Thursday, July 2, 2015

Classroom Improvements #2getherwearebetter

I've been thinking about the tweaks I want to do in my classroom since the last couple weeks of school. I'm excited to be joining with my sweet friends Angie & Ashley for the month's #2getherwearbetter. I'm really looking forward to reading about everyone's ideas for improving their really get some great ideas that way! Here's what I've been thinking....

#1 Move Completely to Daily 5
You've probably already heard me say my school sent me to a D5 training with The Sisters in April & I fell in LOVE! Seriously...came back & started putting it into action the next day! I'm really looking forward to starting it up right from the beginning of the year! For anyone thinking about looking into really is what we're already doing...just put into a framework that makes everything easier. I'm hosting a book study on the 2nd edition. Click the link to check it out a little closer. I promise you'll
love the framework!

#2 Daily 3 Math
Starting out with Daily 3 Math, too! I'm a HUGE fan of Guided Math & I don't think I'll ever stray
from that because it works so well for kiddos...but the structure of Daily 3 works so well as the management piece for the workstations kiddos are doing while I'm with a small group. It really takes away the need for figuring out who's going where when, creating rotation charts, & all of that. It just makes sense & streamlines all of that. I actually do more like a Daily 4. The Sisters' Daily 3 consists of Math by Myself, Math with a Partner, & Math Writing. I'm also adding Math with a Group. I'm also a firm believer in the power of games in instruction, so we'll be keeping that important part of our math instruction.

#3 Tweaking my Color Scheme
Love my Dots on Turquiose, but I'm ready for a a bit of change. You can see in the picture about that I currently pair the Paisley Border with Stitches & Stripes. Luckily, Creative Teaching Press has developed a wide range of products that all interchange & coordinate with each other, so tweaking it is easy! It all had to come down for some construction that's going on in my room, so it's a perfect time to change it up. I'm just adding a hint of lime green & keeping my paisley. Here's what's going up in the room...Playful Paisley & HexaFun Lime Green Mini Hexagons Border.

#5 New Room Design
Jury's still out on this one, but I have a blank slate to work with! I had to go in last week to pick up a book & I took a panoramic of my room as it looks currently....ScArY!
 Everything had to be taken out of my room for the construction, & there will be some small changes (a portion of the wall will be gone, old HVAC unit removed, & built-in shelves in its place). I'm not sure where I'm going to put everything yet, but I've got some great ideas! Stay tuned!

I'm off to check out what everyone else is working on tweaking for next year. Love gathering ideas!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

10 Steps to Teaching & Learning Independence

Hello again, brain! Brain research is fascinating, isn't it? Michael Grinder's research showed us that "the brain receives input through three different memory systems: visual, auditory, & kinesthetic (1995). When information is stored in more than one of these systems, the memory is improved." That's the key to teaching independence...activate multiple systems. The question do we do that? it is:

Identify What's Going to be Taught
People are more likely to access & retain information when the goals for learning are clear.  Creating I Charts is an easy way to do this! (I charts are just T charts in which the T is turned into an I) In D5, we identify what's being taught by writing it at the top of the I Chart.

Set a Purpose/Create a Sense of Urgency
Admit it -- when you're sitting in a training (or even contemplating going)-- are you thinking, "What's in it for me?" Sure...we all do. And that includes kiddos! Setting a purpose & a sense of urgency for learning in your classroom create a culture in which learning & practicing counts. How do you create that in your classroom? It's surprisingly easy! We talk about why we're doing an activity & affirm how it's going to help us become better readers (or writers). That is our ultimate goal, after all! In our classroom, we refer to those goals constantly!

Record Desired Behaviors on an I Chart
Here's an area where I may have failed in the past....I've always let the kiddos help brainstorm the list of what we should hear & see hear during our work time. How about you? The problem with this is we sometimes get a little off-track (you know how those conversations can go.."one time...."), & they end up adding some things I don't necessarily need on there. Take the guess work out of it! Tell kiddos explicitly what the expectations are & list them on the I-chart.

A word about wording...Be careful to word your expectations positively. If you're a PBIS school like we are, you probably already do this naturally. Instead of "Don't walk around", "Stay in one spot." Takes the guess work out of it....kiddos know exactly what is expected, which sets them up for success.

