Using Rubrics to Assess Progress Towards IEP Goals

Rubrics have been essential for my resource program this year. Rubrics are efficient tools to assess authentic student learning and growth. Instead of measuring a skill as correct/incorrect or simply generating a percentage score, rubrics allow us to assess holistically and offer a chance to incorporate quantitative and qualitative data.

Here are the top 5 benefits to using rubrics:

  • Evaluate performance:  Rubrics are used to evaluate student work by measuring it against set scoring criteria.  Using the scoring criteria allows teachers to objectively complete an error analysis, look for skill gaps, and determine the level of support or cues needed to complete a task or assignment. I use rubrics to assess progress towards IEP goals throughout the quarter.  In addition, I use rubrics to analyze work samples as part of initial evaluations and 3 year reevaluations to supplement the standardized testing data and generate baseline data for IEP goals.

 

  • Provide hierarchy of skill development: Rubrics include a task analysis and standards-aligned progression of skills required for mastery. This is helpful not only in showing student growth, but also helpful in designing instruction to address the specific skill gaps students may have.

 

  • Communicate with parents: Using the actual rubric itself or language from the rubric indicators on progress updates, provides parents with detailed information about how their child is progressing. It communicates specific information about skills and growth rather than just a score on an assessment. This year I added the criteria category of “Level of Support” with the indicators of “Independent,” “Minimal Support,” “Moderate Support,” and “Did not attempt.”  This has been extremely helpful when communicating progress.

 

  1. Define performance expectations: Teachers can use rubrics to set expectations for performance with students prior to starting an assignment.  I use the rubric to assess work completed during the modeling phase of instruction with the class. For example, after I model how to create a written response to text, I have the students check my work using the rubric to see if I included the essential components.  Students can also use the rubrics to self-assess and self-correct their work before turning in assignments.

 

  • Measure progress across time and settings:  Rubrics can be used with specifically designed tasks or assignments for progress monitoring, or with authentic curriculum-based work samples.  I attach the scoring rubrics to student work samples and save them in individualized portfolio binders. Students are able to see their growth throughout the school year, reflect on the progress, and set specific goals for improvement.

 

Rubrics could be using in general education, special education, for all subject areas, as well as for behavioral and social goals. Click on the links below to see sample rubrics I’ve individualized for students in my resource program. The rubrics should be modified and customized to meet the needs of students in your classroom based on grade level standards, IEP goals and specific learning needs.

Download our fully editable rubrics here!  The following rubrics for IEP goal progress monitoring are included:

  • Foundational Reading Skills
  • Reading Comprehension: Informational Text
  • Reading Comprehension: Narrative
  • Expository Writing
  • Narrative Writing
  • Written Response to Text
  • Math Problem Solving
  • Behavior and Social Skills

Considerations for IEP Goals:  When developing new IEP goals, write goals measured by the rubric’s criteria where appropriate.  For example, “Given a writing prompt based on a reading passage, the student will generate a written response to text using textual evidence, elaboration and correct conventions as measured by a score of at least #% on writing samples scored with a ‘Written Response to Text Rubric’ at least 3 times per quarter.” When updating progress on goals at the end of each quarter, I report the overall percentage on the scored rubric, along with details in the comment section to elaborate on the student’s progress.  Using indicators directly from the rubric helps to make the comments specific and informative. Furthermore, it is useful to attach the rubric to a student’s IEP. This helps parents understand how you will be measuring the skill and stays with the student if the student moves to another school.

Overall, I have found that rubrics have strengthened my ability to provide consistent, accurate progress data for students in an efficient manner. Rubrics can easily show growth over time and illustrate clear information about specific skills and progress towards standards. For more special education tips and tools, check out this blog.

 

Celebrate Dr. Seuss in Style

Read Across America is around the corner–celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday with these fun, no-prep activities:

1. Cat in the Hat Kabob: Download this FREE recipe to make these adorable Cat in the Hat kabobs, a perfect activity to incorporate during your Read Across America celebration. You only need 3 ingredients–large marshmallows, red Swedish fish, and kabob sticks to make this snack. (Use strawberries and bananas to make a healthier kabob.) This activity includes Common Core State Standards as students are reading functional text and answering text-dependent questions.

Dr. Seuss snackdr.-seuss-kabob-1-800x5292. Cat in the Hat Pointillism Portraits: I found this cute, FREE template from just4teachers@blogspot.com. You simply need red, white, and blue paint along with Q-tips (or students can use their fingers). My students LOVED this activity!

Materials 1Pointillism 1Completed painting 13. Seussical Photo Booth: I borrowed the librarian’s giant Cat in the Hat and added lettering to create this Seussical photo booth. I took a picture of each of my students which will the cover of our Dr. Seuss books (compiled at the end of the week). Replicate this with any type of Dr. Seuss-themed props.

A Seussical 2nd GraderCheck out tomorrow’s Read Across America blog where I will show you how to use Dr. Seuss supplies (from Target’s Dollar Section) to teach character trait analysis and central message.

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Taking Intervention to the Next Level with Authentic Text

As a special education resource teacher, one of the biggest challenges I’ve seen students struggle with is transferring strategies they learn during intervention lessons to authentic text. Often times students can use their decoding skills in controlled text in the resource room, but fall apart when presented with literature, informational text and articles in the general education classroom.  Using a research-based, systematic phonics intervention is the foundation of a strong reading intervention program, but students also need opportunities to practice and apply skills with a variety text genres and complexity levels.  

In my resource room, I incorporate authentic text as a supplement to the Wilson Reading System.  Wilson is implemented with fidelity 3 days per week and on the remaining 2 days, students participate in a book study.  Currently, we are working on informational text using a variety of National Geographic Kids Readers.  Next quarter we plan to read a variety of popular literature. My students look forward to our book study days each week and are so motivated to read “real books.”  I love having the opportunity to provide scaffolded support and guidance while they read complex text.  I can coach them to apply strategies, provide immediate error correction, and build independence in safe, supportive environment.

Using a variety of authentic texts allows my lessons to be standards-based and IEP goal based, rather than limited by a particular boxed curriculum, basal reader or worksheet. Each day, I select several words from the text for students to apply their decoding skills using the Word Study printable.  I typically choose words that align with what students are learning in Wilson.  For example, if our Wilson lesson focuses on the -ing and -ed suffixes, I would choose words from the text which have -ing and -ed endings. It is great for students to make the connection between our phonics lessons and authentic text.

In addition, I choose one comprehension activity in which students can demonstrate their ability to read and understand text. The first time each activity is presented, I model the expectations and skills required. Using the printables from the Book Study Unit consistently helps students become familiar, successful and independent with each task.

 

 

We’ve created  ready-to-use book study units for a variety of books including: Henry and Mudge, Frog and Toad, Charlotte’s Web, Stellaluna, Black Lagoon, The Lorax, Miss Nelson is Missing, Last Day Blues and several National Geographic Kids Readers.  More titles coming soon!

In addition, we’ve assembled book study unit templates for informational text and literature so these strategies and resources could be customized to ANY book you’d like to use in your classroom. These activities build essential literacy skills, provide easy differentiation opportunities, and promote active engagement with our guided reading strategy animals. These book studies can be used in grades 1-3 with in a variety of settings: general education, special education, intervention, tutoring and ELL. It is recommended to use these templates with a variety of texts to help students master the skills, transfer and apply their strategies in meaningful ways.

These comprehensive book studies include:

  • Suggestions for Use
  • Lesson Activities
    o I Can Posters
    o Word Study Activities
    o Vocabulary Activities
    o Comprehension Activities
    o Fluency Activities
    o Response to Text
  • Assessments
  • Instructional Resources
  • Book Study Unit Plan Organizer

Download the Informational Text Book Study Templates, Literature Book Study Templates, and Ready-to-Use Book Studies today!  Comment below if you have a request for a specific book study unit.

Building Fluency with Animal Assisted Therapy

I’m excited to bring the Animals, Books and Children (ABC) program to our resource program this year!  Currently, I am piloting the program with 1st grade students and hope to expand to additional grade levels in the future.  

