Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Teacher Challenge - Just Sit Back and Enjoy...

...your students!

How often do you do it?  Be honest.  How often do you sit back and just enjoy those tiny people?

It seems that these days it's all about the urgency of things.  Teach with urgency.  Make every second count.  Rigor, rigor, rigor.

That's all fine and well - but what I want to challenge you to do is slow it down every now and then.  Set the urgency aside, ignore the data, stop taking notes and just sit back, watch the magic happening in your room, and just chat with your kiddos as they work and forget about the teaching point.

I hope you aren't taking what I'm saying the wrong way - I hope you don't think I'm discounting how important those aspects of our teaching are - because...they are important.

So, is enjoying your students as people.

If you don't enjoy them - they won't enjoy you or their learning.

So put down your pencil and your notebook.  


Laugh and love your students and your time together.

You might be surprised how much you learn about those little beings in your classroom - that you would have never noticed amidst the fervor...

So, grab a stool, lay on the floor - next to your students and bask in the the warmth of a day well spent - together, learning, smiling, ENJOYING your time together...

In that space...

...your classroom.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Perfect Teacher, Perfect Mom!

I had a friend email me the other day who was "bitten by the teaching bug" and is coming back into teaching after staying home with her own kiddos.  She's worried.  She's not sure how she's going to balance it all.  She's losing sleep over wanting to be everything to everyone...


Stop worrying, stop wondering, because I'm here to say...

You won't be everything to everyone...but you will find balance!

But wait, balance maybe isn't what you think it is - what so many people might believe it to be... 

Balance isn't doing it all.

Being the perfect teacher & perfect mom is what you make it.  If you expect to rise to the expectations that social media has perpetuated than you won't be happy in either role.  

If you set priorities that match who YOU are - you'll be surprised at how good you can feel about yourself and the job you're doing in each role that you may play...teacher, mother, wife, friend.

You need to also realize that your priorities ebb and flow they shift as the days go by.

Some days you are going to have to put school first.  Not all days. Just some days.  Report cards, planning that perfect lesson, worry about your struggling sweetheart will be in the forefront of your thoughts or consume hours of your time.  Don't worry about that because the village you've worked so hard to create for you and your family will support you and your children will be just fine.  You have to know that the stronger your village, the more people you accept into it and allow to help, the better example you are setting.  Not being in your own child's classroom helping out with the winter party, or being room mom, or there at pick-up each day, doesn't make you any less of a mom than the one who is able to be there.  Your own children will learn to reach out and accept other people into their world and will learn resiliency, acceptance & flourish in ways you maybe didn't realize they could - and it will make you smile when that mom comes up to you and says "Oh my word, your little guy is so {fill in the blank: kind, respectful, funny, sweet}" because they will -

Because your village cares!

There will be days that your heart and soul are with your own babies and you'll feel like you're short changing your students.  That's going to happen and it SHOULD happen!

You'll take a day off to help out at your kiddo's school, you'll miss a day to snuggle a sick one, you'll get to work right before the bell rings or leave "early".

That's what makes you the great mother and teacher that you are.  
It's your big heart and your desire to be your best.

You've worked so hard at creating a classroom culture that embraces hard work & kindness.  The parents of the students in your class know how dedicated you are to their children - so when your mind isn't 100 percent in that classroom - you'll see something wonderful happening in spite of that...your kiddos just keep doing their thing in the most magical of ways.  Or maybe they won't...maybe your day {or days - let's be real} will feel a little chaotic.  Oh well...that's a learning opportunity as well  Your students need to learn how to grow from situations that are less than perfect...because, c'mon - isn't that what this post is all about?  Life isn't always neat and tidy.

They WILL learn and WILL love you - no matter what!

So, don't worry!

You're going to drop balls...but you WILL pick each one back up when it's time. 

Balance isn't keeping all of the balls up in the air.
It really is knowing when to let one drop and feeling at peace with it.

You are doing wonderful things...even when you feel like you're not!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Why I Won't Quit Teaching and You Won't Either

It's all the buzz - it's gone viral more times than I can count.  You know what I'm talking about.  The "Why I Quit Teaching" videos, public letters, blog posts.  Honestly, I absolutely, 100%, without blinking, understand where these people are coming from.

I really do.

I'm in complete support of somebody who needs to make life changes.  If something in your world is dragging you down to the the point where it's impacting your health and well being - I stand behind you doing something - anything - to better your situation.

If quitting is "that thing", I'm behind you.  Do it.  If that's what will make you happy.  Just make sure it's what YOU really want and not what some legislator has made you THINK you want.

