Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Is it important to teach grammar?

word wall, grammar, spelling
Yes, yes, oh dear heavens, yes!  And not just because I'm old.  But because, in our interest to get kids writing about interesting things, we've gotten sloppy about correcting grammatical mistakes.

Let me rephrase that,  I've gotten sloppy.

Because there are so many.
Correct their spelling and grammar whenever they write?
How often before we feel like we're destroying their little souls?

And yet.
And yet, there has to be a line in the sand.

I will not tolerate "Where you at?"
Sorry.
I know that's becoming part of our language.  I know that language changes regularly and that "sick" means something different today than it did 20 years ago.

I still can't tolerate "Where you at?"

I made up a list of NO EXCUSES words and phrases for my classroom.  You can see the product in my store on TpT.





And if you want to pin this for later, please use this Pinterest-friendly pin!


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Bud, Not Buddy novel study

Bud, Not Buddy novel study
One of the first products I created was this novel study.  Oh, boy, did it need an update!  With a lot more reading comprehension skills and strategies, and some deep-thinking-text-evidence-needing questions, it's a much better product now.



Click here to see a preview on Facebook.  And click here to see the product on TeachersPayTeachers.

Have a good week!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

It's like the Washing Machine! Only Who Eats the Books?



Michael Vey, When books go missing from your classroom library
Late last spring, I read the first Michael Vey book, The Prisoner of Cell 25 to one of my classes.  This Science Fiction series never fails to ignite a furious exchange of books, as kids move on to the others in the series.  Books go flying off my shelves, kids negotiate to read over weekends while others have plans; it's all pretty amazing.

As students were reading away, someone announced that he was waiting for the fourth book but couldn't find it.  We searched high and low; my check-out system (Booksource) hadn't failed; someone had neglected or forgotten to check it out.

Not wanting to stop the momentum of reading, I bought the book one weekend, and handed it proudly to this very hungry reader who'd been eagerly anticipating its arrival.

Three weeks later, it was the end of the year.
Students returned their book, we put them back on shelves.  And lo and behold, Book 4 was missing.

Again.

Students searched lockers, homes, we sent a Remind 101 message to parents.

No luck.

On the last day of school, as he was boarding the bus, one of my students casually mentioned that his brother, whom I'd taught the previous year, had never returned a book of poetry to me.  It was still sitting on his bookshelf at home.

I was a bit perturbed, to say the least, so using my kindest words, I emailed parents to ask if they would return the book to our school office sometime over the summer.

The next day, I received a mortified email from the boys' dad.  He not only offered to return the poetry book immediately, but knowing how much both his sons had enjoyed the Michael Vey books, he offered to replace the missing book.  Which was very kind.

Today, guess who comes to visit me?  The boy I had last year, the younger brother.  And guess what he had in his hands?

Yup.

"It was stuck at the bottom of my binder and I didn't notice it."

What?!

Ah, the joys of being a Reading teacher!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Video Review of A Blind Guide to Stinkville

Way, way, way back in the day when I was in first grade, we switched seats one day and I was placed next to Michael.  Michael had polio, and he wore braces on his legs.  Braces that clanked and made noise. Braces that scared me.  

I began to cry.  My teacher asked me what was wrong, but I was too embarrassed to tell her that I was afraid his polio was contagious.  

She got my older sister, in second grade, to talk to me.  

I couldn't stop crying.

So she moved my seat.

And I stopped crying.

I have felt badly about that for many, many years.  I didn't dislike Michael.  I was scared of his body. If Michael or my teacher had been able to explain his braces to me, it would have removed my fear, and I suspect that I would have been fine sitting next to him.

Have you noticed the number of authors who are tackling difficult topics to teach our students about all people, without making any of them seem scary?  I love how these books make a what could be unapproachable circumstances feel normal (think Wonder or Out of My Mind.)  They remind students (and me!) that each of us is more than what we look or talk - or even learn - like.

A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel is one of those books.  Alice has albinism, and that means she has to use suntan lotion multiple times a day.  It also means she has nystagmus, so she's considered legally blind.  Here's my review of this book by an author who's becoming one of my favorites!

