot to stop by Doodle Bugs Teaching to see what everyone else has been up to this week!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Quick Tips: Morning & Afternoon Routine Reminders

As teachers, we know that students need routines and a certain degree of predictability in order to feel safe in a new classroom and learn what you expect of them. One of the most important things we do to help with this is establish morning and afternoon routines. Not only will students feel less anxiety by knowing exactly what they will do while transitioning to and from school, but teachers will be able to use their time more productively.

Thanks to Pinterest, we are given a variety of ways to display our morning and afternoon routines to help our kiddos remember what to do. Check out some of the awesome examples below:

What I have found works best for me, is to display our routines on PowerPoint slides on the board. 
I love this because:

1. It frees up wall space- I don't know about you, but that is prime real-estate in my room. I don't have a lot of free space and I need every square inch I can get.

2. It's flexible- If our routine calls for something different, like turning in a permission slip or reading instead of morning work, I can change it up quickly without having to repeat myself a billion times.

3. I can personalize- My students love when I personalize the morning routine PPT. They argue over who will be first to enter the room and read the board. 
Some ways I personalize the morning routine are:
   *Add pictures of students or field trips
   *Add pictures of topics we are studying
   *Ask questions or give surveys that require them to write their answer and place it on my desk
   *Tell them what the special of the day will be 
   *Include pictures or stories about my life

Here are some examples of personalized slides from last year. I switched from a to-do list to a letter after they got the main morning "to-do's" down. This helped my student's work on their reading skills. I would usually hide something at the bottom to let me know if they read (ex. put a red crayon on your name tag, quietly write what you would like to do for Fun Friday and place it on my desk). Students who didn't read it were easy to spot and didn't get a vote if there was a survey.

Here are what my basic slides look like at the beginning of the year, before I start getting fancy!

 ...and my afternoon routine

More Quick Tips:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Homework, Homework, Homework

I have had a love-hate relationship with homework throughout the years. I have done weekly homework, nightly homework (which I often forgot to send), just reading, the list goes on and on. Last year I was forced to reformulate my homework yet again because our county revised their regulation. The new rule stated that third graders should have approx. 30-50 minutes of homework on Monday-Thursday and no homework on the weekends. The weekend-free homework was a relief because I never assigned weekend homework anyway. With the exceptions, of course, of telling my students that they need to read every day. In third grade, our expectation is that the kids read 20 minutes a night, so that takes up a good chunk of our mandatory time. We also do word study, which requires the students to study nightly, but if I'm trying to fit homework in order of importance, I definitely can't forget math! This has been my train of thought this summer as I have spent WAY too much time thinking about homework .

I knew I needed to create something that works for me and these are the things I had to keep in mind:

1. It had to be weekly. I don't do well with nightly homework, I forget to pass it out and I never want to go over it the next day. I know, I know, I'm as bad as the kids, but we have more important things to do when we are together.

2. Reading for at least 20 minutes was non-negotiable. Reading is my favorite subject to teach and definitely one of the things I feel most passionate about. I dedicate a lot of time helping students find series, genres, and books they love so that they will want to read.

3. They needed to be practicing nightly. One of the most important reasons I give homework is not only so the students can practice, but so the parents can see what we are learning. I'm not naive, I know there are some parents who never look at homework, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop giving them the opportunity to take part. I want my parents to know what their students are struggling with, especially in reading and math, so that we can have more informed discussions...and so that they are not "shocked" if their struggling student fails a test. I believe it empowers parents and forces them to take responsibility for the child's learning. This past year, I had so many parents reference homework when talking about their child's needs and initiate discussions about their child's progress.

So, I decided to give options. I will return to giving weekly homework packets that are due on either Friday or Monday. Each packet will have a calendar with suggested times/activities on the front.

Here's what is included in my homework:

-Reading: Students just jot down the title and author on a log.

-Math: 2 days of Daily Math Practice (Evan-Moor book, 5 questions a day), 2 days of Daily Word Problems (Evan-Moor book, 1 word problem a day) - I use these books for morning work as well. Students will do Mon/Tue of Daily Math for morning work and Wed/Thur of Daily Math for homework. They will do the opposite for the Daily Word Problems. I like these because they are spiral, take less than 5 minutes, and because we will be consistently doing and reviewing them in school so students will always know how to complete them.

-Writing: I recently saw Mary's (Teaching With a Mountain View) blog post on Corkboard Connections about the weekly letters she writes her class. Every week, they have to respond by writing a letter back. I thought this was perfect! This year I want to focus more on building community and I just know this will help. My kids are in third, so we will start with responding in a couple sentences and then move along to paragraphs throughout the year. Click here to see Mary's free resource on TPT.

-Word Study: BOOOOO!!! I am not a word study fan. In fact, I hate it. We don't have time to teach it properly because of how we are mandated to chunk our time, so it is pretty much a waste. However, this year we adopted a brand new word study program so I am hopeful. I just went through a class on language development and I learned that many people use vocabulary activities to practice spelling words and spelling activities to practice vocabulary words. I have never really paid attention to the difference between the two, but it is definitely a reason that students don't retain words or word patterns. I will be refreshing my activities to make sure my students are practicing their words with spelling-based activities.

-Studying: I have students fail unit tests all the time and when I asked them if they studied, their response is "What?...." 8-year-olds don't know how to study and many parents don't or can't help. I figure if I give them an option to study one of their guides for 5 minutes nightly, they will at least think about it.