Model Most-Desirable Behaviors
After creating your I-Chart, call a few kiddos up in turn to model the expected behaviors. Going back to that brain research, "Michael Grinder points out that the visual input of seeing correct behaviors modelsd for the whole class and the kinesthetic input for those doing the modeling is the beginning of the process of creating children's muscle memories." Follow the modeling up by asking, "If Billy Bob does these things, will it help him become a better reader (or writer)?"

Model Least-Desirable Behaviors Then Most-Desirable Again
Model Least-Desirable?! Yes! There is power in non-examples. And consider this....when you follow up the non-example with the question, "If Billy Bob does these things, will it help him become a better reader (or writer)?", your kiddos are going to answer with a resounding "NO!". That's a powerful way to get kiddos to think about & realize that their behavior affects their success. And how specific behaviors negatively impact their success.

Do make sure to follow up those non-examples with examples of most-desirable behaviors, though! Remember that we are working towards building that muscle memory...don't let it end with the least-desirable behavior in their muscle memory!

Place Students Around the Room
Psst! Here's the secret to the success of placing kiddos around the room to practice reading in a spot the first time:

  1. Place them in groups rather than one-by-one
  2. Leave the group of kiddos with the least amount of stamina for last 
Practice & Build Stamina
Be prepared....all practice sessions are going to be short. When kiddos break stamina- stop. It's important not to let them (any one of them) practice incorrectly! Create a large graph on which you can track your kiddos' progress with building stamina. This provides a great visual of the progress & a reminder of your goal. 

Of course, you've got to teach your kiddos what stamina is, why we need to increase it, & what the benefit is for us. Of course, to get better at anything, we need to practice. A basketball player plays basketball as much as she can....a mountain biker rides bikes as much as he can...a reader reads as much as he can. I always tell my kiddos my brother's story. He grew up right in the same town they are, went to our same school (in other words - just like them). He decided he wanted to be a mountain he rode his bike as much & as often as he could....& worked to build his stamina. He did become a pretty awesome mountain bike rider. (That really IS my brother in the poster!). Please click the pic to grab a FREEBIE copy (there's also a less ink-intensive poster in the link).

I put that in caps because that may be the biggest mistake we all make. Here's the scenario: kiddos are practicing...all quietly reading around the room......& here goes the teacher, buzzing around the room whispering at kiddos all the way. "Good job", "Keep it up", "Way to go", "Excellent"! Then what happens the first time we want to pull a small group? It all falls apart. That's because, with all of our buzzing around the room, we've taught them to need that extrinsic motivation we've been providing. It's hard...I know. But it really does make a world of difference!

Use a Quiet Signal to Call Kiddos to the Meeting Area
I think it's fairly well known that The Sisters recommend the use of chimes for calling kiddos. Why such a soft sound? We're going to call kiddos when we see that stamina has been exhausted. That's typically going to be your barometer sweetie. "The interruption of a loud voice can easily trigger an escalation of the entire room's noise level..."(& nobody wants that!). "[U]se the power of a calm & respectful signal". It's a pleasant sound & sets the tone for the next activity. 

Group Check-In "How Did It Go?"
Ask kiddos for a quick self-reflection. We refer to the I-Chart , ask the question, & kiddos hold up the number of fingers to indicate how they thought they did. We use the same system described in the book:
  1. Below Standard
  2. Approaching
  3. Meeting
  4. Exceeding
I am LOVING this book! And I'm so glad so many people are joining's great to read other perspectives & ideas. I'd love to hear YOURS, too! Please comment below or link up!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Daily 5: Our Core Beliefs *Book Study*

I'm just a bit late to the Daily 5 Chapter 2 party, but I'm excited to dive into this chapter with you! If you didn't catch Chapter 1 yet, it's all about how Daily 5 edition 2 differs from the first edition. There are quite a few shifts in The Sisters' can catch up here.

