Friday, March 24, 2017

5 for Friday

Happy Friday!
We made it!  I wasn't sure if I would.  It was the week after Spring Break... which is hard enough... but we also had testing alllllll week.  Brutal! To celebrate making it through the week I'm linking up with Doodlebugs Teaching for a Five for Friday Linky Party- Here we go!

So, after a glorious week of Spring Break and a difficult re-adjustment to real life (getting 4 kids into my minivan at 6:20 am Monday morning) I had to administer SAT-10 testing to my poor kiddos all week.  It's a lot on these little guys under the best of circumstances... and let's just say, in my humble opinion, standardized testing at 8:00 in the morning after coming back from vacation is not really the best of circumstances... but they were troopers!!!

In addition to getting back into the swing of early mornings and standardized testing, I started a new professional development class this week.  It's a bit of a long story... I will spare you... the short version is that certification requirements have changed in the past few years and when I got ready to renew my certificate this spring I found out that I needed to take ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY HOURS of professional development hours to keep my ESOL certification.  (Again, long story...)  

I knocked out the first 60 first semester and it was pretty painless.  I signed up for another class this spring where I would do 5 modules online and then go to 5 weeks of classes.  Of course, the classes started this week... AND the online modules had to be completed before the classes began.  (I had missed that little asterisk when I signed up...)  So, I found myself sitting at my computer for many, many hours completing the online portion of the class this week... AND I spent Thursday night sitting in class.  

I guess that wasn't the "short version".  (I am never good at "short versions"!)  Okay, the short version of that story is:  I'm taking a linguistics class this spring.  I completed 60% of it this week.  I'm tired.

My adorable nephew is turning 8.  I love this kid so much!  He is just the cutest, funniest kid.  He had a "Nerf Battle" party last weekend.  (It was such a cool party.  It was held at a gym that was set up with blockades and barriers.  The kids were divided into teams and it was a full-on Nerf war.  He was in heaven!)

And as much as I loved watching my nephew in "8 year old boy heaven" I also loved watching my little Ella let her personality shine through.  She isn't one to be left behind, but she was much younger than anyone else at the party and was definately the only "warrior in a tutu" but it didn't slow her down for a minute!

We have been continuing with measurement in math this week (which the kids are LOVING!).  My awesome intern had the kids do this adorable "Measurement Monster" activity from the Applicious Teacher this week.  They came out SO CUTE!  They had so much fun.  It was the perfect "after testing" activity.  They were working on the standards, using the vocabulary and talking about math... but they were also getting to be creative, make something cute and act like 8-year-olds... I love that kind of activity!

It's officially spring!  I hear that in some places that is a really big deal!  (I can not even IMAGINE being somewhere where it snows in MARCH! - or ever I guess...)  Here in sunny Florida we don't really get "seasons".  Our seasons go from warm, to warmer, to hot, to so hot you can't breathe outside.  You don't really want to be here in August... trust me on that one... but March?  We are good at March here in Florida!

My girl is especially good at March.  She is soaking up every moment of sunshine!  She got new rain boots for her birthday.  Aren't they cute?  Poor girl has been DYING to "stomp in muddy puddles"... but she's not going to let a little sunshine get in the way of her plans!  She will wear her rain boots and she will look adorable in them!  So there, sunshine!

Well, I don't know about you, but I am having a "wild and crazy" Friday night!  I am sitting here on my couch next to a sleeping 5 year old.  I just finished watching "Night at the Museum" with my cute dates and I am sipping a glass of Chardonnay while cutting out my butterfly laminating. Oh, the wild and crazy life of a teacher-mom ;)  Wouldn't change it for the world!  (Well, I might change the amount of sleep I get... but that's about it).
So, after listening to the squeals of joy my kiddos let out while cutting out their monsters this week I vowed to spend the next 9 weeks (ONLY NINE MORE WEEKS!!!) giving them more of those fun, eight-year-old experiences.  I am just going to find ways to make it work.

So, this upcoming week, I am going to integrate science and literacy standards and put my Butterfly Close Reading Unit in a literacy center for students to work on independently.  There are lots of great informational texts, text dependent questions and writing prompts included.  Once they have completed the "work" activities they are going to do the craft and make their own butterflies... because they are eight... and eight year olds should learn about and make butterflies.  So there.

Have you found ways to squeeze "more childhood" into your classroom?  I would LOVE to hear your ideas!  I need to find more ways to put FUN in my lesson plans.  Please leave a comment and let me know how you are making it work!  


Saturday, March 11, 2017

5 for Friday!