So all this is a total of 40+ minutes a night, depending on if they need to spend more time on something. I figure that, aside from the reading, as long as they spend at least some time on each area a night, they can build skills and get used to practicing.

How will I be reinforcing homework? Homeworkopoly. Actually, I created behavioropoly because that has been more of a focus for our group of kids. If they get a behavior sticker every day, they get to play at the end of the week. I plan on giving them an extra chance to play if they complete their homework.

Here is the homework calendar/cover sheet I created:
At the beginning of the year, the calendar doesn't look quite like this. I start the first night of school with reading homework and add every week. The second week they will start math, then writing, and so on. I like to have all of the categories listed, so parents and students know what's coming.
I also created this quick sheet for word study because I hate getting 4 papers on Friday with all of their studying from the week.
Font by Kimberly Geswein
Apple by Krista Wallden

UPDATE: Due to requests, I have created an editable template for FREE download.

I love reading posts about how others do homework. Link your post below if you've written about this!

Image Map

Monday, August 4, 2014

Interactive Math Notebooks: MISSION DIFFERENTIATION

I absolutely love interactive notebooks. I've used them in my room ever since I started teaching. A lot of the time I use foldables and notebook activities to review concepts at the end of the lesson. I can quickly walk around and see how some students are doing and what they understood. Sometimes, we complete activities whole-group and take notes that students can refer back to. As I'm sure you know, it doesn't matter how I'm using them or what I'm teaching, there are always students on different levels.

When I was using the exact same activity for everyone, I would have to race around the room making sure the lower buddies got all the support and scaffolding they needed while the higher kiddos were getting the extension to challenge them. By the end of the lesson my feet and brain were tired!

Then...Lightbulb! Why not create leveled foldables and interactive notebook activities ahead of time.

Yes....Yes! This would help my poor feet (and probably make my "teaching slippers" a little less stinky). I got right to work and now, many weeks of procrastination later, I have 8 activities to help me jumpstart math at the beginning of the year. I created 4 place value activities, 2 rounding activities, and 2 comparing activities.

The best part is that each of the 8 activities has 3 versions! No more running around trying to differentiate on the spot. I can simply give the lower students the circle sheets, the on-target students the triangle sheets, and the advanced students the star sheets. Each level looks exactly the same, it just varies in difficulty.
Take a look:

Below is a rounding activity that requires students to round each of the number cards and then glue it on the number line above the number it would round to.

I teach third grade, but because of the leveling this is something that I think would comfortably work with grades 2-4. I hope this is something you will be able to use. I am so excited to try these out in my classroom and create even more for our units throughout the year! To check it out, head over to my TPT store. I will return and update the post when I get some real-life pictures of the activities!

Don't forget to ENTER MY GIVEAWAY! I am giving away $10 TPT cash that you will be able to use for the big sale and an interactive notebook bundle of your choosing from my store. There will be one winner for each of the prizes. You only have until midnight so head over now!

Image Map

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Facebook Drama, TPT Sale, & INB GIVEAWAY!

I typically stay away from facebook because of the drama that ensues from it's news feeds, timelines, and comments. However, about 2 weeks ago, I decided to put my personal issues aside and FINALLY create a facebook page for my blog. So, I did. It was great! I started following all of you and learning about giveaways, linkys, and teacher tips from all over the blogosphere with just a scroll. I was commenting and liking and posting and within a week I had earned 0 followers.

Boo! I was sad.

"Why is this?" I wondered. Then, I realized I had created a facebook profile and not a facebook PAGE. Lightbulb! So...I googled and googled and finally found how to turn my profile into a page.

But then, "Oh, no!", I had BOTH and I didn't know how to control either., google, google; and then I merged the two. Voila! "Finally!" I thought, and then I went back to see what you guys were up to and no one was there. You had all vanished. I couldn't search for you, I couldn't see you, I couldn't like you.

Wah!, google, google. Apparently this is a pretty big bug issue for facebook. There are a ton of pages out there that lose their entire news feed and it really hurts their business. I felt only slightly consoled by the knowledge that I had company in my facebook misery. So long story short (although this has already been pretty long), I had to create a new profile to become a second admin to my page. Then I had to follow all of you, hundreds of you, all over again. But, at least it works, right? (I still can't like or comment as my page from the app on my phone, but that is for another day.) I currently have 2 likes. I know, I know, it is pretty pitiful compared the the tens of thousands of likes some of you have, but I cherish both of those likes deeply. This led me to a thought to help jumpstart my facebook page, a giveaway.

Before I get to that, I want to tell you about the TPT Sale coming up on August 4th and 5th. That's tomorrow, YAY! Everything in my store, as well as many other stores, will be 20% off.  Stop by to check out some of my interactive notebook bundles!

I decided I wanted to host a giveaway to help build up my brand new facebook PAGE (not profile) and help someone get some extra goodies during the sale. The giveaway will be open until Midnight on August 4th, so the winner will have time to spend their gift certificate during the sale.
There will be 2 Winners!

Also, one of you amazing blogger-teachers should write a blog post about how you manage and maintain your blog, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter accounts all while creating new products for your store and spending time with your family. Seriously, I don't know how some of you keep up with it all!
  a Rafflecopter giveaway