The ABC’s of Back to School: Finale!

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So…how’s it going in your classroom so far? Of if you’re still gearing up for a new school year, good luck! No matter where you teach or when you start, this is a super busy, stressful time of year!

In the past two posts, I have shared a few ideas for the beginning of the school year, Back to  School Bingo and Me Collages. I want to share an idea I used once I was out of the classroom and working with small groups of Gifted and Talented students, the I Am Poem! I chose this poem because my goal for the year was to help students develop a sense of identity and become self-regulated learners. I had seen this type of poem before, and then I was introduced to a unit in the Autonomous Learner Model book by George Betts, called “Journey Into Self.”  The same publisher also has another unit called “Journey Into My World”. I decided to build my year-long theme around this concept and to launch the theme, I had students create visual I Am Poems!  You can see their presentations HERE; many had their photo on the initial slide and throughout the poem, so I had to delete those for student privacy. I did have some students turn their slides into a movie with music, and some just created a Quicktime or iMovie for this activity! Another student used Glogster to create her visual poemOh…the image up at the top of this blog is an idea I always wanted to do, but never got around to it…creating an “I Am” Wall with the students’ names and first line from their poem!

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To start with, I created an I Am Poem for myself to serve as a model for the students, then walked them through the creation of their own poem, using THIS template. You can find many variations of this same template online.  Here’s a sample poem that one of my students created! Next, I had students use copyright free images they found online (that’s an entire lesson in and of itself!) to turn their poem into a visual I Am Poem in Google Slides!

The classroom teacher for my 5th grade GT students wanted the students to create math goals in their Advanced Learning Plan, so I had them all create a math version of the I Am Poem. And at the end of the year, I had all of my students complete an End of Year I Am Poem to reflect on their learning throughout the year. Some added in this new part of their poem to their Google Slide presentations.  My younger students did something called an I Am Story.  Click HERE for an example by one of my students!

IMG_0445So to help you get your classroom rules and expectations set up…here are the final ABC’S OF BACK TO SCHOOL, based on my “bestselling” packet I created for my students and their parents back in my classroom days.

Image result for s gifSubstitutes: I included my expectations for students when I had a sub. I expected my students to respect all subs they had, no matter what, and I always followed through on both positive and negative comments from the sub. Here’s an article on how to prepare your class for a sub! How do you prepare your class for subs? Comment below!

Image result for T gifTelephones: In the years before cell phones were common, we only had a phone in the workroom across the hall to use (primitive, I know!) I had to set expectations for the use of this phone for my students. It amazed me how many times my students would ask me to use the phone to call parents to bring in forgotten homework….Uh…NO! These days, all schools and classrooms need to have cell phone guidelines (for teachers too, LOL!)

Image result for Q gifQuizzes and Tests: Just verbiage about doing your best, studying in advance, sharing the test grade with parents, etc. A great idea for intermediate and secondary teachers is to give Open Note quizzes…students can use their notes to answer!  What you are really assessing is their note taking skills! I would have my students staple their notes to the quiz. Not all quizzes were open note, but you should have seen the looks on their faces of the non-notetakers when I announced an Open Note quiz! Have you ever done this in your class? Comment below!

Image result for U gifUsing Computers: Since I wrote my guidelines back in 1998, things have changed, and laptops and Chromebooks are a necessary tool for students in the classroom. My guidelines are no longer valid! However, guidelines still need to be set for the proper use and care of these expensive school supplies.

Image result for Letter V gifVolunteers: My plea to parents for classroom volunteers! Since I taught intermediate, I did not have as much use for volunteers (and I was somewhat of a control freak :-), but I did need them for classroom parties and Friday folders! I appreciated my parent volunteers so much; always be sure to take good care of them!

Image result for W gifWhen will progress reports (report cards) come out: This is where I included my school/district’s policies and dates for progress reports.

Image result for X gifXtra Credit: I made sure students and parents understood that I did not give any extra credit, but they could earn Bonus Points (see “B” back in Part 1!) that could slightly help their grade.

Image result for Y gifYes, we will be using the library each week:  School library days, policies, rules, etc.

Image result for Z gifZoo: No, we’re not going there! I couldn’t think of anything else for “Z” so I used this section to discuss the various field trips we WERE going on, permission slips, chaperones, etc.