I have a novel study for this book that you can find in my Teachers Pay Teachers store here.  Read this book to your students!  It will generate a lot of good discussion, and a fair amount of giggles, too. What kid doesn't like a farting dog?

Have a great week!



Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Yield Your Classroom Design to Your Students

Flexible seating, alternative seating, classroom design
What if students decided where the furniture should go in your room?  Could you give up control and let them decide?  Come along for a ride and see what happened in my room, which could just as easily happen in yours!

One day over the summer, I ran into my classroom and saw my desks had been put back into groups of fours.  Nothing wrong with that.  Looking around, it occurred to me that maybe I should ask my students what they'd like, instead of me deciding for them.

After all, I'm a whole lot older than they are, and my body's in a whole different place than their young ones!  They work on the floor a lot in my room.

I hardly do that.

And so, on the first day of school, I asked them to design the room.  While that can be a scary release of control (What will they come up with?  Will I like it?  How do I handle it if I don't?)  It turned out to be a wonderful exploration and truly collaborative effort.

Here's what I did, and what you can do, too!

alternative seating, classroom design, flexible seating

Here's the before picture, taken this summer:



1.  Divide Students Up Randomly

Think about the first day of school.  Students are just getting to know each other.  What better way than to have them work together?  We played one game, Back to School Would You Rather, just to break the ice, and then I divided students up into randomly assigned groups, using paint chips.

2.  Tell Students What the Endgame is

After explaining why I thought I shouldn't decide for them (I got lots of buy-in when I told them), students were told: create an environment where everyone could learn, and include not just themselves, but 26 other students in our room, and another 53 on our team.  We talked for a few minutes about where they do their homework, where they go when they're using technology, where they go to write or draw.  

3.  Let them Get to Work

And then, in their groups, they began to discuss.  I intentionally hadn't given them any directions for working together.  I wanted to see if they were necessary.  I walked around and looked and listened.  I was blown away!  Great topics, thoughtful discussion, some negotiating, some acquiescing.  I should have taken a video and sent it to Congress!

4.  Share Ideas with the Whole Group

flexible seating, alternative seating, classroom design
After an outdoor break, students began to present their ideas, using the Activboard to show what they'd come up with.  Six different plans were presented.  Discussion ensued.  And questions.  Could they combine aspects of plans?  Absolutely.  Could they vote on the one they liked the best.  Of course.

With eyes closed, they voted.  This was one of the finalists, and with just a little discussion, the plan they chose.

5.  Let Them Take Ownership and Move the Furniture


flexible seating, alternative seating, classroom design

flexible seating, alternative seating, classroom design


flexible seating, alternative seating, classroom design

flexible seating, alternative seating, classroom design
Low tables in the front and one in the middle.  An L shape around the room.  Comfy chairs ("Soccer" and Bungee) in the back of the room.

At the end of the first week, I asked them how they felt.  Everyone still loved it.  And so did the other classes.

The other desks have been moved out of the room.  For now, everyone's happy.  More than that, though, their ownership in the design has taught them they have a say in some of the decisions in this room.



Monday, August 28, 2017

Some Positive Quotes for a Monday morning

Positive quotes, Monday morning, classroom, education
It's the first day of school in my district!  I thought this quote was a good reminder that it's usually the "little stuff" that's actually the "big stuff."                                                                      
                                 Positive quotes, Monday morning, classroom, education
It's easy to get cranky about some of the kids in your class.  Especially if you've been given certain students because you "get" them.  You just don't want to "get" too many of them in one classroom! Swearing aside, this one is a great reminder that it's our job as teachers to do the best we can with the room full of kids we've been given.

Positive quotes, Monday morning, education, classroom
This man is one of my heroes.  I'm sure he was human, but it feels like everything he said was worthy of being written down. 
Positive quotes, Monday morning, education, classroom
Don't you wish we could all be like this?  So. Hard! 
Let's try!

Have a great Monday, everyone!


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Video Review of Great Historical Fiction book

video, War that Saved My Life, book review
When students explain why they don't like historical fiction, they usually say something like, "It doesn't grab me in the beginning,"  "It takes a while for the action to start," or "It starts off too slowly."

My job is to convince them to hang in there, that once the setting and the characters are set in the time period, the action starts.  But with this book, there's no need to do that.  It starts off with a bang! Literally!

