Thursday, June 21, 2018

Happy Summer 2018!!

Hi Friends!! Long time, no see :)

So, today is my second official day of summer break. My kids have about two hours left and then they will be finished, too.

Wow. What.a.year!

If you follow me on FB or IG, then you know that I've had a bit of stressful year. I am utterly exhausted... like, bone-tired.

I've got a lot of processing to do about the 2017-18 school year and I plan to do quite a bit of that here on the blog over the summer once I get my head on straight.

Anyway, I just wanted to pop in to remind you that I am here!! And I've got great stuff planned for the summer, so stay tuned! And above you'll see the actual stack of summer reading piled on my nightstand. So excited for each one :)

You reading any of the above this summer? I'd love to hear your thoughts about them if you do!

Happy Summer! And to those of you still in school... hang in there!!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Surviving the End of the School Year with The Video Game Project

Survive the end of the school year with the Video Game Project

Hello Friends!! Happy Memorial Day weekend, the official start to the summer season here at the Jersey shore!!

As excited as I am, we still have about three and half weeks left in this school year (thank you SNOW DAYS!!), and Friends, I won't lie: I am NOT looking forward to them.

Let me begin by saying how much I love my job. And my district. And my building. And my kids. Like, LOVE love. Super-big-puffy-heart LOVE.


This has been a YEAR. Seriously. As I wrap up the 13th year of my career, I can honestly say that I've never had a year that has challenged me so much as a teacher, as a mother, as a person. Teaching is no joke, and to do so in a Title I school is, legit, not a gig for just anyone. Compassion fatigue is the real deal and I'm holding on to a ton of it right now. So looking forward to a summer of relaxation and revitalization!

Anyway, I've got lots of reflecting to do on this school year, and I intend to do much of it here on this blog, so stay tuned over the summer for some posts on handling work stress, managing kids with LOTS on their plates, and controlling compassion fatigue.

Okay, moving on to the point of this post: SURVIVING the end of the school year!

I've talked before about my favorite ways to end the school year, but I noticed that I've never done a post that gets to the nitty-gritty of what is easily my FAVORITE end-of-year project: The Video Game Project.

The Video Game Project

I created this years ago, and honestly, it never fails to keep my kids hanging on through the last few hours of the year.

The gist is this: the kids are invited to create a video game proposal.

Students are invited to submit a proposal for a video game idea

And they get an application packet to complete that outlines their proposal. They need to explain everything from the premise, to the setting, to the backstory, to the characters... everything!! From the start, engagement is high. Basically, every single one of my kids wants to design video games for a living, so they are stoked for this opportunity.

But, the catch is, in describing all the parts of their game, they are actually showing me that understand most of the literary elements we covered all year. So, not only is it fun and engaging, it's the perfect performance assessment for our ELA class!

Students need to create a setting for their video game.

Students need to create major and minor characters for their video game.

Gah! So great, right?! Anyway, like I said, I've been using this project for years and it never disappoints. The kids get a kick out of it and stay focused, and I get to see what they've learned this year. Win-win! We will be starting this in about a week and I am dreading expecting to see quite the Fortnite theme.

Here are two favorites from previous years:

Student example

Student example

Okay, Friends, what is your favorite project for surviving the end of the school year? I'm eager to hear about them!!

Have a great Memorial Day weekend and thank you to all those who've served our country!!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Teachers, You Rock My World!!

There are literally no words to describe how I feel about teachers. They are the every day heroes working on the front lines of humanity! I mean seriously?!? What would the world do without teachers?!?

Well, my special people, I've got some love to share.

Hop over to my TpT store and grab this adorable freebie. Pair these tags with some simple items that you can easily grab at the dollar store or local drug store and you've got a special little treat for your favorite teacher :)

And while you're visiting my store, load up that cart because we've got a SALE to talk about!!

Everything in my store is marked 20% off and, if you use code THANKYOU18, you can actually get up to 25% off!! So get shopping, Loves!

Thank you, teacher-friends, for everything you do each and every day for our babies. You ROCK!!

Happy Shopping!!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Follow That Line - A Game for Readers and Writers!

Follow That Line! A Game for Readers and Writers! Your students will love this game, making it a perfect addition to your reader's workshop.

Hey Friends! Can you believe that we are more than half-way through April?!? What the what?!?

Anyway, being that we are getting close to that crazy end-of-year time, I wanted to share with you this new product in my store. It is perfect for that how-can-I-keep-my-precious-little-squirrels-from-destroying-me-themselves-and-my-classroom time of year!

All kids need to play is something to read, a pencil, and this game:

Follow That Line! A Game for Readers and Writers!

