Sunday, October 15, 2017

Parent-Teacher Conferences: Keeping the Humanity

   


     As I write this, it is currently parent-teacher conference season. We've been in school for a couple of months, and finally it's time to meet with parents. Even though the day always feels like I've ran a marathon when it's over, it truly is enjoyable to sit down and talk with parents. In preparation for our fall conferences, I began to think about what goes into a good parent-teacher conference. I will discuss those points in this post.

1. Start With Positives


     I think we hear this a lot, but I'm not sure we always adhere to it. Start with the positives. If you are starting with data, then at least don't start with the negatives. Beginning with the negatives will start your conference on a negative tone. That's not good for you or the parent. It can put up an invisible wall between you and the parent. Remember, we are stronger when we work together. We don't want to push parents away, and starting out negatively can do that. Every child is a person and has something wonderful about him or her. Draw on those positives and share it with the parents. This will help make it easier to flow into any areas of concerns and/or improvements later in the conference.


2. Remember Each Student is Someone's Precious Child


     Sometimes behavior and other concerns become so large that, that's all we see. However, it's important that we keep the whole child in mind. Just as there are many factors that make up who we are as individuals, the same is true of our students. While we may hyper focus on certain aspects of our students, it's important to remember their organic, whole self. Each student is someone's precious child. This is to be honored and respected. Not only should this be kept in mind during conferences, but on a daily basis as well.

3. Have a Specific Format


     If your conferences are going to flow smoothly, it's helpful to have a specific format that you follow. For example, I start my conferences with data from a phonemic awareness assessment and reading, highlighting what the child knows and can do well. Then I discuss areas of growth (as well as provide suggestions of practice, etc.). Following that, I discuss the student's writing. I show examples and draw on what the child is doing well, and, once again, then discuss goals and areas of growth. Next, I discuss math and, as the pattern goes, what he or she is doing well, followed by areas of growth.  Last, I discuss the social and emotional aspects of the student. Having a solid format helps guide my conferences. This is especially helpful if I find myself sidetracked by questions or concerns by the parent. I can easily answer specific questions, and then go back to my format. It helps keep me centered.

4. Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions


     You want to make sure to ask parents if they have any questions for you once you have finished. This lets them know that you have finished your part, but also that it's okay for them to ask anything they've been wondering about. Aside from this, however, it's important for you to ask parents questions you may have about your student. Sometimes I see a behavior in class and wonder if the same behavior is seen at home. This can be helpful and insightful, especially if I am looking for ways to work with this behavior. Asking questions can help you gather important information about your student, so don't be afraid to ask.

5. Sleep and Eat


     The last important tip (and perhaps the most obvious but least followed) I have is to get a good night's sleep followed by a good breakfast in the morning. I always refer to parent-teacher conferences as a marathon day (we conduct ours during the school day, so students have the day off while we meet with parents) because it is nonstop and leaves me exhausted. There's probably no way around the nonstop aspect of it, but this is exactly why you need to start off strong. Getting a good night's sleep will allow you to enter the conferences energized and well rested. Having a healthy breakfast will provide you with fuel to maintain that energy. These two things seem small, but their impact is huge!

     I hope these tips help you have amazing parent-teacher conferences. If they do, won't you leave me a comment and let me? I'd appreciate it!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Nonlinguistic Representation (Instructional Strategy)

   

      Currently at my school, each grade level is endeavoring on an instructional strategy PLC. This PLC will span over the duration of the entire 17-18 school year. Since I love to learn, I am loving this PLC (disclaimer: we've only had 1 meeting so far!). We meet once a month to discuss what we did the previous month, learn a new strategy, and then plan how to use that new strategy. My focus for the next month will be on nonlinguistic respresentation.
     As a teacher of young learners, I think I have seen time and time again just how powerful visuals are. I mean, if you put things into perspective, my students begin the school year not reading. However, they will leave as emergent readers. All of this is to say that visuals, then, become extremely critical as these young students understand very little text. Aside from benefiting the youngest of learners, though, visuals remain excellent aids in assisting to make clear what might otherwise be too ambiguous to understand.
     Upon deciding to focus on nonlinguistic representation for the next month, I decided that reading might be an excellent place to start. At my grade level, we use Lucy Calkins' Units of Studies to teach Reading Workshop (love!).  In the first unit, students read all-about-the-world books (nonfiction) and then story books. This got me to thinking that I could use nonlinguistic representation to help students think about what they learn from their all-about-the-world books. Since I am still following a pacing guide, I figured the best way to teach this strategy is in small groups. This allows me to not fall away from the pacing guide, but provide the additional teaching points (and in a more manageable fashion).
     The last two days I have been busy implementing this new strategy. My teaching plan looks something like the following:

Connection: Remind students that they have learned how to read all-about-the-world books and story books. Remind them that all-about-the-world books are teaching books. They can learn lots of information from them. However, sometimes we have to work a little harder to remember the things we learn. Thankfully, there is a trick to help readers remember more of the information they read.

My Lesson: Holding Your Learning on a Sticky Note

Teaching point: Today I am going to teach you how you can use sticky notes to show your learning. This helps to hold the things you learn, and when you look back at it, it will remind you what you learned from your book.

Teach: I demonstrate to the students me reading a nonfiction book. Then, I put my hand on my head and say, "Now, what did I learn?" I look through the book again, and stop on something and pretend to be excited about it. I explain that I learned xyz, and then show how I draw a quick sketch. I then stick it on the front of my book. I share with the students that later when I see my sketch, I will remember my learning. I also explain that when I do read with a partner, I can share my sketch with my partner. I then quickly demonstrate what that would look like.

Active Engagement: Have students read a nonfiction book and do the same thing.

Link: Tell students that they never have to worry about forgetting their learning again. Sticky notes are a great way to hold their learning.

