Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Article of the Week

So, are you itching for winter break to get here or what?!? I am drowning here, people! Between report cards, conferences (for my students and my own kids!), shopping, baking, parties, wrapping... DROWNING!

Don't get me wrong, I love this time of year... but, seriously?! Such a crazy time! I don't know how my parents pulled it off every year.


Anyway, today I want to do a shout-out to some of the best teachers that I've NEVER met: the fine, fine folks at Vale Middle School who put together these fabulous Articles of the Week and post them FOR FREE on their website for teachers everywhere to use.

If you are not familiar with Articles of the Week (AoW), they are a great way to get students reading and interacting with lots of interesting and current informational texts. Kelly Gallagher (swoon!!) is a huge proponent of them and writes often of their use in his classroom.

When I decided that I was going to scrap all other forms of homework and focus solely on AoWs, I turned to my besty, Google, to look for a place for great, kid-friendly articles, and lo and behold, I stumbled upon Vale's collection.

Guys, seriously?! I can't even explain what a time-saver this site has been. Not only are these teachers scouring the net for great reads, but they also include scaffolded questions for each article based on the CCSS. So, basically, all you need to do is hit print, copy these babies, and send them home for homework!! AND... they are also editable, so you can modify any article/questions to fit your students' needs.

I've been giving an AoW each week since September. It is the only homework that I assign. I can't say my students love them, but, they've gotten sort of amazing at close reading and analyzing them. And what's more, they are learning so much about the world!

Vale has a huge collection of these AoWs. My favorite ones are those that also include a little video to go along with the article... it makes the whole experience like a mini-RST (if you are not a PARCC state, RST stands for Research Simulated Task).

Vale also provides a rubric and a sample piece students can use as a model (I sent a copy of this home with each student in the beginning of the year so they knew exactly what was expected of them each week). Additionally, they provide a blank template so that you can create your own AoW using the same format.

I have become a giant fan of the AoW... I actually can't imagine going back to more traditional homework. So, folks at Vale Middle School, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!! You are amazing! Keep up the great work!

Ever try using the Article of the Week in your classroom? Think you might give it a try? I'd love to hear from you!!

Happy Teaching!!

(And Happy Holidays! This might be my last post until the new year because, you know, drowning and everything!! Thanks for reading, and I'll see you bright and early in 2016!!) 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

UPDATED: Here is a copy of the simplified rubric that I use to grade the AoW. You can right-click to print :)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Sub Kits

It's Always the Little Things That Are Such Game-Changers!!

On the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving, the unspeakable happened... two of my children started vomiting! Within hours, three of my four kiddos were down-and-out with a nasty stomach bug!

Stomach bugs are the things of nightmares. Especially, when you have four kids, two of whom are too young to make it to the bathroom.

I spent the better part of Sunday night and the wee hours of Monday morning doing laundry, rubbing backs, doing laundry, syringing teaspoons of Pedialyte into sleepy mouths, doing laundry, and applying cool compresses to feverish heads. But, you know what I didn't have to spend a minute doing?!?! Writing sub plans!! Because this year, I made myself a slammin' sub kit and, ladies and gentleman, I can say for sure that this is a game-changer!!

Leaving sub plans is the worst. It's actually worse than the worst. They take me hours... and usually, like in the case of last week, I do not have hours to spare to put them together.

And then, despite how wonderful your sub might have been, it's rare that the plans you spent hours putting together have been implemented to the point that adequate work has been produced.

Well this year, I decided to change that! After 11 years of teaching, I put together this sub kit. Now, this is hardly a new or original idea! Lots of you are loads smarter than me and have been using one of these babies for ages! But, for some reason, I just never got around to putting one together... until this year!

Let me show you mine:

First, I used a box... like the ones that I wrote about here. I made a cute cover... obviously, yours doesn't need a cute cover, but I wanted it to be big and bold so a sub coming into the room can't miss it!

Inside, I have glued a note to the sub explaining all the procedures of the day.

Next, I have a stack of important documents: attendance forms, class lists, fire/lock down drill info, etc:

And then I have plans... and not just any plans, but fun, engaging, standards-aligned plans that I've put time and thought into creating. The idea is for students to be engaged (and therefore, well-behaved), but also doing something meaningful.... not just busy work.

In each folder, I have explicit directions for the sub, along with enough copies of necessary materials for all my students. (Check out the task cards and directions for "Writing Pass" that are available here.)