The ABC program will utilize Gabriel’s Angels therapy teams to help children improve their reading abilities, while also developing the core social behaviors of attachment, confidence, empathy and respect. The designated ABC therapy team (one handler & dog) read with the same three (3) children each week so that a trusting, secure relationship evolves. During a 20-minute time session, the individual child will have time to feel comfortable, work directly on reading skills, and conclude by engaging in an emotional and/or behavior development activity. A celebration ceremony will conclude each semester program duration.

This program takes place once a week in the resource room during the students’ regularly scheduled time. This is something that the students really look forward to and enjoy! Students rotate through 20 minute centers for differentiated, individualized instruction targeting their IEP goals. The 3 centers include:

1.  Fluency– Students will work the dog therapy team to practice rereading previously read books to build fluency.  When finished reading the book, the students will practice their sight words in a variety of hands-on activities.  Each book and sight word list is customized based on student data.  Students love the hands-on sight word activities from our Sight Word Intervention Bundle.

2. Phonics – Students will work with me to practice phonics skills as part of the Wilson Language System.  This 1:1 time is a perfect time for progress monitoring, addressing learning gaps, and reteaching skills that the students may have struggled with throughout the week.  To supplement Wilson, I use activities from our Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle.

3. Computers – Students will work on a Chromebook to review basic literacy skills or  practice keyboarding skills.  Some of our favorite websites include Moby Max, Starfall, Typing Club and Interactive Sites for Education.

I would love to hear how others have used animal assisted therapy in the classroom as well! Please comment below.

For more information about Gabriel’s Angels, check out their website here.

The Imposter Syndrome: Life as a Special Education Teacher

NEWLY REVISED ULTIMATE SPECIAL EDUCATION SURVIVAL KIT!

Today I had a rare moment: some peace and quiet at home and an opportunity to sit down and read a book.  As I was diving into Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg I read about the “imposter syndrome”- the phenomenon of capable people being plagued by self-doubt.  It perfectly described how I felt as a special education teacher during my first few years in the classroom.  Even though I graduated with honors, received exemplary reviews from my principal, and made significant academic and behavioral gains with my students, I still sometimes felt as if I was a fraud and didn’t belong the classroom.  Eventually those feelings faded as I continued my education and experience, but I wished that I had some resources at the beginning of my career that would have helped me feel more confident and be more effective in my role. Although sometimes I felt as if I was using trial and error to best reach my students, I know that that I always gave them 110% and feel so blessed to have been a part of their lives.

When I was working with pre-service and first year teachers, I wanted to impart my knowledge and experience to not only them, but to all teachers working with students with special needs.   After 19 years of teaching special education, I’ve gathered my top resources and bundled them together for the “Ultimate Special Education Survival Kit.” Now, that I’m back in the classroom, I recently revised and updated several resources and forms to be even more effective. The following resources are in a zip file, with a total of 165+ pages, including a ton of new FULLY EDITABLE resources for easy customization:

-Beginning of the Year Checklist for Special Education
-Beginning of the Year Welcome Letter from Special Education Teacher
-Co-Teaching Guide
-Co-Teaching Weekly Collaboration Agenda
-IEP at a Glance
-IEP Goal Bank
-IEP Goal Tracking for Small Groups
-IEP Progress Monitoring Calendar
-IEP Goal Tracking for Caseload
-General Academic Interventions
-Behavioral Interventions
-Reading Interventions
-Writing Interventions
-Math Interventions
-Lesson Plan Differentiation Checklist
-Lesson Plan for Specialized Instruction
-Paraprofessional Roles and Responsibilities
-Parent Input Form
-Progress Monitoring Data Trackers
-Special Education Caseload Organizer
-Special Education Due Date Tracker
-Special Education Master Schedule
-Teacher Input Form
-Time on Task Observation
-Reading Foundational Skills Rubric
-Reading Comprehension: Literature Rubric
-Reaching Comprehension: Informational Rubric
-Narrative Writing Rubric
-Expository Writing Rubric
-Written Response to Text Rubric
-Math Problem Rubric

Work smarter not harder! Don’t be stressed out…LOVE your special education career with these ready-to-use tools, assessments, and templates that will make your life so much easier.

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Ultimate-Special-Education-Survival-Kit-744321

*Reposted and updated from original post in 2013*

Dos and Don’ts of Behavior Reflection

Do you struggle with helping students process their behaviors and learn to make better choices? Are your time-outs ineffective? Are your students repeating the same negative behaviors?  Having strategies for effective behavior reflection is critical to creating a positive learning environment (and staying sane).

Dos

  • Choose the appropriate behavior reflection form based on your students’ levels (reading, developmental, age, etc.)
  • Present this tool to the student in a 1:1 setting after their behavior has deescalated and they are ready to reflect
  • Provide supports in completion (e.g., teacher prompting, student can dictate to adult)
  • Select, model and practice appropriate replacement behaviors for the future
  • Guide student to write an apology letter to help them realize how their behavior affects others
  • Copy and send home for parental signature; save original in student file for behavior documentation and data collection

Don’ts

  • Use for every minor behavior infraction; instead focus on target behavior(s) and/or moderate to severe issues
  • Present and discuss in front of whole class
  • Forget to review and discuss the behavior reflection and appropriate replacement behaviors with student
  • Overlook positive behaviors and attempts to make better choices

Two versions of the Think Sheet are included, as well as a template for an apology letter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Download the Think Sheet and other helpful behaviors tools here!

 

Don’t Teach Another Phonics Lesson Until You Read This…

As a resource teacher, I use specialized instruction in my intervention groups to help my students meet their IEP goals as well as make progress towards grade level standards. While implementing the district prescribed intervention curriculum, Wilson Reading System, I discovered a few key things about the way students learn:

1.Systematic, direct and explicit phonics instruction is essential in helping students with learning disabilities master the alphabetic code-breaking skills needed for foundational reading proficiency.

2.Students need a thorough understanding of a range of effective strategies, as well as knowing when and why to apply them within a variety of texts (e.g., controlled decodable text, authentic literature, meaningful non-fiction texts).

3.Motivation and engagement during reading instruction is a critical ingredient to student success.

Integrating all 3 components can be a challenge at times, but I’ve found great success with supplementing Wilson with our Astute Hoot reading strategy animals. Not only do my students consistently meet their IEP goals and make significant progress on district reading assessments, they LOVE coming to reading intervention and they are engaged throughout the entire lesson! (Let’s face it…sometimes direct instruction phonics programs can get boring for students and teachers).

Our strategy animals and accompanying resources have also been used to supplement and enhance other reading programs such as Fundations, Harcourt, Journeys, Spalding, Sonday and Reading A-Z. In addition, they are perfect for book studies and units using authentic literature and expository text.  Each lesson incorporates the following; Hands-on tools to make the strategies concrete and memorable;  Animal strategy friends to motivate and engage students; A variety of texts to promote transfer and application of skills.

Here’s how I teach reading in my K-4 resource room:

  • At the start of the year, I introduce the reading strategy animals to the students by reading Hazel Meets the Reading Strategy Animals and showing students our introductory video below to get them excited. Hazel Hoot, an adorable green screech owl, is a struggling learner as she lacks the strategies needed to help her succeed. In our charming book, Hazel stumbles upon a magical tree in the forest. Out of the tree appear 10 colorful woodland animals that each introduce a research-based, standards-aligned reading strategy. These animals guide Hazel to become a proficient reader.

  • I break down the 10 step Wilson Lesson by practicing the procedures and routines for one block at a time per session.  I use the reading strategy animals to help teach each part. Once students students understand the routine for each block, we combine multiple blocks in our lessons.

  • Authentic text is selected to incorporate into our weekly lessons to provide students the opportunity to apply their strategies in meaningful and relevant ways.  Currently, I’m using a variety of books from National Geographic Kids to boost their skills in reading informational text.

Check out our reading strategy animals in action!

I laminated our Sally Sounding-Out Snake and Charlie Chunking Chipmunk graphic organizers and use them as part of Warm-Up Work at the start of each session. I just post 3 words on the board and students segment (one-syllable words) or syllabicate (multi-syllable words) and mark them as appropriate. I love that this is pretty much NO PREP and it is a perfect time to review concepts with which students struggled in the previous lesson or preview concepts for the upcoming lesson.