Closing: Reminder students what they learned. Explain to them that now that they know how to do this, anytime they read an all-about-the-world book, they can sketch out their learning.

Note: During the active engagement time, you can confer.

     Feel free to try this lesson with your own students. My idea is to teach it, then continue to work with students as they use this strategy with their nonfiction books. If you do use this lesson, I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Building Classroom Community




     It's the beginning of the school year for most of us and we are back at it! After spending weeks thinking about the new school year, it's finally here! With a new class and group of students comes the massive job of building a posivite classroom community. With this comes the question, "How exactly do we go about this?"
    To that I would answer that there are several things that must be done when setting up a positive classroom community. To begin, yes I believe that setting clear expectations is key. It is important that students know there are specific guidelines and expectations in your classroom. I try to keep my expectations simple and overarching so that everything fits within it. My three expectations are: be responsible, be kind, and be safe. When I talk to students about these expectations, we talk about examples of each of them. This helps create a clear picture of what I mean by, "responsible", or "kind", or "safe".
     Setting up expectations is only part of building a community, however. For some reason I think we hyper-focus on the activities of classroom community building (and those activities are great; I certainly am not advocating against them), and forget what is at the heart of what we are trying to do: build relationships. A community should be one that cares for each other, but typically that is going to grow out of the relationships, and those relationships take time. So, while we work on all our community building activities, it's important to keep in mind that what we are really trying to do is develop relationships with our students, as well as help them build relationships with each other.
     As such, we need real, ample time to talk to and get to know our students. We need to hear what their interests are and who they are as unique individuals. I like to start talking to them on day one. As they work, I go around and check in with them and talk about their work, and then try to start a more personal conversation. After a few days of doing this, I have established a bridge of communication with each student and have learned at least one thing about them.
     It's also important to connect with students by opening up to them. Students love to hear about your personal life (also because it's hard for them to imagine that you have any life outside of school). You don't want to make it all about you, but you do want to open up and share interesting stories and tidbits so they can get to know you. Again, I try to do this whenever it seems fitting when I go around the classroom and speak with my students. However, this is important to maintain during the entirety of the school year. Find times and ways to share something about yourself, especially if it fits into something you are doing. Students get a glimpse of your life, and it helps them to know you as a person, not just a teacher.
    Lastly, students need time to get to know the other students. We can do this with icebreakers that help them begin to feel comfortable, but also learn about their peers. More than this, they need to be able to get to the heart of each other. I feel our turn and talks allow them to begin to actually hear, listen, and learn about each other. In addition, any partnerships can help promote deeper student-to-student connection, as can small group games and activities.
    To conclude, as we enter the new school year and begin to build our classroom communities, let's  keep the deeper meaning of what we're doing in mind: relationship building. This is the time to get to know our students, develop meaningful relationships, and let them know we care. Then and only then can true learning occur.




Saturday, August 12, 2017

Starting Strong: 6 Things to Keep in Mind as You Begin the New School Year

   
     The beginning of the school year is such a special time of year. Teachers excitedly get their classrooms set up, organized and decorated. There is a buzz of excitement and energy all around school. Expectations are high, and hope lingers in the air like a cool breeze on a hot day. When I think of the beginning of the school year, I think of hope. "Hope" because everyone enters the new school year thinking it will be better than the year before. Maybe it will be the best yet.
     There is a special kind of feeling that ensues during this time of year, and it's the kind of feeling one would like to bottle up and keep for later (you know, for when we're exhausted and in need of a "pick-me-up"). If only we could hold onto that feeling and make it last. What would our whole school year be like then? How would this affect students, teachers, and even parents? I contend that the consequences of such a long-lasting feeling would prove positive.
    Maybe we can't bottle up the excitement and positivity of the beginning of the school year, but we can commit to promote positivity and encourage others to do the same. It seems a tall order, but it's something that we can all do if we decide to. Below are 6 key ideas that promote positivity as you begin the new school year. Hold onto them throughout the year, and they will help you maintain a positive attitude even when things feel negative.

Gratitude


     We never have to wait for the big, grand things in life to be grateful for because it's the smaller things in life more worthy of gratitude. Are you breathing today? Be grateful. Do you have access to clean water? Be grateful. Did you feel the cool chill of the wind on your back today? Be grateful.
    Aside from all the wonderful things in life to be grateful for, we can also be grateful for the fact that we have jobs. Not everyone has that. Not everyone has a job for which they will rise and get ready for each morning. Be grateful.
   

Create an Appropriate Work Environment


     Just as we aim to create a learning environment for our students in which they feel free to take risks and make mistakes, the same needs to be true for our work environment. All faculty have the power to help create this kind of environment. It involves creating a growth mindset where teachers feel safe to make mistakes because they know they won't be deemed bad teachers. This kind of school understands that the only way to grow as educators is to understand that things won't always go well. Teachers might try things instructionally that won't always work and will adjust accordingly, and that's okay. When the entire school participates in this kind of mindset, it makes others feel safe enough to try new things, even if it doesn't work immediately (there's often wrinkles to iron out when trying something new).

Shield Yourself From Negativity


     Negativity can bring someone down like a pile of bricks. Its weight is heavy and constraining. Though it's not possible to remain positive 100% of the time, it is important to attempt to remain positive. When we fall in the negativity trap, it does nothing but bring us down (look for solutions instead of complaints as solutions are more productive). One step to attempting this is to shield your from negativity. If there's a location at your school where you know negativity runs rampant (say the teacher's lounge, for example), refrain from frequenting it. We can't control the negativity from others, but we can choose to not participate in it. Likewise, by modeling positive behavior, we have the potential to positively affect others and improve our immediate environment. This is not only beneficial for you and your colleagues, but for your students.