I keep two days worth of plans in the kit, but I have several additional folders of lessons that can replace the plans in the box as they get used.

This kit sits right on top of this stack of bins on my desk. You really can't miss it! So, if I need to be out and I have no time to sit and write out my sub plans, all I need to do is put a note to the sub through the computer system we use to put in for a sick day saying: Please see Sub Kit on my desk for directions and plans for the day. 

And that's it! I can get back to my sick kiddos (because let's face it, they are really the only reason I miss school. I could be steps away from a coma and I'd still drag myself to school!  I know, I know... not good! But, it's the truth!!)

So, anyone use a sub kit? What do you keep in yours? Anything I'm missing?

I'd love to hear from you :)

Happy Teaching!!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Friday, November 27, 2015

"Swivl It, Just a Little Bit!"

Hoping you all had an amazing turkey day full of family, friends, love, and laughs!! We have had such a great few days and it's been so nice to relax and unwind.

So, anybody have a chance to play with a Swivl yet? Ever even heard of them?

Ok, a Swivl is a fun little contraption that allows you to use your phone and a Bluetooth microphone that you wear around your neck to video yourself while you teach. And, because of the Bluetooth mic that you wear, the base will "swivel" around the room and follow you as you move.

Now, I'm sure you're probably thinking, "Ugh! Why would I ever want to videotape myself teaching?!?" And believe me, the first time I used one of these little guys over the summer, I wanted to cry! All I could see was the 60 lbs. I've gained from having four babies in four years... and my voice!! OMG!! It's like nails on a flippin' chalkboard! I mean seriously, why does no one ever tell you how annoying your voice is?!? Anyway, I wanted to cry... and then bash my Swivlin' friend with a baseball bat and bury him in my yard!!

But......... once you get over cringing over "you," what you can learn about your teaching is nothing shy of amazing!!

My first experience with videotaping a lesson came way back when I was getting my Master's degree. (That was two kids ago, btw, so only about 30 of those lbs. were there!!) We needed to tape ourselves and then watch it with a peer group to discuss aspects about our teaching that we'd like to change.

I can remember being so embarrassed about my video! And you know how you can get sorta angry-like when you feel embarrassed? Well, I was all sorts of angry-like and had CONVINCED myself that this was the most useless thing I had ever done. I was adamant about gaining nothing from this experience and sat down with a huff after pressing play on the computer so my group could watch.

After watching for about 20-minutes, my face red and palms sweaty, a group member asked me something about my video. I was lost in my head, planning on how I was going to burn the outfit I was wearing in my video because it clearly did NOTHING for my expanding love handles, so I responded with a confused, "Hmm?"

"That boy. Why are you always going over to him? You ask your students to do something, and then you immediately go to his side? Why?"

"Oh," I responded, sorta smug-like. "That's __________. He's one of my lowest kids. Really struggles. I need to go over and clarify my directions and then help him because he just can't do it himself." I then went back to building the clothes-burning bonfire in my head, sure my answer made sense to her.

"Oh," she said. "But..." she continued hesitantly, "how do you know he can't do it. I mean, if you watch him, he never asks for help, never raises his hand to signal you. You just kinda run right over to him and jump in before he even tries. Do you always do that?"

Now, here is where things get awkward. Having someone question your teaching is horrible. Painful. Excruciating even! The thing is, we, as teachers, love our jobs and our students and we work incredibly hard to be great at what we are doing. And we all know that this hard-work comes at the expense of our own lives. More often than not, during the school year, I put my students and my work before many parts of my own life. Sometimes, gulp, even before my own flesh-and-blood children. So, to have someone call in to question something that we do, a lesson or practice that we've put time and effort into is just awful. It really scares us to think that we've been working so hard at something - something that means the world to us - and that just maybe what we have been doing, might not be so great... it may have even been a mistake, causing harm to the students that we love and work so hard to teach. It's such a vulnerable experience! And, boy, do most of us loathe to be vulnerable!!

Thankfully, with the support of a great bunch of video-watching peers, I was able to reflect on what this woman was calling into question. Together, we re-watched parts of the video and discussed what we were seeing: Yes, I assume this kid is low and is constantly struggling. I assume he always needs my help. I assume he cannot do what the other students are expected to do. And so, I run to his side to "help" him every chance I get.