Students love using Paco the Pointing Porcupine for Quick Drill and Quick Drill in Reverse to name letters and sounds!  The hands-on tools keeps them focused and on task. Paco also helps students with keeping their place during wordlist reading in the Wilson Student Readers.

Using the Sally Sounding-Out Snake and Charlie Chunking Chipmunk Slates on the magnet letter boards provides a great visual support to help students with segmenting and syllabication.  They always want to make Sally and Charlie proud of their awesome reading skills!

Ramona the Re-Reading Raccoon keeps students motivated when reading students to build fluency and accuracy.

Sharon the Summarizing Squirrel is a student favorite!  Students use her “Tell the Tale” tool to touch each story element when we retell the story verbally.  A non-fiction version which includes main idea and details is also available.

Vern the Visualizing Vulture helps students master key vocabulary words by prompting students to visualize the meaning of the word and drawing a picture of of their visualizations.

Lastly, I posted the strategy posters and “I Can” statements on a bulletin board for easy reference for students.  Our “I Can” statements are aligned to IEP goals and state standards, as well as to a specific reading strategy.

Read more about our strategy animals here! Astute Hoot’s unique cast of strategy animals make learning safe and fun while teaching critical strategies in a child-friendly way. Students make an immediate connection to the animals and relate to Hazel’s struggles. These delightful animals and rhymed text motivate the most reluctant readers.  Our books, posters and hands-on tools are available for purchase here via digital download including printable do-it-yourself options of our tools.  Ready made tools and posters are available as intervention kits here.

I’d love to hear how you make phonics fun and engaging!  Check out some other special education blogs here:

Essentials of a Special Ed Resource Room

I’m so excited to be back in the classroom this year! After 14 years as a special education resource teacher, I changed gears to work in the capacity of an Instructional Coach and Special Education Coordinator in high needs schools. Although this work over the past 4 years has been rewarding, I’ve missed the direct, daily contact with students.

After I accepted my new position as a K-3 Special Education Resource Teacher, I quickly got to work in planning out my new classroom. I considered student need, layout, materials, and decor to prepare my room. I’m thrilled to share these 3 essential components of my new classroom with you!

1. Strategy-Based Bulletin Boards and Learning Centers:  I set up strategy-based bulletin boards that are being used to support and enhance district curriculum.  My students are already in love with all of the strategy animals!  Our strategies provide excellent interventions to use with any curriculum as they strengthen HOW students learn,  and do not necessarily change WHAT students learn. Here are some specific examples of how I incorporate our strategy animals into the curriculum.

Reading
Using the Wilson Language System, I incorporate our Sally Sounding-Out Slates or Charlie Syllable Slates to provide additional visual cues and practice to spell and decode words in isolation. These can also be used to focus on specific words in connected text to practice sounding out the phonograms. It not only makes learning fun, but it also helps struggling students who need additional support. This intervention uses the same content and Wilson instructional method, but provides a different format for practice and student response. Using the Slates and accompanying graphic organizers also provides a structured space for written dictation. Using our reading strategy animals along with a systematic, researched-based curriculum such as Wilson enhances motivation and investment, which is incredibly important for reluctant readers.

Reading Roost Photo

Math
Our math strategy animals fit in perfectly with the district curriculum. Students are expected to solve 2 or more word problems as part of the daily lessons. I introduce each of the Problem-Solving Pond strategy animals systematically as they correlate to the standards and concepts. As students become proficient with one strategy, I introduce another. After all strategies are introduced, students learn how to pick the most efficient strategy for the problem. Upton the Understanding Fish is used daily to help students complete the seven problem solving steps, explain thinking and justify solutions. Just as with Wilson, using these strategies does not alter or modify the curriculum in any way, it just enhances it and presents it in a way which students can grasp it more easily by making the concepts more concrete. Student connect with the strategy animals and are motivated to use various strategies to solve the problems. It also relieves math anxiety and builds independence by providing a toolbox of “animal friends” students can use to solve problems.

Problem-Solving Pond 2

Writing
There are 5 animal strategy characters which teach the writing process stages and 5 animals who focus on mechanics and conventions.  Writing can be especially difficult for students with special needs.
The strategy animals help eliminate writers’ block and encourage students to persist with writing stamina.  Because each animal has a specific job, it forces students to pay greater attention to each critical part of the writing process.

Writing in the Wild West

 

2.  Reading Corner: I set up an inviting and comfortable reading corner which has books organized by level and topic. My students love the Beanie Babies sitting on the bookcase.  They get to each pick one to read to on Fun Fridays to build fluency.  My favorite part of this area is the multi-sensory syllabication charts featuring Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk.  I attached pipe cleaners to the charts so students can practice chunking words into syllables.

LibraryCharlie

 

3.  Sensory Support:  Knowing that many of my new students would need support with sensory issues, I prepared various options for them.  I have flexible seating arrangements using wiggle cushions, exercise balls, and lap desks.  Also, I put together a sensory basket containing Play-Doh, squeeze balls, Legos, Unifix cubes and a timer for 2 of my students.  Lastly, I signed up for a Go Noodle account and we use this for brain breaks. 

Essentials Collage

The first few weeks of school have been amazing!  I’m so glad I followed my heart and returned back to the classroom.  Helping students with special needs truly is my calling.  I hope you enjoyed taking a peek into my new resource room. I’d love to hear about how you set up your resource room too!  Please comment below.

See our strategy animals in action in this short video!

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TpT Back to School Sale 2017

As veteran teachers, we know that the beginning of year often means countless meetings, endless hours of preparation and a great deal of stress. We are here to help! Our tried-and-true Back to School resources are guaranteed to help you work smarter, not harder. Plus, they’re all ON SALE! Visit our TeachersPayTeachers store and use code BTS2017 for 25% off the entire store! Check out a few of our top-rated, best-sellers below:

Best of Back to School Lesson Plans & Activities:  This unit focuses on establishing procedures, explaining expectations and building classroom community while creating an organized, efficient schedule with minimal preparation. Our comprehensive first week lesson plans  include 50+ interactive, engaging activities with objectives & detailed instructions, homework ideas, daily math lessons and art projects.

Golden Keys to Success Classroom Management Plan: Golden Keys to Success is an efficient behavior management program that builds character, promotes self-monitoring and ensures high behavioral expectations. This program has made a huge difference in my students’ behavior because it teaches them to be responsible for daily choices. Golden Keys to Success focuses on 5 important life skills and qualities that students need to become successful citizens. This 90 page unit includes 21 detailed lessons with essential questions and quality literature, 34 engaging activities and projects, a Weekly Responsibility Chart (for students) and a parent brochure with overview of program, consequences and helpful parent tips.

Math Intervention: Problem Solving Essentials Bundle:  Our Math Intervention Problem Solving Essentials Bundle provides an entire year’s worth of Common Core aligned, differentiated problem-solving activities to give students the strategies they need to solve word problems. Perfect for general education, special education, RTI and math intervention! Can be used with students in grades Kindergarten, first, second and third. This 200 page file has all of the lessons, activities, worksheets, printables you need for comprehensive problem-solving instruction during math intervention, special education and general education. This is a perfect math intervention supplement to any existing curriculum or can be used as a stand alone resource.

Writing Intervention Tools for RTI and Special Education: Do you have students who are struggling to write and get their ideas down on paper? These special education writing resources will help even the most reluctant writers experience success and increase their independence with the writing process. This is a great writing intervention tool for special education classrooms, ELL, RTI and/or for differentiation within the general education classroom. Resources can be used for various writing topics and assignments.

This unit systematically guides students through the writing process and teaches critical strategies in a child-friendly way. In our charming book, students meet Hazel the owl, a struggling writer, who takes a vacation to the desert to visit Grandma Hoot. Grandma suggests that Hazel take a hike for writing inspiration and along the way she meets 10 animals; 5 that teach the writing process and 5 that teach writing mechanics.

Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle: Looking for a complete reading K-3 reading intervention kit that includes fluency, comprehension, sight words, and phonics activities? Need engaging and motivating reading supplemental products to enhance your existing curriculum? With over 25 years combined experience in special education, general education, and reading intervention, we have bundled our top reading products to create a 515 page “Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle” for only $25. Purchased separately, these items would cost over $65. These activities, lessons, graphic organizers, posters, assessments, and printables have been proven to make significant reading gains in not only our classrooms, but classrooms across the country. These are a great supplement to any general ed or special ed curriculum. This Reading Intervention Bundle contains more than a whole YEAR’s worth of phonics instruction with 15 individual units.

We hope that these products reduce that dreaded back to school stress and make your life easier. Happy New Year!

 

Set Up Your Best Classroom Yet

Welcome to my second grade classroom, my home away from home.  Each year, I refine my classroom with special finds from Target and Hobby Lobby (my favorite!) to make it comfortable and inviting. I love to think outside of the box, using plastic table cloths for curtains and bath mats for classroom rugs. My goal is to make the room a safe, creative space that promotes engagement and exploration.

Curricula

As a traditional academy teacher, I use Spalding spelling, HMH Journeys reading, and Saxon math to teach highly-performing students at an accelerated pace. I use the district-prescribed curricula along with our reading and math strategy animals to help students learn, apply, and transfer critical strategies across settings. My classroom décor centers around Hazel Hoot, an adorable green screech owl, and her special strategy friends. See how I integrate Hazel’s Reading Roost and Problem-Solving Pond along with our hands-on tools to support and enhance required curricula in this blog series.

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Special Spaces

Hazel’s Reading Roost

In our charming book, Hazel Meets the Reading Strategy Friends, Hazel stumbles upon a magical tree in the forest. Out of the tree appear 10 colorful woodland animals that each introduce a research-based, standards-aligned reading strategy. These animals guide Hazel to become a proficient reader.


Each day students attend Hazel’s Reading Roost, my guided reading group, as one of their four reading rotations. During guided reading time, I use the woodland animals to teach specific strategies and concepts through the context of authentic literature.Jessica at Reading Roost_rs
I use our animal puppets and reference our Decoding and Comprehension Banners throughout the lessons. Students use our accompanying graphic organizers and our hands-on tools to practice and reinforce the strategies.

To replicate the magical tree, I purchased an inexpensive faux tree from Goodwill and gave it a dusting of gold glitter spray paint. I glued glitter foam leaves to give it an enchanted gleam and used Velcro to attach the animals. This allows for easy removal during reading group time. Read more about creating a Reading Roost here.

Reading RoostDuring guided reading group time, students sit in a circle on our  Astute Hoot’s Numbers and Letters Rug. I post a specific learning goal for each group and reference it throughout the lesson using our Learning Scale Banner. Students enjoy monitoring and reflecting upon their thinking and learning. They understand that honest ratings help me as a teacher because I can see what they understand and areas in which they need more help.

Read tomorrow’s blog to see my Problem-Solving Pond and accompanying math tools.

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Master Meet the Teacher in 5 Easy Steps

Just the mention of Meet the Teacher or Curriculum Night makes most teachers break out into a cold sweat. Why is this? We speak in front of people all day, every day, but the difference is their age. Children will still love us if we make a mistake, get nervous or act silly (they especially love when this happens). Adults by nature are more judgmental and harder to win over. Stop the dread and take back control with these 5 easy steps.

Master Meet the Teacher in 5 Easy Steps

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare: Plan your handouts and student activities at least 2 days before the big event. Don’t wait until last minute–that’s when the copier breaks or the computer runs out of ink.  On each student desk, I place a student information card along with a Welcome to 2nd Grade form that outlines everything students will need on first day of school. Before I start my presentation, I have parents complete the card and read the Welcome to 2nd Grade form as we wait for everyone to get to the classroom. Many schools now combine Meet the Teacher and Curriculum Night and this can be so overwhelming to all parties involved. Parents are often in and out of your classroom during Meet the Teacher, making it difficult to listen to a full curriculum presentation. At Meet the Teacher, I explain that on the first day of school, I will send home a comprehensive Welcome to Second Grade folder. In one pocket of the folder, I include all of my policies and procedures. This includes an introduction, Meet Mrs. Murphy, curriculum overview, grading procedures, specials and classroom schedule, and much more. Parents read these and keep at home as a reference throughout the year. In the other pocket of the folder, I include all the paperwork that needs to be signed and returned. This includes office paperwork, volunteer form, and the classroom directory. Parents return the signed paperwork by Friday. I show them an example as I explain the folder so they know what to look for on Monday.Welcome to second grade 2Welcome to 2nd Grade paperworkWelcome to 2nd Grade folder

Not sure what to say at Meet the Teacher and Curriculum Night? Download our Welcome Back to School Parent Packet for several important customizable letters and forms. Use the coupon code hoot50 for 50% off all of our digital files!

2. Post directions & agenda for the night: Write specific directions for parents to read as they come into the classroom. Make sure they know they must fill out transportation form, room parent slip and student information card. Plus it gives them something to do (other than staring at you) while waiting for the presentation to start. Many parents must attend more than one Meet the Teacher on the same night. Help these parents by posting an agenda (with times) for the night so they can determine the best time to quietly exit and go to next session.Meet the Teacher Agenda

This year, I placed 4 owl rugs around the classroom at the 4 centers I wanted parents to attend before leaving. These centers included OWL About 2nd Grade, Helping is a Hoot, OWL About Transportation and Volunteer Opportunities and WHOOO’s Hungry? (refreshments–see below). On the board, I wrote, “Learn OWL about 2nd grade by traveling to each center marked by an owl rug.” This visual made it easy for parents and students loved discovering each owl center.

Transportation InformationOWL About 2nd Grade3. Serve refreshments: It is polite to serve refreshments for guests in your home and the same etiquette applies in the classroom. I purchase inexpensive cookies (from Target or Walmart) and place on serving trays. Add decorative napkins and flowers as a finishing touch.Whooo's Hungry

4. Provide engaging activities for students: At the beginning of the night, I need to address just the parents and don’t want students talking or running around the room.  While parents are completing necessary paperwork, I gather students (and their siblings) and bring them to the carpet area where I give them a word search, pencil and white board. I explain directions and set expectations for their behavior. I also pass out lollipops to eat–this keeps their mouths busy while I am addressing parents. Be sure to put a garbage can there as well or you will have wrappers and sticks all over the room.Meet the Teacher engaging activities Meet the Teacher student activities

After I speak to parents, I give the kids a scavenger hunt with 9 boxes of items to find in class. I glue small, round stickers to each scavenger sheet; students place a sticker on the box after the item is found. When students are finished, they get to help themselves to refreshments (I set a limit on number of cookies or you will have a couple that will try to take the whole tray–trust me, I’ve learned from experience).

Classroom Bingo

5. Create suggested supplies visual: Each year students come in with random bags of supplies and rarely want to share them with the rest of the classroom. To alleviate this problem this year, I listed specific supplies I wanted to students to bring and then created a visual of what the supplies should look like. I simply purchased a medium-sized pencil case and glued the requested supplies inside and showed it during the presentation, reminding parents to unwrap items and place inside case as shown. This year all the students brought their prepared pencil cases just as I had shown and it was a HUGE time-saver! They simply put inside their desks and we were able to move on to other procedures.

suggested supplies 2

6. Helping is a Hoot: Parents love to donate supplies at the beginning of the year, so I created a Helping is a Hoot tree; each owl has a needed supply written on it. Remind parents to pick an owl or two before they leave for the night. They return the owl with donations during the first week of school. Be sure to thank them for giving a hoot!

Helping is a Hoot 2Helping is a Hoot! owls 2

Most importantly, remember to smile, breathe and believe in yourself! You’ve got thi

jake at meet teacher

Helping other teachers and students is our passion and we are excited to contribute to your classroom success! We know Back to School time is so expensive for teachers and we want to help! Use the coupon code hoot50 for 50% off all of our digital files!

Check out our other Back to School blogs for additional tips and tools: Back to School Organization 101, Back to School Cooking, The Art of Active Listening, and Classroom Management Keys and many more. Happy New Year!

