Friday, April 1, 2016

Top 5 Tips For Creating Classroom Community

I've been teaching for 4 years, all of which have been third grade.    Although I have only been teaching for 4 years, I feel like I've been doing it forever.  I got my start teaching in a rural village in Alaska, have experience charter school teaching, and now an urban school district in Indiana. Despite all these experiences all having their own rewards and challenges, one thing I've learned to be true.

A classroom cannot and will not be successful if you don't invest the time into creating a classroom community.  It sets the precedence for just about everything that happens in that room.  Especially if you want to have your students work together.  Student collaboration begins with a strong classroom culture.  It begins on day 1, when the teacher begins the school year with the mindset that the classroom is a community of learners and not just a performer with a captive audience.  I start every year telling the kids that this year is one to not just make friends and learn, but it's one spent becoming family and getting smarter.  From day 1, the students need to feel supported and safe to be themselves before they can be expected to work with others.  


#1: Classroom Layout/Set Up
Because I'm obsessed with  a big fan of Debbie Diller, you should check out her book Spaces and Places.
I may or may not have actually met her and had her sign my book when I was a junior in college!  #starstruck
The biggest thing you can take away from reading her book is you have to be intentional when you set up your classroom.  Ask yourself these questions... "Do you want to be the center of their attention?  Do you want them to be able to talk to one another and collaberate?"  Once you've figured out the answers to these questions, start setting up your room so it allows for what you want/expect.

I have two go to set ups when I'm preparing my classrooms.   Pods and the U.

Let's start with Pods first.
PROS:  It's one of my favorite set ups! Pods allow students to work with partners naturally.  You can easily just say, "Get with your shoulder partner!" or "Talk to your nose partner!"  When the lesson plan calls for students to work together in groups, they're already there.  It also creates a community because you can easily reward positive behavior for each of the groups using table points.  
CONS:  There is possibility for distractions.  If you're not careful with your seating plan and/or not strong with your classroom management then groups can get loud and off-task pretty easily as they are next to and across from one another.  Also you need to make sure you're not always teaching in the front of the classroom with this set up.  The back groups will feel left out of the action and might get off task.  
Helpful Hints: Set up the groups using academic background information to spread out High, Medium, Low students.  My school district gives the classroom teacher their students abilities within the first two weeks of school which helps me put these pods together. 

Then there's The U.
PROS:  This set up is used so much in the adult world to allow for collaberation! The U still allows for collaboration naturally.  If you double up the outside rows You can easily just say, "Get with your shoulder partner!" or "Talk to your nose partner!" The U also can be helpful when splitting the class into a half for whole group games or debates. Take notice in the picture it is really great if you do activities like "SCOOT" or "AROUND THE WORLD"because the movement is natural between the seats.  Last but not least, most of the time their attention will be at the front of the classroom because of the set up, so if you're a front of the room teacher this works well.  
CONS:  There is possibility for distractions.  If you're not careful with your seating plan and/or not strong with your classroom management then groups can get loud and off-task pretty easily as they are next to and across from one another.  If you're a roaming teacher it can be hard to get to students without going around the whole room.
Helpful Hints: Set up the classroom expectations that when you want undivided attention they have to scoot away from their desks.  Keep engagement high so that they're more excited in learning than talking to all their friends. 

#2: Controlled Noise
"You want me to WHAT???"
Lots of teachers really have difficulty with student collaboration because of the noise levels that accompany it.  But, the benefits of student collaboration WAY out weigh the drawback of noise in the room.  If you ask me if the students are talking about their learning then true learning is happeneing.  That being said, the noise must be constructive and controlled.   They can't be talking about their favorite tv show or what they want for lunch.  It's gotta be about the objective and lesson at hand. You're probably asking yourself, "HOW THE HECK DO YOU DO THAT?" and that's where modeling, practice, and feedback come in.  

Post sound levels around the room!
Visuals and expectations in the classroom are EVERYTHING.  The first 2 weeks of my school year should be spent teaching the students voice levels and what good collaboration looks like.  They need to be taught what group work sounds and looks like.  I LOVED the sign from Tricia Lyday.  Easy way to incorporate this in your classroom is to write on the board what kind of talk you want to hear.  Or if you have a similar poster take clothespin or magnet and move it when the voice level needs to change.  Another important part of student collaboration is that students need to be taught how to give constructive feedback and how to be good conversationalists.   Recently my class incorporated marshmallows and conversation.  I gave them a list of topics and they took turns using the marshmallows as talking chips.  Super engaging and fun.  They even self monitored when they interrupted by giving away one of their marshmallows.