After we were clear that there was a pattern to how I was treating this student, we discussed the effect this might have on him. Maybe he struggles because I assume he will? Maybe he is just meeting my expectation? And what if all his teachers had treated him like this over the years? Wouldn't it be true then, that by the time he reached me in middle school, that he'd be so convinced that he "couldn't" that he just "wouldn't?"

This discussion spring-boarded into an entire group self-reflection on how our expectations affect our kids. How, each day, we are "teaching" our students how to behave because of what we expect of them. Everyone in my peer-group was thinking and talking about expectations. How we form them, how we relay them to our students, and how our students meet them.

To this day, this conversation that stemmed from my video, is easily one of the best professional developments I've EVER been a part of. From that moment on, I was a different teacher, a better teacher. Had I not made that video, had I not watched it with peers, had someone not had the guts to call me out on something that she noticed, had we not reflected together, in a gentle, supportive manner... I would never have learned that crucial lesson - my students will meet my expectations, good or bad! Therefore, it is imperative to treat each and every student like they are the smartest people in the room!

From that moment on, I was a fan of the video-taping experience. But, even though I knew its value and advocated its helpfulness, I didn't tape myself again after I had finished my Master's. It wasn't until this past summer, when our district purchased several of these Swivls for our summer-learning program, that I had the opportunity to make some more videos.

I taped quite a few of my lessons over the summer and got a chance to watch and critique them with peers. And, again, just like before, once I got past my body and mannerisms and voice (grrr!!), I was able to reflect on and change my practice for the better. And believe me, I wasn't the only one who gained from watching themselves! So many of the folks that I worked with during the summer were having the same "A-ha!" moments. They quickly realized that what at first seemed so awkward and embarrassing, was really some of the best professional development they could have experienced.

In fact, the response from our summer teachers was so positive, that this school year, tenured teachers were given the option to videotape themselves in lieu of getting a formal observation. I recorded and submitted my lesson right before Thanksgiving break, so I wanted to blog about this idea while it was still fresh in my mind! I'm eager to watch the video with my evaluator and see how it lends itself to the Danielson model (our district's choice of teacher evaluation rubric).

So, if you ever get a chance to play with a Swivl, JUST DO IT! And actually, you don't even need a Swivl-any device that records video will do (though the Swivls do make it easy and produce a pretty great video!). You will be amazed at what you can learn about your teaching and will emerge a better teacher for it!

Thoughts about this? Would you be willing to try it? Have you ever watched a video of yourself teaching? How was it? What did you learn? I'd love to hear from you!!

Hope you all are enjoying a great holiday weekend!

Happy Teaching!!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Thanks & Giving eBooks!

Oh boy, do I have the GREATEST downloads for you!!

The amazing teachers behind Literary Sherry and Brain Waves Instruction have compiled two **FREE** Thanks & Giving eBooks designed specifically for the middle school ELA classroom!

Each book features 25 print-and-teach freebies from some of your favorite Teachers Pay Teachers sellers. Seriously, you guys... the freebies are AMAZING!! You are going to find so much to use in your classroom TOMORROW!

(Yours truly is featured on pages 20-21 in SET 1. Check out my Transition Words Anchor Poster freebie that comes from my Argument Writing: A Writer's Workshop for Common Core.)

Also, since it's that "thanks" and "giving" time of the year, I wanted to find a way to give thanks to all of my readers and customers. When I started Musings from the Middle School a little over a year ago, I had recently given birth to our (surprise!!!!) twins, Chase and Adeline. These two sweet bundles were joining our 3-year old, Drew, and 2-year old, Quinn, making babies #3 and 4 for our family!
(Chase and Addy)

(Drew and Quinn)

While we were thrilled to add to our family, the timing was tough. You see, my husband and I are both teachers. I had just wrapped up a Master's degree and my husband was looking to start his. And we had recently bought our first home. To say our budget was tight would be an understatement.

Starting this blog and opening my TpT store has changed our lives in so many ways. Not only does it help keep these cuties in milk and diapers, it has introduced me to a community of ah-mazing educators from around the world! And what's more is I am having the time of my life sharing my classroom and lessons with you! Teaching is my absolute passion in life. In my opinion, there is no career more essential than sculpting the minds of America's future. I do it with passion, pride, and enthusiasm each day and I love giving you all a glimpse into that world. And when I hear that my blog posts and products have helped you in your classroom?!? Ahh... nothing can even compare! It simply makes my day!

