Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Do You Have Time To Sit? GOOD!

I am here to tell you, dear ones, that you are NOT lazy if you are sitting down for awhile. You know what you are? You're a facilitator.  If you are finding yourself with minutes upon minutes to sit at your desk, type out an email, and--GASP!--possibly even call some students over to conference with them, then I say "Bravo!".  You have effectively paced your instruction to inform your students and then successfully provided them with the tools and opportunity to accomplish a task that you gave them!  Is that not the ultimate goal?  

I am a teacher who sits sometimes.  In fact, I find myself wondering as I type this and my students are doing research on their iPads and taking screen shots of dinosaur fossils to share as a Science grade if someone might walk in here and FREAK OUT because I am taking a moment to blog and to be at my desk.  I don't think that should be the case.  Of course, anyone wondering what happens in my room is welcome to join us.  I would love the chance to show off :) 

Anyway, this was just on my mind and I am quite sure I am not the only one afraid of pop-in observations and the questions that will arise if someone walks by to see me sitting.  To me, this job is about leading by example.  What my students are witnessing right now is a teacher who is organized enough to preplan lessons, well versed enough to allow them to use technology, and who uses her time wisely by staying busy and using technology herself, to communicate and to interact with the world.  

...and, in case you're wondering, YES it feels good to sit :) 

Love from Grade 3, 


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

6 Easy Steps to Awesome Newsletters that Meet CCSS AND Get Students Involved

At this point I believe most classroom teachers, Title I teams, Special Education Teams, etc. have all finally got on board and send home either a weekly newsletter as individuals or as a team.  We know the forms this can take such as email, website, blog, or paper. We know the benefits of such

communication, like more parent participation, less phone calls, and an overall understanding of the roles your class or team or room is fulfilling in the school building as a whole.  I'd like you to consider how you create the newsletter it at 9pm on Sunday night? Is it about last week? The upcoming week? A mixture of both? Here is how I do it, and how I hope you will try to implement newsletters into your school day/writing/ELA block at any age level K-6: 

1. Monday- Thursday: experience learning standards that are focused and meaningful, with students as active participants in the lessons through movement, conversation, modeling, manipulative a, and/ or play.  (So, in other words, have at fabulously run and effective classroom that is just delightful!!! Haha:) 

2. When Thursday rolls around, use your projector ( hopefully you have one for the SmartBoard or some other technology in your room!) to display a blank word document or choose a newsletter template together and explain to the class briefly that you'll be creating the newsletter together, everyone gets a sentence, everyone helps! 

3. Call on each student one at a time to give you a complete sentence from the week that they learned or enjoyed, or something coming up soon that they are looking forward to.  Type each and every idea, even if they repeat.  EVERYONE contributes in an important way.  Older kiddos can type their sentence into the document themselves, or you can do them all.  

4. Read through your sentences together, model how to cut and paste or otherwise edit the document so it flows into paragraphs that make sense together, or fits into a format that is visually easy to comprehend.  

5. Allow students to give input about font, text size, what to call the newsletter, and/or adding any pictures that are relevant to the content they've created.  

6. Publish, upload, or print your newsletter on Friday Morning.  During this ELA block, allow students to use a highlighter to fin the sentence they contributed to the newsletter, highlight it so it stands out, and then have them buddy read it to each other.  This is a chance for one last revision, then sent it home or out to the web!

I've done this type of newsletter at every grade level, K-6 and it is always fun and meaningful.  The students love being able to talk about what they've learned this week and of course it gives us another form of assessment (oral, formative, authentic) to see what we as teachers hit home runs on that week or might need to revisit because it didn't make a big enough impression to make it into the newsletter!

Have you used this or something similar? Might you try this? What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear from you! 

Until next time, 
Stefanie ~~

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A question for YOU! You awesome educator, you ;)

I find myself wondering this: 
When do you feel the real teaching-- the really good stuff-- happens in your day? Why do you feel that way? How does that time look and feel differently than other periods of time in your day? Please, answer below!! 

Thanks ;) 

Above: students in a 1/2 blended classroom become scientists as they take notes on another students modeled experiment.  Is role play and/or note taking valuable to you?! Is it valuable to your kids? Does it increase the value of learning enough to plan ahead for it and make time for it in the day? 