Here's my latest review of a great book for upper elementary and middle school students, filled with Growth Mindset themes!  
I've created a novel study for this book which is available on Teachers Pay Teachers here.  You can also buy a Crossword Puzzle and Word Search of all the key names and places here.

If you're back to school, have a great week!  And if you're still "summerin'," enjoy the last of it!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

One Race: Human. What we Need to Teach our Students



Teaching Students about racism
Sometimes, in this country, I feel like a stranger in a strange land.

I can usually wrap my head around the thinking of people whose views are different than my own.
I may not agree with them.

But I get where they're coming from.

Not so much anymore.  And, after the events in Charlottesville this past weekend, I don't want to pick my jaw up off the floor.

Again.

Nope, I want to go, with renewed commitment, into my classroom, and gently remind and demonstrate through my actions, that labels we put on each other are just that.  Labels.  Labels can be good, but they can also divide.  We need to remember that we are all people, allowed to share this amazing planet we live on, for however brief or long a time as we get to spend here.  And we are strengthened when we work with, not against each other.  Our race, gender, religion, sexuality, or political views demonstrate that we can be unique.

TOGETHER.

We are needed, now more than ever, to teach that message to our students.  Our strength as a society comes when working for "we" becomes more important than working for "me."  We need to be explicit in our teaching and not be afraid to address racism by name.  We can not let fear, which is most often based on ignorance, rule the day.  We are better than that.  And our students need to hear from us.  Because maybe, this is the only place they're hearing it.

TWO HELPFUL RESOURCES:

  • Pernille Ripp shared this google docs to her Passionate Readers group on Facebook.  It was put together by several people in response to the events in Charlottesville.  Please download it for a source of good articles and thoughts about how to address this with your children or students.
  • Mary Ramming Chappell of The Librarian's Literature Links posted this video about the book, Let's Talk about Race.  It looks like a great book, worth reading with elementary children.  





P.S.  Although I've searched online, I do not know the graphic artist who created the picture above. If you should happen to know, please comment below, so that I can give credit where it's deserved. Thanks!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Why your students should read Echo: a video review

Video review of Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
Have you ever read a book where you marveled about how the author came up with the ideas?  I admit, I do that pretty often, but nothing like how I felt when I read Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan.  My word!

The author has managed to intertwine five different stories: a fairy tale and four different historical fiction stories.  What’s the common thread?  A harmonica.  Yup, you read that correctly.  And if that doesn’t sound interesting, trust me when I tell you that some of your upper elementary or middle school students will be completely blown away by this book.

I hope your students enjoy it as much as my students and I have!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Five Fantastic Ways to Make Flexible Seating Happen in your Room!

flexible seating,6th grade, middle school
There have been a number of Facebook posts recently from teachers moving from primary grades to sixth grade.  One of their big concerns is how to arrange a classroom for older students, who are still kids in many ways.

I have a few pictures of the way I've set up my classroom the past few years which you can see here. This year, I'm going to have the students design the classroom on the first day.  It's Project-Based Learning at its best!  Starting in randomly-assigned groups where they'll have a few minutes to introduce themselves, they'll start talking and planning what our room should look like.
  • Want desks at full-size?  Great!  
  • Should some be lowered so they can sit on the floor and work?  Okay!  
  • What about the kidney table?  
  • The bungee chairs, the pillows, the soccer chairs?
  • They'll get to decide

It'll be interesting to see what they come up with!  They'll have to present their ideas to the class and then together, we'll come up with a workable plan.  To be honest, I keep trying to talk myself out of this, but part of me keeps coming back to it.

In the meantime, here are some posts from other teachers who have blogged about how they've arranged things.  See if you can find some good suggestions here!
Simply Secondary also had some great ideas!