And that’s a WRAP for the ABC’s of Back to School! I hope that you will use the “I Am” poem with your students! Joy Thomas, on the Crixeo website, says about these poems: “It’s an invitation to ask ourselves: How do I show up in the world? How do I want to show up in the world? What do I want to give and receive out of life?”

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The ABC’s of Back to School, Part 2!

The ABC’s of Back to School, Part 2! More ideas on what teachers need to communicate to students and parents in the first few weeks of school! I also share a FUN activity I did with my students the first week: “Me Collages!”

IMG_0445First of all, be sure to check out my last blog, Part 1 of The ABC’s of Back to School. This is where you will get my A to I information I put in my back-to-school packet for students and parents

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 12.21.37 PMAnd, have you checked out my Back to School Bingo on Teachers Pay Teachers? This is a fun activity to do with any grade level on your first day or first week!

Before I start on J – S, I want to tell you about a super fun activity I did with my 5th and 6th graders during the first week of school! I can’t remember where I got the idea from (this was 23 years ago!), but I found directions online for creating these with kids. Using butcher papers and markers, I had students help each other trace the outline of each other and then cut it out. Next, they created a “Me Collage”, adding in words, designs, photos, and illustrations of who they were as a person, and as well as their favorite hobbies and passions. The students presented their Me Collages to the class, then we hung him in the hallway. Check out some of their creations below!

Now on to J – S from my Classroom Packet!

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J is for June Box: Since our school got out in June, I had a special box where all the toys or gizmos I had to collect from students would reside until the last day of school, or until parents came to me to request them. I ended up having quite a collection to give back in June: yo-yo’s, Pokemon cards, Beanie Babies, action figures, etc.

Image result for K gifK is for Kid Safety: Here’s my exact wording from the packet: “It is my responsibility to make sure that my students learn in a safe environment. We need to be safe our on the playground, at lunch, on field trips, and in our classroom. School supplies need to be used in a safe manner and experiments conducted safely. Poor choices will result in immediate consequences.”

Image result for L gifL is for Long Term Assignments and Projects: Our job as 5th/6th-grade teachers in our school was to prepare our students for middle school. I would often assign projects or writing that would take 3-4 weeks or longer.  After hearing about stressed parents trying to help their child finish that assignment in just 1-2 nights, I made sure to communicate to both students and parents to manage their time and START EARLY! I eventually began assigning staggered due dates (for proposal, rough drafts, conferences on progress, etc. – these were interim assessments before I knew that term!).

Image result for m gifM is for Magic Scrap: I have to admit…this was one of the BEST ideas I ever came up with (and believe me, there were many bad ones!). One of my expectations is that all students helped clean up at the end of the day, especially the floor so our vacuuming crew after school did not have to do their job on an obstacle course! So, to get the floor super clean, I would “pick out” a scrap of trash, or a school supply item on the floor. My students would frantically rush around trying to find the magic scrap; they would pick up a pile of stuff off the floor and bring to me waiting by the garbage can, where I would pronounce it as NOT the Magic Scrap or YES, that was indeed the Magic Scrap. If it was a “No”, off they would run to collect more stuff!  When the floor was sufficiently cleaned up, lo and behold, there would be the sought after “Magic Scrap” from a lucky student! That student would receive a Homework Pass which would excuse them from homework for one night.  Believe me, these were in high demand (see “P”)!

Image result for n gifNo is for No T.V.! (unless you have read your required 30 minutes at night): Lately I have been reading about how reading logs can be detrimental in getting kids to enjoy reading...but back in the 90’s, I used them and they worked for me, parents and my students.  My expectation for my students 120 minutes a week of reading, and then to record what they were reading on the log. I didn’t care if they were reading a novel, textbook, a magazine article, a comic book, (appropriate) stuff on the internet, or picture books, as long as they were READING! They could do all their minutes in one night, over the weekend, or could spread out the minutes over the week. Parents had to sign the log before it was turned in.  Do you use reading logs?

Image result for o gifO is for On the Chart, Oh No!: My consequence/behavior system was multi-tiered:
* 1st incident: A verbal warning
* 2nd incident: A check on the chart under their assigned number (no names and the numbers were changed often)
* 3rd incident: Another check and a recess missed
* 4th incident: Another check and an Inappropriate Behavior Form (used school-wide)
* 5th incident: Another check, a Behavior Referral (school form) and a phone call home
(Disclaimer: I realize things have changed since I used this system 25 years ago, and schools and teachers may have different ideas for behavior expectations. All teachers at my school had to have their behavior plans approved by the administration.)