Friday, December 6, 2013

This Week's Ramblings

Welcome to my week!! :) 

Literactive as an alternative to Starfall: 

I have been looking for quite awhile for a website that is as user friendly and valuable for reinforcing reading instruction as  Lucky for the Starfall folks, I've not found anything that compares to them that is free.  There is a nice site though, called Literactive which is free and has nice games---IF you aren't using Internet Explorer and you teach ahead of time how to navigate the site, which is full of small print and not as intuitive as Starfall.  Still, literactive has a functional page called "road to reading" that is sequential in its phonics instruction activities.  They also have many other skills and many other levels to choose from.  I recommend this to anyone looking for something different.  Also, is worth a try, with some teaching about navigation up front.  I am consistently frustrated working in rooms at all ages levels with the lack of "computer procedures" taught up front.  Please, teach your kiddies to scroll and navigate.... And look at the screen.  Teach them the power of the computer or tablet as a learning tool! 

Below is a pic of Oort if the user interface at 

Purposeful centers: 
I have been so very fortunate this year.  I've seen some of the best center management techniques and some of the (ahem...) not best ;) 

In the rooms that I've visited or taught that had the best behaviors and completed assignments were those rooms in which students could tell me why they were doing something.  No matter the age, they need to be able to do that if you expect your centers to function well enough to pull guided reading groups while they're happening.  If your Kindergarten students can't tell you why they're sifting through the big bin of magnet letters for all the "b's" then the center will be a mess and the learning piece of it disappears making it a waste of time.  Conversely, if your Kindergarteners can tell you that they're looking for all the letter "b's" today because they're practicing the B sound and they're going to make a big B out of all the small B's-- that's purpose! There's your learning.  And while you're pulling someone over to go over sight words or make predictions about a text, that learning is happening at another table without you. How powerful! The power lies in the purpose at all levels of learning! 

Differentiating on the spot is ok:
In the urban schools that I have often found myself, there are challenges that seem impossible.  It has been my experience that in public schools, many of these behaviors are not tolerated more than once or twice without a new placement for the child or some type of personal aide to keep them on task.  In charter schools, it's a different story.  The schools in which I've worked have fought hard to keep kids in class despite behaviors.  Even though I refuse to agree or disagree in this issue (case by case basis is the name of the game for me) I will say that some of this behavior I struggle with coping with on a day to day basis.  The young boy below is known for shouting, talking out, not keeping his hands tonhimself, never paying attention, and never completing any academic activities--- like, ever.  His teacher is a first year teacher faced with other students with similar beavhior challenges, so how can she cope? Well, in modeling some best practices for her I suggested and showed her how to differentiate not he spot for kids and document it later.  If she can't even get through math because he literally has no understanding of what math is other than sorting objects, then let him do that so you can have some peace while you explain addition to 20 to the rest of the class. I. The pic below, he needed to sort out all the pink letters-- ONLY PINK!  And the. Tell me what they were at my convenience.  Later, he had unified cubes that he just had to make into groups of ten.  Simple, tangible, and he knew why he needed to do it. "You're going to do math now, if you can't do my math, you'll have this math to do", etc.  he needs to know its math!  Later, on his worksheet that he clearly did not do, make a note of what he did instead.  Voila :) 

Another thing about purpose: 

Let's be honest, sometimes we write our plans knowing we need a read-aloud text to go with them, then we just grab a fiction or non fiction book off the shelf without really bothering to plan that text ahead of time.  We just grab one that suits the genre and standard we want to teach.  I don't think that really works.  If I need my kids to pic out descriptive words and sequence events but then I grab "Skippy Jon Jones because it's one if my favorites, I've lost my purpose.  Skippy Jon can be confusing and long, depending on which title you read.  The. I'm giving kids answers to what happened first and next, because they're lost in the comprehension barrier.  Choose read alouds ahead of time and with your purpose in mind. Also, keep 'em short and sweet :) carpet time is good for a change of scenery, but it's difficult to stay comfortable during it when you insist on "cross cross applesauce" for a prolonged amount of time.  

Anyone else feel like they're failing at Elf in the Shelf? I sure do! Whenever my 203 year old wakes up and finds the elf in a different spot, she insists I've moved it and wants to know why ;) also, the other day the elf epwas perched in the bathroom while she took a bath crayon to the tile floor-- epic fail, Elf, epic fail! 

Forgive my typos, friends.  I did this whole post on my iPad this week :) 

Stefanie :) 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Data Tracking Using "Dot Charts" and Consensograms

I find myself learning a lot this year about how data analysis and informed instruction looks at different grade levels. Especially formative assessment.  As someone who worked almost exclusively with small groups and test preparation groups for 5 years, I was seeing excel spreadsheets in my sleep.  All the number crunching and analyzing growth from one week to the next had my head spinning most of the time, as when you focus so much on numbers and not on students, the task of engaging students in activities that will actually grow them seems impossibly overwhelming.  What I have started to realize over the past 2-3 years is that your formative assessments (those quick checks you do all along the way) help students not only to communicate with you about how they are understanding a concept, but also to feel actively involved and empowered to change their achievement level. Take a look at the scientifically named  :)  "dot-chart" above.  