Chapter 2 explores our core beliefs about reading & reading instruction, & how those core beliefs are the foundation blocks of the Daily 5 framework. I know many people are hesitant about implementing D5...teachers have to give up some control. That's scary. I know...that's part of why I just couldn't wrap my brain around this framework. However, D5 is built on a solid foundation of their core beliefs.
Source: The Brown Bag Teacher

Trust & Respect
Think about the types of activities kiddos are spending most of their time on through the day in many classrooms. If those classrooms are like mine used to be, kiddos are busy with workstations while I'm working with small groups. They're doing hands-on, interactive activities, search & write the room, sorts, playing games. You stuff. But here's the deal.....shouldn't I have them spend MORE time reading & writing than they are spending on the 'fun stuff'? The answer is, of course, YES!

I bet lots of classrooms are similar to mine...& I bet the reason for that is the same as mine: I don't really trust my kiddos to spend that time really reading, or really writing. But you know what? Just like with everything else, if you really teach your expectations, let your kiddos practice them & build up their stamina...they WILL spend their time really reading & really writing.

I know we all know the importance of working towards building a community of learners. It starts at the beginning of the year: we all work on get-to-know you activities, & team-building exercises those first weeks of school. It builds a foundation for a successful, positive school year. I have a unique perspective on community: I teach a 1st, 2nd, & 3rd grade multi-age classroom, I team teach with an identical classroom (think 55 kiddos - 2 teachers). We function as ONE classroom. In fact, we are referred to a TEAM (there's 1st grade, 2nd grade, TEAM, 3rd grade, etc. in our building). We also keep our kiddos for all three years, so each year, we launch our 3rd graders to 4th, & we get a new crew of firsties in the fall. (This year, we're getting 18 firsties). We work very hard on community.

I was pleased to read in the book, "It isn't uncommon for two children to sit side by side, one with a chapter book and one with an early picture book, completely comfortable with the truth that each selection meets that individual's need at that particular moment". That is exactly what we saw happening! Wow. We introduced D5 at the end of our kiddos hadn't had lots of exposure or practice within the framework, but we already saw that happening by week two. Wow. We were amazed! When you've taken the time to build a strong community, you'll see kiddos hold each other accountable for behaviors, expectations, and even personal goals.

I'm already a true believer in choice. It allows kiddos to take ownership & responsibility for their learning, & not only does it increase motivation, you'll see gains in motivation, too! I'm pleased that choice is a big part of D5. Of course, we can't forget that teaching the expectations & allowing kiddos time to practice those are key!3

Have you held back from doing D5 in your classroom because you were concerned about accountability? Oh, yes...kiddos are accountable! Even though they're not completing & turning in papers. Even though they're making choices. Here's the thing though....accountability is a two way street. We need to be accountable to our kiddos too! I like the way The Sisters explain it: think about those activities we've currently got kiddos working ALL of your students have the ability to independently complete them? Do you find yourself needing "be out among the children, managing and redirecting, flitting from child to child in order to help them them complete their work"? Yes? I know I did. And think about that...that's not really how I want to, or should be, spending my instructional time. With D5, we need to hold ourselves accountable to teaching kiddos those expectations: what it looks like, sounds like, & feels like to be engaged in the tasks we're giving them.

Brain Research
Brain research fascinates me. Learning about how the brain works and how that affects learning is so interesting. And being able to apply that to my instruction is nothing short of awesome! Brain research is at the foundation of's why some of the pieces are there. Here are my take aways from this section.

  • Maximize the effect of your lessons: your kiddos can only attend for the number of minutes equal to their age. So..your 7 year olds? You've got about 7 minutes before you start to lose them.
  • Follow the 20/80 rule of thumb: 20% of our kiddos' time should be spent in direct instruction. 80% spent practicing skills & concepts we've covered in instruction.
Isn't it interesting how those work together? The brain research that tells us we need to keep lessons brief also then allows us to give kiddos more time for that important practice.

Transitions as Brain & Body Breaks
GoNoodle Inspiration BlogThis is a concept I truly appreciate! Think about the last time you were sitting in a meeting or training. For me, that was just last week. At a certain point, I just need to get out of there! I need to stand up, walk around, move! Can you relate? Your brain just can't take in any more. I can't tell you how many times I've thought to myself, "This is how my kiddos feel!" haha! This is a part of D5 that I've really taken to heart. The Sisters recommend providing some kind of movement between ending a rotation & beginning your next mini-lesson. GoNoodle, anyone?