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Teaching In Style: 5 Key Back to School Pieces

Back to School time is right around the corner and one of my favorite parts is picking out a few outfits for the first week of school. Here are 5 key pieces to start your year off with a bang:

Dress for success

1. Bold, Bright Color: Everyone looks better in color. Wearing the right color next to your skin can have a rejuvenating, uplifting and brightening impact on your complexion and overall appearance. Pale skin and dark hair look best in jewel tones such as ruby red, sapphire blue and emerald green. Skin tones with beige or pink undertones look great in muted colors. Yellow or peachy undertones look best in bright colors. However, there are no absolutes; wearing what makes you feel good when you put it on should be the general rule.

Pop of Color

2. Versatile blazer: A well-cut, tailored blazer is a wardrobe essential because it adds polish to any outfit. Pair it with your favorite dress or pencil skirt for work; add jeans and a crisp button-down for weekend wear.

versatile blazer

3. Mixed prints: Stripes & florals, leopards & polka dots or plaid and a graphic T are a few bold combos to spice up your style. Here I paired two different stripes to create a nautical weekend look. Pair this with jeans and you have a chic, casual Friday outfit.

Mixed prints

4. Crop Tops: Crop tops are the latest trend; they are all over stores in a variety of shapes and cuts.  While they look fantastic on celebrities, most of us shutter at the mere thought of wearing one. However, crop tops look great over button-down blouses, which can be very formal and stiff.  Crop tops are the perfect way to add color or pattern to any outfit.

crop top

5. Peplums: Peplums instantly narrow your waist and give you an hourglass shape, making it flattering on all shapes and sizes.

the peplum

Savvy Shopping: Many stores like Ann Taylor and NYC & Co. offer teacher discounts. Nordstrom Rack, Target and Marshalls are great places to find inexpensive, trendy pieces. My favorite find? EBay! I try on dresses and shoes at the mall and then search for them on EBay. Most are available at a fraction of the price. Be sure to buy from sellers who offer returns and have great feedback.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you have a great start to your new school year. Be sure to download our FREE Top 10 Tools for Back to School. Happy New Year!

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Roar Into Research

Spring fever is full force in my classroom and I have tried every trick of the trade to keep my students calm and engaged with little success. After taking a Common Core ELA class through my district, I found the perfect solution–animal research murals. In this project, students have ample time to discuss, share and collaborate, allowing them to channel some of their energy and excitement while meeting critical research standards.

I checked out 5 different sets of National Geographic Kids animal books and assigned each group an animal in their reading range. I set up research baskets with Post-Its, pencils, set of books and white boards; I put their names on the front of each basket.  I also gathered colored Post-Its and 5 pieces of butcher block paper for recording group questions.

Research questions3_Research Bin_WEB

Before starting research, we discussed the importance of asking questions prior to reading. I explained that these questions guide group’s research because each group would teach the class about their assigned animal.  I gave students 5 different colored Post-Its (each animal has its own color) and had them record one question they had about each animal. After recording their questions, students placed their Post-Its on each animal’s question poster (the butcher block paper).

Research questions2_WEB

 

Research questions_WEB

On the first day of research, I had students sort the questions into categories: anatomy, diet, habitat, locomotion, life cycle, enemies/defense, survival status and interesting facts. Students then were in charge of choosing specific category or categories to research. During the next two days, they read the National Geographic book and summarized the information on Post-Its. Groups checked their question poster to ensure that all questions were answered. Then they took these key terms Post-Its and wrote complete sentences on lined paper. As groups worked, I roved and assisted as needed.  When groups finished, we edited the sections together and students published their section(s) using thin Sharpies.

Sorting questions--research_WEB

 

Elephant research mural2_WEB

On the fourth day, I gave each group a large piece of white butcher block paper. They used watercolor to paint a background; while they dried, they made the animal and habitat with colored butcher block paper.  Together they decided where to glue each research section and assigned sections to share. Students practiced presenting their reports to me outside while the other groups worked.

Research mural creation_WEB

 

Research mural creation2_WEB

As a culmination, groups shared their murals with the class; students had a chance to ask questions and give feedback. I was impressed with the depth of knowledge each group gained from this project. While they were still talkative and a little loud, they were highly engaged and learned excellent research skills. Many said this was their favorite project (even topping our themed cooking projects–that says a lot!).

Elephant research mural_WEB

Wolf research mural_WEB

Panda mural_WEB

This project comes from Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles In Action by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels. Interested in additional animal research projects? Download our Differentiated Animal Research Report Unit here.

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Meaningful (& FREE) Valentine Gifts for Kids

As Valentine’s Day nears, teachers everywhere are scouring their local Dollar Stores and Target Dollar sections for the perfect holiday-themed trinkets. This pursuit of the perfect, “inexpensive” gift often leaves teachers exhausted and broke. Plus, these gifts often end up in the bottoms of backpacks and shoved in desks, never to be seen again. Save time and money with these three meaningful gift ideas that your students will remember for years to come.1. Write personalized desk notes: Use dry erase markers to write a personalized note on each student’s desk. They will absolutely LOVE reading these kind words and sharing the compliments with their friends. Give students baby wipes to easily remove notes, leaving clean desks in the process (an added bonus).

2. Create 14 Reasons I Love You: Each day leading up to Valentine’s Day, leave a heart with a quick note about something you admire, enjoy, or appreciate about your students. Starting next week? Simply add 2 or 3 hearts each day leading up to Valentine’s Day.

3. Give the gift of literature: Bank your Scholastic bonus points and use them to order leveled, holiday-themed books. Add a short, personalized note inside as the final touch.Check out our FREE owl-themed Valentine cards and give yourself a Valentine gift with 28% off on our TpT Store using promo code LOVETpT.

Martin’s Big Words: A MLK Character Analysis Collage

My class is currently learning how to analyze character traits using textual evidence. Since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is around the corner, I decided to use Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport to create character analysis collages with my students.
Martins big words

In this pictorial biography, Rappaport provides an age-appropriate portrayal of this influential leader, adding key quotes from King’s writing and speeches. These quotes are in bold, colorful print to capture students’ attention and help them understand King’s character. Before the lesson, I typed several quotes from the text, making each a different color, for students to use in their collages.

Martin's big words example

I read Martin’s Big Words aloud to my students, stopping to discuss quotes, describe feelings and make connections. The students were so engaged with the text!  Afterwards, I gave each student a piece of 11×18 white construction paper to draw MLK. First, they lightly sketched with pencil, then they outlined with Sharpie and finally colored with different shades of crayon.

MLK drawing

MLK drawing 2

After recess, I read the book again, this time giving each student a Post-It to record key character traits during read-aloud. Students then selected two to three quotes that supported the character traits they recorded on their Post-Its.

Martin's Big Words Character Analysis Collage quotes

Students glued their quotes and traits on their MLK drawings, creating these adorable character analysis collages.

MLK collage example 1

MLK example 2

MLK example 3

I hope you students will enjoy making these collages as much as mine did!

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5 No-Prep Thanksgiving Activities

Looking for ready-to-use Thanksgiving activities that keep students engaged in learning? You’ll be thankful for these 5 easy activities:

1. Create A Classroom Market: Murphy Market is a center I created in which students purchase items, add totals and learn to make change. To create this center, I purchased several inexpensive Thanksgiving canned food items and priced according to my students’ academic needs. Since we are working on counting quarters, I priced most items in increments of 25.

Murphy Market 3 I scoured my local Dollar Store for market supplies and found these adorable shopping baskets, play food, price stickers and receipt books. I posted weekly grocery specials (be sure to avoid alcohol and other inappropriate items) along with specific directions for the center.

Murphy Market 4

At Murphy Market, students shop for 2-4 Thanksgiving items. I scaffold the number of purchases based on instructional needs; my proficient mathematicians shop for 4 items while my developing mathematicians shop for 2 items.

Murphy Market 2

Murphy Market 5

After selection, students come over to my whiteboard table and we take turns adding up totals. Each shopper takes a turn to show items and name prices while all students play cashier, adding up totals. This keeps students engaged and provides multiple opportunities for mathematical practice. We compare strategies and answers and then move to the next shopper.

Murphy Market 6

Murphy Market 7

I change pricing and weekly specials regularly and rotate items seasonally. After Thanksgiving, I will set up a holiday boutique full of Dollar Store holiday gifts.