So, to thank you all for reading and shopping, I am offering one of my favorite products for **FREE** for the next week (11/15/15 - 11/21/15):

I LOVE these posters! I have them hanging in my library and have also used them as labels for my book bins:

So hurry over to TpT and get them while they're FREE!!

Again, thanks so much everyone!! The pleasure is all mine.

Happy Teaching!!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Writing from Lists

Hey everyone! If you are a teacher in NJ, happy NJEA Teacher's Convention weekend! Hopefully Thursday and Friday recharged your teaching batteries and brought you some much needed inspiration to bring back to your classrooms on Monday!

I've been doing quite a bit of planning over the past few days, and I'm excited about this new list writing activity that I've been working on. If you've followed this blog for a while now, you know that list writing is my most favorite way to get my students' creative juices flowing and brainstorm some great writing topics!

This new list writing activity that I've got, "Give Thanks," is going to be just perfect for getting students into the Thanksgiving-spirit!

Last week, we moved from narrative writing to compare and contrast (from the "writing to inform/explain" genre). My thinking is that when we start this "Give Thanks" unit next week, I'll give students the choice to write either a narrative or a piece that informs/explains. I love when I am able to give them that option! Some students are just natural narrative writers, while others love to write informative pieces. It's great when they can pick the genre that best suites them and their style.

So, any fun Thanksgiving-inspired lessons making their way into your classroom? I'd love to hear about them!

Happy Teaching!!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Awesome Site (and a little self-promotion!)

So last week, I posted about Plickers. And, as impressed as I was about the Plickers product, I was equally (if not even a little more!) impressed with Annette Sapp's video promoting Plickers. Her video was super cool and unlike anything I'd seen before. I immediately Googled "PowToon," the watermark that appeared in the corner of her video, and signed-up for a free trial.

PowToon is fun!! It's like a super-snazzy cross between PowerPoint and Photostory. There is a bit of a learning curve (a curve I'm still traveling!!), but once you get the gist, you can make some cool slide shows or "movies."

When I signed up, I was offered a free subscription to a slight upgrade for educators. Apparently, they were/are giving away $10 million worth of "classroom accounts." I can't find that "plan" listed on their website, so I can't really say what more is included in that plan than the free plan. I'm not sure if the $10 million promotion is still going, but check your email after signing up for the free plan and see if they offer you an upgrade!

Anyway, PowToon works very much like PowerPoint in that you create a series of slides. But, it gets a little PhotoStory-like in that you have lots of options for fun transitions and music. Additionally, they offer a slew of cool animated gifs that you can add to your video.

Here is the one I created. It's an ad for my Interactive Notebook - HUGE Bundle! that I plan to promote on Facebook.

My mind flips, dances, and swirls when I think about all the cool movies I'm going to make for my students! I've used PowerPoint basically since I started teaching, but I think I'm hooked on PowToon!

Ever given PowToon a try? I'd love to see some of your movies!

Happy PowToon-ing!!

P.S. PowToon has absolutely no idea who I am and did not pay me to write about my experience!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Little Fun with Spooky Writing!

In between every 2-3 formal writing units, I love to throw in something fun! It keeps the kids excited about writing class and gives me a break from excessive grading! At this point in the school year, the kids have done a lot of writing! We created and wrote from lists for most of September to get us well-established with Writer's Notebook and to increase our stamina. And we've spent the good part of October writing two different narrative pieces.

Now, it's time for something fun!! This Spooky Snapshot writing is a blast and perfect for this time of year! We started it on Wednesday and will continue working on snapshot writing all next week.

(Snapshots, if you're not familiar with the term, is when a writer zooms in on the setting of the story and uses sensory details to explain what you'd experience if you were there at that moment in time. Writers use them all the time in novels and short stories to paint a picture of the scene in a reader's mind.)

Every year, I teach this unit differently. This year, I began (on Wednesday) by defining the term "snapshot" with my kids and then sharing some great snapshots from one of my favorite books, Harry Potter and the Chambers of Secrets. J.K. Rowling is an EXCELLENT snapshot writer! I shared the snapshots that describe Harry's first encounters with the Leaky Cauldron, Diagon Alley, and the Great Hall at Hogwarts Castle. (Sorry, I can't share these on the blog as they are copyrighted! But they are easy to find in the first quarter of the book!) After sharing, I had the students work in pairs to reread the snapshots categorize the details she provides, noting which appeal to sight, sound, smell, etc.