Happy Weekend!  I am extra, extra, extra happy because this weekend is the beginning of my Spring Break!!! Yea!! I really thought I might not make I explained earlier this week I have that class this year and, let me tell you, the struggle is real.  But, I made it!!! Yea!! In celebration I am linking up with Doodlebugs Teaching to wrap up my week with a 5 for Friday post.  Here we go!

Isn't my Ella enchanting? :)
As I mentioned last week my baby turned five on Monday.  I just can't believe it.  I swear she was just born last week.  I don't understand how five years can pass by right before your eyes!  I know that sounds so cliche and like something "old" people say... but it is so true!  (For the record, that does not make me old!  Neither does the fact that my youngest is now five years old... )
She squealed and giggled and was completely thrilled with absolutely everything (except that fact that she couldn't start kindergarten that day...she was not very happy about that..."Five year olds are supposed to go to kindergarten!" you know).  I just absolutely adore this age... four and five are my favorites... I just love everything about this little moment in time... I swear I look at her and I can just see everything good in the world in that little smile. :)

It has been a fun week of soaking her up and counting my blessings.  Sometimes I wonder how I ever got to be so lucky. That saying "the days are long but the years are short" is so true.  It is so easy to get caught up in the exhaustion of school and homework and cleaning and carpooling... but when you stop and look at your babies... you just want to cry that it is all going too fast!

Okay, thank you for indulging me... It's been a sentimental week... On to the "regular stuff" now :)

We have been working really hard on adding "juicy details" to our writing.  The kids love the "juicy burger" analogy.  They totally get it and it has worked really, really well. The kids have really been having a lot of fun with writing this week.  (The fact that I am not really a meat eater and talking about "juicy meat" makes me want to throw up makes it a little less fun for me.)

We have been using parts of this unit (written by Amy Lemons and Hope King) and then I have been adding my own ideas and "extras" and making it work for my kiddos.  

On a total (kind of dumb) whim I decided to end our week by making "juicy burger flip books" on Friday.  I do this... I get these ideas and just jump on them without really thinking... I got the idea Friday morning and made the template during lunch... Then, Friday afternoon (the Friday before Spring Break!!) we made them.  
The room was a bit chaotic for the rest of the afternoon. 

 However, the kids LOVED it.  They did great work and are so proud of their writing... and now we are on Spring Break so I can just forget about the ridiculousness of Friday afternoon's activities ;).

Math has been all about measurement this week.  I am going to write a short, little math post later this week that links our videos, songs and activities.  

It was a very "hands on" fun week.  (Again, kids loved it... I am tired.  Very, very tired.)

Isn't that little fox cute?  More on their artwork later this week.  :)

We focused on Gail Gibbons books this week in ELA.  I just love her books.  I love them all.  I wish that I could have hours and hours and hours to teach the content in all of her books for months without anyone interrupting me and telling me it was time to "move on" or wrap up the unit.  I find my own ways to incorporate them all the time... but I LOVE when they get to be the official focus!

I also love reading my kids biographies.  It is a passion of mine.  This week we read about Amelia Earhart.  Our favorite book this week was I Am Amelia Earhart (Ordinary People Change the World).    There is also a great video on Amelia Earhart that we enjoyed.  I am trying to add in some extra biographies since March is Women's History Month (not that I need an excuse...).

I was so excited this week to see my Women's History Month Poster Pack in action!  walker.library.girl posted her bulletin board on her Instagram and I love it SO MUCH!  (It seriously made my week!)

I have found the posters to be an easy way to introduce students to a variety of inspirational women in a quick, fun way.  (-And that is my favorite way... much better than the stupid 'Let me create a really complicated project two hours before we go on vacation even though I have that class this year' way! ...Rookie mistake)

So, that was my week... How about you?  Are you on Spring Break yet?  Is it coming soon?  Are you as completely, totally exhausted as I am?  If so, I hope you get to take a really, really long nap!  (That never really happens around here... but it sounds glorious!)  Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

When "Scoot" Goes Wrong -Classroom Management Tips for "THAT Class"

So, if you read last week's "wrap up" post, you know that our first game of Scoot went terribly, terribly wrong.  In fact, it went so wrong, that I realized it was time that I sat down and wrote out my classroom management tips for "that class" (also known as how I try to make it through the day this year).

If you are a "classroom game" kind of teacher, I am sure it is hard to believe that a game of Scoot could go so awry.  *By the way, if that is what you are thinking right now, I am jealous of you...because you and I are having very, very different years!*   (I'm sure that you probably know what a "scoot" is, but just in case you don't, it is a game where students all begin at their own numbered spot.  They complete an academic task - such as an addition problem - then when the timer goes off the entire class "scoots" to the next numbered space.  There is another task waiting for them to complete there.  They continue to "scoot" around the room until they have completed all the tasks or problems.)