2. Record Thankful Thoughts: Generate excitement about Thanksgiving and help students realize all of the things they are thankful for with this fun craft. Read and discuss one of the books below.

Thanksgiving books

Then students assemble the turkey and write what they are thankful for on the turkey feathers. Download this FREE craft here. Check out our Thanksgiving Writing With Icons and Sentence Frames for additional Thanksgiving writing activities.

Thankful Thoughts

3. Make Turkey Cupcakes: Students love classroom cooking projects and this Turkey Cupcake recipe is one of their favorites!

turkey cupcake 1

You need plain, chocolate cupcakes, chocolate bells (found at Dollar Store), candy corn, chocolate frosting and Wilton candy eyes (found at Target’s baking aisle near the sprinkles). Students will gather ingredients, read the recipe (functional text) and eat and enjoy them. Download complete recipe here.

Turkey cupcake 2

4. Pose for Turkey Portraits: I found these adorable turkey hats in the dollar section of my local Target. I let students pick their hat of choice and then use them to make Thanksgiving cards. You can also use them for turkey acrostic poems, descriptive writing or Thanksgiving recipes.

Turkey hat 1

turkey hat 2

5. Create Turkey Bags: These cute turkey bags organize and house all of students’ Thanksgiving projects. Simply pick up a class set of brown grocery bags and have students make a turkey on the front. You can use our free downloadable turkey graphic or any other turkey pattern. My students add a red balloon for the gobbler and large googly eyes to add character to each turkey.

Turkey bag

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Guided Reading Survival Guide Part 3

In part 1 and part 2 of my Guided Reading Survival Guide blog series, I explained how teachers must go beyond the basal and provide authentic, high-quality supplemental texts ranging in genre and teach research-based reading strategies using our cast of animal characters.guided

Guided Reading Survival Guide: Using Hands-On Tools

It’s time to put the strategies we discussed in the previous blog into students’ hands–literally. Hands-on tools motivate and engage students and make practice fun. Each of our strategy animals has an accompanying hands-on tool. Students associate animals with comfort, safety, and play and when animals are personified, students readily understand and apply the lessons and messages from the animals. Just yesterday, I was doing a fact assessment. I always remind students to double-check their answers, but they often need several reminders to do so. Yesterday I got out my Fiona Fact Fluency Fox puppet and had Fiona remind the kids about double-checking. What do you know? They all double-checked their answers.

 

Each of the hands-on tools is displayed in the classroom; most are in clear, inexpensive glass jars with the animal label glued to the front. They make a cute display and are easily accessible.

hands-on-tool-collageIn my classroom: Since students used Quinn the Questioning Quail to use textual evidence to answer questions, I created a set of Quinn’s Quills. I purchased fuchsia highlighters from Amazon (to match Quinn’s color), printed, laminated, and cut out a set of Quinn’s heads, available in the Quinn Questioning Quail unit. I glued the heads to the highlighters. The head looks like it’s upside down when the marker is closed, but this protects the head and the topnotch.

highlighter-open

Before the lesson, I enlarged and laminated my copy of  “What Lives in This Hole?”, my guided reading text from Reading A-Z. The larger format allows all students to easily see the text and the lamination allows me to reuse it each year.

text-dependent-questions

During the lesson, I modeled how to answer each question in the I Do section, thinking aloud as I went. I demonstrated how to use Quinn’s question mark topnotch to first point to the answer, then highlight it and write the question number next to it. We then practiced the strategy together by answering the questions in the We Do section. Students pointed to the answer with Quinn’s topnotch. Before we highlighted, we discussed each student’s response to ensure that everyone was on track. Finally, we highlighted the answer.

quinn-pointerquinn-highlighter

Students absolutely LOVED Quinn’s Quills and asked to use them during whole group reading time as well. Unfortunately, our basals can’t be highlighted, but this is another benefit of using Reading A-Z printable books.

quinn-in-use

Check out the full line of reading and math hands-on tools. You students will LOVE them, too!

hands-on-toolsCheck out tomorrow’s blog to learn how to integrate multiple strategies during guided reading time.

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Guided Reading Survival Guide Part 2

Yesterday in part 1 of my blog series, Guided Reading Survival Guide, I explained how teachers must go beyond the basal to provide several authentic, high-quality supplemental texts ranging in complexity and genre to promote a deeper understanding of content. In part 2 of the series, I will explain how to select research-based strategies for guided reading groups.

guided

Guided Reading Survival Guide Part 2: Selecting Strategies

Now that I have broken the bond with the basal, let’s talk strategy. My students used to struggle with transferring and applying learned strategies across settings, curricula, and various genres of authentic text. I partnered with Jennifer Zoglman, a veteran special educator, and her sister, Tina Rataj-Berard, an award-winning graphic designer, to create a unique cast of strategy animals that make learning safe and fun while teaching critical strategies in an engaging way. Each animal teachers a research-based strategy using a short, rhymed poem and child-friendly language.

Reading Strategies Poster_web

Animals were specifically chosen because animal characters are present in children’s lives from the very beginning in toys, books, and cartoons. Children learn to associate animals with comfort, safety, and play. When animals are personified, children readily understand and apply the lessons and messages from the animals. Brain research shows that when material is presented in a novel way, it ignites curiosity and interest in learning new topics and leads children to readily grasp and internalize the information.

Students first meet the strategy animals in the read-aloud, “Hazel Meets the Reading Strategy Animals.”  Hazel Hoot, an adorable green screech owl, is a struggling learner as she lacks the strategies needed to help her succeed. Hazel stumbles upon a magical tree in the forest. Out of the tree appear 10 colorful woodland animals that each introduce a reading strategy. These animals guide Hazel to become a proficient reader.

reading book banner

Students in all academic settings make an immediate connection with the animals and love to practice new strategies using the animals’ special tools. Read more about how animals help children learn here. Meet our complete line of strategy animals here. Watch this short video to see our strategy animals in action.

In my classroom: I select one comprehension strategy animal to use for both whole group and small group instruction. This strategy animal is introduced and modeled as we read the basal during whole group time. I use the same strategy animal during guided reading groups where students can practice and apply the strategy within leveled text.

In the Journeys basal text, “Animals Building Homes” the strategy was to answer questions in the text. I selected Quinn the Questioning Quail as the focus strategy animal. I read through the text and wrote a list of text-dependent questions, separating them into 3 categories: I Do, We Do, You Do.

quinn-poem

I did the same thing for my guided reading text, “What Lives in This Hole?”, a multi-level book from Reading A-Z. Since this was the first lesson on this strategy, I created only text-dependent questions where the specific answer was clearly stated in the text. As students become proficient with answering specific text-dependent questions, I will incorporate questions that require students to use inference skills as well.

text-dependent-questions

I use puppets to introduce the strategy animals. The students always greet the animal and then I read the poem which explains the strategy in a child-friendly way. Many students actually believe that the animals are real and often go home and tell their parents all about them. Tying the animals to strategies makes learning more concrete and helps students effectively apply and transfer across settings.puppets

Read tomorrow’s blog, Guided Reading Survival Guide Part 3: Incorporating Hands-On Tools to see how students practice the strategies in a motivating, engaging way. Be sure to read part 1 of the Guided Reading Survival Guide: Going Beyond the Basal.

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Guided Reading Survival Guide Part 1

Guided reading can be daunting, especially with the new instructional shifts and standards. Teachers are asking themselves such questions as: “What texts do I use?” “What strategies do I teach?” “How do I motivate and engage?” “How do I integrate multiple strategies?”

As educators with a combined total of almost 30 years spend in early childhood and special education, Jennifer and I have cultivated four instructional practices that incorporate our effective animal-based curriculum to maximize guided reading time. Read our four part blog series that outlines these practices and show how students enthusiastically embrace them.

guided

Guided Reading Survival Guide Part 1: Going Beyond the Basal

Most teachers are required to use district-prescribed curricula, which often includes a basal and a series of leveled readers, many of which are dry and designed to fit the weekly basal skills. The basal can be used as an anchor text, but it should not stand alone. Provide several authentic, high-quality supplemental texts ranging in complexity and genre to promote a deeper understanding of content.