Me, on the other hand,  I just can't do it. Quit.  Oh, I've wanted to, more times than a person could keep track of.  I've said to my husband a 1,000 times over "I just can't do it anymore", "I can't take the stress", "The pressure is more than I can bear", "I can't end each day feeling like I didn't do enough, that I wasn't enough".  

Then I remember that old oak.

I am strong - so I look for that strength.

I find it and I say "You won't quit". 

I won't quit and maybe you won't either.

You're going to feel like quitting.  I know you will because the added pressures of this job make us feel like doing it.

Here's why we won't...

1.  We were put on this earth to teach.  

I really believe that.  I think teaching is a calling.  Don't let anybody or anything rob you of that.

2.  Teaching is more than just something you wake up each day and go do - it's something you feel in your heart of hearts - it's IN you...deep rooted like an old oak tree.

I really believe that.  C'mon, you're reading this blog on your "free time".  It's deep rooted in you too.

3.  We love it.

I really believe that.  Dig down REAL deep and remember why you went into teaching.  Granted, it wasn't for the test giving and data collection; but if you dig deep enough you'll remember that you love those "a-ha moments", you love making your students laugh.  You just love it. We really do. So, spend time each week just enjoying your kids.  Put down the anecdotal notes, quit collecting data and just enjoy the hum of your classroom and the coolness of your students.

4.  Office supplies.

Yes, I even believe that it can be as simple as that - office supplies are one reason we teachers teach.  Seriously, that pack of new flair pens and Scentos markers don't make YOU smile?  I've loved crayons, shuffling papers, organizing things since I was a little kid.  I bet you can say the same.  Office supplies are another reason I won't quit and you won't either!

5. Making a difference.

I know it sounds like a cliche but it's not, right?  Our world can be so ugly but what we do with our students isn't.  Brush aside the stuff you don't like and allow the beauty of what we proudly do shine through.  We know that we aren't just teaching the ABC's and 123's we're mentoring & motivating. Somebody who might have been on a path to nowhere is now on a path to ANYWHERE...because of US!!!!!

So, if you need to quit I get it. I do, and I would NEVER make you feel horrible for it.  I get that you need to think of yourself and your family.  


If there's even a small part of you that feels like you want to stick with it.  Do.  Please do.  

I am.

Let's stick together and hold onto this calling.

Be an oak.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Fifth Annual Pay it Forward Giveaway

Happy happy and merry merry to each and every one of you!
I started this giveaway five years ago. 
I love it!

To wake up each day, and have what you need to feel safe, taken care of, productive and happy is such an incredible blessing. I don't know if it's getting older that makes me feel this even more strongly - but every year that I do this Pay it Forward Giveaway I find myself feeling so overwhelmingly sad for anybody who struggles in such a way that it makes it hard for them to wake up each day and do what it takes to get through it.  Then, I sit here - in my cozy bed, on my computer and I'm just astonished at those who get by with much less and feel blessed anyway.  Our world and the people in it are just a wonder!

Each year, for the last five years, I've asked that you name a charity that is near and dear to your heart, in the comments below.  If you feel comfortable doing so, I'd like for you to share the reason for choosing this charity.  I think, in sharing your story, you can touch the hearts of so many.  We all walk this earth with a story in our hearts - having to endure the many storms that sometimes breeze by, others come at us like a tornado and still others almost rip us apart like a hurricane.  You just never know who your story will reach and whose life you may change - just by sharing it.  I like for you to do this in the comments with the hope that others may feel moved to share theirs and may also consider paying it forward themselves by choosing a charity to give to. 

This year, I'd like to give 100 dollars in your name or the name of someone special to you, to a charity of your choice.

We've given to several wonderful charities over the years.

Year One:

Year Two:

Year Three:

Year Four:

Thank you so much for entering this giveaway!

 I just can't think of a better giveaway - especially this time of year.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

I am so happy to tell you that a parent at my school contacted me and asked to match my donation.  That means $200 dollars has been donated to Black Dogs & Company Rescue!

That's what paying it forward is all about...


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Book Shopping for Read-to-Self {Daily 5}

Happy Weekend!

I hope life in your neck of the woods is as good as it is in mine!  

We are currently working on building our reading stamina for read-to-self and have read for an outstanding 17 minutes!  {15 minutes was our BIG goal}

We like to set small goals for ourselves in Room 8.  One goal was to read for 10 minutes straight and they did it.  Their reward?  First, to feel really good about themselves as readers and second, BOOK NOOKS!  

We talked about where we like to read when we were at home.  Many of our favorite reading spots were in bed, on the couch, in a big chair, under a blanket - lots of cozy places.  So it just makes sense to try and replicate that my classroom.