#3:  Jobs/Expectations
If you were paying attention to #2, you might have noticed I talked a lot about modeling and feedback.  once students are competent you need to make it an expectation in the classroom.  Easy ways to do that is have jobs for each of your students to help with monitoring their collaboration.  In a group activity require a talking police, recorder, reporter, and leader.  In a partnership require the students to give out the feedback based on the work their partner produces. (Example:  If your partner got it right give them a high-five and tell them specifically what they did well.  If they got it wrong give them ways to improve.)  So much meta-cognition happens when students are helping one another.  And they're super engaged!

#4:  Put It in Your Lesson
Student collaboration doesn't happen unless you plan for it.  I'm serious!  Allow for these opportunities in your classroom by writing it in your lesson plans.  If you teach using the gradual release (I Do, We Do, You Do method) this will be an easy tranistion and can be put in your We Do part of the lesson.

Quick Tip:  After you've taught the concept allow students to work with a partner to practice the skill before they do it independently.  Or give the groups a task they need complete to practice the lesson's objective.  If you can get the kids motivated, you can get them to do anything.  When trying to get students in elementary to work with groups, you have to make sure the task is something the students can all get excited about because that may be the initial push they need to work with other peers.  In years past this was done by creating opportunities for competition or games.

Grouping Ideas:  In my classroom we have different ways of creating groups such as putting ketchup and mustard  partners together.  They will then receive a handout split into two sides. One person solves a problem on their side first while the other watches and gives feedback.  Then they switch.  During this time you're circulating, giving feedback, and receiving formative data about their skill levels.
Handout Modified from
#5: Tech Engagement:
Put an iPad in front a kid you can pretty much guarantee they're going to love whatever you tell them to do.  But if you put an task that involves a partner and an iPad, you've got real engagement and fun stuff happening.  One of the big ways I make student collaboration happen is by having my students use QR codes on task cards.  I require that they solve the task/problem with their partner and check their work by scanning the code.  They then have to check their work and give each other feedback.  You can incorporate other activities like having them create a group presentation while recording one another.
Activity found:
WHEW!  That was a long list of ways I make student collaboration happen in my classroom.  What about you?  I LOVE hearing new ways to make learning engaging and collaborative.  Leave a comment below.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Top 3 ELA sites That No One Is Talking About

I am in love with finding new resources that help my class be the best it can be in reading math etc.  Today I'm bringing to you some of my ABSOLUTE favorite sites that not too many teachers know about.  Take some time over your upcoming summer break to check out these FREE... yes you heard right... FREE ELA websites!
Newsela site might as well be the best educational site under the sun in my opinion.  
First and foremost their tagline is

"Read closely.  Think critically. Be worldly."

The premise of Newsela is to provide students with current event articles that are all the same content but can be presented at different Lexile levels.  Sometimes it'll range from 2nd all the way up to 12th!

I love giving my kids a text that is about the same topic but provides enough challenge for each kid.  Plus the topics are about everything under the sun.  Sometimes I'll choose stories based text structures, stories we're reading, or even student interest.  What's even cooler is the fact that these are real new stories from national papers that have been rewritten for different levels.

My class has used both the online and printable version.  It's super helpful when you're trying to teach your kids about text structures and you want them to practice marking up the text.  They come with quizzes that test critical thinking and close reading strategies... What more could you want?

If you're looking for a reading site for your upper elementary students... get to this site NOW!  Readtheory is an online reading comprehension site that offers activities for all ages and ability levels.  You heard me ALL!

The site adapts to each students levels and moves with them to provide the best instruction!  Talk about differentiation.  I love that after the students enter their answers they have the opportunity to see the justification for the correct answers.  Talk about higher order thinking!  Plus the kids get motivated because the text topics are always changing and they're receiving points for correct answers.

It also provides teachers with extremely helpful and meaningful data.  I love seeing my kids scores graphed for me.  I get a progress report every time I log in.  It helps me with tracking their progress which is super helpful when it comes to planning for intervention time.  

TGFR!  (Thank God For Readworks)

Readworks is a wonderful reading comprehension must have!  It's a site that provides research-based units, lesson plans, and authentic, leveled passages.  It's aligned to Common Core and state standards for all 50 states!  Best of all there is something for just about every skill and strategy.  

The units are great because they pair mentor texts with passages to best meet what you need to teach.  For example if you're working on Main Idea and Details, you can use your Snowflake Bentley read aloud along with their lesson.  You can then have them apply that lesson on their paired passage.  The unit comes with a plan, standard alignment, any materials, and passage.  

The passages are my favorite part!  Aside from being there being fiction and non-fiction choices, there are a ton of topics to choose from.  You can choose how it's leveled as well as the skill you want to focus on.  You can choose the formatting of the text as well as questions you want the students to answer.   My go to is always including short response questions to help with applied skills testing in the 3rd grade.