Image result for p gifP is for Passes – Homework Passes! A homework pass could take the place of one nightly assignment (but I had the prerogative to say “no passes” for any assignment I needed them to have the next day). The pass had to be attached to the assignment when turned on, and they would then receive full credit! Students could use one pass per week. The passes were given for prizes in games, for rewards and recognition, and as a “thank you” from me for students who went out of their way to help others. I made my own, but you can find many already created on Teachers Pay Teachers!

Image result for Q gifQ is for Quiet Voices: I didn’t expect my students to work in silence during independent work time (I wanted them to ask questions about their work to peers and collaborate!), but I did expect low voices during work time. Many students actually liked to get as much work done at school if they had busy sports/activities schedules after school. Since I used this time to confer or help students, I did not want to be walking around and shushing kids all the time!  What are your expectations for noise during work time?Image result for r gif

R is for Recess: Yay, we all love recess (except for teachers when they have recess duty in February!) However, sometimes my students had to miss recess as a consequence for behavior or missing work. Or, they could stay in for positive reasons, such as to get extra help from me or assist me with set-up for an activity (of course I would have many volunteers on cold and snowy days!)

Image result for s gifS is for Standards: I was “lucky” enough to be a classroom teacher during the nationwide implementation of education standards in the 1990’s. Our workload was suddenly increased by the task of collecting specific pieces of student work and assessments to determine if they had met a particular standard or not. Standards are still around, and it was important for me then, as it is for teachers now, to make parents and students aware of the standards your state and district are using.

Stay tuned for the rest of the Back to School ABC’s in next week’s post! Best of luck to you getting YOUR school started! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you want to see future posts, and a HUGE THANK YOU to those that already have!

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

 

The A-Z of Back to School for Teachers! (Part 1)

Hey…just me jumping on the Back to School Bandwagon…because suddenly in mid-July, BTS was ALL over the place…social media, store ads, TpT…everywhere! So I am entering the fray of the BTS Frenzy!

First off, I have a NEW PRODUCT ON TPT – Back to School Bingo! This is a fun activity I used with my students on the first day of school (I revised this for the first day after Fall Break, Christmas Break and Spring Break…those are coming soon!

CLICK HERE FOR BACK TO SCHOOL BINGO!

Screen Shot 2018-07-19 at 7.55.30 PMFirst BTS idea; a few weeks ago I uploaded my FIRST for-sale product to Teachers Pay Teachers!  I can’t think of a better way to start the school year than with PASSION PROJECTS!  What better way to start the year than engaging your students in working on a long-term project on something they love? Also, you can find out SO much about your new students by surveying or interviewing them on what their hobbies, interests, and passions are! I did not create this until I was out of the classroom and working with small groups of gifted students, but I would SO implement this in the first month of the school year! It could be your 80/20 project for the first half of the school year, or even the entire school year!

Hop on over to this product in my Teachers Pay Teachers store! And PLEASE, if you do purchase, I would appreciate some reviews on this in TpT.  If you don’t end up purchasing, please share the product on social media and with other teachers!

I had 25 back to school seasons in my career…and like many other teachers, got smarter each year and changed up how I started my school year to make it better, smoother, and less stressful for the students, their parents and ME!  So I now have an A-Z guide to help you, the amazing hard-working teacher, have a less stressful Back to School season!

First, and foremost, the amount of time you spend on routines and procedures should never be underestimated! Take it from me…during my first few years of teaching, I just barreled right into the curriculum and then paid for it later when I couldn’t understand why my students could not seem to know what to do to turn in assignments, find materials, sign-out for the bathroom, etc. By my final years in the classroom, I was spending a good WEEK on these routines and longer if necessary! I made sure to give them lots of reminders and visuals hanging in the classroom.

Second, the amount of time you spend on making your rules and expectations clear can also never be underestimated!  Those darn mistakes the first few years were not repeated again! I made sure the students understood my recognition system for doing the right thing and the consequences for not doing the right thing. More importantly, I made sure parents understood these expectations as well!