Reading A-Z is the ideal resource because its vast library of more than 2,500 downloadable books allows teachers to search by strategy, skill, or topic, making differentiation much easier. Several titles are part of a multi-level series, making quality content available to all readers. Plus, the printable books allow students to practice test-taking strategies, such as highlighting answers in the text, while using authentic text rather than mundane practice tests or contrived passages.

reading-a-z-books

In my classroom: I select Reading A-Z books that complement the weekly basal story, complement the current science unit, or focus on a specific reading strategy that I am teaching. In a recent unit, I chose, “What Lives in This Hole?” because it aligned to our Journeys basal story, “Animals Building Homes.” This was a great supplement to deepen student understanding, apply learned strategies, and build academic vocabulary.

supplemental-collage

Tomorrow check out part 2 of our Guided Reading Survival Guide blog series to see how I incorporate various reading strategies across multiple texts.

Astute Hoot's Reading Strategy Animals

 

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Fool-Proof Tips for Teaching Procedures & Routines

You know that feeling of excitement you feel when you spot a cute new idea on Pinterest? Those all-too-familiar thoughts run through your mind. “It looks so easy, there aren’t that many materials, how hard could it be?” Yet despite your best intentions (and a few hours of your life you’ll never get back), you experience that dreaded Pinterest fail.

Just like that cute Pinterest project, we all start the new school year with the best intentions and high expectations.  However, the beginning of the year can evoke that same dreaded Pinterest fail feeling. I remember thinking, “Why aren’t students listening to me? Why can’t they unpack quietly? Can’t they just sit at the carpet? I’m telling them to do these things, but they aren’t.” What I failed to realize is that I wasn’t teaching students how to perform these routines and procedures and I was setting myself up for failure.

Those wonky Pinterest cupcakes can easily be thrown in the garbage and remade, but those first few days are the most valuable time in the whole school year. This precious time shapes expectations, behaviors, and routines for the rest of the year. Invest up front with practicing key procedures during the first few weeks of school and this investment will be returned to you tenfold throughout the year. Students will clearly understand expectations, behavior problems will be eliminated, and instructional time will be maximized. Nail those first few days using 3 of our tried-and-true, fool-proof tips for teaching key procedures and routines.Fool-Proof Tips for Teaching Procedures & Routines

1. Teach Active Listening: Listening, like any other concept or skill, must be explained, modeled, practiced and reinforced, especially the first few weeks of school.  Students must know what listening looks like, sounds like and feels like. First, create a common definition of active listening. To do this, I give each student 3 colored Post-Its. On the first Post-It, I ask them to write down what active listening looks like. I call students up to the board and each student shares while I sort and label students’ responses. After all have shared, we come up with a consensus and repeat the process for the sounds like and feels like indicators. I record these on my Good Listening Poster. Next, we practice active listening indicators.  I share my Alert Listening Position (ALP) poem that teaches specific active listening behaviors and we practice these behaviors several times. Students are actively engaged in learning as they chant the second line of each stanza and model the listening behaviors with their bodies.  We also practice non-ALP behaviors such as slumping in seat, head on desk, no eye contact so students can understand non-examples.  While we are practicing, I rove the room and take pictures of excellent ALP examples and post to my ALP poem to use as visual reminders of expected behaviors. Students also get a copy of the ALP poem and add visual cues to help them remember active listening expectations.Teach active listening collage

2. Perfect (Un)Packing Procedures: Unpacking and packing up can be a laborious, timely chore that can lead to a huge waste of instructional time. Students who have trouble staying focused often forget items or get lost during this time because they may struggle keeping track of this multi-step procedure. To teach this critical procedure, I select an unpacking/packing up song that I play every day the entire year. Students become familiar with the timing and lyrics and can use this to gauge how much time they have left to complete this procedure. I use Pharrell’s “Happy” as our unpacking song and it is a hit with the kids.I also create a visual checklist of all of the items needed to unpack and pack up. I use this visual checklist to model each specific step, one step at a time. I show the students how to do it and then start the music and let them do it. Have students freeze when done with that specific step. Then, refer to the visual checklist for the next. Be sure to set expectations for completion. Explain what students should do when they finish unpacking or packing up or else they will wander, talk, or dig in their desk. I tell my students to sit at their desks with an ALP and always praise those who unpack or pack up efficiently and redirect those who need a little extra help. Students will need a lot of modeling, practice, and reinforcement as they learn these new procedures. During the first week, I have students unpack and pack up with me, step by step. I gradually reduce the assistance, reviewing the visual checklist, and watching the students as they unpack/pack up. I stand in high traffic areas, reminding them to stay in a line or wait until person is done before putting water bottle away. I pick a couple of role models who demonstrate excellent unpacking skills and have these students model the specific behavior(s) to the class. By the end of the second week or start of the third week, students should be able to unpack/pack up independently using the visual checklist and music to assist as needed.Perfect Unpacking Procedures

3. Gather at the Carpet Area: Assign each student a seat on the carpet area. I measure the space needed for each student and then add a self-adhesive label with child’s name on the carpet. Be sure to put students who have vision issues or behavior issues up front as a support. Model how to stand up, push in the chair, and walk quickly and quietly over to the carpet area. Name students in the first row in order, and have them walk over to the row and sit down in criss-cross position.  Repeat for the rest of the rows, giving praise for specific behaviors. Model returning to desks and then call rows one at a time back to desks. Practice this procedure several times over the first few weeks. When students are proficient with this, remove the labels. Gather at the carpet area collage

Are you overwhelmed with the thought of all of the routines, procedures and transitions you need to teach your students at the beginning of the year? Our Back to School Teacher Toolbox has everything you need to create an efficient classroom. This Toolbox contains engaging, colorful resources and activities that explain how to model, practice and reinforce important routines such as moving in the classroom, gathering materials, cleaning up, freezing at teacher’s signal, lining up, and tightening transitions.PREVIEW Routines and Procdures_Page_1

Work smarter, not harder with our ready-to-use back to school lessons and activities.  Happy New Year!

 

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Use this dry erase table to promote active engagement during small group instruction.

Increase Student Engagement in 2 Easy Steps!

Create an amazing interactive whiteboard table for guided reading groups and math groups in two easy steps!  Purchase a roll of self-adhesive dry-erase paper.

1. Measure Table.  Use a yardstick or measuring tape to determine dimensions of table. Roll out dry-erase paper and cut large sections to fit measurements. It is easier to do the sides first and then the middle.  Working in three smaller pieces will prevent bubbling and wrinkling.

Use this dry erase table to promote active engagement during small group instruction. 2.  Trim to Fit:  Use an Exacto knife to trim around the edges.  Colorful duct tape can be used to seal the edge of the table to prevent peeling.

Use this dry erase table to promote active engagement during small group instruction.

Use this dry erase table to promote active engagement during small group instruction.

My students LOVE using this table to share their learning and engage throughout the lesson in a novel way.  In guided reading, we use the dry-erase table to create Thinking Maps, cite evidence, ask and answer questions, and note connections.  Students also write down key vocabulary words and illustrate the story elements.

Guided reading

Use this dry erase table to promote active engagement during small group instruction.

During math groups, we use the table to demonstrate thinking and solve problems.  Students draw mathematical pictures, tallies, number lines, and number sentences as they work through problems.  Students are encouraged to explain their work using their drawings.

Use this dry erase table to promote active engagement during small group instruction.

The whiteboard table can also be used as a behavioral incentive.  Stars or points can be awarded to each student in a little square or circle near their workspace on the table to encourage on-task behavior and work completion.

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Set Up Your Best Classroom Yet: Part 3

Yesterday as part of my blog series, Set Up Your Best Classroom Yet, I gave you a sneak peek into my second grade classroom with a focus on my math area. I use the district prescribed curricula along with our reading, writing, and math strategy animals to help my students learn, apply, and transfer critical strategies across settings. My classroom décor centers around Hazel Hoot, an adorable green screech owl, and her special strategy friends. See how I integrate the Writing in the Wild West along with our hands-on tools to support and enhance the required writing curricula.