The next day (Thursday) I had students go on a Sensory Detail Scavenger Hunt! I pulled out all the book bins from our classroom library and placed a few at each table. Next, I had students create this organizer right in their Writer's Notebooks:

For the rest of the period, students looked through the books in the baskets and wrote down some of the great sensory detail sentences they found.

The kids LOVED this activity! It's the first time we've done a scavenger hunt this year and they told me they can't wait to do another!

(Side note: library scavenger hunts are one of my FAVORITE Writer's Notebook activities! First, you tell the kids what to look for: great openings, awesome endings, AAAWWUBBIS sentences... anything! And then you set the kids loose in the library - all the better if you have a big enough classroom library... then you don't need to go anywhere - to collect examples that they find in the books. Engagement is always super high because kids LOVE getting their hands on REAL BOOKS! Kids learn a ton because they are reading awesome examples from REAL BOOKS! And the lesson itself takes zero prep... just access to a large number of REAL BOOKS! If you've never done a library scavenger hunt, I simply cannot recommend them enough! And don't let age stop you! I've done them many times before when I used to teach third grade. They work for any age group, really!)

Yesterday (Friday), we got started with our snapshot writing. First, we reviewed the term "snapshot" and I reiterated that we were only writing a paragraph or two that described the scene at one brief moment in time. Then, I modeled how I used my picture to complete a sensory detail organizer, and then used my organizer to write my snapshot:

Next, I had the kids team up in groups of 2-3 (I love shared writing experiences! I work them in whenever I get a chance!) and gave them a large spooky picture, an organizer (available here), and a large piece of construction paper. They first completed the organizer and then used it to write their snapshots. (I had students glue their picture at the top of a piece of large construction paper and then write their paragraphs underneath.)

With just ten minutes of class time left, the kids were BEGGING to share, so I let them. They were so proud of all their scary, suspenseful paragraphs. Every single team wanted to read aloud, which is a rarity in 7th grade.

Next week, I plan on letting them write a collection of snapshots in their Writer's Notebook and then picking their favorite one to submit for grade.

So, what kinds of fun writing are you doing in your classroom? I'm always looking for new ideas, so please post a comment and tell me about them!

Happy Teaching!!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Have you tried "Plickers?"

Two of my fabulous colleagues were putting together two huge, district-wide PD sessions on questioning and formative assessment. While working, they stumbled upon this website and decided to share. Well, since then EVERYONE has been plicker-crazy!!

(check out this great YouTube video by Annette Sapp!)

So, just what is a "plicker?" It's an icon that works kinda like a QR code. The plicker can be held one of four different ways and each way represents an answer choice (a, b, c, or d). There is a tiny, little "a," "b," "c," and "d" on each side of the plicker... when the student holds the plicker, whatever letter is up registers as the answer.

To use plickers in your classroom, you first set up your class on the plickers website and download the app onto your smart phone. Then, you print out (FOR FREE!!) a class set of the icons (see above) and assign one to each student in your class (my students glued their plicker to the inside cover of their ISN... that way is stays safe and usable! BTW... don't laminate them! The glare will mess up their ability to be scanned!). Then, you create a series of multiple choice or true/false questions. Once you have your questions created, you can display them on your computer and your students hold up their plicker to represent their answer choice.

You then use your phone to scan the plickers around the room. Below, you will see two screen shots of the how the app will look on your phone as you scan (forgive the HORRIBLE quality!). As it picks up each response, the student's name will light up green (correct answer) or red (wrong answer) so you can see instantly who gets it and who does not.

Here is what you will see on your computer screen:

I have my screen in "graph mode" with "answer hidden." This means that the student data will display in a graph that does not indicate the correct answer. There are several options for displaying the data, so definitely make sure to play around with the settings to find the option that works best for you.

Over the last 10 years, I've used tons of different student-response system and I have to say that this is by far the best one ever!  There are several things I love about it:

  1. Each plicker looks different (and the "a," "b," "c," and "d" letters are so small, others won't be able to read them), so students can't figure out the answers of their peers by looking around the room. This prevents the kids who have no idea of the answer from waiting to see what everyone else holds up before responding.
  2. It's FREE!! Hello!?!? FREE!!
  3. The scanner is FAST! It takes all of four seconds to scan the room and have the data displayed.
  4. Um, it's FREE!
  5. I love all the different data display options. It's perfect for both formative and summative assessment.
  6. It is controlled by my phone! How easy is that?!?
  7. And finally... it's free... did I mention that?!
So, have you tried plickers? If you have, I'd love to hear about your experience. If you haven't, get out there and get started! I want to hear how you like using them :)

Happy Plickering!!