As the data dots show us, in the Fall of 2011, I had one student score "accelerated" on the Reading Ohio Achievement Test, and all the rest of my class scored "Limited".  Needless to say, I wanted to see a lot of growth before the next round of testing in May.  So, I devised a schedule for my class to take bi-weekly practice assessments beginning in January and track their progress after each test on this graph.  The dot color is meaningless, the number on each dot represented a student.  Each week in small groups the students would practice all the different aspects of test preparation and practice questions with a teacher.  We would mark up the practice questions with highlighters, rewrite our answers--you name it.  We would also look at our chart, and discuss which box the student was in that week, and how their goal should be to move up one box the next week.  

Here is why this was effective:  
1.  The students knew that although the data was "anonymous" it would still be posted for all to see.  
2.  It gave them a visual of where they were scoring with regard to where the other kids in the room were scoring.
3.  Moving up one box every two weeks was a goal that seemed tangible and realistic when it was presented in this way.
4.  Students felt and appreciated that they had active participation and control over where their dot would be placed the next time.  They knew it was directly related to their performance and hard work in between tests.  

As you can see, the dots started moving up week by week until we had about 8 students who were consistently passing the test.  Not a lot, but a vast improvement from just one!  The data on the chart from April was pretty consistent with the data I got back from the state after the state tests were scored, so I knew what I was doing was a reliable measure.  

Imagine if I had started this method in say, October, rather than waiting until January!  How powerful would the dots have been then in motivating even more students to set and surpass their goals?  

The other thing I wanted to mention was Consensograms.  These are a relatively new concept to me this year as I explore within the profession and get to know some of the lower grade levels.  I adore them!  Not only are they cute additions to your classroom that also serve a purpose, they are a way to engage those young kiddos and turn them into active participants in their learning as well!  And (as someone who loves technology I can't believe I am blogging this statement) what a great alternative to using those darn clickers that might take forever to set up and/or malfunction once the kids are signed in anyway?!  Phew, what a relief to just have a permanent display of your best practice on the board for the "I Can" statement or learning standard of the week!  Below are a couple of examples from my friends' rooms (since I am more transient as a sub this year ):  

1st and 2nd grade Consensogram 


3rd and 4th grade Consensogram

Thoughts?  :) 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Five for Friday Linky Party :)

Grab button for One Extra DegreeOk, I have no idea if I am about to do this right, so I hope this works out.  My friend Amanda over at One Extra Degree (her button is at right) told me this past week about this linky party thing being a great way to get your ideas out there and get more blog traffic.  So..... here goes!



Reciprocal Teaching 
In Professional Development this week, I learned about the practice of "Reciprocal Teaching" and absolutely love how it will fit into Reading groups!  I don't believe that groups should be defined as "guided" or "close reading" or "reciprocal" or even in some cases "literature circles".  I see them as a hybrid mix of all those if they are to be most effective.  Reciprocal teaching strategies provides a structure for me to teach guided or close reading within a framework that is consistent.  Also, providing students with sentence frames and insisting that their answer be a complete sentence with a "because clapper" (see Whole Brain Teaching) takes their instructional level of reading to the next level.  The teacher modeling each strategy first is key to the success of this practice, and using this as the structure of our lessons forces us to think aloud, which we often take for granted and do not do enough of.  This was one of those PD's that I really felt was valuable right away :) 


When you see a need, fill a need.  I have been trying out a consulting opportunity for a local school.  One of my former principals is the School Leader there, and sought me out to help out his small staff comprised of mostly first year teachers.  So, for a couple of days a week, I can be found observing for best practices and making notes on strengths and weaknesses I see, meeting with individuals about their needs, etc.  What I haven't figured out yet, after about a month, is exactly how to present the ideas and actually make positive changes in these educators' rooms.  I am all about being practical, and that is what I want to provide them with--practical ideas to be implemented right away--but how best to do that without encroaching on territory is the hard part.  So, once again I have found myself in uncharted territory, making new relationships and showing what I can offer one little bit at a time.  I may jump in to redirect a behavior (this is an urban setting) or take over a small group that is off task when I walk by.  I am still thinking about how best to present ideas, but in the meantime, when I see that someone needs help, I help.  And that has been a pretty cool way to spend my time :) 


Primacy- Recency is a very real issue in our rooms that we don't often consider when we plan.  This short pdf with graphics shows that our students' "prime learning time" begins about 5 minutes into a lesson, peaks at about 12 (that when you've really got them!) and then declines for awhile when we need to give them two-ish minutes of independent or partner chatting. Next, at about 17 minutes in, they have more prime time-- but then it only lasts for like, 5 minutes.  So, theoretically as masters of lesson pacing, we should be hitting the new concepts the hardest, with the material that is most literal at those "prime times". Food for thought....