A quick brain/body break really makes a HUGE difference. Kiddos love it, & it really does seem to heighten their ability to attend. And it's quick! We use GoNoodle for almost all of our brain/body breaks, & you can find lots & lots of them that are just over a minute. That's not a lot of time, & it truly does make a BIG difference. While I'm on the subject of transitions, I thought I'd share another big take away I had from the D5 Conference I went to:

You know how when you're transitioning & you have those 3 or 4 kiddos that are just taking their sweet time putting things away & getting to the meeting area? You know how you say things like "I'm just waiting for Billy Bob, Sammy Jo, & Mellie Mae", "I'm just waiting for 4 people...."? Do you do that? Because I totally did. Here's the secret to getting them to the group:

Don't Wait

That's right...just go ahead & start. They hear you...they won't miss out on any part of the lesson. And they'll get the signal that it's time to get over there! Honestly. I put it into action & it does work. They can hear your lesson as they're putting things away & they do start moving quicker & getting to the group faster. Amazing, right? 

What are you thinking so far? I'd love to hear your thoughts! Please comment below or link up if you have a blog!

I'm Visiting iTeach Third Today!

Hey, everyone! I'm over at iTeach Third Today! We have 4 new people joining us in our building this year, & I've been collecting ideas & thinking of ways to make sure they get their year off to a great start. Click over & read about ways you can help a new teacher feel welcome! See you over at
iTeach Third

Friday, June 26, 2015

Summer Stock Up!

I know, I know.....we're all on summer break! But teacher brains never stop, do they? I know we're all thinking about next year...the tweaks we want to put in place, the new things we want to do. I thought I'd share a a couple of my favorites with you.

I created this math pack while reading Laney Sammons' book Guided Math. This math pack & routine has made a HUGE difference in my kiddos' math performance. I designed it according to Sammons' ideas & suggestions with a goal of helping kiddos
smoothly acquire not just skills, but the conceptual knowledge as well.

I know it looks's built so that you can pick & choose the pieces that you want to use, depending on your kiddos' needs. I actually use different pieces through the year. As concepts are mastered, I'll bring out new ones. The mainstays are included:

  • Days of School where we note the hundreds, tens, & ones
  • Today Is ______ & Today's Date
  • Weather Chart where we note the type of weather & the general temperature.
  • Fact Family House
  • Number of the Day (I choose a number depending on where we are with the skill & what type of practice we need) & Tally Marks
  • Today's Number (again, I choose a number depending on where we are with the skill & what type of practice we need) & Expanded Form
  • Greater Than/Less Than
  • What Time Is It? with AM/PM Disks so that can be noted as well (I use my demo clock & set the time according to what we're working on)
  • Name Collection Box (that's what it's called in Everyday Math). Basically, it's a large rectangle with a small box in the corner. Teachers write a number in the small box, & then kiddos fill it in with different ways to 'name the number'. For instance, if I wrote the number 16, we could write the word sixteen, equations like 8+8, 20-4...for older kiddos, we might have 8*2 or even 32/2. We could use money & draw one dime, one nickel, & one penny. 
  • Function Machine (or In & Out Table)
There are also TWO different student journals you can use. And even within them, you can pick & choose the pieces you want to use. There's a graph for tracking your weather data (a standard for many!), as well as pieces to match all of the skills I've already talked about.

And here's a little confession.......Wondering why there are 4 copies of each of the posters? Yeah...that's because I like to switch up colors every now & then! haha! My quirkiness ends up in your can use the colors that match YOUR classroom! AWesome!

These Beanie Baby Strategy have also had quite an impact for my kiddos. Using Beanie Babies as representatives (ambassadors, if you will) for the strategies is a powerful way to get kiddos to learn & internalize those strategies! Often, as my kiddos are trying to work out an unfamiliar word, I'll see them glance over at the posters & say under their breath ("Chunky Monkey") then turn back to their book & work at using that strategy on that word. 

I've got a FREEBIE sample for you over on my Facebook page. If you'd like to check out the real deal closer, hop over to my store (just click the graphic above)!

Hope you're finding lots of great things to stock up on! I'm stocking up myself...finding some great stuff out there!