Sunday, March 3, 2019

March Book Display - "Books vs. Movies"

March Book Display - "Book vs. Movie"

Hey Friends! Having March begin on a Friday was tricky!! I was able to get my March book display up in my classroom, but I didn't get a chance to post it to TpT or the blog until today.

This month is dedicated to books that have been made into movies. If I had a nickel for every time I've said or heard "the book is better," I'd be a millionaire. So, I figured why not dedicate a book display to it!!

Anyway, if you want to make this display for your classroom, go grab it here:

March Book Display - "Book vs. Movie"

If you are putting up these displays in your classroom, I'd love for you to share your pictures with me on Facebook or Insta!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Four Steps for Teaching Theme in Middle School

This is my 14th year of teaching. Twelve of those years have been spent teaching 6th and 7th graders. And that means that for twelve years, I've been trying to get middle schoolers to wrap their heads around the important, yet tricky concept of THEME.

Today, I'm going to take you through the step-by-step process that I use to get my students to:
  1. Define the term "theme."
  2. Recognize the theme of a story.
  3. Write a theme sentence.
  4. Explain in writing, using text evidence, how the author develops the theme of the story.

* * * * * * * * * * *

1. Define the term "theme."

At this point in their school careers, my kids pretty much know what the term "theme" means. So, we quickly go over some notes that we put in their notebooks. (If you've read my blog over the years, then the Sketch Notes that I use are nothing new! You can find them here.)

Theme Sketch Notes

2. Recognize the theme of a story.

Next, we read a couple of short stories and picture books and practice finding their themes. We use a few of the activities from this:

The Interactive Notebook-Theme Collection

And I do any reteaching/small group work with my struggling learners using these:

Theme Task Cards with Short Stories and Differentiated Answer Sheets

3. Writing a theme sentence.

As kids are working on identifying the theme of the short stories and picture books we are reading, we also start practicing how to write a clear, strong theme sentence. I really like how the video does it and I use a lot of the language and strategies from this video with my students.

4. Explain in writing, using text evidence, how the author develops the theme of the story.

So up until now, pretty much everything we've been doing with theme has been a review. The kids have had lots of prior experience identifying the theme of the story. They might not have mastered it yet, but it's familiar. However, using evidence from the story to defend their theme statement is pretty new. 

No doubt, getting kids to explain all the clues that they used to infer a story's theme is HARD. It is also tedious work to put their thinking into writing, so I try my best to make parts of it fun and interesting, otherwise my class quickly becomes a snooze-fest! Enter learning stations! Anytime I can work stations into my lessons, I do, because the collaboration and moving around is always a great way to increase engagement. 

lTheme Stations for Middle School

The idea behind these stations is basically that the author leaves the reader clues throughout a story to help us infer theme. In my room, we talk about four places to look for these clues: 1.) the title and symbols, 2.) the plot, 3.) the characters, and 4.) the setting.

Theme Stations for Middle School

I set up a station for each one of these "clues" with several guiding questions for the kids to consider and discuss. They also take notes on their thinking/discussion while at the station.

Theme Stations for Middle School

After the students have traveled to all four stations, they have a notes sheet full of all the evidence that helped us infer the theme of our story. This makes it so helpful when it comes time to write out our answer to "What is the theme of the story? Use evidence from the text to support your thinking."

If you want to make yourself these Theme Stations, you can grab them FOR FREE here:

Theme Stations - Resources from the Blog

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How do you teach theme? I love to hear your ideas! Share below, or hop on over to Facebook and share there!

Saturday, February 2, 2019

February Book Display - "Mirrors & Windows"

February Book Display - Mirrors and Windows

It is February. Mentally, that feels so much better than January, right?!? It's good to know that spring is right around the corner.

I just put my February Book Display up and I am in LOVE. This one is called "Mirrors & Windows" and it is inspired by the work of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop. All the books in this display are meant to reflect the diversity among my student population and provide an opportunity for kids to look beyond their own world. I'm super excited to book talk from this display for the next month.

If you wanted to build your own display, you can find it here:

If you've been making your own displays, I'd love to see them! Hop on over to Facebook and share with me!!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

8 Tips for Student Teachers

Hey Friends!

So, I know that it's been a minute. Phew! How is January over already?!? I mean, seriously. I know that it has eleventy million days, but dang!! Those days flew!!

Alright, as you know, I had a student teacher with me from September - December. And for real?! It was the most AMAZING experience, and not just because she graded all the papers!! Honestly, I loved having her and watching her grow. And more, I grew, too. Showing her how to "do what we do" really made me reflect and revise some practices for the better.