So I shared about the Top 3 ELA Sites No One Is Talking About... what are you favorites?  Anything else we should know about??

With Love,

Monday, March 28, 2016

Get Your Stuff Together by Friday

 I am not a very organized person in general.  Ask anyone who knows, loves, lives, or works with me.  It think it has something to do with being creative and type B oriented.  Whatever the cause I've learned ways to cope with my lack of organization that help me survive thrive in my classroom.  

I affectionately call it GYSTF.... (Get Your Stuff Together by Friday).  
All you need is a crate, hanging folders, a day of planning and you are set.  
Monday is my plan day, because I dedicate that day to stay late in my classroom and plan for the upcoming week. Here are some tips that keep me focused and on task.

  • Get a good planner.  I love my Erin Condren Planner because it gives me lots of room and I can change it to fit my needs. But "you do you boo".  You just need a way to record your lessons plans, materials, and events.
  • Next look at the week ahead.  Are there any holidays, school functions, or events coming up?  What about common assessments, state tests, or end of the unit projects?  It's silly to plan anything major when you know your time is already being used in something else.  It's also good to have these in your planner in case you want to make your lessons themed.  
  • When you're planning for the week make sure you use the format that works best for you and write down the materials you will need to make, use, or do for the lesson.  This is super important for later in the week.
  • Last but certainly not least... don't go home until you are completely planned.  Don't stress about prepping but have an idea of what you're doing for the week ahead.

 I spend the rest of the week doing a variety of things that allow me to go home before 4pm.
  • If you need to make something for the lesson these are the days to do it.  I love having the idea on Monday but spending the week making the material. 
  • If I print things during the week I will write in the corner of the paper the date or day I want to use it and then set it in my to copy drawer next to my desk. 
  • On days I'm super ambitious I might copy something for the week ahead, but I always make sure to sort it into the correct slot.

 This is where my crate comes in.  

Next to my desk is a crate that holds my plans, copies, and materials for every subject for the entire week.  I have it color coded and labeled... which makes all my type A friends very happy. :) That thing saves my life daily.  
Here's what you do on Friday.
  • Remember all those materials you created/found?  Print them.  
  • After they're printed? Copy them.
  • When they're copied sort them according to the subject and date needed.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Pineapple Teachers: The Power of Positive Thinking

Can we talk for a second?
It's not easy being a teacher. 
There I said it.

But sometimes,
the heartache and exhaustion doesn't always come from molding little minds everyday.

I've been blessed to have a wonderful school that I work at now.  But in my few years of experience that has not always been true. 

Some of the heart ache and strife  comes with working with other educators, administrators, and staff members.  
 I've come to recognize that sometimes you just have to be a pineapple.  
Yes!  That sweet and funky fruit has really got the right idea when it comes to being yourself.  Here are a few simple things I've learned to be true about being a pineapple teacher.
 What does this mean?
It means respect yourself.
It means not letting others take advantage of you.
It means to not back down when you really believe in something.  
This can be so hard, especially for new teachers.  
You don't want to step on toes.  You don't want to rub people the wrong way.  
But gosh darn it...  
Sometimes you've got to stand up for yourself and your principles.  
Don't be a doormat because you want others to like you.  
It only hurts you more in the end. 

  What does this mean?
Be the person that you needed your first year of teaching.
It means acting like a good royal. 
Kissing babies & shaking hands.
Doing what is expected of you and going out of your way to help others.
It means standing up for what is right even when it's not popular.
It means you will use your leadership the right way. 
A  good leader is not necessarily a superior, but is more of an equal.

  What does this mean?
Let everything you do reflect the the meaning you have on the inside.
It's easy to act and talk sweet but not have the right meaning behind it.  
That's where some people struggle the most with this.
Really think about why you are doing something.  
"Is it to help serve you or others?"
Really think about what you are saying.
"Is this truthful, kind, and loving?"
The answer to these questions will tell you 
whether you're being sweet on the inside or just on the outside.  

Being a pineapple teacher isn't easy, 
you end up with more self respect because you've stood up for yourself.
no one takes advantage of you.
others appreciate you for what you have to say and the advice you have.
you end up with true friends who don't question your motives.
the job is much more fulfilling.
your job is much more easy because your coworkers, your students, and the parents know who you truly are and where your interest lie.  

A pineapple teacher may not have the prettiest or edible outside, but she does stand tall, wears a crown, and sure has the sweetest inside!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

2016 Teacher Blogger Retreat

So I've started a tradition of  meeting up with some of the most amazing people ever in French Lick, Indiana.