And…speaking of parents, there is no such thing as too much communication to parents!  Well, I guess there is common sense; parents don’t like being inundated every hour or day with texts and emails…but always err on the side of too much!

So…along about my third year, I finally got around to creating a beginning of the year packet for my students and parents. This packet had all the procedures, expectations, and information that I could think of…and I’m sure it was overwhelming to some students and parents, but it was my way of making sure I covered everything! I spent the first few weeks going over this packet and reiterating things…and made up daily review games that allowed students to win homework passes (these passes could be used to get out of homework on certain evenings! I also sent home the packet and had both students and parents initial each section. Here are the items I included in my packet…did it in A-Z style!

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 Afternoon Clubs: My teammates and I used to set aside one after-school day a week where students could stay and get extra help on ANYTHING they needed…homework, projects, math and reading skills, etc. We made sure parents knew they were staying and had a way to get home after the club.

 Bonus Points: These were my “digital badges” before I knew what digital badges were.  I gave bonus points for various things…keeping up with their planner, typing assignments (which was still a novel/optional thing back in the 90’s), prizes in games, etc. These would go into the grade book and could jump their grade up slightly!

Current Events: This was an activity I did all year…and I think one of the best things I ever did as a teacher! I created a schedule of when each student would present a current event they found in the newspaper or a magazine (now I would be using Newsela for this!) and do a recap of the article for the class. I gave them guidelines for what was needed to be included in the presentation; I can’t remember them right now but will try to find the handout. Some days, the article was so interesting or debatable that we ended up discussing it for over an hour and I had to adjust my schedule! 

 

Daytimers: These were the planners students were required to have. Our school sold them, but students could purchase their own as well. At the end of the school day, I would take 5-10 minutes to talk about the homework expected of the class. I wrote it out on a template on the overhead (ugh – the 90’s!) and they were expected to show the daytimer daily to their parents and get initials each day.

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Expectations: Here was my list ( I realize these are from 20 years ago and many things have changed in schools!)

  1. Respect all people and property in the classroom.
  2. Use quiet voices during work time.
  3. Raise your hand to speak during class discussions (this didn’t always happen during our heated currents events debates!)
  4. Wait for a speaker to finish speaking before raising your hand to comment.
  5. Use a polite listening position when someone else is speaking.
  6. The class will walk quietly in a straight line through the halls when going to Specials and other events (this was a school-wide expectation).
  7. School supplies will be used only for the purpose they were intended (this came about after a student bored a hole in his desk with the sharp point in his compass!)
  8. Use the Sign Out Sheet if you need to leave the classroom for any reason.
  9. 9. Try to use the restroom as little as possible during the school day and not during a lesson or presentation (this was because I had sometimes had serial bathroom goers!).
  10. Please chew your gum in places other than this classroom and school.

FImage result for F gifriday Folders: The parent’s best friend and a school-wide expectation (at the most recent schools I worked at, it had been changed to Thursday folders and most of the info is on the school website). These folders came home every Friday and contained student work, school announcements, flyers from outside organizations, and a sheet with my comments about the students’ week and a place for parents to initial and make comments. I used to “love” when a folder came back on Monday with no initials and the entire contents still in it!

Image result for G gifGrades: This, of course, is where I would explain my grading police that our school district used.

 

 

Image result for H gifHow am I doing? Before the age of parent portals, where parents can log in and see grades for their student on a weekly basis, I would have the option for students to fill out a 1/2 sheet on what was their current grades in all subjects. If students took this home, filled it out and returned, they received Bonus Points. Some students did it all the time (many were expected by their parents to do so) and some never did. But the option was there!

Image result for I gifIllness:  In this section, I explained how student needed to take ownership of finding out about work missed while they were absent. I had a 1/2 sheet form called “We Missed You!” which let the student know what they missed that day.

So that’s it for Part 1 of my A-Z packet! Tune in next week for Part 2! In the meantime, BEST OF LUCK GETTING YOUR SCHOOL STARTED! REMEMBER, I AM HERE TO HELP YOU!

 

 

Implementing Passion Projects in Your Classroom!

8445357129_cb73fe70ab_oWhat’s YOUR passion? We all have at least one, and many of us have more! As a teacher, it’s our job to help our students find theirs! Read on for a way to make that happen in YOUR classroom or with your small group!