Assume the other person had good intentions.


     I once listened to a podcast that argued we should always assume the best from others. How often, though, do we do the opposite instead? We read an email and detect a tone and immediately feel offended. Or, we find out a colleague has done something and we assume it was done with bad intentions. Assuming another person had good intentions when they do something that, at first glance, appears otherwise, is not easy (I know, I struggle with this too). However,  by attempting this mindset, we better understand our colleagues, avoid unnecessary conflicts and drama, and maintain healthy relationships. When something happens and we immediately feel upset with our colleague, we should pause, rewind, and think that the person probably had good intentions. With that mindset, you can better examine and then manage the situation because it helps to keep you calm (as opposed to going into the situation upset and angry).

Communication


     Communication is key in an institution with so many people. I have had my own fiascos when it comes to communication, which is why I think this point cannot be left off this list. When communication is broken or lacking, relationships can suffer. When relationships between colleagues suffer, students ultimately suffer as well. If there is pertinent information, make sure everyone involved is given the information. This will prevent someone missing vital information, and when that happens, the other person involved could be left feeling upset and disrespected. Likewise, keeping others informed is an easy way to let them know they are being kept in the loop, considered, and, as such, respect.
     Sometimes communication is not easy, though. Speaking with a colleague about difficult matters can feel uncomfortable. These kind of conversations are not easy, but in order to maintain healthy relationships, they certainly are necessary. When we feel confused, upset, or even hurt, it's important to have direct communication with the other person. This can feel extremely uncomfortable, but misunderstandings and conflicts are best resolved when we go straight to the person. Remaining calm while expressing kindness and respect can help make the discussion as comfortable as possible in such a situation. Most people appreciate direct communication and will realize that you are interested in preserving the relationship.

 Recognize Everyone's value


     All school personnel has a special role, and each person's work helps to make the school great. As such, it is extremely important to recognize the value that each person brings to his or her school. Teachers, janitors, cafeteria staff and grounds are only a few positions that make up our schools. We can show our recognition of each other's value by expressing respect and appreciation for each other. No one is above or below, nor is anyone's job more important than another's.

   
    Want to listen to my full episode on this topic? You can do that here.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Rethinking Homework

   
     Homework is one of those very delicate subjects in education. To give homework or not to give homework, that is the question. However, that's not the only question. If we teachers give homework, what kind? How frequently? How much or how little? What are the parents' role in homework?
     To begin to answer this question, we have to look at the research. There's really no research that supports the idea that homework helps students make academic advances. You do start seeing some advances at the highschool level, but it's hard to tell if this is just correlational or actually a causality.
     However, the subject of homework is still complicated even when you know the research. You have to keep in mind the parents and students, because they are part of the equation. Parents have their own preconceived ideas about homework, which implies the importance of informing them of the research on homework. Many parents believe that homework should be part of school, but this is primarily because that's what parents did when they were in school. Admittedly, most of us experienced having homework while in school, so it feels natural and correct to give homework as a teacher, as well as have your child receive homework. However, just because this is the way things have always happened doesn't mean these are best practices.
     We also have to look at students. What are their experiences with homework? Those who understand the concepts do well on homework. They lose nothing but time to be children and be with their families, but they also gain nothing. What about students who struggle with the homework, though? These are really the biggest losers in the homework game. Not only do they lose time in the afternoons after school, but they experience frustration while they struggle to do something that they do not understand. If they are struggling with the concept, how does new learning occur then? It likely will not occur during their interaction with the homework itself. These students need something different in order to develop understanding. This might be the need to have the material presented differently, or it might be the need to access the content in a different manner.
     Now, I'm not necessarily saying all homework needs to be thrown out. When it comes to reading, I think students should be doing this regularly at home. In terms of traditional homework, I do think we need to move away from this. Here are a few things we can do as we begin to revamp our current homework practices:

1) Require that students read at home.

2) Offer family activities as homework options (cook together; go for a walk as a family and use your senses to explore the world; bond together over a television show or a podcast episode, etc.).

3) Instead of answering a homework sheet with multiple questions, why not offer a sheet that provides a meaningful task? Maybe your student writes on this sheet, or maybe your student doesn't. Some tasks like this might include: find different shapes in your house; using manipulatives, find different ways to make the number x; have a conversation with your child about x.

4) Send home math games instead of homework sheets.

5) Make homework optional (except for reading).


     We can no longer ignore the problem of current homework practices. Students need time to be kids in the afternoon as well as spend time with their families. That's extremenly important to developing a well balanced and healthy child. After spending 6-7 hours at school, it's only fair that students get time for other things besides academics. If we think what helps us adults feel healthy and well (physically, mentally and emotionally), we know that there has got to be a healthy balance between work and our personal lives. This is very much true for our youngest humans. They deserve better, and we teachers have the ability to help them achieve that.

     If you'd like to continue thinking about this concept, I encourage you to listen to an interview I had with a parent. In this interview we get a parent's perspective on homework.  That interview can be found here.

    Want to see an example of the kind of homework my grade level gives out? You can check that out here.

    Do you have some great homework activities you'd like to share? Please leave a comment and share with us. Together we are better.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Fast Forward Series: It's Time to Worry (Literally)

     


     In general, we humans spend a lot of mental energy worrying about things. We worry about anything and everything. We worry when it's appropriate to worry and when it isn't.  So much worrying can make focusing on immediate tasks difficult, and impede our sleep. This can negatively affect our personal lives, as well as our professional lives. Teaching is a big job, so it's important to feel mentally and emotionally well, as much as possible. Wellness positively affects our performance as educators. Read to find out how to conduct a designated worry time so your overall time spent on worries decreases, while increasing your overall wellness.  