Teacher BLoggers!

This year over 200 teachers figuratively literally flooded the small town of French Lick, Indiana. It was absolutely unforgettable! I got to spend the weekend with some of my closest friends (and meeting new ones) who have the same passion for teaching, creating, and blogging.  And I walked away with tips, tricks, and some AWESOME  teacher swag! 


Ciera from Adventures of Room 129, Brenda from Primary Inspired, and I all piled into Ciera's momma mobile and made a 3hr drive with no pitstops (thank you teacher bladders) down to the always breathtaking French Lick Springs Hotel.
Check out the rooms and amenities this place has.  It's seriously amazing inside and out!
Beautiful right?!
Our room was gorgeous and I got to stay with some of my favorite people.  This included two extremely inspirational teachers (Sara Cooper from Rocky Top Teacher and Nicole Swisher from All Things Apple).  Seriously ya'll!  These ladies are UH-MAZING! 
We grabbed dinner and ran into other teacher bloggers so of course we had to commemorate this moment with our first selfie of the night!  
Photo Cred:  Stacy Simpson at Simpson Superstars
A photo posted by Simpson Superstars (@simpsonsuperstars) on


Started out wonderfully lazy.  I got to eat some delicious breakfast sandwiches and catch up with the always sassy and beautiful ladies Kristen from Top Knot Teaching and Whitney from The Crazy Schoolteacher.  Then it was time to head down and be amazed at all the wonderful things that were in store for us!

Shout Out Time
for the
Boss Ladies
in charge of the whole meet up!

 These women really worked their tails off organizing, facilitating, and running such a fun weekend.  They also had an extremely dedicated and hardworking crew of people!

The room was decorated with mason jars, wood blocks for table numbers, and beautiful agendas.  
Seriously made me wonder why these ladies haven't gone into the wedding planning business. 

The afternoon started out with a bit of collaboration and cooperation.  What do you expect from a group of teachers?!
Do you recognize any of the famous people at my table? 
Megan Wheeler from Mrs. Wheeler's First Grade Tidbits took this fun little snapshot of yours truly!
Each table got a letter/phrase that ended up spelling our motto for the meet up.  

 Next came some UH-MAZING 
videos about passion and why people should come to meet ups!  Both videos were created by the talented Chad from Male Kindergarten Teacher

Seriously I think every teacher should watch the passion video 
when they're in need of a reminder why how wonderful they are.

We did a Teacher Tool Gift Exchange.  
It's like Christmas only better because it's stuff for your classroom.  Given to you by like minded people.  My gorgeous giftbag came from the sweet and sassy Aimee from Taking on Second.  

I love those binder clips SOOO much!
We did round tables  where veteran teacher bloggers give advice about teaching, blogging, and how to balance both!  Like I said earlier it's so refreshing being surrounded by people who are as passionate as you are.  But have to say my absolute favorite part of the whole meet up was getting to make new connections with some pretty awesome bloggers.
My Texas Teacher Pals Lisa and Amy from All Ya'll Need
Heck I even got to meet the INCREDIBLE Vera from Tutu Teacher!
While I'm doing shout outs, I've got to say so many thanks to all the companies that were able to donate/sponsor gifts and door prizes for us teachers.  I actually was moved by how generous and thoughtful this was!
These are the following sponsors that LOVE to support educators!

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Image result for stella and dot Image result for younique products Image result for silly mcgilly Image result for creative teaching press
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After the swag giveaways it was time to spend some quality time with my tribe before the biggest 80s party ever! 
Yep! You do see Tom Cruise and Richard Simmons in Front!
The night was unforgettable because of some amazing teachers planning and generous support from GoNoodle and TPT.  

What other party has 80s music, kareoke, and a professional photobooth?! The funny thing is I spent more time dancing and laughing than I did taking pictures.  Here's only a sampling of what I was able to pull from my phone and google!!

Oh yeah!  There was totally a Flash Mob that happened!  Outta no where Footloose starts playing and people start rushing the dance floor.   I even got pulled out at the last minute!
How many teacher bloggers can you name in this picture?!


Like all good things our Spring Teacher Meet Up had to come to an end.  But not before we all met up for brunch in the morning to exchange hugs, emails, and promises to come back again next year. 
It's always great finding a new teacher bestie. Check out this PASSIONATE Canadian teacher blogger Kristin from Traveling Teacher.
If you're ever questioning whether it's worth it to go to a blogger meet up... watch our intro video.  

And check out the rest of the linky!" title="click to view in an external page.">An InLinkz Link-up

Don't forget to check out the giveaway too!  You'll love all the teacher swag as much as we did!

a Rafflecopter giveaway