Anyway, this blog post was written by my student teacher, Miss Allie. Isn't she the cutest!?! Her audience is for current and prospective student teachers and she's talking all about the 8 things she found helped her survive student teaching.

* * * * * *

Nothing can prepare you for the experience that is student teaching but the experience itself. During my time as a student teacher I transitioned from meek observer to classroom leader very quickly. It was hard at first, and I always wondered whether or not anyone would take me seriously, or if I took myself seriously! Through moments of doubt, lack of confidence and many, many tears, I found my flow in the classroom and ran straight forward with it. Along the way, I made several mistakes but learned so much about myself. If you are embarking on this journey soon, or are riding the wave as we speak, here are some tips I’ve compiled from my personal experiences: my top 8 tips for student teachers!

1. Organize your life AND your papers.

By nature, I am a very disorganized person. In education, this just doesn’t cut it. Being organized can make or break your day as a teacher. There were times where I wasted a combined total of 10 instructional minutes just looking for papers- especially if the lesson was a continuation of the prior day’s lesson and I had collected the papers that day. It was what I and many other people know as “organized chaos”. I always knew where the papers were, but they were never separated by class so it was just a huge mess. Being disorganized made me anxious, flustered, and soooo off track from where I wanted to be with my lesson plan. I realized at one point, organization would save me so much time and frustration. One thing that was recommended to me by Mrs. Smith was organizing all your lesson materials one week in advance. On Fridays, you can print out all your materials for Monday through Friday next week and separate them in folders by day. At first, this seemed like a ton of extra work to do (on a Friday!?!) but it’s actually a perfect way to end your school week and prepare for the week ahead. Remember, you’re a student too, and teaching a great lesson can be challenging in itself, so organizing your papers will make it much easier for you and can reduce stress and anxiety.

2. Embrace your mistakes/ Be flexible!

If you are anything like me, then you are very hard on yourself. I would teach a lesson that ended with blank, confused stares from the kids and I would want to run and hide. Some days, I would even cry and wonder what possibly went wrong? Here’s the thing I learned- the only way to become a better teacher is to practice and make mistakes. I had to learn that I wasn’t going to deliver flawless instruction in my first three months of taking over a classroom. It just wasn’t going to happen. Sometimes, 10 minutes into a planned 54 minute lesson, I would realize mid-instruction that my lesson was going down the drain. When this happens, (and it will), push through your last thought and regroup with your mentor teacher. They are there to help you switch things up when something isn’t working. Take their advice and turn it into action, and you’ll see exactly where you went wrong and how you can fix it.

3. Plan, plan, plan, plan, PLAN.

Planning ahead was so unnatural for me. I felt as if I had been “winging it” with everything my entire life! Let me tell you that that was the mindset that got me in serious trouble. I would half-plan some of my lessons, go in and teach them and wonder where I went wrong. I quickly learned that especially as a student teacher, you have to plan out everything. This means, yes, following the in depth lesson plan model your University Education professor has taught you. I mean seriously, you should plan from the moment the students walk in the door from the moment they leave. At first, this overwhelmed me, but I realized that it’s much more overwhelming to freeze in front of the class because you don’t have a backup plan if something happens then to over plan. After a few conversations with my mentor, I started planning every minute of the class. This takes up a lot of time and effort, but it reduced stress in the classroom and always gave me a strong sense of security. So when in doubt, PLAN!

4. It’s a bad day, not a bad month.

One of the best parts of being a teacher is that every day is a blank slate. If something in your lesson wasn’t working out yesterday, today you have another chance to try something else. This allows endless opportunity for improvement. Your students have so much going in their lives that one bad lesson won’t taint their entire opinion of you. It is so important to accept that you had a bad day, or a bad lesson, and move on. Dwelling will just waste time that could be spent tweaking your lesson, and a bad day does not mean you are a bad teacher! Keep going, you are learning.

5. Utilize your mentor teacher (or another teacher in your school!)

I think that your relationship with your mentor teacher can add so much to your experience. I’ve heard stories of student teachers not wanting to ask their mentor for advice out of fear or nervousness. Here’s the thing- it is so normal for you to be nervous. Most likely, your mentor has been doing this for years, so of course it can be intimidating. But their expertise in the art of teaching can open your eyes to so many little details you didn’t even realize were there! If it is not ideal for you to open up to your mentor, find a teacher in the school that you can confide in and seek advice from. It can be so helpful to hear the perspective from someone who has been teaching for a while.