Writing Journal_cover

Special Spaces

Writing in the Wild West

In our charming book, Hazel Meets the Writing Strategy Animals, students meet Hazel the owl, a struggling writer, who takes a vacation to the desert to visit Grandma Hoot.  Grandma suggests that Hazel take a hike for writing inspiration and along the way she meets 10 animals; 5 that teach the writing process and 5 that teach writing mechanics.

AstuteHoot_Writing_webposter

In order to recreate the desert scene for the Writing in the Wild West space, I covered a bulletin board with vinyl western background from Party City (similar items are available at most craft stores and on Amazon). I added faux cactus from Hobby Lobby to give it a 3D effect. I placed the Strategy Banners on the side of the bulletin board; I reference them throughout each lesson. I printed our Writing Bulletin Board Set added Velcro to the back of each strategy animal allowing me to detach to use during lessons.

Vinyl background.5Faux cactus .5Bulletin board 2

Wild West 5.5

I also made a space to display student work. I took pictures of my students faces, printed and cut them out, and then added these adorable cowboy hats to each one. Finally I glued each picture onto a clothespin and glued the clothespins to thick ribbon that I stapled to the board. I use these cowboy clips to easily change writing samples frequently.

Cowboy hats 3.5Cowboy hats 2.5As the other blogs in this series mentioned, I love to display our hands-on tools in cute, inexpensive jars with printable animal labels.  Students have easy access to Stella’s Spacers, Cal’s Capitalizers, and Preston’s Punctuation Prongs, all which they enjoy using during writing time.

Banner and tools

Preston with blogCal the capitalizing cardinal with blogHave a cute classroom décor idea? I’d love to hear it! Be sure to check back on Sunday to read our latest Back to School blog.

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Set Up Your Best Classroom Yet: Part 2

Yesterday as part of my blog series, Set Up Your Best Classroom Yet, I gave you a sneak peek into my second grade classroom with a focus on my guided reading area. I use the district prescribed curricula along with our reading, writing, and math strategy animals to help my students learn, apply, and transfer critical strategies across settings. My classroom décor centers around Hazel Hoot, an adorable green screech owl, and her special strategy friends. See how I integrate the Problem-Solving Pond along with our hands-on tools to support and enhance the required Saxon math curricula.

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Special Spaces

Problem Solving Pond

In our sequel, Hazel Meets the Math Strategy Friends, Hazel swoops down to catch her dinner at the local pond when she grabs Upton, an enchanted fish. Upton oversees Problem-Solving Pond and promises to introduce Hazel to his animal friends, all who teach a special problem-solving strategy. Using these strategies and Upton’s guidance, Hazel blossoms into an accomplished mathematician who is able to tackle problems with ease.

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In order to recreate the Problem-Solving Pond, I covered a bulletin board with fadeless blue water paper and added green tulle and silk pond stems to border the pond. Upton’s Solving Word Problems Poster and Strategies Banners are prominent features of Problem-Solving Pond; I reference them throughout each lesson. I printed our Problem-Solving Pond Bulletin Board Set added Velcro to the back of each strategy animal allowing me to detach to use during lessons.

Bulletin board setpondI found this stuffed animal on Ebay that looks just like Upton and hung it with fishing wire and a plastic hook. During guided practice, I toss Upton to students and he helps us complete the problem-solving steps. Students LOVE solving problems with him!

Problem-Solving Pond Upton with studentI also found inexpensive jars at Hobby Lobby to hold our hands-on tools such as Max’s Counters, Brian’s Slide and Learns, and Fiona’s Fact-Fluency Pencils and added these adorable labels.

Hands-on toolsDuring center time, students solve their Saxon story problems using the strategy animals and our Problem-Solving Journals. They also use our hands-on tools such as Problem-Solving Mats, Brian’s Slide and Learns and Fiona’s Fact-Fluency Flashcards to reinforce learned strategies and concepts.

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Students enjoy using the Astute Hoot rug to discuss their journal samples. They stand on the strategy animal that they used to solve the story problem and then discuss the strategies, process, and thinking they used.

breaking_badger_matRead tomorrow’s blog to see my Writing in the Wild West classroom space and accompanying hands-on tools.

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The Attraction is Obvious!

We were very fortunate to receive some sample products from Dowling Magnets.  Our wheels are already turning and we’ve come up with some great uses for these resources in our classrooms in upcoming school year.

Kids LOVE the Make a Face Magnet Set pictured above. This 47 piece set is great for creative play, free time, and cooperative play.  I’ve been using this during summer tutoring as a break time choice between lesson activities.  I also plan to bring it along on our road trip to Utah and Colorado next week!

I’m super excited about the following magnetic math resources that I’ll get to use in the fall:

This Magnetic Demonstration Number Line will be a perfect fit for use with our math strategy animal Hailey the Hopping Hare.  Number lines are perfect for students to use place value, number sense and skip counting to add or subtract numbers. Students first start with the bigger number in the problem; this number is the starting point for hopping. Then they decompose or break apart the second number by place value (into 10’s and 1’s). Depending on the problem, students will either add or subtract, hopping first by 10’s and then by 1’s.  I plan to print out and laminate a small Hailey the Hopping Hare hands-on tool so students can use her to hop along the number line and keep their place.

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Using the Ten Frames Magnet Set will be perfect for students in my math intervention group to master counting, addition basic facts, place value, odd and even numbers within the context of ten.  What I like the most about these is the hands-on component.  The magnets are perfect for concrete learners and I love that they will stay in place rather than falling all over the desks and ground. Our math strategy animal Max the Modeling Mouse, will helping introduce this tool as he helps students use manipulatives, counters or drawings to model, or represent the mathematics of the story problem.

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Another great resource is the Magnetic Coins. I anticipate that these will be very motivating for students to use along with the Magnetic Dry-Erase Boards.  Many students in the primary grades struggle to master money concepts.  I love using realistic coins rather than boring old worksheets to help students practice this critical life skill.

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For more information and other great magnetic resources, visit Dowling Magnets!

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Make Morning Meetings More Meaningful

The Morning Meeting should be the most meaningful 10 minutes of your day. Morning Meetings are at their best when they are the perfect blend of social, emotional, and academic activities. It is a time to reflect on yesterday’s success, set goals and focus for the day, and build classroom community all while practicing vital ELA skills. Despite the many benefits, the Morning Meeting is often the first item cut when teachers are crunched for time. Here are some tips to implement a meaningful Morning Meeting all year long:

  1. Gather students in a large circle in your central meeting area. This is a skill that must be taught and practiced many times before students are expected to do it independently. Here are my students at Morning Meeting making a Friendship Web.
    Students sitting in circle
    Check out our Back to School Toolbox: Routines, Transitions, and Procedures unit for strategies to teach students how to gather at a meeting place.
  2. Select a student facilitator. Selecting a student facilitator in the Morning Meeting engages the students in the process and builds ownership. This duty improves each student’s public speaking skills and confidence by allowing him/her to take charge of the group. It also promotes a sense of pride and accomplishment. A rotation for the student facilitator ensures that all the students get the opportunity to lead the group.The teacher must model these procedures several times (at least 2 weeks) before selecting a student facilitator. The teacher then serves as a coach, scaffolding support using sentence stems and cues until students are adept facilitators.Morning Meeting procedures
  3. Include behavioral and learning reflection. Use specific sentence stems to help students determine Glows (success) and Grows (areas of improvement). Behavior Self Reflection Sentence StemsLearning Self Reflection Sentence Stems
    Use a learning scale to help students rate and assess their progress towards a specific behavior or learning goal. Students can use a scale such as this and point to the corresponding box that represents their rating or use a finger cue to show their rating.Learning Scale_3 on pageFinger cues
  4. Greet each other. Teach students a variety of greetings or songs to promote classroom community. We love using Dr. Jean’s songs and chants for this purpose; they are ideal for K-3 students.
    Dr. Jean and friends
  5. Unpack and start your day. After students have set goals and a purpose for the day, they are ready to unpack and start their learning.Have a great Morning Meeting routine? We’d love to hear from you! Looking for additional strategies and tips to teach vital Back to School routines and procedures? Download our Back to School Toolbox: Routines, Procedures, and Transitions unit for tried-and-true suggestions from veteran teachers.Jessica_blog_signature-SMALL

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