Saturday, January 31, 2015

Spark Student Motivation Saturday! DRA Reading Certificates!

For the past few years Robyn and I always sent a note home with parents to let them know their child's DRA score. We test for reading scores in the fall, winter, and spring, so the levels are constantly moving. When sending a note or email home to parents, we did learn that they needed more information than just a number. We created these adorable certificates and not only did we love them, but the students and parents did too! I finally had the time to bundle them together and make them TPT worthy, so check them out here!

Since I am showing off these beauties, I wanted to link up with my BBB, Joanne, for her Spark Student Motivation linky! We've been giving these out in class and making a huge deal for the students when they receive the awards. Joanne is the queen of motivation and taught me the power of flickering the lights on and off in a previous post. So I tried it and BAM...eyes lit up, ohhs and ahhs were heard all around, and loud claps and cheers filled the room. Could that be any more motivating for a student? What is even better, are the emails from parents telling me how excited their child was to show them the certificate. The parents are always thankful for the update and for knowing their child's capabilities as a reader. 

This B&W (printer friendly) bundle covers all DRA levels from 2-70. I also made the certificates specific for boys and girls. The clip art is adorable, and copied on colored paper they look awesome! I know they motivate my students and believe it or not the helpful information included at the bottom motivates parents to spend more time reading with their children to see and test out the strategies.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

More on Guided Reading! (A flurry of pictures!)

I know I promised to blog about what goes on during guided reading...well I finally got around to take pictures today. My class has successfully mastered all of the stations going on in my classroom and because of this, I am starting to see an improvement in fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, and grammar! So exciting. 

Sorry this is blurry, but it is updated daily. My four groups rotate randomly and every morning, the students run into the room to see where they will be.  So here are the four stations that were completed today. I only take 1 or 2 groups per day, so students will usually hit each station at least once a week.

My students absolutely LOVE the fluency center. It is certainly the most popular for a few reasons. 
1) They get to use the fun little whisper phones. 
2) They get to evaluate a partner on their fluency. 
3) They get to use a little timer to time themselves reading. 
Doesn't that sound fun? Have you seen the freebie for the fluency station recording sheet? If not, click here and grab it for whatever you can use it on! :)

I purchased the fluency cards from TPT in Teaching with a Mountain View's store. They are GREAT! I also put them into 4X6 photo albums from the Dollar Tree. It was easier than laminating and works out perfect for this center! 

The next station everyone wants to be at is the guided reading table. Of course they want to read with me. They love showing off their skills of the new strategies we've been learning in the classroom. I have been using Reading A to Z to download, print, and assemble guided reading books on student group levels. It's actually amazing! The website gives a whole CCSS aligned lesson for each book. You can search by book title, strategy to be taught, and there are even pared (fiction and nonfiction) texts available!

Our spelling center is great for phonemic awareness, word sorts, analogies, and grammar. It is meaningful work that has really made a difference in their spelling. 

 Our independent reading station focuses on WOW words. Each student has an alphabox sheet. They get to sit in comfy chairs around the room, independently read, and record wonderful vocabulary words they come across in the graphic organizer. I know this is working because I've seen these words show up again in their daily writing and speech!

When I rotate to different stations, I will be sure to take more pictures and blog again.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Year Resolution: Meal Planning! Getting organized at home and school!

I am not ashamed to say it, I am on Weight Watchers and have been for a few months. Having two kids in two years, really threw my body out of sync. I lost my first 20 pounds right away, but unfortunately due to life in the past month (see last two blog posts), I've gained some back. I cannot will not let that happen again. I am starting this new year off with a plan. I started working on my plan tonight and my two favorite WW friendly websites gave me some great inspiration.

I am printing out my menu and hanging it on the fridge. If you'd like to take a closer look, click on the picture above, or here to download the menu. Let me know if you like this idea. I will upload them monthly! :) I only planned one meal per weekend because let's face can get in the way, there could be left overs, or chances are we will be eating at the my in-law's or parent's house over the weekend, which means... no cooking for me, SCORE!

I am trying to fit in fresh fish at least once a week. I do have two toddlers and they will be eating all of the above with us. Will they like it? Who knows. I'm not going to stress over it. I know this is a healthy choice for my family. But, just in case, I will have plenty of fruit, yogurt, and Nutella (peanut allergy for my daughter) sandwiches ready to go. 