This gist of the game is this:

Using novels, short stories, magazines, textbooks, cookbooks, articles, or any reading material of your choice, players will need to select a line or lines from their reading that they think best follows the opening line the judge reads from the card he plays. If the judge picks that player’s line, s/he get to keep the card and win the round. The player with the most cards at the end of the game wins!

Follow That Line! A Game for Readers and Writers!

Follow That Line! A Game for Readers and Writers!

Follow That Line! A Game for Readers and Writers!

Follow That Line! A Game for Readers and Writers!

Can I tell you how much fun we had playing this game! Each round will produces a ton of laughs and will introduce your students to some exciting future reading material. And, you can have students record some of the best combinations to use as stellar openings for future writing pieces. The game is a win, win, win!!

Got any great game ideas to share to help us all get through the end-of-the-year craziness? I'd love to hear about them. Comment below or stop by my Facebook page to share :)

Friday, April 6, 2018

Motivation for Test-Takers

Hey Friends! Happy April! Can you EVEN that it's April already!?!? Holy cow, time is flying!

So, April is great for about a million reasons, but mostly because the weather starts to get warm. Or, maybe I need to say SHOULD start to get warm... 'cause right now there is snow in our forecast. Freaking snow. I just can't.

But aside from freak snowstorms, April is legit. And, it marks the last month of the school year before the craziness of standardized testing and end-of-year busyness sets in.

And speaking of standardized testing, I want to share with you two *FREEBIES* that are up in my store right now that you can use during testing season. Just something a little light and fun to add a bit of oomph to the monotony of test time.

The first are some motivational tags that you can pair with treats... 'cause who doesn't love treats?!?! Seriously, if my teacher gave me that tag and that donut the morning of testing, I'd be so incredibly grateful that I'd read all the questions BEFORE the story, eliminate the obviously wrong answers before guessing, triple check all my work, and use ALL my time.

And I've got some coloring bookmarks for kids to work on between tests. I love coloring pages and I love books so this is like my two favorite things got married and had a baby :)

Hope you find these helpful! Lemme know how the donut worked out :)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Practicing What You Pin: Making Anchor Charts with Ease!

Creating Anchor Charts with Ease - Step-by-Step Instructions

Hey Friends!!

So, it's been FOREVER since I've done a "Practicing What You Pin" post. But, this will be worth the wait! You're gonna love this!

Do you follow Amy Groesbeck on IG? If not, then you should! Even though she teaches littles, she still shares some amazing stuff that us middle school teachers can use. And she is the QUEEN of anchor charts! I could watch the videos of her making them

You know that I love anchor charts and you also that I've been using my cheapskate method for making them for years! Remember this post from way back in the day when my blog was still a bitty baby?

Anyway, I've found that sometimes I wanted to make an anchor chart that was only partially complete so that I could fill in some parts of it during my lesson with the kids. But, because most of the charts that I wanted to make came from uneditable jpegs, I wanted to find a method that allowed me to make a partial chart that still looked clean and professional.

As soon as I stumbled upon Amy, I started using her technique of making anchor posters because it's a great way to prep the poster prior to a lesson so that you can fill in certain bits of information with your students during the lesson.

In addition to making a great chart, it's tons more fun because you get to color :)

Okay... so here's how I do it...

First, I stuck a large piece of paper to my whiteboard.

Step One: Stick poster paper to the board.

Next, I projected an image of the poster that I wanted to create onto the paper. For this one, I used the SPIT Out a Great Answer! poster that comes in my ELA Interactive Notebook Resources.

Step Two: Project image onto paper.

Then, I traced out the parts of the poster that I wanted on the chart prior to the lesson.

Step Three: Trace.

Next, I took the paper down and did some coloring.

Step Four: Color.

Step Four: Color.

Now my chart is ready for the lesson!!

During the lesson, my students and I filled in the missing information together. And so, by the end of the lesson, the chart is complete and ready to hang in the room.

Now your poster is ready to hang in the room!!

Viola! Don't you just love that?!? Handmade anchor charts that require absolutely zero artistic skill :)

Ever try this method? If so, I'd love to see some examples of the charts you've made. Share with me over on FB or on IG.

When this post goes live, I'll be happily on spring break. Hope everyone had/is having/or is looking forward to having a great break.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Getting Observed: 6 Tips for an Awesome Observation

Getting Observed: 6 Tips for an Awesome Observation (Musings from the Middle School)
Observations have been a part of my teaching career since the beginning. In my district, you were observed a few times of year (some were announced, some unannounced) until you reached tenure on the first day of your fourth year. Then, I had a brief year or two of no observations before NJ changed the teacher evaluation model, which required ALL teachers, tenured or not, to be observed. So, aside from that short time, observations have always been part of my teaching life.