Since we are reading all over the room it's important to have easy access to our books so that we can spend time reading not getting books.  In our classroom we keep our books in personal "book shelves".  Before we head off to our book nooks we grab our bookshelves and get started right away.

Each Friday we go "book shopping" so that our bookshelves are ready to go each Monday {We do Daily 4 Monday-Thursday and read-to-someone on Fridays; along with our book shopping}.  I've used this system for years and it works perfectly for me.

I've had some teachers ask what book shopping looks like in my classroom so I thought I'd take a minute to share that process.  I introduced it a couple of weeks ago and it's already going  WONDERFULLY!

I know that the whole idea of students finding just right books can be a hot topic but I feel pretty comfortable with how I approach this.  We talk about I-PICK before our first experience with book shopping.  I found a great anchor chart that I love to share with my students {here}.  After I feel like I've adequately modeled how to LOOK for books rather than just grabbing books -  I move on to the logistics of book shopping.

I have a certain area in my classroom that has my leveled books in it {it's the only part of my classroom library that is leveled - the rest of my library is organized by genre, author, theme, etc.}. Each basket is organized by Fountas and Pinell levels as well as reading recovery. Our lending library that we use for guided reading groups uses both levels on many books so I do too.

Each student in my class is assigned a number.  They use this number for everything: mailboxes, lining up, clip chart, etc.  They also have a numbered "book shelf" where they house a whisper phone, pencil, reading folder, handwriting workbook, writing journal, headphones and the books they read for read-to-self.

Here is our leveled library...

I have found each child instructional reading level and give them their "magic number/letter" which is two levels below their instructional level.  This ensures that they'll know 99 if not 100 percent of the words in the books they read during read-to-self.

Once everybody knows their magic number/letter, have their personal bookshelf and have learned about I-PICK - I talk with them about how book shopping looks.  Of course you have to do the whole incorrect/correct model.

Sometimes this process takes a couple of days sometimes it takes a week - it totally depends on the class.  Once all of the pieces are in place it's time to put it all together.

Here's what I do...

*I call one table at a time to get their bookshelf and bring it back to their table spot
*They pull out their five bookshelf books from the week and put them in a pile in front of them
*I pull the two baskets for each level {one at a time} and set them somewhere randomly in our room
*The students who shop from that basket carry their five books over and place them back in the basket
*They go back at get their bookshelf and bring it over to their leveled bins
*They use IPICK to choose 5 new books for the following week
*As they are shopping, I'm quietly saying reminders "I'm taking a picture walk, not reading", "I'm looking to see if I'm interested in this story", "I'm choosing books I think I will comprehend", etc.
{I also have my I-Pick poster up on the SmartBoard}

*After they have chosen their five books, they put their bookshelf back on the counter and find something smart/quiet to do at their tables - waiting for everyone to finish

Eventually, we'll talk about finding good fit books using the "five finger rule". I know that books are not always leveled {library, bookstore, etc.} so I do want my kiddos to have the opportunity to choose books that are at their reading level - so I will soon have them choose two "dessert books" from our un-leveled portion of our class library.  

I pinned a helpful {and cute} Five Finger Rule poster on my Daily 5 Pinterest Board
I've heard that book shopping can be chaotic and overwhelming for some teachers.  I hope this post helped - just keep in mind that how I do it may not work for you. Sometimes it's all trial and error and eventually you find what works.  Good luck and HAPPY SHOPPING!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Mystery First Grader {Classroom Management} *Freebie*

Close your eyes...

Picture the end of the school day....

What does it sound like?

What does it look like?

Did you break into a cold sweat just thinking about it?

It doesn't have to be that way!  You can find calm at the end of an otherwise chaotic part of the day if you choose a MYSTERY FIRST GRADER!

I know this simple idea is nothing new...or maybe it is?  I don't know, but it's one that I've used for years and it works like a charm.

Some might call it bribery - I call it genius.

Here's how it works:

*You announce that you'll be picking your mystery first grader

*You eyeball the room dramatically

*You mention that you'll be locking this person's face and name in your mind and they will never know who it is - until the very end of the day

*Pause for dramatic effect

*Eyeball the room one last time and then emphatically nod your head saying "Yup, they're in my brain and there they'll stay while I watch your every last move as you pack up for the end of the day".

*More pausing, nodding, smirking

And then they get ready...

Every minute or so you say something like...

"Oh my, my Mystery First Grader is _________________{doing a great job, having a hard time but I know they'll do better now, remembering to do everything they need to do, has it goin' on, etc. etc.}"

Mostly it's magical.  Mostly they are putty in your hands.  