Scoot is a game that many teachers go back to over and over again.  Kids love it, you can incorporate almost any skill or standard, it includes movement, it is easy to differentiate...the list of positives goes on and on!  You might even call it the perfect classroom game...

It is much, much, much, much, much easier for some groups than others.  The particular group of students that I have this year are not what you would call "naturals" at this type of organized, independent, focused-yet -exciting and enjoyable activity.  They tend should I say it?...Lose their minds.  Like, for real.

Now, this particular scoot/lesson was planned by my (wonderful) intern.  She planned it perfectly.  She thought of everything.  She aligned the game to the standard we were studying and made accommodations for ELL and ESE students.  She remembered everything...except exactly who the little people in this particular class happen to be.

You see, this year, we have the honor of teaching "that class".  Now, don't get me wrong...they are sweet!  They are kind and usually very happy.  However, they are not independent.  In fact, it is shocking just how "not independent" they are...especially given the fact that it is now March and I have been working with them on becoming "independent learners" every. single. day. since August!  This particular group also seems to have the collective attention span of a certain distractible fish named Dory.
Now, my intern is new at all of it would make sense that she might just not be accustomed to "wiggly" groups or kids that are a little more "active" than most.  However, I am in my 17th year of teaching.  I have taught special education classes, pre-kindergarten or kindergarten for the majority of my career...I believe that this background has me fairly accustomed to distractibility and students have have difficulty focusing.  In fact, I think that my tolerance for "the wiggles" is much stronger than most.  However, this year is like one long wiggle hangover. The struggle is real my friends.

So, just in case you find yourself in a situation where you are teaching "that class" know, the one that loses their minds every thirty seconds...the one that gets SO wound up that you don't know if you will ever be able to reel them back in...the one where spotting something shiny knocks them off their rockers...the one that CAN NOT HANDLE A SIMPLE GAME OF SCOOT...then, worry not...I am here to help!

Here is my list of "Helpful Hints".  These are the classroom management strategies that really do work with "that class".
  1.  Give Clear, Simple Directions

One way to really set your students (and yourself!) up for success - especially when you are teaching "that class" is to make sure you are giving your students very clear directions.  

For example, during our colossal Scoot failure, my sweeties had been told: "Everyone is going to go to your numbered space.  When you get there you will find a math problem waiting for you.  You are to solve that problem on your answer sheet in the square that has the same number as your space.  When you hear the timer go off you will get to "scoot" to the next numbered spot!  Then, you will solve that problem in the same numbered space.  We will keep doing this until all the problems have been solved.  Ready?  Go to your numbered space!"

On "do-over-day" I simplified the directions.  I brought it way, way, way, way down.  Here is how it went:"When I say go, you are going to get up and go to your numbered space.  Watch me.  I am going to pretend I am number three.  I am going to get up and walk to space number three."  (I got up and walked to space three with my clipboard and pencil.)"Now, when I hear the 'beep' and the game begins I am going to solve this problem.  Watch.  'BEEP!'." (I pretended to solve the problem on my clipboard.)"Now, I am going to listen for the next 'BEEP'.  When I hear it I am going to get to "scoot" to the next space.  I started at number three.  Where will I scoot to boys and girls?"  (Wait for them to answer "Four!") "Yes, I am going to go to four.  Watch. 'BEEP!'.  I am moving to number four.  I am going to answer this math problem now. Where should I write the answer on my paper?"  (Then, I waited for them to answer "at number four") "Yes, right...then, I will wait for the 'BEEP'.  What do I get to do at the 'BEEP'? (Wait for the answer "SCOOT!")
 - Then, I acted it out for the next three "scoots".  Yes, I am serious. It is crazy right? However, I swear, it went from complete and total chaos, to this:

I have found that I literally cannot oversimplify directions this year.  It is not possible. One step directions are ideal, however, that is often not possible.  If I can't give one step directions, I need to give one step, then help them process that step before moving on.  (This can be with wait time, having students repeat the direction, acting it out, using a visual etc.)  Then I can add the next step.  I know it sounds crazy to be breaking things down this much with kids older than three...but, I am telling you, it works.  It is totally worth getting into the habit of taking a few extra minutes to break things down because it works.