Anyway, observations are so TRICKY. They fill me with angst and make me feel all hot and nauseous. It's not that I don't like administrators to come into my room. Quite the contrary. In fact, I'm always inviting people in to check out the goings on in my room. But there's just something so terrifying when someone's reason for coming into your room is to rate you on a whole bunch of little parts for the purpose of giving you a score that defines the whole of what you do. That provides a number that now allows you to figure out your "rank" among a group of peers - everyone from the cute, new teacher up the hall with no kids of her own, the Pinterest-perfect classroom, and 40k IG followers, to the guy down the hall who wears flip flops everyday (despite the dress code!) and has been "accidentally" absent for every faculty meeting over the last four years.

Just how will you measure?

Ugh! Angst!!

I wish I didn't feel this way. I know how valuable a new set of eyes on your practice can be. Still, after 13 years, I get butterflies every.single.time.

But, even though I still get nervous, I've learned a whole lot over the years about how to make the best of the stressful situation and impress your visitors. In this post, I want to share with you 6 tips to help you put your best foot forward.

1. Careful planning. Regardless of the evaluation model your district uses - Danielson, Marzano, etc. - you'll want to plan a lesson that showcases a variety of instruction models. I always try to include direct instruction, guided practice, and independent practice in my lesson because I want my observer to see how I can change my role from instructor to facilitator. Below, you will see a copy of the lesson plan from my Creating Dynamic Characters - Lessons that Create Writers #1. I will almost always use one of these lessons if I being observed during a writing period because it easily fits to any writing unit we are doing and showcases lots of different learning experiences.

Lesson plan for an observation example

2. Prepare for your pre- and post-conferences. Hopefully your district gives you the opportunity to have a pre- or post-conference, or ideally both! When going into these meetings, it's important to prepare a bit ahead of time.

  • Pre-conference: 
    • Explain the lesson you are planning to teach and any background s/he should know about why you are doing that lesson. It's helpful to give a recap on what you did a few days before and what you plan to do a few days after this lesson to give some context.
    • Discuss any behavior issues, management situations, IEP/504 modifications s/he should be aware of.
    • Give your administrator something to look for in your practice that you'd like to work on. For example, last year I wanted my observer to look at how I created a culture of equity where each student felt like s/he had a valued voice in my room (sounds pretty fancy, right ;). I like to do this for two reasons: 1.) it shows your observer that you are reflective and always thinking about evolving your practice, and 2.) if you have a great observer, you can actually get some valuable feedback on what is important to you and your practice!
  • Post-conference:
    • Many times, I find that I over plan my lessons and don't always get to the end. If that's the case, explain how you opened your lesson the following day with the closure from the lesson s/he saw. If this happens to me, I like to email this as soon as a can the next day, long with some results of your closure, like pictures of a few exit tickets.
    • Remember, there is ALWAYS something you can do better next time. Be honest with your observer and yourself :)
    • If an administrator makes a recommendation for improvement, remember to get specific clarification of what they mean EXACTLY. We know as teachers that kids can rarely do much with vague feedback like "add more details," and the same goes for us. Don't leave until you are clear on what is expected of you next time.
3. Practice. If anyone ever watched me drive to school in the morning, they'd think I was bonkers. Many times, I am talking away to myself, practicing the lesson that I'm about to give that day. For me, practicing my words is a huge help in executing my lesson. It allows me to refine what I want to say and ensures that I don't forget any essential details.

4. Slow down. You can always tell when I'm nervous because my mouth goes a mile a minute and my breathing is loud and shallow - two qualities that don't go over well when delivering a lesson to middle schoolers! If this happens to you, take a few deep, deliberate breaths and SLOW DOWN. Wait time is so important anyway, but especially important when you are getting observed. Pose a question to students and then take one full breath before asking for answers.

5. Channel chatty students with a pair/share. When kids are little over-excited and I find that they are all trying to chat and call out the answers at once, say something like, "Wow! You all have a lot to say about this! Turn and talk to your table and agree to three ideas to share." This will give the kids time to get the chattiness out of the way without it looking like you've lost control. Just be sure that when it's time to come back together, you wait until there is complete silence in the room before beginning. 

Think, Pair, Share in action

6. If possible, videotape the lesson. I've talked before about my love for the SWIVL. But even if you don't have a SWIVL, taping yourself (with permission, of course!) during an observation is AMAZING because it allows you and your observer to go back and critique together. This is such an empowering experience and allows for much better feedback. 

SWIVL device

Okay, there you have it! Yes, getting observed is not easy, but it can be a lot less painful with these tips. Did I forget anything? Any tips to share? I'd love to hear from you!!