Friday, January 28, 2011

Deals and Freebies!

What teacher doesn't love a good deal or freebie?  One of the blogs I follow just posted a whole list of deals and freebies for educators!  Check it out!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Creative Classroom Storage

As you know, when you have 20+ people sharing a room for an entire day, organization is key!  It is important that your classroom looks and feels homey for you and your students.  As a teacher, I was constantly struggling to find ways to keep classroom supplies organized in a way that was attractive and inexpensive.  We'd all love to go to The Container Store and buy a super cute, coordinated organization system, but what teacher can afford that?
The other day, I was browsing around and found this adorable blog with a GREAT idea for supply storage.  This creative mom used old soup cans to make awesome organizers.  Check it out!  Now, I am not very crafty, but I think I could definitely do this.  And, best of all, it's practically free and super cute!  For a classroom, you could decorate the cans with stickers or labels.  You could put a cluster at each table, or on a bookcase.  I also like her idea of using coffee cans for bigger items.  Math manipulatives, anyone?  Genius!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Parent-Teacher Conference Tips

I was driving by a local elementary school the other day and I realized that conference time here is fast approaching!  I know that parent conferences probably represent the most exhausting time in a teacher's year!  It can just be so tiring to talk nonstop for several hours to parents, and the days become so long when you're trying to squeeze in conferences and teaching.  Plus, there is always an element of fear.  Fear that parents will bring up some question about their child that you can't or don't want to answer.  Fear that the parents will react negatively to something you say about their child.  Fear of those dreaded conferences where you have to tell parents something you know they don't want to hear.  Most of the time, these fears end up being exaggerated, and things aren't as bad as you think they're going to be.  But, of course, there are some things that you can do to be sure the conferences run more smoothly.
First of all, I have found that communication throughout the year is essential.  The more that parents know about what's going on in your classroom, the more smoothly the conference will go.  They won't have a zillion questions for you, and they won't feel out of the loop when they arrive.  The more that parents know in advance about how their child is doing, the less likely they are to be surprised if and when you have to give them bad news.  Also, you can keep your conferences running smoothly because they won't hold you up with a bunch of questions.
Secondly, parents really want to know that you know their child.  They are coming to the conference with you, a person who spends many waking hours with the person that they love and care about most in the world!  They want to know that you love and care about this person as much as they do.  They want to know that you know and appreciate their child's strengths and weaknesses.  That is why I always try to come to the conference with some little story or anecdote about their child.  It can be something as simple as something funny their child said or did in class one day.  You might want to share a story he or she wrote that really made you laugh or impressed you.  Anything that will help the parent realize that you really see his or her child as an individual.  I like to start with this, because I feel that it makes the rest of the conference go so much more smoothly.
Finally, preparation is key.  You want to have something to talk about, and something that the parents can go home with.  I always had a printout of the child's current grades to review.  This gave me something to look at and something to give them, and it was a good starting off point for our discussion.  Of course, you can get more detailed than that.  One teacher I knew created a simple one page summary of what the class was doing in each subject.  She would then fill in details with that child's contribution in each area ("Johnny is writing a story about ___", etc.).  I thought this was a great way to let the parents know what their child is up to!  You also may want to have handouts to answer common questions or deal with common concerns parents may have.  My pediatrician does this, and it is great!  If I bring something up with her, she almost always has a handout that she can hand me that will discuss my issue and/or answer my question.  It is so nice to go home with that and not try to remember what she said hours later!  Before conference time, think through those questions that you get over and over.  Can you summarize your typical response into a handout for parents?  They will be so impressed, and appreciative!  You could create a list of suggested book titles for independent reading, strategies for memorizing multiplication facts, a list of websites with good parent resources...there are tons of possibilities.  You could even list upcoming topics and units for those parents who are always wanting their child to be ready for the next thing.  Keep your handouts nearby, and you can pull copies out as you need them.
The most important thing to remember with conferences is to relax.  The week goes by quickly, and most of the time the conferences aren't as bad as you think they will be.  Take time for yourself at night during that crazy time.  That was always my week to eat junk food and watch trash TV at night!  It was well-deserved.  
How about you?  Do you have any tried and true conference week tips?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Differentiation with Gifted Students