Getting Started


     Schedule 1-2 times during the day in which you will worry. This should be about 10-20 minutes in length. Spend that time worrying about one specific worry you have. Do not think about about positive alternatives during this time. Allow your worries to take you where they will. You don't want to tell yourself that your worry is silly. Embrace your worry in all its glory. Once your designated worry time is over, you release yourself from the worry. Take a few deep breaths, even shake your shoulders and body, if needed, to transition out of this worry time.

Managing Your Worry time 


     Choose a time when you can sit down and only focus on your worry. It's probably best to choose a time when you are not work (i.e. before or after work). Again, you want to fully focus on your worry. It's not time to convince yourself that it's not worth worrying about. Instead, look at this worry in every possible angle. You really want to examine this worry inside and out. If you have exhausted every aspect of your worry, go through them again.

How This Works


     You are shifting your feelings and emotions as you confront your worries. Initially, you can expect to feel frustrasted, stressed, even anxiety while you first confront your worries during this time. However, after you have spent a few days dealing with a worry, you will become bored. You start to lose ideas about the worry and you lose interest. When this happens, it means you have accomplished your goal! You have successfully dealt with your worry. It will no longer be a worry that takes up your precious time.

Implementation


    Again, it is suggested that you choose two worry times in your day. If a worry happens to pop up during the days, decide that you will tackle it during your worry time. Postponing worries will allow you to focus your time on other tasks instead of mindless worrying. Of course, if a problem or concern arises and there is a clear and quick solution, it's just fine to solve it then. Worry time is meant more for worries and concerns that might have an unclear outcome.

Different Ways to Conduct Worry Time

 
1) In a quiet space by yourself
2) On a tape recorder (speak your worries into it)
3) Have a designated worry coach

     If you decide to use a worry coach, it obviously should be someone you feel comfortable with. Your coach's role is to listen and do very little talking. In fact, your coach is strictly there to keep you talking. They can ask questions like "How else do you feel about your worry?", or "Tell me more", "what else?"

     Worries and anxieties are normal. However, there are ways to take control and manage your worries so that they don't take over your life. Learning how confront your worries will help you achieve better wellness overall. A healthier you benefits you and your students.

     If you would like to listen to the podcast episode in which I discuss this topic in depth, you may do so by clicking here.

   






Saturday, July 29, 2017

Fast Forward Series: Digital Tools and Resources at Your Door

   

     In episode 9 of "Time to Teach", I discussed digital tools that I am loving that you might want to try. These are tools that enhance teaching and student learning, and tools that you might want to add to your toolbox. Try them out this summer and you'll be ready with a few new digital tools for the fall.




 Get Epic


     This is a fantastic website for children's books. I use this site primarily for books I think will be good for a read aloud. You can also set up your class so that students have access to the books in class or at home. Teachers can set up an account for free, and free is always nice!

Imgur  


     This is a tool that is new to me. It's easy and simple to use, and that's something I can appreciate. This simple tool allows you to upload pictures, use filters, and add text. As such, you can use it to make memes. Memes are all the rage right now, so why not get your students doing something they enjoy while connecting it to academics?
     A few ways you might want to use memes in your classroom: vocabulary, word study, character studies in literature, announcements and sayings.

Canva


     Canva is one of my new favorite tools. You can make infographics and many other kinds of graphics. Many options within canva are free, but there are also items you will have to pay for if you want to use it. You can use this to make digital invitations, memes, announcements, online posts, etc. I love this tool!

Padlet


     Padlet is a digital bulletin board. It is wonderful because it is so versatile. You can create boards and add links, texts, and images. You can invite collaborators, or you can share the link for others to simply view. It's uses are limitless, but here are a few ways I have used it: to upload student pictures to share with parents; my own dream board; planning.

Google Drive


     Since Google Drive is in the cloud, you can work on your documents from anywhere. That's probably one of the best features of Google Drive. Anything and everything can be done in Google drive. I type letters, announcements, create presentations, and lesson plan within Google Drive.

Story Jumper


     Digital story telling is such a fantastic way for students to develop their craft of writing. I really like to use Story Jumper for digital story telling as I find it easy to use. You may add the preset images (backgrounds, objects, etc.), or use your own. I actually use story telling to write my own books to read as read alouds! I have done so to introduce myself to my students at the beginning of the school year, explain how to treat our classroom books, include math & social studies concepts.



     How are you preparing yourself for the fall? I'd love to hear about it.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Fast Forward Series: Other Digital Matters That Matter

   
     In my most recent podcast episode from "Time to Teach", I discussed several digital matters and tasks that teachers should work on during the summer. Working on these items in the summer will lighten the heavy to-do load at the beginning of the new school year. Here are the items I discussed: 

Lesson Planning


     Plan at least the first week back to school. Activities during this time should primarily focus on building community in your classroom. You also want to include time to observe student habits, as well as really get to know them (i.e. what are their interests? what do they enjoy to do outside of school?). 

 Emergency Sub plans


     You never know when an emergency (sickness or otherwise) will occur, leaving you with no choice but to miss a day of school. Nothing is worse than lesson planning when that happens. Do yourself a favor and have one emergency lesson plan already typed up and ready to go. Do yourself an even bigger favor and type out three. You will probably not need more than one, but it's better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them. 

Policies and Procedures


     Everything needs procedures, and many things need policies. How will you handle students going to the bathroom? Transitions? Electronic usage in the classroom? Pencils? You will need a plan for everything that takes place in your classroom, and you will need to share this plan with students from day one. If you are a veteran teacher, think about what hasn't been working and decide on tweaks you can make to improve it. 

Learn a New Digital Tool for Productivity 


     There's so many digital tools out there meant to enhance your productivity. Take time this summer to find one and learn how to use it. Once you do that, learn another tool. My new favorite is Google Keep. It's essentially a platform for virtual sticky notes. Anything you might put on a sticky note you can put here. Additionally, it can hold links and images. It's my new favorite tool!