Centers can be thought of in so many different ways sometimes it can be overwhelming if you don't commit your classroom to one process.  I am referring more to the planning process for the teacher than the experience for the students.  Basically I was preparing a presentation to show the teachers I'm working with, and I found myself outlining a writing center, word work center, independent reading center, etc.  Then I got to thinking even MORE, and realized that depending on the learning standards you're addressing and the way you want to plan out how often you change your centers to keep them engaging, you may want to make them all , say, about sight words or all about synonyms/antonyms.  So instead of kids rotating through writing with the teacher about their favorite color and then moving on to read to themselves about sharks, followed by highlighting sight words in a poem, they instead rotate to each center and each center is about sight words.  With the teacher, it's writing them, while at independent reading it is key rings with words on them. At the listening center, its reading the words to each other..... Sigh, so much to consider! Thoughts?


Consensograms are Cool-- and should be used in every room, I think :) I love that they can be visited before, during, and after a week of learning about a standard.  I love that there is a non-linguistic representation for the kids to see where they are in understanding with relationship to the whole group. They look awesome, too.  I will let the pics say the rest:  

Thanks for reading :) How was your week?  


Updated: Reading to Someone in Centers is Important! Make it Productive for the Students with a Structured Activity they can Facilitate for Themselves!

In Elementary teaching, whether in public schools or charter schools at some point during their instructional day have a Language Arts Block that includes small group instruction.  For us teachers, generally that means pulling leveled groups for guided reading or some form of it (reciprocal teaching, close reading, etc.), and for students it means rotating through learning "centers" or "stations" that should reinforce previously learned concepts based on Common Core Standards.  When deciding how to manage these small group and center times, teachers often seek out instructional practices such as "The Daily 5", which includes the following 5 types of learning centers:                                      
1. Working with Words
2.  Reading to Yourself
3.  Writing 
4. Reading to Someone
5. Listening to Reading

Now, whether you use The Daily 5 practice, or some other center titles to reinforce learning strands, it is fine by me.  However, do you indeed have a Read to Someone center?  And if so, do students know how to share that time together productively, or are they simply sitting with a book between them and talking about what they watched on TV last night?  As you have probably gathered, I have had experience with the latter :), and I figured out some things to help structure the students' time together in "Read to Someone".

Consider using "The Crazy Professor Reading Game" from Whole Brain Teaching.  It not only requires that a student read aloud, but also that they comprehend what they're reading to use their voice and hand hand gestures to convey the meaning of the text to the listener.  When they finish a page or chapter or topic, they then use their own comprehension skills to form a question they know the answer to, pose that question to their partner, and give feedback to their partner.  Then, the partner takes over and it all begins again.  The beauty of this is that neither one of the students has to compromise reading something at their own interest level, because they can each use a different book!  The purpose is quality of time spent on a passage of text that they refer gestures and questions back to--not getting through a whole text that they didn't choose themselves.  Below, you'll see the video made by Whole Brain Teaching that I use to introduce my students to their Read to Someone "Crazy Professor" game:

And, here is a video of what it looked like in my 4th grade classroom!  I want to emphasize something here: THIS CAN BE USED AT ANY GRADE LEVEL AS LONG AS THE STUDENTS HAVE CHOSEN BOOKS AT THEIR INDEPENDENT, RATHER THAN INSTRUCTIONAL READING LEVEL.  Even in 2nd grade, The students loved this time and were asking when they could do it next.  It motivates them because it allows them to exaggerate, be dramatic, and act silly with a friend.  Sorry it is sideways, no matter how I try to publish it, it rotates : /.

How do you structure your small group time?  Are you a rotation within your centers, or do the students rotate with their own set of centers to be pulled when you're ready?  What products of learning do you have your students turn in for centers and how often?  Does it make up a percentage of their grade?  Let me know your thoughts below!  I would love to hear if you try this game out, and how it works to motivate your kiddos!