The overall theme of this blog, I hope, is time.  I know that time is generally a teacher's biggest enemy.  Time to plan, and time to teach!  Teachers are constantly struggling to get it all in.  One challenge is always the dreaded "pull-outs."  It is so hard to teach everything that is required, especially with students constantly leaving to go to speech, resource, gifted, counseling, etc.  I remember feeling like someone was always leaving my classroom or just getting back in!
As a classroom teacher with my gifted certification, I always ended up with more than my share gifted students.  I remember my last year in the regular classroom I had 6-7 gifted students who left for over an hour three times per week during language arts.  It was so stressful at first thinking about how I was going to meet the needs of those students!  They were missing a lot of instructional time, not to mention time for practice and reading.  After some work, I developed a great plan for them.  I let them do their own literature circle.  If you haven't used literature circles, think of them as a great way to get kids excited about reading!  They are like a book club for kids, but with a little more structure.  There are tons of websites and books about literature circles, and many different ways to run them.  I tried many different things over the years, but in the end I fine tuned my methods.  I gave each student a laminated file folder with their "role" on the cover.  They completed their role and made notes on it, and kept the notes inside the folder.  The notes from that role stayed with that folder, and the folder was passed around.
With my gifted students, I chose a book that was on their level.  I started out assigning them roles, and they kept their role for a week.  Then, they rotated within the group.  As a group, they chose how much of their book to read before the next meeting.  Since they were gone for most of language arts, they were to read and complete their literature circle job on their own time before their group meeting.  This worked great, since gifted students often finish their regular classwork before everyone else.  If they finished their math, social studies, or science early, they could use the extra time to work on their literature circle work.  It was great, because I wasn't constantly worrying about them getting bored waiting for the other students to finish.  I felt like they had productive work to do throughout the day, instead of just giving them busy work.
When the gifted students returned from their gifted class, they used the time that was left in language arts to discuss their reading from that week, and their role.  I left them to discuss the book on their own, and some days I would drop in on their group to eavesdrop on their discussion.  In addition, this group turned in the write-up of their role each day so that I could be sure that they were completing their work, and understanding the book.  It worked great!  They were able to take a lot of ownership over their learning, and I felt like they were getting what they needed in language arts.
Of course, that is just one example.  There are lots of great ways to differentiate!  I hope to post more in the future.  In the meantime, feel free to use your gifted teacher as an excellent resource.  She or he can help you with suggestions and/or ideas for your individual students.  Look for ways that you can let the students work independently, with some supervision from you.  This will allow those students to use their gifted-ness as an asset to their learning instead of a burden that causes them to miss out on class time.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Comic Strip Weekly Math Review

One thing I have always wanted to share with other teachers is one of the first great ideas that I got from another teacher when I was starting out.  My first year of teaching, I taught third grade.  This is such a pivotal transition year for kids, and there are a lot of things that can be overwhelming about it!  One of the many overwhelming things is math.  There are so many skills to learn, and they all have to be remembered in the spring when testing time comes.  One skill that my colleague and I always found our kids "forgetting" was adding and subtracting with re-grouping.  This is one of those skills that is taught at the beginning of the year and then forgotten as time goes on.  We were shocked at the end of the year when test prep time came and they had no idea how to do this basic operation.  So, my fellow teacher came up with a great idea that was so basic, but so brilliant!  On Fridays, we gave the kids a 10-question quiz, with five addition and five subtraction problems.  These problems used 3- and 4-digit numbers, and some used re-grouping and some didn't.  To make the quizzes appealing, my friend put a comic strip at the bottom of each one!  Genius!  We happened to use a popular comic strip about a boy and his stuffed tiger (I won't publish the actual name in case there is some type of copyright issue!), but you could use any comic that your kids are into.  It was amazing how the addition of that comic strip at the bottom made the quizzes so much fun!  My kids even cheered when they saw them.
The brilliance of this is that it allowed us to check weekly and see how the kids were doing with addition and subtraction, and work with them to correct any errors.  We were also able to keep the skill fresh in their minds throughout the year.  You would be amazed at how many children failed or did poorly on this quizzes throughout the year.  It was sometimes a shock to see the kinds of errors they made.  I found it a great way to keep an eye on their computation skills as well as keep the kids on their toes throughout the year.
To implement this in your classroom, just make up a template on your computer.  We did two lines with five problems in each one.  The top row was addition, and the bottom row was subtraction.  Leave plenty of space for computation!  You can make up your own quizzes, or you can even find some online!  Try, or a similar website for inspiration.
Keeping it to ten questions makes it easy for grading.  You can keep it to ten points per question, and if you try the two row format the grading goes super fast.  Plus, it gives you a weekly math grade which is always nice!
How about you?  What are your tips for keeping those basic skills fresh in the minds of your students?

Welcome to My Blog!

Welcome to my blog! I'm glad you're here. As a teacher for 10 years, I felt like I was always wishing for "five extra minutes." Sometimes, it was five extra minutes of planning time during those rare breaks. Sometimes, it was five extra minutes to teach a concept or do an activity with my students. I'm hoping that this blog will help fellow teachers overcome those feelings. I hope to provide ideas and inspiration for you. I also hope to do some legwork for you, and help you to maximize the time you spend planning and preparing your days. I want to post lesson ideas, organizational tools and ideas, and anything else that I think will help fellow teachers. Feel free to comment with any ideas or suggestions!