6. Relationships are key.

One of the parts of student teaching I was so nervous for was building relationships with my students. I thought, What if they didn’t like me? Which lead me to worrying about how students who did not like me would behave in my classroom. There is no telling how difficult it will be to develop a relationship with a student in the beginning. Thankfully, I had a great mentor to mimic. On the very first day of school, we shook hands with every student one by one and introduced ourselves. Then, during attendance, we took a decent amount of time learning how to pronounce everyone’s names properly AND discover what they prefer to be called. In fact, for the entire first month of school, we spent time bonding with students and allowing them to bond with each other as well. Don’t be afraid to implement lessons in the beginning of your student teaching that are less- academic based and more personal. Especially if you come in to the room in the Spring, you should show the students that you have a big interest in getting to know them as individuals on top of teaching them academics.

7. Find your classroom management style.

Every teacher has their own style of classroom management in the classroom. This was my second biggest worry in the beginning of student teaching! How would I manage a class full of students? I worried that no students would take me seriously or want to behave in my presence. First of all, get those thoughts out of your head. Students will reflect the behavior that is given towards them in the beginning. If you allow time for the students to get to know you, then they may be willing to respect you more. It is also important to note that students behave better in classrooms where they feel comfortable. For me, I found that humor worked in my favor. I’ve always had a huge sense of humor, so I tried to make my students laugh. I found that I didn’t like to yell, but I did want respect. When students saw me laughing with them, they became more engaged and willing to listen to what I had to say. This is not for everyone, and might not even be for you and that is okay. As long as you work toward making your learning environment comfortable for students and yourself, your classroom management style will come to you.

8. Get involved.

Ever since I started my teacher education program, something they always told us was how important it was to get involved. The community in which you student teach in is where you are planting your educational roots. This is the time to build your connections and gain as much experience as you possibly can! A few things that I did to get involved was volunteer to work with students in the summer at summer school. I also attended almost every Professional Development meeting I could. I tried my best to make sure that I was friendly with every teacher on my team and the administrators in my school! If you are unsure how to get involved, ask around. Ask your mentor if there is any volunteer work you can do, or Professional Development you can attend. Keep your eye out for any school events such as a school play that you can go to. Do your best to make yourself as present as possible during your time student teaching.

As always, be patient with yourself. This will be the most wonderful learning experience you can have in education. There are so many resources out there that can help you when you’re feeling lost, but remember, you can do it!

* * * * *

Student teachers, I'd love to hear from you!! Anything you'd add to the list?

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

January Book Display - "Graphic Greats"

Happy New Year, Friends!!

Did you have a nice break?!? Agh!! I sure did. It was so great to eat, drink, and be merry with Mr. Musings and my kiddos.

I'm ready for January, though. In a few weeks, the classroom hits the "sweet spot." Relationships are established, routines are down, and expectations are clear, so as long as we don't get eleventy million snow days, and the weather doesn't get too warm, too early, we've got a solid three months of hardcore, uninterrupted LEARNING!!

Just wanted to start the new year by sharing the January Book Display. This one highlights a middle school favorite: GRAPHIC NOVELS!

January Book Display: "Graphic Greats"

I'll have you know that I put this display together on the day before break... it was a nutty early dismissal day: we had a drill and step assembly, which always gets kids wild; it was my student teacher's last official day, so we had a party complete with copious amounts of sugar, red dye 40, and Taki's; and we were watching (and singing along to!!) The Greatest Showman. Total chaos!!

But... once the kids saw this display, they were zeroed in and I'll say that more than half the books that went on this display were taken home by eager readers to enjoy over break.


Anyway, I've got some great titles on this shelf:

  • Yummy
  • Hey Kiddo
  • Monster
  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • The Golden Compass
  • The Graveyard Book
  • Smile
  • Drama
  • Ghosts
  • Nimona
  • Real Friends
  • All’s Faire
  • Roller Girl
  • Brave
  • Awkward
  • Babysitter’s Club series
  • March (Books 1-3)
  • Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales
  • The Hobbit
  • Anne of Green Gables
  • Call of the Wild
  • Diary of a Sixth Grade Ninja
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • City of Ember
  • Attack on Titan series
  • The Last Kids on Earth

Anyway, if you wanna put together a display like this in your classroom, hop on over to my TpT store and grab the poster. It takes a minute to put together, but I think it's totally worth it!!

So, I've got lots of good stuff planned for 2019. My hope is that I'll find time to share it all with you. As my kids get older, and sports and activities and play dates creep into my life, I am finding it harder and harder to balance it all. But, I've got some creative ways to create more space in my life this year, and so hopefully that will mean that I'll be able to share everything I hope to!!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

December Book Display - "Guts & Grit" Stories About Perseverance

Guts and Grit Book Display Pin

Hey Friends!