Just like many other teachers, I can say for certain that I made many mistakes during my career. However, I can also say that there are some things that I did right, and they were INCREDIBLY RIGHT! Implementing Passion Projects with my students was one of them!

A passion project is just what it says…a project based on a student’s passion! The idea comes from Google’s Genius Hour concept: all of Google’s employees are allowed to use 20% of their workday on their own personal projects. Many schools and teachers have now embraced the idea of letting students work on their passions for part of the school day; many of them call it their 80/20 time (check out this great article from Edutopia on implementing 80/20 project time.)8485655331_a082a959ca_z

I first used Passion Projects back in the 2013-2014 school year while working as a Gifted and Talented Facilitator in the Douglas County School District in Colorado. My district (then being run by corporate reformers), was pushing personalized learning, among many other things.  There is nothing inherently wrong about personalized learning, it’s just hard to implement when you have a classroom of around 30 kids in elementary or 150 for a secondary teacher.  However, it was somewhat manageable with my gifted students, especially since I created a learning plan for each of them.  My students had so many interests and hobbies, both in school and out, and I wanted to take their passions and let them work on a project about them. After hearing about Genius Hour…my Passion Project Unit was born!

I continued to do these projects over the next four years with my students…but this is NOT just for Gifted students…this idea can be used with ALL students of any age! I have since retired, but I still have teachers at my former school using my materials to help students find their passions and share with others! 5862444402_6bce17f53d_o I have also presented on these projects at this year’s Denver Comic Con and will be presenting in October at the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented Conference in October! 

Throughout the four years of having my students do these projects, I was constantly amazed at the hidden passions they had, and their teachers and fellow students would never have known if they had not been able to work on these projects!  Topics ranged from “How do you fly a 757 Boeing jet” to “How can I create an app for middle school?”

Of course, with some students, it took more conferring and digging into their personal lives to find out what they were truly passionate about. Some, at first, even said they did not have a passion! Eventually, however, all were able to find something they loved working on or creating. This was an inquiry project; students always had to come up with an essential question to guide them in their research. The other non-negotiable was that they had to share them in some way…either on our school-wide presentation day, set up similar to a science fair, or on safe social media, or another way of their choosing.  Most chose to present in person, as they wanted a chance to show off their accomplishments. There’s a link in the project with photos of all the fantastic ways my students chose to present! (Preview below!)

 

In this product, you will have the steps and information you need to:

  • Help your students find their passions and get your students started on these projects!
  • Choose the essential question
  • Research the topic/question
  • Find experts for students to interview
  • Prepare students to present

 

I am also available to work with any teacher or school who would like to implement these projects; check out my consulting information HERE!

HERE IS THE LINK to access the product on Teachers Pay Teachers! 

If you end up using these projects in your classrooms, PLEASE let me know and send photos! If you have your own ideas or suggestions for implementing projects like these, comment below!  These projects have been the highlight of my teaching career, and I hope they will be for you too!

Until next time…Follow Your Passion!

Finally…the end of the School Year!

 

For many of you teachers….just a few weeks to go!  Whoo Hoo!

Relief, happiness, joy….which emotion are you feeling now that the end of the year is in sight and summer is on the horizon?  I recently shared a photo I saw on the Facebook page of Create-abilities that pretty much sums up what all teachers feel like in May!

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Used with permission from Create-abilities

Before the year ends, though, you have to come up with something to celebrate, recognize and honor all the work your students have done throughout the year and find a way to say farewell to this year’s class.  I always struggled with this…I was exhausted, my daughters had all their May events going on, and the classroom budget was tight or non-existent.  So, let me share with you a few ideas that I did way back in my classroom days.

 

img006Being a huge fan of movies and the Academy Awards, I decided to create my own awards ceremony, the Anttila Awards.  Check out my flyer below; the writing you can see on the back is my list of what awards each student was getting, and yes, ALL students received an award!  Some of my categories include:

  • Best Performance in Math
  • Best Performance in a Science Fair Project
  • Best Performance in Writing
  • Best Performance in a Fractured Fairy Tale Skit
  • Most Likely to be Caught Reading
  • Best Performance in Public Speaking
  • Best Performance in a Research Speech
  • Best Performance in Making Up Work
  • Best Performance in the Oceanography Project

You get the idea!  We invited parents and asked them to provide refreshments, and we also invited administrators, specials teachers, the custodian and paraprofessionals to be “special guest presenters” at the awards.  SO, SO fun!