2.   Rely on Routines and Systems
While it is always best practice to have classroom routines and systems in place to assist with your classroom management...when you have "that class" it is 100% essential! As you can see from the above, it can be exhausting to have to break down every single little thing all day long. You are going to need to have routines in place so that your students know what they are supposed to be doing (and when and how!). It is going to be the only thing keeping you sane some days!

I have found that it really doesn't matter what the routine is (as long as it works for you). What matters, is that you teach your students to be very, very consistent with it. For example. If you have homework sitting on the table when students come in in the morning then you have to make sure that it is there every morning. If it isn't there they are going to lose their minds. They will ask you 500 times where it is and will not remember that you told them the copier is broken and that they will get it later. Now, of course, sometimes the copier is really going to be broken and they are just going to have to deal with it... just be aware that it is not going to be pleasant for you when that happens.  However, it will make your life much, much, much easier to have as many things happen "automatically" as possible.  

When you have a class that has a hard time following directions and/or focusing it is key to minimize the number of times per day you need to give them directions.
 If you really try, you can make almost everything that happens in your classroom (except for the actual teaching points/instruction) part of a routine.  Packing up, unpacking, choosing centers, cleaning up, turning in work, passing out materials, working in groups/with partners, working on computers/iPads...these can all be on-going routines.  Fun activities like recess, brain-breaks, Go-Noodle breaks, learning games & 'Scoots' should all also be part of routines that have been taught and practiced as well.  (This was obviously our downfall.)

3.  Focus on Engagement
Now, I know that it is probably always your goal to have your class engaged, right?  I mean, who wants their students to be passive learners?  However,  this is just one more example of something that is always best practice that becomes absolutely critical when you have "that class".  These kiddos need us to put on a show to keep their attention under the best of situations.  Can it be frustrating?  Sure!  Is it worth it to keep the classroom under control - 100%.  

So, what exactly does it mean to keep "that class" engaged?  It means keeping their attention by any means necessary...this could easily be a post all of its own!  However, most of the most effective engagement strategies are probably things you are already doing!  The only difference is, when you have "that class" you need to do them all and you need to do them pretty much all the time (Again, Exhausting? Yes.  Worth it? Also yes.).

Some great ways to keep your kiddos engaged include:
   incorporating lots of music and movement - you can find a quick song and video to go along with just about any lesson on YouTube these days!  (Be sure to check out Have Fun Teaching!)
   utilizing the gradual release model for instruction ("I do" teacher demonstrations, "We do" partner/group practice, "You do" individual work)
   lots of brain breaks (think Go Noodle!, stretch breaks, jumping jacks etc.)
   using Whole Brain Teaching strategies
   plan lessons while accounting for different learning styles
   utilizing cooperative learning groups, turn and talks, accountable talk and conversation circles
   letting students make choices and building places for choice throughout the day
   carefully thinking through the daily schedule - varying activities (loud then quiet, large group then small group, teacher directed then student directed etc.)
      When All Else Fails - ABANDON SHIP

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to simply STOP doing whatever you are doing!  We try so hard all the time don't we?  We spend hours planning the "perfect lessons".  Then we create the materials...we cut, color, print and laminate.  We make games and anchor charts.  We try SO HARD.  We try so hard that sometimes we don't see the forest for the trees.  

So, this is the best advice I can give you for the times "when Scoot goes wrong"...abandon the ship.  If it is sinking - JUMP OFF IT.  Trying to salvage  "Scoot gone wrong" is a terrible idea for so many, many reasons! 

First of all, it's too late.  They aren't listening to you anymore.  They don't care about Scoot or math or games or anything anymore.  When you are teaching "that class" you have to remember that sometimes they are too far gone.  It might be a full moon, or raining, someone might have "looked at" someone else, or seen something shiny.  For whatever reason, there are going to be times that it just won't work...and that's okay.  

Really.  It's okay.  You can decide to say "We are done with this for today" or "I changed my mind" or "We are going to try this again tomorrow."  You can say whatever you want because you are the teacher.  You can simply decide to teach them something else right now (like how to take deep breaths and calm down so you don't lose your cool in front of a classroom of children... or something else...that's just a random idea).  The point is, sometimes the best thing you can do is to say, "This isn't working.  Let's try this again tomorrow.  Please come to the gathering area and we will read a book instead". Because the next day when you try again (after a good night's sleep - and a few glasses of wine) it might just be "Scoot Magic"!

I would love to hear your ideas for getting things "back on track" when they go wrong... or for keeping them on track in the first place... Pretty much I would love to hear any ideas you have!  It is that kind of year!  I hope some of these ideas help you... or at least help you to know that you are not "in it alone"!  Let me know if any of these ideas work... or if you have any better ideas!  I'm listening...