Disclaimer:  Unless you were completely caught up in a science experiment, looked up and noticed the bell was going to ring in two minutes.  Then all bets are off.  You're outta luck.  It's the mad dash and Mystery First Grader can't slow down the hands of time - it's going to be frantic no matter what you do.  Some days are like that.

Keep a checklist handy so that you give everyone a fair shake at being your MFG.

I have a treasure basket filled with small items donated by my kids, parents, friends & neighbors. 
Or you could just give them a "Wowie Zowie".  Or both.  Or nothing but a bravo and a class cheer.  It's up to you!

Click the picture to download.
May the end of your days be full of peace and smiles!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Brain Breaks {Not the GoNoodle Kind}

Hey!!  There is life on the other side of this computer - I AM here!

I got a lovely message from my dear friend Patty over at 2nd In Line telling me that a teacher in her district had sent out an email referring them to my blog to read about how GREAT they are!  If you read that post you'll see that it has been quite a while since I last blogged. 

No excuses.  Just life.

That little bit of happy, from Patty,  motivated me to get back to it...

So, here I am!

Well, I hope with this new school year, you've been able to hold on to those good feelings you gathered over the summer months - relaxing, pinning, blogging, Periscoping {don't know what that is - check it out here}, and all those other things us teachers do during those glorious long summer days.

I know it can take one staff meeting and you feel like the weight of the world is back on your shoulders.  I CANNOT urge you enough to hop on social media.  Facebook, Instagram, Periscope, Blab.im {outside of Instagram, that's my personal favorite - google it!} to help you focus on the POSITIVES in our profession.  I swear to you, I don't know if I would still be teaching if it weren't for the positive energy I glean from all my online teacher friends/colleagues.

But, that's not why I'm here...

I wanted to share a magical part of our day.  Magical in the quiet, non-academic sort of way.

I pride myself on classroom management. It is one area that I can say, with a smile on my face and 100 percent confidence, that I rock the house.

Think about right after recess.  What does your classroom sound like?  Do tattles abound {even though it has already been handled on the playground by an adult}?  Do the acceptable noise levels of a school playground follow your students into your classroom?  Do you hear yourself saying "quiet down boys and girls, QUIET DOWN - you are NOT outside anymore, you are in a classroom", over and over?  Does it take, what seems like forever, for them to calm themselves down and get ready for the rest of the day?

I don't have that problem.  EVER.
{disclaimer: full moons, party days, random "what on earth" days excluded}

Okay, at first I do.  Like, say, for the first few days of school - but with lots of practice and training, I don't; and here's why:

That's one of our schedule cards that hangs on our agenda each day.  You can pick my schedule cards up {here}for free. It's almost just that simple.

Name it.

That's what I did, I named it.  I gave that time of day an official name - like math, science, social studies {all have clear expectations} we have "brain break" with lots of expectations that we practice over and over and over.

I tell my first graders that the minute their first foot walks through the door, their voices turn off, and they sit down, drink from their water bottles, take their turn to use the restroom, and focus on their breathing.  Some put their heads down, some stare off into space, some find an object to focus on and "smell the soup, cool it down" {how we slow our breathing down}.  

And the lights?  Make sure they are all off! {I spray some cinnamon air freshener right before they come into the classroom.  I'm not sure if cinnamon is an official calming smell - but I like it - it calms me down...so I like to think "happy teacher, happy classroom".}

The whole first part of the brain break I speak calmly and quietly - reminding them of what they should be doing.  I sound so calm...I want to fall asleep. All the while, I'm reminding them that their engines were running really fast outside but now that they are inside they want to slow them down by slowing down their breathing, drinking water, etc.  First graders need to be taught HOW to calm themselves down.  Every single day I go over some techniques for how to go about doing that.

It's magical.

I still have little ones who try to come up to me about a recess problem and I'll quickly {and ever so quietly} say "Did you tell a noon-aide" and if they did - I quietly motion them back to their seats.  Soon, they realize they can't come into the classroom with a tattle/recess problem.  I am always sure to ask if they told an adult outside - because I don't want to dismiss something serious that is happening outside that may deserve some attention.

Naming this time, setting the expectations for this time, practicing the right way and stopping them when it's the wrong way has made a world of difference.

Our afternoons aren't perfect...but after taking the time to calm ourselves and get our bodies ready for an afternoon of serious learning - they are better.

And then there's always GoNoodle...

...for after science

...and math

...and social studies


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Are You a Great Teacher?

What kind of teacher would you say you are?  A great one?  Dynamic?  Getting there?  A work in progress?  All of the above?

I talk to so many educators and many of them are self deprecating by nature.  You know, you compliment them on something they did, an idea they shared and they can be so quick to point out the error of their ways.  