Check out these websites for healthy inspiration!

I have three goals for 2015. 

1) Plan out meals in advance. (I will be doing this monthly and don't mind posting!)
By doing this, I will not have to ask myself the stressful question on the drive home, "What are we going to eat tonight?" I will be able to shop for the week on Sunday (except for the fresh fish night) knowing what meals will be coming up. 

2) Take at least 10,000 steps per day. I love my Fitbit, but I am returning my Force and waiting for the ChargeHR. Sadly, I won't be able to measure this goal until the new Fitbit comes in, but I will make myself walk daily. 

3) Drink more water. I know being a teacher we have to schedule our bathroom breaks, but I really cannot let that be an excuse anymore. I have to drink at least three 32oz water bottles a day and if heavy exercising (zumba) drink more!

Anyone else on Weight Watchers or doing some sort of healthy eating resolution?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tried it Tuesday: Fluency Center w/ Whisper Phones!

After the long heart felt blog post yesterday, I realized how good it felt to vent and write. Thank you all for the kind emails of support. It is really nice to know we have so many caring friends, even Internet friends. We are real people behind this blog. Real moms, teachers, and friends with real lives full of surprises, stress, emotions, and sometimes fun. Boy am I ready for break! Today we have a half day and then we will be off for TWO weeks! I'm happy to have the chance to share our newest center with you for Tried it Tuesday. Recently, I purchased these awesome fluency task cards from Teaching with a Mountain View. 

I printed them in color and put them into Dollar Tree 4X6 photo albums! Super easy, cute, and a huge time and lamanation saver! (Dollar Tree just restocked these albums for Christmas, so call around, they are easy to find!) Next it was time to make the whisper phones.  This was Robyn's job. She went to Home Depot, grabbed some PVC pipes, elbows, and some duct tape and put her husband to work. Luckily, he is handy and cut the pipes perfectly. It literally took him a few minutes. Robyn wrapped the pipes with some cute duct tape and Ta Da...whisper phones were created! These things work AMAZING too! 

So how do we use them? While I am taking a Guided Reading group, one center rotation visits the fluency center. Each student reads through task cards of fluency paragraphs and decides on one to read to their partner. They then time themselves whisper reading the same passage three times. After the third time, they read it to a partner at the center. The partner needs to give feedback to the reader stating one glow and one grow. Each student is responsible to complete this worksheet every time they visit the center. The sheets are collected and used for cold read data, fluency goals, and formative assessments. Since many of my students have fluency goals, this is a great way for them to get extra practice. It's also an easy way to have students reflect on their work, feedback, and progress.

Want to try this out? You can have a copy of the center sheet. Grab it here!

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Depressing Post: Losing a Best Friend.

Remember the movie, My Girl? Remember Vada and her best friend Thomas J. that passed away, unexpectedly, leaving his best friend to deal with the pain on her own? I think I've watched this movie a dozen or so times, but no matter how many times I see it, I always feel the same thing. First my throat starts to itch inside and slowly close, the next thing I know I start to cry. Soon it turns to ugly sobs while I feel my stomach tense up and turn into uncomfortable knots. I know, I'm pretty emotional. A sense of depression comes over as I see this poor little girl deal with the sudden loss of her best friend.

Recently, I've known this feeling all too well. It's been exactly one month since we lost a best friend. She wasn't just that...she was our coworker, editor, role model, and personal cheerleader.  She thought everything we made for our classroom, TPT, or blog was prize winning and praised and supported our work. 

She was the smartest and kindest person I've ever met... not just to her friends, but to her 50 fourth graders she taught every year. Every year for eight years. If someone did not have lunch, she would buy it for them. If a student had a birthday and the parents were not "around" to celebrate, she'd bake cupcakes for the student to pass out in class. If a student reached a goal in class, she'd bake their favorite treat for a celebration the next day. She'd devote lunch time to lunch bunch for getting to know her students better. There were times when her students did not have food in their homes and would write about it in their writing journals, the next day they would find bags of groceries on their door step. At Christmas time, she'd always adopt a family and provide the children with gifts, clothes, and food to fill up their pantry. One year, she taught her class how to knit comfort dolls and sent hundreds of them to children who needed comfort.  A few years ago, her class created soda tab bracelets, sold them, and raised over $1500.00 to help local families dealing with cancer bills. She frequently volunteered and was our school's Kindness Ambassador for Ben's Bells. She brought, modeled, and shared kindness everyday through actions and words.