Social Media


     Social media is a great way to network and learn from other educators. If you aren't already networking, you want to start. Begin with one social media platform and learn how to use it. Once you have a good understanding of it, then try another one. If you are already networking, challenge yourself to learn another social media platform and start using that one as well.      Even though I have been signed up with Twitter since forever, I've really started using it like crazy this summer. My completely new social media network, however, is LinkedIn. I finally set up an account and have started using that this summer. 

Online Courses


     Summer is an opportunity for learning. With the movement of massive open online courses (MOOC), education is more accessible than ever before (Coursera is one of my favorites). Take time to grow professionally this summer, but also take time for your personal interests. Find a course that has nothing to do with education, but speaks to your interest. It's important to grow your whole self! 

Educational podcasts


     Podcasts are such a wonderful medium for education. Find an education podcast this summer that will help you grow professionally. Likewise, find a podcast that speaks to your personal interests. Growing all parts of you benefits your students, because the more you grow, the better of an educator you will be.  

     Taking time to work on these digital matters and tasks will help lighten your load come fall. Happy growing!

     Listen to the podcast in full here.

    How are you growing this summer? I'd love to hear about it!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Fast Forward Series: It's a Digital Mess: Clean Up Time

     In Episode 7 of Time to Teach, I shared many digital tasks you should do this summer to help you prepare for fall. The beginning of the school year is always busy, so you want to take advantage of the summer and start tackling some of your to-do list. Here are some digital tasks you can do right now to help lessen the chaos of the fall:

Pacing guide 

     Having a clearly planned out school year is important. You don't want to start the year without a scope and sequence, even a most basic scope and sequence. You can do this in any calendar that works for you. I prefer Google Calendar to do my pacing guide.
     Your pacing guide should have the most basic information you need, such as the name of your units, the beginning and end dates, and any holidays and events. I also like to count the number of weeks in my pacing guide, so I add that in there as well (ex: "week 1"). You probably have a pacing guide to work from, so it will likely be just a matter of plugging in the new dates in which your units fall.

Unit map (or Unit Document)

     It's important to have a detailed plan for your units. A unit map (or unit document) differs from a pacing guide in that it is very specific.  It includes all of the small details of your unit. Most likely you already have an existing unit map to work from.  If you do, you will want to take time this summer tweaking it so it matches next school year's calendar.  This will include changing the dates to match the new unit dates. You’ll also want to consider including the number of school days within that unit.  Since there are specific programs and series that I use within the unit's curriculum (such Math in Focus, Reading and Writing Workshop) with their own scope and sequence, I want to know how many days are in that scope and sequence and compare it to how many actual academic days I have. I suggest doing this so you don't run out of academic time unexpectedly.

Click here to see my actual Unit Map for Unit 1

Digital files

     Now is the perfect time to clean up your digital messes. This includes files on your hard drive, as well as any files you might have in the cloud.  Be careful and plan strategically.  You will need a "plan of attack" so you don't lose track of which files you have already cleaned out, and which ones are pending. I  suggest starting at a specific row and either working across or down. The other option is to choose a column and work down.

Email  

     It is probably best to regularly clean out email (something I am guilty of not doing consistently). If your email is in need of cleaning, then do so before fall. This includes not only your work email, but any personal email accounts as well.

Class website


     You will also want to start working on your class website. This might mean some light tweaking, or a major overhaul. I have had summers when I have completely redesigned my class website. A complete redesign usually implies there will be a good amount of time spent on it. Other Summers, though, I have only had to modify and update my website. For example, the homepage for my website is a class newsletter that's actually a Google Document. I update the class newsletter document every week and then I upload to my website. It's fast and easy, but it does have to be done.

 Forms of Communication  

     This probably is not going to demand too much of you digitally, though it might.  Yet, you definitely want to decide on the method of communication with parents and students. It's very possible that you already have a method that you like and will continue. In that case, you won't need to spend any more time on it this summer. In my case, however, I am going to start using the Remind app. Since I know nothing about Remind or how it works, I will need to spend some time this summer "learning up" on it.


Wrap Up

     Working on these digital tasks during the summer will help decrease your fall tasks. You don't want to wait to find time to squeeze these tasks into your busy and chaotic beginning-of-the-school-year schedule. Do them now, and you will thank yourself later.

* Interested in hearing the episode where I speak in depth on these things? Click here to listen.
   
     Do you have other digital tasks that you work on? I would love to hear about them.


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Fast Forward Series: Using the Summer to Establish Healthy Habits

   

     In episode 6 of my podcast "Time to Teach", I discuss three healthy habits to establish in the summer. I explain the importance of forming those habits during summer so that they are a natural part of your life by fall. Once these habits are in place, you'll be able to start your new school year feeling healthy, energetic, and refreshed. A healthier you will lead to a successful school year!
    To begin, establishing healthy habits can seem a daunting task. This is especially true when we are in the midst of a busy time, such as the beginning of a school year. This makes summer the perfect time to slowly establish healthy habits. Doing so will mean you start the new school year with a new, healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle will cause you to feel better, and when you feel better, everything is better.
    Here are the three healthy habits I speak of in Episode 6, as well as strategies for you to beginning forming these healthy habits.

Habit: Healthy eating


Strategies: 


A) Begin to decrease the amount of processed foods you are consuming a week. Start slowly. Choose 1-2 foods to decrease. Eventually you want to eliminate these foods completely so that by the new school year you are eating much less processed foods.

B) Each week, include something healthy into your diet. For example, week one, start to eat more salads. Week 2,  include more healthy vegetables. Make sure that each week while you are minimzing processed foods, you are adding in healthy foods!