P.S. Plickers has no idea who I am and they did not pay me to write about my experience :)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

New Life to Classic Literature!

Every year, it's a struggle to get my students to select certain titles from the library. Regardless of how much I "hype" the book, stating up and down that it's a classic that kids have enjoyed for decades, if it looks "like an old book" (as they say), they want no parts of it!

So this year, I set out to do something about that! I took a bunch of "old" books that I just knew kids would love if they gave them chance, and covered them in nice contact paper (I got this from Amazon). Then I just made a simple label on the computer and stuck it to the front of each book.

Then I put all the books on a book display rack that I have in my library (I love this display!! But, I did inherit it and so I don't know where it came from originally!). When my students came into class the next day, I didn't say anything about the display and never gave them permission to touch these books... so naturally, they were all over them!

I can't say that I've turned all my students into classic literature lovers, BUT, these books have gotten WAY more use out of them in the last month than they have in the last several years combined!! That's a success to me!

Do you have any creative ways to get students into reading classic literature? I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Teaching!!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Must There Always Be So Much Cutting and Gluing?

I've been hearing from quite a few teachers over the last several months who are eager to try Interactive Student Notebooks (ISNs), but are feeling overwhelmed with all the coloring and cutting and gluing that many of the fun foldable organizers seem to have.

"Must there always be so much cutting and gluing?!?" Angela, from Colorado, wrote to me recently.

My answer: HECK NO!!

ISNs are exactly what you make 'em!! If you (and your students, of course!) love the cutting and gluing, go for it!! Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest are filled with loads of great foldable organizers that will work perfectly for you.

But, if that's not your bag, than skip them! But don't shy away from ISNs because there is still PLENTY you can do with them that involves very little coloring and cutting and gluing.

Right now, we are working on analyzing the effect setting plays on plot. We read a short story ("The Last Dog" by Katherine Paterson) from our Holt Literature book and then completed a Venn diagram that compared and contrasted how an event from the story would be different if the setting were our town in present day. As you can see above, the Venn diagram is simply that... a diagram! Students just glued it into their ISNs and completed it... nothing fancy about that!! You can also see some of our notes and guiding questions on the right. Again, nothing fancy... just a piece of paper and a few dots of glue!

Then, I had students use the info from these pages to complete a "Setting Switch" activity, where they worked in groups to rewrite a scene from the story imagining that the original setting is now switched to our town in the present day.

It was a great learning experience... the students were able to demonstrate that they understood our learning target... and it was relatively hassle (and glue and scissors!)-free!!

So don't get so caught up in thinking that your ISNs must always have such beautiful, fancy foldable organizers!

What do you include in your ISNs? I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Teaching!!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

What's Happening in my Room...

Getting back into the swing of things is really throwing me for a loop this year! I'm struggling!! I think it's because two of my own children started school this year... my son went to Kindergarten and my daughter to (full day) Pre-K. It's been a lot these past few weeks.

Anyway, I've got some pictures of the happenings in my new digs these days...

Our Interactive Student Notebooks are coming along beautifully!! Many of this year's 7th graders were with me in 6th grade, so they already know the drill with ISNs. I really think that has helped make this process go so smoothly.

We've been loading in a lot of the introductory stuff (genres, reading strategies, etc.). Next week, we will start to tackle plot and story elements!

And I am OVER THE MOON with how well writing has been going this year!! We started off with lots and lots of lists and have now moved on to Narrative Writing.

I'm using this product and am really loving how responsive the kids have been.

This is a picture of the piece that I drafted live in front of the students (I did type it, rather than hand write it in front of them because it's easier for them to see on the big screen. But you can see that I've been making all my revisions by hand!). I CANNOT emphasize enough how important it is to draft live in front of your kids. They really benefit from seeing a writer in action!

I'm really hoping that we will get into a groove over the next few weeks and then I can share some meatier posts!!