This was just the beginning. In the classroom, she was a reading rock star. She didn't just teach her students to read, she taught them to be passionate readers. She shared her love of reading with everyone she met. Anywhere she went, she'd always have a book available. Oftentimes she'd be reading two or three books at a time. She was a role model for all. She was a passionate educator. When she found an educational role model, she became a "fanatic." This started with Nancy Boyles and continued with Donalyn Miller. She was awesome at Twitter and "stalked" her favorite authors, joined in on edu-chats and tweeted people around the world. Always learning from others. She met authors, invited them into her classroom, and went above and beyond in everything she did.

She spoke the truth, and stood up for who/what she believed in. She was smart. Really smart! She was worldly, having traveled all over the world and even growing up in Africa. She spoke a few languages and always showed genuine compassion for everyone, especially ELL students.

She was an amazing mother to three teenage boys  and wife to an awesome man. She loved to laugh and make others smile. She was a perfectionist and never stopped thinking about how she could better herself. If there was an idea or suggestion, she would try it, but would first ask as many questions as she could about the topic. She loved to exercise, be outdoors, and be with friends.

She loved to talk. She had such amazing and hilarious adventures in her life. She would often entertain us at PD or lunch with her tales. We had many memorable memories in our eight years together, working a few classroom doors away from each other. She referred to me as her "Young BFF" and always laughed about the fact that she could be my mom. She gave the best advice. For advice on students, children, marriages, diets, exercise, and motherly opinions...she was the one to go to!

Then...just like that, like when Thomas J. was stung by tons of bees, had a fatal bee allergy, and died. She passed away. There are so many "what ifs?" that we can think of now, so many things we want to say, and so many more ways we could have helped our best friend, if we knew.  We are full of anger. And sadness. And pain. Why didn't she let us help her? Did I let her down as a friend? 

A month has passed. Thirty days of daily tears. Cleaning out the classroom. Boxes. Tears. Interviews. Demo lessons. More tears. More moving. Changes. To little, too late. Life will never be the same. 

My stomach is in constant knots, my heart aches. My mind is a blur. A smile is forced. A laugh seems guilty. How the heck do I still have tears to cry? We miss our best friend. The shock has worn off, now the pain is stronger. It's knowing she isn't coming back that makes me feel like Vada missing her Thomas J.

I wrote this as a way to reflect on my feelings, not as a plea for pity. I hate the response, "I'm sorry for your loss," because I feel like it is SO much more than MY loss. As much as this hurts me, I am sick over what it has done to her family, school, and community as well. Maybe someone understands or has experienced similar thoughts and feelings. Death is hard on everyone any people experience grief in their own unique ways.  For me, I thought blogging/journaling and putting thoughts into words would help. 

Let your friends, near and far, know how much you appreciate them and how much they mean to you today and always, but most of all... Be kind! Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Three Strategies to Implement in a Guided Reading Group Using Any Text! Bonus Freebie Included!

So it's been a while since I've blogged and I've been feeling SO guilty. There is nothing I'd like to do better than to sit down and create a blog post, but unfortunately, life has been getting in the way. Report cards went home last week, conferences were last week, our goal setting meetings were last week and this week I can FINALLY breathe! 

Anyways...our school is diving head first into guided reading this year and the number one question all teachers had was, “What are the ‘other students’ doing while I have a small group?” Once I started thinking about it, centers were the way to go for my classroom. I implemented this idea a few weeks ago and it has been working out fantastic. It is a great way for the students to learn responsibility, collaboration, independence, and skill building. I have so much to share about guided reading, so this will be PART 1 of many posts on the topic!

While I am meeting with my small group we are focusing mainly on reading strategies to help with comprehension.

1)   Summarizing: This has been a difficult skill for most of my fourth graders to grasp and continued practice on this topic (fiction and nonfiction) is always needed.