Are teachers just humble to a fault or do they truly believe to their core that they aren't really as good at this gig as they want to be, or aren't rockin' it out like their teacher-neighbor, or that blogger that really seems to know their stuff?

Do you know the saying... "Comparison is the thief of joy?"

You see that teacher that you think is "highly effective" or "innovating" and you think...

"Gosh, I'm not doing enough."

I have a lot of teachers in my life.  My husband is a teacher.  Many of my dearest friends are teachers. I engage in a lot of teacher conversations.  A LOT.  

Like so many of you, teaching is more than a profession; it's a hobby.

Mostly, the conversations I have are enlightening, fun, interesting and motivating...

But sometimes they can be disheartening.  I've heard teachers say they would never encourage another person to go into this field.  While, I understand that - because I do, I urge them to dig really deep inside and remember WHY they chose this profession. It wasn't for the kudos and accolades it was because they love children and want to help them move the mountains in their lives.

Another comment I hear SO often is that more and more they end their days not feeling like they did enough and this feeling has become more and more overwhelming.  

Whether you're a teacher or not, I'm sure we can all appreciate that to-do list that goes on for weeks.  A day will end and you'll find yourself thinking there are never enough hours.  Right?  
We can all relate.  

Real talk here...

I think it's not so much the physical things that are weighing some teachers down - like cleaning your desk, filing papers, grading work - I think it's the heavy feeling of ending each day and thinking you didn't reach enough students.  Not that this is anything new - I mean, we've always felt like we could DO more...but the shift is that we may end our days feeling like we DIDN'T DO ENOUGH for our students.  That's different - do you see that?  That effects your mindset.

Years ago, I might end my days thinking, "Man, that science lesson was so awesome it went long and I didn't have time to do social studies.  Oh well, I'll get to that tomorrow."  To me, that was a good thing - I went with the teachable moment.  Now, it seems that if we don't get to every lesson we're harder on ourselves - like somehow we've shortchanged our students and need to work harder to 
"do it all." 

I urge you to flip your thinking.

You ARE doing the best that you can.  It still is about the teachable moment.  You may not get to everything and that means you are a fantastic teacher.

No teacher does it all, all of the time.
{even bloggers}

Be forgiving of yourself and know that while it's important to hone your craft and look for ways to fit more in and maximize your time...

It's also important to realize you are awesome. Don't compare and if you do use it to your benefit - to motivate and inspire you to move your own mountains.

Are you a great teacher?


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Chocolate Milk, Por Favor! {Book Tour & Giveaway}

Guess what?

Michigan author, Maria Dismondy, has done it again - made the lives of countless kiddos BETTER...and our teaching lives easier!

She has written another book...and I'm so happy for that! 

If you're not familiar with her work - Maria Dismondy focuses on writing stories that help children navigate this social world of ours.  As teachers, we know that there is much more to our job than the ABC's and 123's.  We are also responsible for helping our little ones understand one another as human beings.  WOW - that's a daunting task - but one made easier with the help of Maria's books.

Such rich discussion can take place before, during and after a read aloud.  Chocolate Milk, Por Favor! is about two young boys, Johnny and Gabe.  Johnny loved school until Gabe entered into the picture.  Gabe doesn't speak English and Johnny has a hard time accepting Gabe with his differences.  As the story progresses; Johnny learns a lesson about empathy and he and Gabe become friends who are able to accept and celebrate their individuality.  

After I read this story to my first graders here's what they had to say...

Character education is part of a well-rounded classroom climate. I know sometimes it's hard to fit it all in - I'm right there with you.  That's why I like incorporating it into my daily read alouds.  
Maria's other books {here} can help you with that.

To get you started Maria has offered to give away one signed copy of Chocolate Milk, Por Favor! 

Because my first graders are so invested in this book and the lessons they learn from all of Maria's books, I'm going to ask that you give one piece of advice to my kiddos, in the comments below, that can help them be a good friend to others.  We {my first graders} will randomly choose one winner on April 20th! {Please include your email address with your comment}.

Next up on the blog tour...

Erin Klein at Kleinspiration


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Book Study: Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: Chapter 11 {Music, Rhythm, Rhyme & Rap}

I'm linking up with Rachelle and Natalie over at What the Teacher Wants to talk about chapter 11 in Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites.

I think I may have said that chapters 9 & 10 were right up my alley - well, so is this one!
They don't call me DJ Jazzy Wazy for nothing..
Okay - they don't actually call me that...but they SHOULD!

Strategy 11:
Music, Rhythm, Rhyme & Rap

"Music has the remarkable ability to energize, relax, set the daily mood, stimulate student brains, inspire, and make learning fun." {Jensen, 2009a}

Holy powerful!  WOW!  That quote right there says it all.  I mean, really, "relax and energize", "inspire and make fun". You name the tone you are trying to set and music can help with that.  
That's just how powerful music is!