Habit: Exercise


Strategies:

A) Choose a time and stick to it. Keep it close to the time frame you will be exercising during the school year. 

B) Start slowly. Choose 3 days, and exercise 10-15 minutes. Each week, add another 5-10 minute to your work out time. 

C) After a couple of weeks of adding to your workout time, then add another day. 

D) Repeat this process until you have met your desired workout time and number of days each week. 


Habit: Good Sleep

Strategies:


A) Decide how many hours you need each night to feel well rested the following day. 

B) Pick a bedtime that works for you and stick to it. Keep it close to what your bedtime will be during the school year. 

C) Set your alarm (yes, even though you are summer vacation) to allow you to get the amount of sleep hours you need.  

D) During the last week of vacation, start adjusting your time closer to what your bedtime will be when school starts. 


     Following these strategies will help you fully implement the above habits by the new school year. Once you have healthy habits in place you'll feel better and perform better. Consequently, you will enjoy your days so much more. Are you ready for a healthier, more energized you? Let's get started!

     If you would like to listen to the episode where I explain more about these 3 habits, just click on the play button above. Like what you hear? You can subscribe to my podcast Time to Teach, available on iTunes or Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. You may also listen online here.
 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

New Facebook Group: Teachers Who Podcast

   
     Are you a fan of podcasts? I am. For the last couple of years I have been listening to podcasts like crazy (I'm listening to one right now). After becoming an avid podcast listener, it was only natural that I start my own podcast. Since I have been blogging for years about teaching, it was the perfect transition to podcasting. I'm still blogging about teaching, but now I am podcasting about teaching as well. However, being a podcast consumer is much different than being a podcast producer. I found myself with lots of questions, and therefore sought a couple of podcast producer groups. They have been very helpful in my transformation as a podcast producer. 
    Participating in these podcast producer groups made me realize that I'd love to be partake in an educational podcaster group. However, I was unable to find much out there (is this really that new? I suppose it is). As such, I decided to start my own educational podcaster group where educators who podcast can unite. This new group, "Teachers who Podcast", was formed to do just that. If you are an educator who also podcasts, I invite you to join! We're still growing as a group, but I invite you to come and grow with us. You can do so by clicking right here. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Series 2: Fast Forward Airs This Sunday, July 2 2017

     



     Series 2, Fast Forward, of my podcast "Time to Teach" begins this Sunday, July 2. In the Fast Forward series, I will share strategies and tips to make the most of your summer so your new school year starts smoothly. The first episode will share strategies to help you create healthy habits during the summer. Once these healthy habits are in place, you'll be able to ease into the new school year with your new, healthy habits. A healthier you will lead to a successful school year. See you on Sunday! 

Contact Information: 

Twitter: @TamiJ123

Podcast show online with show notes:  http://timetoteach.libsyn.com/

Facebook page: Time to Teach
https://www.facebook.com/Time-to-Teach-293173721126201/

Facebook Group: Teachers for Effective Curriculum 
www.facebook.com/groups/teachersforeffectivecurriculum/

Facebook Group: Teachers Who Podcast
https://www.facebook.com/groups/465498167130417/


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Using Infographics: A How To and What For

   

     You might have noticed infographics emerging all over the internet. You might even have been intrigued by them and wondered how you could make your own infographics. In this post, I will explain what infographics are, as well as ways you can use them.

     An infographic is essentially a visual image of some sort. Within it there is information or data. This is sometimes in the form of a graph or a chart. Since it is visual, it grabs attention and can display a lot of information in limited space. In today's world of instant gratification, the infographic is a powerful tool.
   

Ways to Use an Infographic

     An infographic can be used in many different ways. In fact, its uses are probably limitless. Again, one way to use them is to display graphs or charts. That probably doesn't need much more of an explanation. Here are a few other ideas:

1) Announcements: I created an infographic this year to announce a field trip. I then sent it out to the parents and displayed on my class website as well. 

2) Cover art: As a host of my own podcast show, I create infographics with each episode's name. 

3) Visual aid: Once I created an infographic that displayed all the strategies avid non-fiction writers use. That can be handy when a student is writing and needs a reminder! 

4) Research findings: Older students can report out on their research findings through infographics. 

5) Student goals: Different strategies can become goals that students work towards. Infographics can display those goals, with space for students to check off which goals they have met, and which ones they are currently working on. 

Infographic Sites

     Here is a list of some sites where you can begin having fun with infographics. These sites are current and working at the time of the publication of this post. Canva is the site I use to make my infographics. There is no real reason for this except it is the first one I explored and have always really liked it. 

1) Canva




     Do you use infographics in the classroom? I would love to hear about it. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Episode 5: Gratitude and all That Jazz

   
     Episode 5 is now out from my podcast Time to Teach. Don't miss it! It explores the health benefits of gratitude and how gratitude can help you achieve work-life balance. It it the last episode in the work-life balance. Next week will be the first episode in the "Fast Forward" series.

Get the show notes here

Listen on iTunes here

Listen on Soundcloud here

Leave me a comment and let me know how you like the episode.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

New Facebook Group: Teachers Who Podcast

     I just want to take a moment to introduce my new Facebook group called "Teachers Who Podcast". The title pretty much gives it away, but this is a group for educators who host their own podcast shows, or who enjoy listening to educational podcasts. We're just getting started, but I encourage you to come and join the group. It's a great place to "share, network, and grow". I'll see you there:

Come and join the group here.

Do you podcast? Are you a fan of educational podcasts? I'd love to hear about it.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Cleaning and Packing Up Your Classroom: Getting Your Students Involved

    There's probably nothing worse than packing up a classroom. It's the least fun, but necessary task of the school year (well, there's also the unpacking, but setting up your classroom can actually be fun). It's tedious, dusty, and simply put, annoying. Since I teach young students (roughly age 6), they are limited in what they can do to help in the classroom. However, this year I decided I would get my kiddos involved in the process. Boy, am I happy that I did.
   