It's December.


I mean, can you even?!?!? How did this happen so fast!?

So, there's lots happening in my room right now. First and foremost, my student teacher is finished on Friday. I'm so sad!!! I mean, I'm happy for her, but so sad for me!! Having her was amazing and she is going to be the best teacher. I've enjoyed every minute of this experience. I will write more about this later and I am asking her to write a blog post, too, so stay tuned for that.

Also, not sure if you saw this, but I spent Monday with my two best friends. ((Gasp!! I still want to cry every time I look at this picture!! That's my student teacher on the left!!))

My student teacher, Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, and me!

The workshop was nothing short of incredible...

...these two did not disappoint and were just as cool and REAL as I knew they'd be...

...and I literally walked out of there a better teacher than when I walked in.

It was one of the best workshops I've ever attended.

Once I have my thoughts together about it, expect a blog post. In the meantime, go out and grab a copy of 180 Days if you haven't already.

Image result for 180 days kittle gallagher cover

Anyway, I wanted to show you my December Book Display.

Guts & Grit Book Display

It's called "Guts & Grit" Stories About Perseverance. I've got some great titles on this shelf, including:

  • House Arrest
  • Hey Kiddo
  • Illegal
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
  • The Plot to Kill Hitler
  • The Pact
  • Born a Crime
  • A Long Walk to Water
  • Lily and Dunkin
  • Solo
  • Echo
  • The Hunger Games series
  • Divergent series
  • Unwind series
  • The Hate You Give
  • Hatchet
  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
  • Esperanza Rising
  • Bud, Not Buddy
  • Unbroken
  • The One and Only Ivan
  • She Persisted
  • The Fault in Our Stars
  • Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World
  • Freak the Mighty

Okay... that's about all I've got for now. December is a busy, busy time in school and at home (the holidays with four little kids, you know?!? I hope there is enough wine!!) and while I'm hoping to post again this month, I can't make any promises.

Wishing you the happiest end to 2018 and a great start to 2019!!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Zen and the Art of First Chapter Fridays

First Chapter Fridays is a great way to read aloud to your students and expose them to awesome books!

Do you meditate? If you do, gah! I'm jealous. See, I've tried to meditate for years. I pay for a subscription to the Calm App (though someone just said teachers can get this for free!!). I always sign up for Oprah and Deepak's 21-Day Meditation classes (but admittedly NEVER finish them!). I read books and blogs and listen to podcasts about it.

I really, really try.

But, the thing is, it's never really worked for me. Yes, I know, it's a practice. And yes, I know it's not about perfection. But, I'm really, really bad at it. My brain just will not turn off. Ever. And yes, I am aware that this makes it completely clear WHY meditation would be so good for me.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I was sharing our first chapter Friday read with the kids. As always, the books that I share on this day are AWESOME and they have the BEST opening chapters. Like, epic first chapters. Chapters that literally cause 7th graders to beg like baby chicks for "more."

So, while reading the first chapter of Bud, Not Buddy, one of my most favorite reads ever, a feeling of total peace and contentment fell over me. Dude, I know this sounds super woo-woo, but seriously... I felt like I was floating. Now, it only took my over-thinking brain a few seconds to convince myself that I was having a stroke, and panic set in, but seriously, before that, I was Zen. Totally, completely, utterly in bliss.

Later that day, after I'd realized that it wasn't a stroke and I could reflect on that experience without panic, I came to the conclusion that for me, reading aloud is my mediation. And it makes sense, right? You can't think or lose focus, because you'd totally you screw up, and if your kids are anything like mine they would never let you forget that, right?!? So, when I read aloud, I am completely and totally present. No distractions, no thinking, no worrying, no planning... just me, the kids, and the words on the page.

Amazing, huh!?!

Anyway, since that day, I've had to revise my list for why I read aloud often to my students:

Reasons To Read Aloud in the Classroom

  1. It allows me to model fluent reading, which benefits all students, but particularly struggling readers.
  2. It gives my students an opportunity to engage with texts that would otherwise be too difficult for them to read.
  3. It exposes students to rich vocabulary.
  4. It creates a shared learning experience.
  5. It improves comprehension and processing speed.
  6. It reaches auditory learners.
  7. It develops good listening skills.
  8. It helps Mrs. Smith reach a state of blissful peace and serenity, by quieting her loud, busy, overly judgmental, worrisome mind!
Do you read aloud to your students? How, when, and why? I'd love to hear about it, so comment below, or hit me up on Facebook or IG.