2)   Fluency: Believe it or not, my students can never get too much fluency practice.  Repeat reading of paragraphs during small group time is a great way to focus on speed, expression, accuracy, and punctuation. I sometimes even time the students for a cold read and count the number of words read correctly in one minute. After practicing the paragraph throughout the week, they then read it again and get a new number count. Charting this on a bar graph is an amazing motivator for all students.

3)   Sequencing: With some of my friends, we use sticky notes to write out the most important events from fictional stories. We then practice retelling the story mentioning all of the post-it notes. We use the notes as a resource to manipulate and start writing a summary.  If the book is nonfiction, sequencing the growth, development, or timeline of the event/animal is always another great idea.

How do you stay organized with so many groups? This might be something you struggle with (like me, up until a few weeks ago). It really isn't that hard. One idea is to have a select space for each group's materials. I use magazine holders for each group. The students know where to get their books and where to put them back. 

Another tip for organization is to be prepared. Have something for everyone, not just the students in your group. The work should be engaging and meaningful, not just a filler.

Check out my center rotation list to see where the students go. This is an organized way to answer the constant question of, "What are the other students doing?" Since the groups are fluid and always changing based on reading abilities and/or student interest, the students’ nametags have the number of their current group. As soon as my students enter the classroom in the morning, they know to look at the center list to see what they will be doing for a morning activity.  I used Velcro to attach the groups to the bulletin board. This allowed for quick and easy moving.

I have centers set up for Guided Reading (meet with the teacher), Wow Words (Vocabulary building through independent reading), Spelling Center (Spelling words used on a choice menu), Writing Center (Responding to daily prompts), Listening Center (Audio chapter book while students follow along), Task Cards (Constantly changing based on student needs), and Seat Work (Work for the lesson of the day). Most of the materials for each center can be customized to the current unit or curriculum.  I also like to give students a choice of what they work on in the center, so I use menus or choice boards related to the activity.  The information at the centers are usually created by me and for my students. Check back for another post on what is in each center, but for now, grab your free copy of the center rotation list! Enjoy!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Three Foldables to be Used with Any Nonfiction Text! Including a Free Download!

Have you heard of a foldable? Are you familiar with interactive notebooks? They seem to be the new fad and not only are they fun and a wonderful hands-on learning experience for students, they are also a great resource for a student to refer back to throughout the whole year. I used some high interest nonfiction books about sea life that my students were begging to read. Although we do not teach this topic in our curriculum, I tried to sneak it into my small group instruction. While teaching different ELA strategies, I was able to break the students up into small groups and allow them to use the underwater collection as a resource. This week my groups read different chapters in Clever Crustaceans and then jigsawed as a class to share out their information on the whole book. Together students from each group made a presentation sheet for the foldables they created. They were very proud of their results and LOVED sharing their posters with the whole class.

I had the most success with the students creating and completing
·            An accordion nonfiction summary
·            A vocabulary flip flap
·            A Venn-trifold

Nonfiction summaries are very difficult to write, and my students often struggle. The accordion summary foldable is a great hands-on approach to breaking text paragraphs up into shapes. While giving students one or two pages, from a nonfiction book, they can easily create a short summary. We focus on the five W’s, (who, what, why, where, when, and how) when writing a nonfiction summary. The students are easily able to locate the main idea and important details from each paragraph and write them into the boxes of the foldable.

The vocabulary flip flap foldable is always a student favorite. Not only is it a fun paper to cut and fold, but it also organizes information very well. When using this foldable, I choose eight vocabulary words, with a similar theme. The students write the vocabulary words on one side and define them on the other side of the little blocks. In the center, they try to guess the theme or the commonality between all words. When defining the vocabulary, they can use the nonfiction text features such as the glossary, index, bold face print words, or even context clues.

Using a Venn-trifold is very easy. It is just like a Venn- diagram, except the two opposite sides open and the commonalities are written in the center. Students usually use bullet points when writing on their trifold to keep it neat. It is a great visual aid when one side is colored one color and the other side is colored a completely different color. When the trifold opens, the students usually mix both colors together to signal “alike”.  

The students in my class were excited for group this week and could not WAIT to find out more information about the underwater sea creatures. 
Check out the materials by clicking here or on the picture below!

I hope you can incorporate these fun foldables into your small groups or whole class lessons.