Another year, my students and I created a HUGE hallway display called “The Bitter and the Best”. There were two butcher paper columns, one for favorite classroom memories/activities, “The Best” and one for less memorable or bittersweet memories, “The Bitter”.  I hung up photos from our year, as well as project and homework assignments.  This really helped the students to reflect and provided a nice closure to our year!  img035

IMG_6292One thing I always struggled with was what to give my students at the end of the year…a gift…without breaking my bank account.  At the end of the year when I had the theme of Growth Mindset with my GT students, I had a local specialty cookie shop, Eileen’s Colossal Cookies (locations in many states!) and decorate cookies for all students (over 50 of them!) with our motto for the year: “Fail, Learn, Grow.” Needless to say, these were a huge hit! Check out this blog post from Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher for more end of the year student gift ideas!

Last year, since I was retiring and had worked with some of my gifted students for four years, I created a slideshow of our learning and fun together, complete with music. The students loved seeing photos of their younger self, as well as students who had moved away or gone on to middle school!  Here are some ideas for great songs for your end of the year slideshows! And even MORE ideas! IMG_6283

Over in the sidebar, you will find a link to my End of the Year Pinterest Board for teachers!  Hang in there for a few more weeks, and take time to enjoy the summer, family, and friends!  You are all my HEROS!

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Free printable from the Happy Go Lucky blog

 

Math Roll-a-Word-Problem

TEACHERS PAY TEACHERS FREEBIE COMING UP!  KEEP READING! (How’s that for a shameless plug?) Plus, there are photos of my cats coming up, so that is a reason to continue reading!

Math story problems…word problems…whatever you want to call them, they were the bane of my childhood school years.  I was never that confident with math and would just get a math skill mastered when suddenly there were words with the numbers, which in my young mind, just confused everything!  Consequently, while working with my gifted students for the last four years of my teaching career, I made it a point to focus on word problems to help them build both problem solving and reading comprehension skills. In one of my recent blogs on Math and Growth Mindset, I discussed using math challenges such as Math Olympiad, Continental Math League, Exemplars and the Noetic Learning Math Contest, all of which contain excellent math word problems.  I learned how important it is to teach problem-solving strategies, and also to honor unique and unusual methods that students will come up with!

However, I had never thought of having my students WRITE word problems, but this idea dawned on me because of dice…yes, that is correct, DICE!  During this last year of tutoring, I had used something I found on Pinterest, a “Roll a Story” with my 6th-grade student who was working on writing.  A roll-a-story is a table that has different options for whatever the die lands on.  Here is an example of one on Teachers Pay Teachers, created by Ms.JordanReads – and check out her blog for more information on this resource and other fun dice activities!

original-286634-2So, I was working a quite a bit with my third-grade student, Brayden, on word problems.  He was great at math; he knew his computation skills and caught on quickly to new concepts. But something happened when he was given a word problem…he really just glanced at the numbers and then either added, multiplied, or whatever, to find the answer. He wasn’t reading the problem carefully to find out what the problem was asking him to find. So I had him using several strategies to help with this, including reading the problem at least two times (if not more) and highlighting and/or underlining important words, phrases, and numbers.  I always made him answer the question, “What is this problem asking you to do and find out?”

After using the roll-a-story for writing with the other student, I hit upon the idea of having Brayden help me create a MATH WORD PROBLEM Roll-a-Story as he actually loves to write (whoo hoo, we need more third grade boys who love to write!).  I first created a blank template, filled with a few ideas, and then had Brayden give me suggestions for the rest. (At the bottom of this blog you will find a link to these FREE resources on Teachers Pay Teachers!)

 

I then had Brayden roll his die, and he came up with: cowboy for the character, in a magic forest for the setting, getting the wrong homework for the problem in the story and multiplication for the math skill.  He launched right into his story, which turned out to be quite the fantasy!  I am waiting for Spielberg to option the film rights.  You can read his story HERE!

Brayden and I thought this was so much fun we wanted to share it with other teachers everywhere, and I decided this would be my very first product on Teachers Pay Teachers! I have even included a blank one, as well as a link to the editable versions in Google Drive (which I prefer!).  Teachers of intermediate and secondary students can use this by changing the operations to things like fractions, ratios, percent, algebraic equations, etc. If you try this with your students, please post some feedback for us!