I use music a ton in my classroom.  Whether it be during a brain break, a transition, during a quiet calm work time, to have fun, as a celebration, to help us learn new concepts or review previous ones - seriously, I use music CONSTANTLY!

I'm not much of a singer, so I do rely mostly on the professionals when singing in my room, but you do know that our students don't really care about that, right?  So, I will break into song or rap if the situation warrants...{i.e. nobody is listening, all you know what has broke loose, I'm just feelin' it...}

I have so many songs/artists - I thought I'd share some so you can add them to your repertoire!

In no particular order...
We listen to this during writer's workshop.  For some reason I don't play music during reader's workshop.
We listen to all the songs on this album - I typed up the lyrics and put them on my SmartBoard because so many of them teach a lesson.  Some of our favorites:
Read a Book {that's our cue that it's time for reader's workshop}
All the Way Around the World {our cue that it's writer's workshop}
Itchy Itchy, Owie Owie, Boo Boo {clean up time after various activities}

There are so many of "these" that you can find on YouTube - from music set with a fire burning in a fireplace, to sea-side music.  I just search until I find one that I like.  This is a great one to use when we come in from outdoor recess in the spring time.  Lights out, heads down - a wonderfully calming way to give our little bodies/brains a break.

I have a whole collection of Kidz Bop from my own boys - we like to listen to these when doing "Ketchup and Mustard".
Need to teach a certain concept and you want it to stick?  Harry Kindergarten is your man!  Many songs are free on YouTube!
I love this blog post over at Scholastic - Mr. Vasicek put a lot of thought into the songs he uses and when he uses them.  You'll want to check out this post - because I downloaded most of the songs he suggested and will use them throughout the day.  
I just love Rockabye Baby!  Have a favorite music artist? Rockabye Baby may have just turned one of favorites into an album of lullabies.  Great to use during calming brain breaks.
Another YouTube favorite of mine - I love their ABC songs - I use these at the beginning of the year as a review - but also throughout the year when working on handwriting.
I still have this one on CD - I've owned this CD since it originally came out.  Enya is just good for the soul!
The Learning Station is a favorite of mine because they have a lot of "call and response" type songs.  These are great working those listening muscles!

I hope the list of above gave you a few to add to your bag of tricks - having a variety of musical artists/genres is as important as the eclectic choice of books in your classroom reading library.

"Change the music during a learning episode.  Set an emotional mood before class starts, upbeat tunes for moving around the room, music appropriate to the task during seatwork, and positive music at the end of the class." {Sousa, 2006}

One way I'd like to improve is by incorporating music more authentically by encouraging my students to create their own raps, rhythms and rhymes for various concepts.  I'm already seeing this as a work on writing activity during Daily 5!

How do you use music in your classroom?  Do you have any favorites that you'd like to share?

Go visit What the Teacher Wants to see what other teachers shared!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Book Study: Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: Chapters 9 & 10 {Mnemonic Devices, Movement}

Happy Spring Break!

We are having a staycation 'round these parts - and honestly, I couldn't be happier.  Instead of rays - I'm hoping to soak up a lot of laziness, relaxation, snuggles & Netflix! 

I'm linking up with a fellow "Holly" over at Mrs. Ehle's Kindergarten to discuss chapters 9 & 10.  These chapters were right up my alley because THIS is how I learn.  I might not be a graphic organizer kinda thinker slash learner - but mnemonics and movement...KA-CHING! 

Strategy 9:

"Mnemonic techniques are time-tested activities that enable students to recall and use material without conscious efforts from the brain." {Mayer, 2003}

There aren't a whole lot of specifics {aside from those personal stories my teachers told about themselves} that I remember from my days in school.  I do, however, remember:

...and so many others!

One I STILL use today!

Just this year, I had one of our parapros say to me "I was working with some of your previous first graders and they shared with me how they will never forget how to spell the words "would, could, should"

Click to grab!

That just goes to show how powerful those mnemonics are!

Strategy 10:

Getting those kiddos moving is so important and that's what this strategy is all about!

"Any task learned when we are physically engaged in doing it remains in our memory for a very long time. {Allen, 2008}

"Because physical movement increases the energy of students, it, therefore, enhances their engagement." {Marzano, 2007}

"Movement not only enhances learning and memory but it also causes neural connections to become stronger." {Hannaford, 2005}

I could just keep pulling quotes from this chapter.  Movement is essential to learning in any classroom - young and old!  I've been Brain Breaking before "GoNoodle" even existed.  HA!
...but thank goodness for those folks at GoNoodle - why didn't I think of that?