     Here are some tips to get your students involved in the classroom clean up and pack up process:

1) Have students help clean all toys/materials. They can do this in groups. Here you see students cleaning (and happily, I might add) each and every block. This helps with your last days of school when students can taste summer vacation, but still have to be there. They LOVE the change up from their daily activities.
2) Student shared materials: If you are not keeping materials for the following year, and if your students have been sharing materials, get them to divide the materials. Specifically, crayons and colored pencils are the two items that need massive dividing. 
Here you can see students (there are four of them, but you only see 2 in the picture) dividing the colored pencils they use in their group. I let students choose how to divide them, but I suggest to them to start by a color, and each get one of that color. Then. move on to another color. This won't be perfect (there may be too many or too few of a color), but an imperfect system will call for them to work together to figure out those "bumps". 

3) Lastly, if you are boxing up materials, put one student in charge of a specific material and box. Even my six-year old students can do that! 

     Cleaning and packing a classroom isn't fun, but it's a necessity at the end of the school year. Don't do it alone! I'm not suggesting that you use valuable teaching time to do this, but I am suggesting that in that last day or two, when everyone's there waiting for the inevitable, put everyone to work. It's right and it's fair because it's a classroom used by a whole group: the teacher and students. 

How do you get your students involved in the clean up and pack up process? I'd love to hear about it.  


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: How to Reuse Old Play-doh Containers


     Play-doh is fun, until it dries out! However, don't be so quick to toss the play-doh container out with the dried up play-doh. Did you know that you can re-use play-doh containers to hold water for students as they paint? It's a great way to reuse, and it's size is perfect for students.
     How do you reuse play-doh containers. I'd love to hear from you. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Celebrating Writing in Your Class- A How To

   

The writing process, at any age, is one that involves such time and dedication (especially if you are finishing a writing piece), that it must be celebrated. Students should not just write for the sake of writing; students should be writing with a greater purpose, as well as sharing and celebrating their work. In today's blog I will explain one way that we celebrate writing in our class.
     For the last two months, my class has become researchers. They've learned about nonfiction and nonfiction features, all while engaging with nonfiction texts as they research animals. They have written several books and have each chosen one of their books to publish. Before publishing, however, they had to dedicate a lot of time making their books "publishing" ready. Through lots of revisions and editting, they finally published their beloved animal books.
     Publishing their books was not our stopping point, however. We had to celebrate their hard work and the fact that they were real authors! To do so, we invited a kindergarten class to come and listen to their books. This gave my students time to really show off and shine and truly be proud of all the work they put into their books. What an exciting way to end our animal unit, and so much better than "okay we're done, so now let's move on."
     Keep reading to find out the logistics:

1) Invite a class
2) Send out an invitation with the date (or let them choose! Teachers are busy, so giving them choices make it easier for them to attend)
3) Create a "U" shape with your desks: Your students sit on the outside of the desks and the guests come to the inside. The guest students each find a student and goes to that student to listen to his or her book. Once done, the guest student then finds another student who is available. This process repeats until the time is up (we do this for about 10-15 minutes)

Tip: When your guest class comes in, it might be helpful to explain to them what they are there for and why this is an exciting day. Since our guests are kindergartners, I even demonstrate what I expect them to do. Just keep your audience in mind.

     What ways do you celebrate your students' writing? What are the logistics involved? I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Inquiry Based Diagram Lesson (Writing)

     As teachers, we have a natural tendency to want to pour tons of information into our students. However, it doesn't work that way (how many times do we say, "I taught it. They should know it." Yet, they don't). This is because teaching does not necessarily effect learning (it's part of it, but there's a lot more involved). Students should be seeing, exploring, and discovering in order to make sense of their world and their work. Sometimes students just have to notice what works to understand why they should be doing it.
    This is why inquiry and discovery are such successful strategies to use in the classroom. Now, when I say inquiry and discovery, I don't mean that students flounder directionlessly. Instead, time should be alloted for students to explore, wonder and to question. As you'll see in the below video, I inform students of the teaching point: that avid non-fiction writers use diagrams to teach their readers even more about their animals. Before I fully explain what should be on the diagram, I have them observe, and thendiscuss in partnerships and with the whole class. This gives students the opportunity to observe and discover the effective elements of the diagram first (as opposed to me just telling them), but then also allows me to reign their learning back in, in order to ensure that they captured the most important important elements (as opposed to wandering aimlessly).
     As you watch the video, notice how I let the students observe and discuss first. Then, how I restate the (correct) things that they observed and emphasize those things. Also notice how this mini lesson is broken up between my talking time and their talking time. You also don't see the time that is broken up when I send them off for their writing folders. This is all done intentionally because they are very young learners whose attention spans are very short.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Time to Teach: Episode 2 Mindfulness and Exercise

     

 In this episode of Time to Teach, the second in this month's work and life balance theme, I focus on how to incorporate mindfulness and exercise in your busy day. I share how I use mindfulness, and how it can be included in the classroom. We also hear from a very special guest who shares her experience with mindfulness in the classroom! You don't want to miss that!
Additionally, I provide tips on how to include exercise in your daily schedule, as well as comment on the importance of drinking water, eating healthfully, and getting enough sleep. Listen to this episode and learn all about incorporating mindfulness and exercise to help you achieve work and life balance.

Show Notes:

0:00 Introduction 

0:58 Mindfulness  

6:14 Special Guest Interview

9:03 Exercise and how to make it happen

14:50 The importance of water, heathful eating, and sleep

20:13 Tami gets a little morbid (stop that, Tami!)