Okay, click HERE for your TpT freebie of this Math Roll-a-Story Word Problem!

P.S. At another tutoring session, I used a word problem from THIS resource and modified it to be about Ms. Crazy Cat Lady (who may or may not be me). I included photos of my current and past cats. Brayden integrated this into another Roll-a-Story word problem and made it be the “homework” the dogs were not expecting. I had him work the problem and then explain in a short constructed response how he solved it! Check it out HERE!

fullsizeoutput_57abThat’s it for now…have fun dice rolling and creating math word problems!

 

 

Improving Reading Fluency

Improving reading fluency in young readers….that was the challenge for me when I was hired at an elementary school in Douglas County School District as a Literacy Specialist and was tasked with creating a school-wide reading intervention program with eight paras and 150 students on an Individualized Reading Plan (ILP) (now called a READ plan in Colorado).  Many of those 150 students had issues with reading fluency.  At this point in my career, I had never specifically worked with struggling readers.  I had taught high school English back in the early 80s with no training in my teacher prep program in how to help struggling readers.  Oh yes, I did teach a class called “Remedial English”, but all that meant is I was given a different set of books.  I don’t remember much of what I did in that class 24 years ago! Flash forward to 2009 and I had to do some quick study on how to help these readers.

The next eight years was an incredible growth opportunity for me as I learned new methods, techniques, and programs for helping struggling readers.  I took many classes, read books and journal articles and most importantly, learned from other teachers and the students in our reading intervention program. My passion became helping those struggling, non-fluent readers become not only proficient readers but also passionate readers.

MHE Reading Intervention program
Here’s our reading program in full swing! Photo by Jan

What I saw in working with many older struggling readers is that some had somehow not been able to master phonemic awareness and phonics skills successfully, and that was impeding both fluency and comprehension. Others had mastered those two elements but their struggles with fluency made them discouraged and not a fan of reading.  I tried many different methods, some successful, some not.  To save you, the hard-working teacher time, here are my favorite resources and methods for helping non-fluent readers.

  1. Assess the student using a benchmark (or interim) assessment…and one that preferably has national percentiles.
    You will not be able to show progress unless you get this first benchmark. I used either the AIMSWeb curriculum-based measurement (CBM) for oral reading and recorded how many words were correct in on minute.  You can also use the Reading a-z fluency passages.   With an AIMS account, you can access their oral reading norms to find where in relation your student is compared to other students at the same age.  Many teachers at my schools relied on these norms to help us make many decisions, including possible Sped testing, or removal from the intervention program.
  2. Once benchmarking is done, you can determine if intervention and progress monitoring is needed.  For students not entering intervention or receiving progress monitoring, more data will be gathered at the next interim assessing period.  For students who need intervention, you need to set up progress monitoring.  We used the AIMSWeb progress monitoring passages and used either their browser-based scoring system to keep track of scores/percentiles, or created a spreadsheet to keep track.  If you are doing this as an interventionist, it is important to keep classroom teachers in the loop with this data so they can share with parents.

    With my tutoring students, I use a Google Drive Spreadsheet to keep track of results and share with parents and their classroom teachers.  Here’s a blank template for you! (If you’ve never created graphs from the data entered, here is a screencast to help you!)Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 1.33.01 PM