Circa: 2013
I'm great at incorporating movement in the form of a brain break in my classroom - but where I'd like to improve is incorporating it into my actual teaching/student learning more often.

I'm sure you've heard of  Whole Brain Teaching.  I've read up on WBT quite a bit and after much hemming and hawing - it's not for me - not in its entirety, anyway {It's a little too robotic for me}.  There are pieces of it that I really like and believe in.  Much like mnemonic devices, I think involving movements as we learn engages the brain and increases retention of new concepts.  There are a few techniques that Whole Brain Teachers use that I use as well...

Blow it in Your Hand/Release - I'll have my students go eye-to-eye, knee-to-knee with one another and share their thinking.  Once they've firmed up their thinking I'll have them whisper/blow the answer into their hand and then release it - by saying the answer out loud.

Just the other day we were talking about decomposing numbers.  When we said "decompose means break apart" we pretended to break something apart with our hands.  The next time I asked them what decompose meant I had several that quickly made the motion.

There's a song we sing about living or nonliving things that we've been singing for years.  I wish I knew who originally wrote it but it goes like this...

Tune: Yankee Doodle

Living or nonliving things,
Now which one will it be?
If something is to stay alive,
It has some special needs.

Give it food and water,

And lots of air to breathe.
It also may need space to grow,
And sunlight for its leaves.

Each year my kiddos love singing this song and creating movements to go along with it.  When I give the test at the end of the unit - without fail, I see kids making the movements to this song and whispering the words when they come to the part of the test where they have to list things that living things need.

"The one most detrimental barrier to learning and recall of information may be a teacher's deliberate attempt to stop students from moving." {Jensen, 2002}

My goal is to incorporate even MORE movement into my teaching/student learning.  Here are a few bloggers who are Whole Brain Teaching gurus that I'm hoping to pull a few more ideas from.

Mrs. Shipley's Whole Brain Classroom

Whole Brain Teaching With Style

Teaching and Learning Together

I'm curious how you incorporate mnemonics and movement into your classroom?

If you are a Whole Brain Teacher I would REALLY love if you would share why you like it so much, how much you incorporate the techniques into your day, and anything else you might want to share.

Go check out Mrs. Ehle's Kindergarten Connections   and read what she has to say about these two strategies as well as what others have to say in the linky!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Book Study: Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: Chapter 7 {Manipulatives, Experiments, Labs & Models}

I'm linking up with Deanna Jump over at Mrs. Jump's Class to talk about Chapter 7! I love this chapter!  I love it so much because I think had I been taught this way I would have done a MUCH better job in school! {One of the reasons I became a teacher}

Strategy 7:
Manipulatives, Experiments, Labs and Models

The chapter started off with a story about the author's daughter doing very well in her chemistry labs but not very well on the paper/pencil tests.  


Okay...I'm having a Twilight Zone moment....

Just today, we were dealing with this as a family.  My son, who is in 7th grade, found out he received a C- on his final in Art class.  He received A's all along on every other project - but since this final exam counts for 30 percent of his grade - he'll receive a B in the class.
I know - a B is fine - it's not the letter grade that we are most concerned with - it's the message that was sent to our 7th grader - grades aren't always fair and definitely aren't always reflective of your hard work and your skills.

Marcia Tate said "...when is the last time a chemist walked into a laboratory, sat down, and completed a worksheet or took a paper and pencil test?"

...and I can say the same for artists.

In his teacher's defense - I'm going to guess she wishes she didn't have to give grades like this either.

Moving on...{I will not send her an email, I will not send her an email}

We use manipulatives a TON!  I wouldn't know how to teach without them. 

These letters are from TouchTronic 

One of our math workshop stations - pattern block reflections

Bins are loaded with manipulatives for math workshop

Learning about shapes - using....shapes!

What better way to learn about plants then to plant some grass?
"When students use manipulatives over a long period, they make gains in verbalizing their thinking, discussing ideas, taking ownership, and gaining confidence in independently finding answers to problems.} {Sebesta & Martin, 2004}


On my Pinterest Math Wizard board I pinned a few manipulative finds that I really liked because many of them are DIY - we all know those manips can be expensive!

Sources: Learn, Play, Imagine
Rachel K Tutoring Blog

Where I need to improve is having them out year round so they are just part of what we do and how we roll - like an appendage.  

I found these awesome "math action cards" that I'm thinking about purchasing.  I think constant use of these manipulatives can only increase their learning value and help students understand that they can be used for any learning situation THEY deem them necessary.

Do you use manipulatives?
Which ones are your favorites?