Contact information:


Twitter: @TamiJ123

Facebook page: Time to Teach
https://www.facebook.com/Time-to-Teach-293173721126201/

Facebook Group: Teachers for Effective Curriculum 

www.facebook.com/groups/teachersforeffectivecurriculum/

Show notes will now be housed here.




Saturday, June 3, 2017

Time to Teach: My New Podcast

     I am extremely excited to introduce to all of you my new podcast, "Time to Teach". As an avid podcast listener, I have spent a lot of time playing with the idea of starting my own podcast. That time has finally come. In this podcast, I provide tips, advice, and suggestions. The first episode is already available. In it I discuss ways to maximize your productivity by working efficiently. Come check it out on iTunes or Stitcher and don't forget to subscribe!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Class Economy: The Star Bucks

   


     Allow me to share a little secret that has changed the whole workings of my class: Star Bucks. These Star Bucks are the currency circulating in my classroom. A friend and colleague passed them down to me a couple of years ago. Even though I was hesitant to use them, they have proved to be life changing. Here's what I do with them:
     Students earn Star Bucks throughout the day for speaking English (I teach in Mexico, so their time in the school day is, for most of them, the only time they speak English). They spend Star Bucks as a fee when they go to the bathroom. This has greatly helped students regulate when they truly need to go to the bathroom and when they don't (it works, believe me!). No one wants to spend their hard earned Star Bucks if they don't have to. The fee increases throughout the year (inflation), but currently it costs 4 Star Bucks to go to the bathroom during work time, and 6 during carpet time.
    Every Friday we have about 15 minutes of free time (I refer to this as fun-time Friday), but students must pay an entrance fee to participate. Again, the fee increases throughout the school year, but the price is currently at 15 Star Bucks. Students may participate in the regular stations at this price (LEGOs, play-doh, puppets, blockets, etc.), but special stations (iPads, art, and extra recess outside) cost an additional 10 Star Bucks (we have to have some way to get back all those Star Bucks back!).
     Not only do students LOVE being able to use their Star Bucks to do fun activities on Fridays, but they LOVE the simple act of collecting their Star Bucks. I think they'd be just as excited about Star Bucks if the only thing they did with them was collect and count them.

Here are some FUN FACTS about Star Bucks:

*You can give them out for anything.

*We use a basket in which students deposit their Star Bucks when making a payment.

*Students keep their Star Bucks in their pencil box.

*Students may only count their Star Bucks before or after school, or during recess. Otherwise, students would be trying to count them when it's time to do other things.
   

     Do you have a class economy? I'd love to hear about it.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Mini Lessons and Their Effectiveness

   
    Mini lessons are where it's at. Not just because they're trendy, but because they're effective. For teachers who are used to giving long-winded lessons, mini lessons might seem scary. You might wonder how it's possible to effect learning in such a short time. In today's post, I am going to explain why mini lessons are more effective than the typical, long lectures we teachers are known for, as well as demonstrate an actual mini lesson with my class.

 
1. Mini lessons are short: Short lessons allow more time for kids to practice the concept. This is the scary part because we teachers feel that if we aren't talking, students aren't learning. The opposite is in fact true. The less we talk, the more time students have to work and improve.

2. Everyone gets what they need:  Your mini lesson will serve all students by providing them with the basics. The mini lesson is the "nuts and bolts" from which you then modify instruction while you confer, or work with partnerships and/or small groups.

3. Your STUDENTS (not you) will be doing most of the work (that's the way it's supposed to be). Mini lessons allow you to demonstrate a skill/concept, and the longer work time allows students to develop that skill/concept. Your role will be more of a coach or guide as you begin to see what students are doing, and what their next steps are (and they're all different). It's a win-win situation.

To see an actual mini lesson in action, watch the below video.

Note: This is the second day of my lesson on main idea. Therefore, you do not see me giving an explicit demonstration on determining the main idea (that happened in the first lesson). Instead, in this lesson I reminded students of the work we did the day before. The objective of this lesson was to extend our work from the previous day. What you also don't see is the students discussing the main idea of the bird book, or me reminding them what they had just practiced, and then sending them off to continue this work with their own books. As they did that, I worked with a small reading group.



Special notes:

*The structure of my mini lesson is borrowed from Lucy Calkins' Reading and Writing Workshop.


*Sometimes the Active Engagement might be longer than what you would typically do and, in my opinion, that is okay. I do this when the concept/skill is new and I want all students to spend a little longer time under my watchful eye.

Do you instruct with short mini lessons? I'd love to here about it.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Creating Your Weekly Teaching Plans in Google Sheets

   
     I have written many times about my love for Google Drive, and all things Google in general. As a teacher, their tools have enhanced my teaching because it provides so many tools for teachers. One such tool is Google Sheets (similar to Word's Excel). Though Google Sheets might be an obvious tool when working with numbers and data, I have a much different use for it: my weekly teaching plans.
     Google sheets is perfect for planning because you can divide academic areas, or class periods, with the columns and rows. This allows a friendly and easy-to-read layout. The magic, however, is in the actual sheets themselves. While I imagine there are many ways to use these sheets for planning, I use them for each day of the week. As you can see above, each sheet represents one day of the school week. Inside the sheet I have divided my academic day by activity and the time it occurs.
    As you can see, these plans are not very detailed. For detailed plans, I use an actual teaching resource (this could be a teacher's edition or a created lesson plan by myself or colleagues). These weekly plans simply help me to organize, or lay out, the week. They also allow me to hold links, important goals/events, etc.  for the week. Watch the video for a more detailed explanation of how I use Google Sheets for my weekly planning.


Are you using Google Sheets for lesson planning or otherwise? I'd love to hear about it!

Parent-Teacher Conferences: Keeping the Humanity

         As I write this, it is currently parent-teacher conference season. We've been in school for a couple of months, and finall...