  3. The Reading a-z passages can be used in different ways too!  First, I will print out three copies (or you can use these handy dandy dry erase pocket holders, bought from a Groupon deal, to save paper!)  I will have the student do a cold read and record the time and number of miscues (although sometimes I don’t time it if my focus is on word attack skills). Next, we go over the errors with the student so she can see what she missed, substituted or mispronounced (This is SO important to do!) Then, she reads a second time, again recording the miscues and time and going over the miscues. If the time and/or miscues are lower….a Class Dojo or Edmodo badge for her!  Next, you guessed it…we repeat this all over again.  These repeated readings are SO important for increasing fluency!  By practicing using the passages this way, chances are much better that she will perform better on progress monitoring and/or benchmark assessments. Below, you can see that my 4th-grade student, on the left, went from 5 to 0 errors after the 3rd reading. My 2nd-grade student went from 11 to 0 errors! I used the dry erase pocket holders and had the student underline the words they miscued on to draw their attention back to the word on the next reading.  (Sorry about the glare from the overhead lights!)
  4. Stopping at every miscue? Analyzing miscues? Okay, you may think I am heartless…but with kids who consistently miscue in a reading passage, I will sometimes wait until the end of a sentence or paragraph to stop them, but most often I will stop them immediately after they make a miscue.  Why?  Because there are many reasons a reader will miscue. Many are just word calling and not making meaning out of the words they are reading. Their brains start going faster than their mouth and the brain will quickly substitute a similar word.  If you wait too long, the moment is lost…the brain and mouth have moved on. Next comes the miscue analysis…also so important!  Below is a sample running record form from Reading a-z. 1520706540Check out this video for some guidelines and click HERE for a blank running record form (Reading a-z also has blank ones available.  Cathy Collier, in her blog: The W.I.S.E Owl has some great information on TYPES of miscues.
  5. When they are still struggling….it’s time to check into vision issues. I wonder how many students have struggled in school because of vision issues?  I’m not talking about the eyesight issues diagnosed by optometrists, but ones that may go undetected for years, such as visual tracking or eye teaming problems.  In the last ten years, many optometrists and ophthalmologists have partnered with vision therapy experts to offer service to children (usually at some high fees, but check with your vision insurance).  However, one benefit of seeking professional help is possible assessment with a Visagraph that tracks and records the movement of both eyes. It’s really similar to a benchmark or interim assessment; it provides the data needed to set up a plan of interventions and progress monitoring. I invited someone to come in on a professional development day and demonstrate this amazing machine, and I can safely say it “wowed” my audience of veteran teachers. In addition, the student (in the photo below we used a teacher as a student) gets to wear those really cool sci-fi type goggles!IMG_1148
    I worked with several students over the years who had visual tracking issues, and it was beneficial to team with the occupational therapist at my school for some ideas that I could easily do during my small group time.  Most OTs are willing to teach you and your class some simple eye warm-ups to get the eyes to team together better. In addition, Reading Plus offers online intervention and instruction where students read text using a guided window that moves across the text, graying out most of it and focusing on just the words being currently read. The speed decreases or increases depending on assessment results. In addition, the iBalance component helps increase reading speed, stamina, and visual tracking skills. I’ve also found that giving students some color overlay strips, or even just a white index card with a solid black line at the top can help kids track text better.  In my tutoring “super backpack”, I always carry a few visual tracking aids for students who need this! Finally, here are a few more accommodation ideas from Understood.org.

    6. Reader’s Theater…need I say more?  Hmmm….let’s see, students practicing reading text over and over – of course, that will practice not only oral reading fluency but also reading expression! You can find plenty of scripts available online, such as this site, which not only has scripts but many lesson resources on using RT in your classroom.  My favorite place to find RT scripts is Reading a-z; high-quality scripts and many are multi-leveled so your students are not always in the same group with same level readers. (Note: There is a yearly fee to join Reading a-z).  Don’t forget poetry! Reading poetry, especially ones with a rhythm and rhyme helps to increase fluency. Get kids to learn and memorize favorite poems and then host “Open Mic Night” at a Poetry Cafe in your classroom!

    7. Reading aloud…not just you, the teacher, reading aloud (but you do serve as that model for good fluency), but your kids reading aloud to each other and kids in younger grades! Again…REPEATED READING! Students can choose their favorite read aloud to share with the class in a “Reader’s Chair”.  You could film or audio record kids reading their favorite read-aloud books, and post on the school’s website to serve as bedtime stories for other kids! Some of the best books for reading aloud AND improving fluency can be found at THIS site.  Dr. Seuss books are perfect for developing fluency skills; in fact, I think my daughter perfected her fluency by memorizing The Foot Book.  Silly Sally is another good choice; so are nursery rhymes. Please add your ideas for fun/fluency practicing read-aloud books in the comments below!

    By the way, becoming a fluent reader often takes a strong growth mindset attitude from students. I will be posting more information in the future on this topic in your classroom, but be sure to check out my last blog on math activities you can do to develop growth mindset!  Also, check out a past blog on literacy tools for your classroom! Looking for some consulting or PD for your teachers on any of the topics I write about? Check out more information HERE!