Visit Mrs. Jump's Class to see what others are saying about this strategy and join in the conversation!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Book Study: Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: Chapter 6 {Humor }

I'm linking up with Amanda over at One Extra Degree to discuss chapter 6!  
Before I go on...I'm happy to admit we did a graphic organizer together, just yesterday, for one of our guided reading group books!  I've gotta tell you, it really solidified what we were reading. It really helped us organize our thinking!

Oh, gracious, she 'aint pretty - but I did 'er!
And doggone it - some little critter erased my "can, have, are"!
Strategy 6:

"Research shows that jokes, riddles, celebrations, and other forms of positive interaction not only create a positive learning environment but may also facilitate learning itself." {Allen, 2008; Jensen, 2007}

This chapter is RIGHT up my alley!  I don't know where I'd be without humor!!!! {probably curled up in a ball crying for my mommy}

You've seen this little guy on my blog before - it's meant to keep an eye on me.
I might be known to pull a prank or two at school.  I do have some accomplices though!  

 "Effective classrooms are alive with positive emotion, anticipation of novel experiences, the excitement of discovery, and celebrations of success." {Allen, 2008}

I have two boys of my own and as they outgrow Halloween costumes they make their way into my classroom.  You just never know when one might come out in the middle of a lesson.  I sort of feel like Superman - I dig deep in my closet and come out with something like this.  I realize this might not be your shtick - but I tell you; you put a beard on and they are putty in your hands!

I've used the magic hat, wand and beard to teach my students how to listen for those "magic words" in number stories {i.e. how many are left, how many in all, etc.}, I've threatened to turn them into goons if they didn't turn on their listening ears - you name it, and this get-up WORKS!

"What we learn with pleasure, we never forget." {Allen, 2008}

I've got a bin FULL of goodies!
Turkey, Firefighter, Old Man, Pom Poms
Capes, Hulk, Ninjas, Soccer Ball Hat

Who doesn't love a good joke, riddle or funny book!?

"Having laughter breaks in class increases the flow of positive neurotransmitters, which are necessary for alertness and memory." {Jensen, 2007}

I've got a stockpile of joke books - but I tell you, if you haven't allowed your little ones to make up their own - you have been missing out.  Sometimes we'll take a little break and read from my wide array of books - but other times, we just do an open mic kinda deal - and holy moly, I might laugh louder than my first graders! 

Of course there's GoNoodle - specifically KooKoo Kangaroo - those guys make me giggle like no other!  We like to switch up our brain breaks with a little song/dance and some jokes, riddles - both are great for those noggins and really buy you some time in the learning/teaching department.  Consider it an investment!

Might I suggest an accent?  This book is fun to "round up the rhymes" with.  It's full of rhyming words that you can record on chart paper and then look at spelling patterns {or notice that not all words that rhyme have the same spelling pattern}.  I like to read this one with a southern accent...which I do REALLY badly!!!  But you can't round up the rhymes without sounding like yer a cowboy, y'all!

And my "smart glasses" - We can't forget zee smart glassees...complete with accent.
Trust me when I say, you will get through a whole lesson with your students hanging on
to your every last word if you do it with an accent.  These glasses help for some reason - Dollar Tree!

I've got a confession.  I think I'm pretty funny.  Sometimes I think I'm as funny as Ellen.  Like, I will giggle at myself and sometimes wish there was a hidden camera in my classroom - because Ellen
would invite me on her show if there were.  

Humor can come at the least expected of times -and honestly, if it's not in your nature to be silly/funny, I have to tell you - I'm not sure you can stick it in your lesson plans and pre-plan it. Maybe you can.  I can't...usually the mood just strikes. 

Like here...

I bought this little arm/hand thingy at the dollar store.  It has a magnet on it and it's a spinner.  Thought that guy would be mighty handy - except it doesn't work {on an upright surface}.  Every time you spin it, it lands in the same place.  Soooooo....you choose the word, say a fill in the blank sentence, spin the spinner...

Mrs. W. is ________________ {awesome}

Learning is ________________ {awesome}

The other day our word of choice was "macaroni".

Math is {spin the spinner}...MACARONI - oh the laughter!

Even if you aren't a stand-up comedian...anything silly you do or say, your kids will LOVE!

Ever drop a pencil? Giggles.
Write the wrong date? Laughter!
Forget something? All out chuckles!!

It doesn't take much, people.

And there's Yurtle - how can you not smile at a turtle tent?

My take away?  I'd like to find more ways to incorporate humor into our actual learning activities.

 Where are you in the humor department?  Deserve your own show? 
 Or are you the more sweet and quiet type?

Go visit One Extra Degree to join the linky and see what others have to say about humor in the classroom!

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