Hope you are all finding your groove :)

Happy Teaching!!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Creating an Objectives Wall

So, how is everyone holding up? Back-to-School time is super-exhausting, right?!? I put my kids to bed, pack lunches, and pass out! My whole house is beat up!

Anyway, this week we have my kids' Back to School Night and next week we have both mine and my husband's. My hope is that after all THAT, we will be in a groove and life will be adjusted to our new normal.

I've got lots of great post ideas, but little time to get them written down, so tonight I am just going to share this EASY, but LIFE-CHANGING wall that I created in my classroom.

This is my objectives wall and as you can see, it's pretty simple to create. I made headers for the days of the week and Velcro-ed whiteboards underneath. This allows me to put up all my objectives for the week up on Monday so that I don't forget to post them until an administrator comes in to do a walk-through the students can see what will be learning about all week.

I cannot even tell you how much I love this board!! For whatever reason, remembering to post those objectives is super-hard for me, so this has been such a great solution. And since they are Velcro-ed (is that even a word? Auto-correct keeps squiggling me! I'm going with the hyphen : ), if you need to bump a lesson, you just pop them off and switch them out!! Love it!

So, got any decor/instructional/management strategies working well for you this year? I'd love to hear about them!

Happy Teaching!!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Classroom Reveal :)

Great first day! Exhausted :)

All I've got for you tonight is pictures... I'll give lots more details later!

Happy Teaching!!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Back to School!!

Tomorrow is my first day back... no students, just teachers.

I'm nervous!! New place, new people... I feel like a kid all over again!!

Best of luck to everyone over the next few weeks. September can be so overwhelming!!

Happy Teaching!!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Getting Excited!

I posted this picture on FB today as I was getting my new digs all set-up. Sometime next week, I'll hopefully have a "proper" room unveiling. For right now, things are going okay. None of my stuff has been moved from my old classroom yet, so I'm kinda stressy right now... nothing a few dozen Reese's peanut butter cups can't handle!


So, I've got a new product to share with you. For the record, I really don't like to make a product the subject of a blog post, so please see the above picture and blurb and pretend that my Chinese lantern and picture are the real focus here :) Now, let me bring your attention to this:

This is my new Reader's Response Journal for the upper grades and I'm in love with it!! First a little back story... So, I love to incorporate reader's workshop into my day. I did it for YEARS!! Each month, students would self-select a book (a "Just Right" book if you've read Fountas and Pinnell!). Then, every day after recess, we'd read silently for 15 minutes. And then twice a week, students would write in their Reader's Response Journal (a marble copybook) and tell me about their book. Like a fool, I'd lug all those marble copy books home over the weekend and grade them. It was a great. I loved it. The kids loved it. They were READING!

Anyway, as our curriculum changed over the years, Reader's Workshop was slowly edged out of my day. Last year, I didn't do it at all :(

Well, this year, with my new move to 7th grade, comes a fresh start... and a longer ELA block!! Sixteen minutes longer to be exact! Just enough time for reader's workshop!

I'm so excited to get back into it! There is nothing I love more than a dead-silent classroom filled with kids reading all over the place. It just makes my heart swoon!

But, since I have a lot more students then I am used to having in the past, I knew there was no way I was going to carry all those marble copybooks home! Enter this Reader's Response Journal! In the past, I've had students make little booklets like this for writing and in their ISNs. They are a breeze to make and super portable. I can't believe I never thought of using one of these for reader's workshop!

So, you print this puppy out and then fold and staple it into a little booklet.

Inside is room for ten entries (summary + a literary analysis question), and then one final prompt after students finish the book. It's perfect because it fits right into students' fancy-schmancy gallon storage bags that they use to transport their books to and from school.

I love it! No more bulky notebooks! I am so excited to have students make these and get them reading self-selected books, again :)

So, do you incorporate reader's workshop into your day? Any helpful tips or strategies you can share? I'd love to hear from you!!

Happy Teaching!!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Teachers Pay Teachers One Day Sale!

Hey Teachers! Just because we love you and appreciate all that you do for our kids:

Everything in my store (and many others!) is up to 28% off with the promo code: MORE15.

That makes my Interactive Notebook-The HUGE Bundle!! only $14.40!! That is incredible savings on a product you will use all year long for many years to come!

Also, you can get my ULTIMATE Writer's Workshop Collection for Common Core for just $16.80! That's weeks and weeks of writing plans!

So, again, thanks for all you do for our children each and every day!!

Happy Shopping!!