Saturday, July 8, 2017

Three riveting World War II novels for upper elementary students



historical fiction, novels, reading, middle school, The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, Projekt 1065, The War that Saved My Life
Historical fiction is sometimes a tough sell for upper elementary students.  It's not that they don't like the ideas, it's that it often takes a while to establish the setting, and not all students are willing to wait that out to get to "the action."
This summer, I grabbed two unfamiliar books off my classroom shelves to read, hoping to get students as excited about them as they are about The War that Saved My Life.  I hadn't realized until I read them that both of the others were also about World War II.  All three books are very different from each other, but there are some common threads in the ways the characters grow, despite obstacles.
                                                         
Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II by [Gratz, Alan]Michael, born in Ireland, now lives in Germany with his parents because his father is the Ambassador to Germany.  Michael's mother, with his father's blessing, works for the Resistance movement. Having witnessed the cruelty of the Nazis, Michael is willingly pulled into being a spy.  But he has to keep up pretenses, so he goes to school with German boys, burns books, and joins the Hitler Youth. This action-packed book, which may read a little fantastically to adults (it reminded me in some ways of the Alex Rider series) will keep students sitting on the edge of their seats.  Filled with enough suspense, action, and questions about friendships and trust - as well as short chapters! - students will want to keep reading this.
I like that Alan Gratz slips in historical information about World War II without students even knowing it.  For example, I wasn't aware that Projekt 1065 was Germany's plan to build a turbojet plane (all planes were propeller planes up to that point).  The book also provides an accurate depiction of what it was like to be involved in the Hitler Youth program.
                                                           
The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by [Boyne, John]John Boyne has written a complementary story to that of his famous book, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.   That one broke my heart.  This one left me with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn't like it, but that doesn't mean it didn't move me.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Pierrot lives in Paris with his French mother and German father, a man broken by his war experiences in World War I.  Eventually, his parents separate and after several years of living with his mother, she passes away from tuberculosis.  Pierrot goes to live with his father's sister, a woman who works as a housekeeper in a home on top of a mountain, which is used as a retreat house.  By Adolf Hitler.  
Although he is only there for brief periods of time, Hitler befriends Pierrot (renamed Pieter to sound more German).  And Pieter craves his attention, taking on the zealotry and bigotry that Hitler expounds on.  I couldn't put this book down although I wanted it to go in a very different direction than it did.  There are some powerful lessons here about how easily we can be taught to hate, especially if those messages come to us at a young age.

This would be a great read for someone interested in this time period but it does require a more mature, thoughtful student.  There's nothing graphic.  It just takes a different point of view from many other historical fiction novels about the Holocaust.
                                                     
Product DetailsThis book has become one of my favorite read-alouds the past few years.  Unlike other historical fiction books which take time to develop the setting first, this one starts off with a bang!  Students will be horror-struck by the way Ada's mother treats her because she was born with a clubfoot.                                                                                                                                                                       This perfect book to teach Growth Mindset is filled with adventures of a new kind.  Ada has been kept a virtual prisoner in her apartment and she emerges (spoiler alert!) by running away with her younger brother Jamie, who's being evacuated from London when the fears of London being bombed by Germany caused many children to be sent to the country to live with relatives.  Or strangers.

Ada and Jamie end up with Susan, a woman who doesn't really want to take them in, and declares herself "not nice."  And yet, her actions prove otherwise, and slowly but surely, each of the characters grows a little more friendly, a little more vulnerable, and a little more compassionate.  Ada's slow evolution from frightened child to more confident young woman is one that will have your students cheering her on.  What a beautiful book! 

There is a scene late in the book that always surprises my students (it did me too, the first time I read it.)  Honestly, it's worth reading out loud just to see the look on your students' faces at that point.  The fact that they're so hooked into Ada at that point shows what a brilliantly written, honestly felt book this is.

I have create a novel study, and a word search and crossword puzzle for this book, which you can find at my TpT store.


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Social Media: Why you should take advantage of Tailwind and tribes

Tailwind, Tailwind Tribes, Social Media
At last year's TpT conference, I  became sadly aware that my presence on social media was pretty nonexistent.  When I got home, I dove right in. Start an Instagram account?  Yup!  Create a Facebook page for my business?  Yup! Start pinning?  Yup!
It was summertime, after all.
And then the school year began....

Where should you spend most of your time?  Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook?  You can't judge them in the same way because they serve very different purposes.  But which is best for you?
Facebook:

  • Puts your information out to a large group of people.  If it happens to catch a lot of their eyes, hopefully they'll share it - that's how things go viral.  
  • Lasts a short while. Think of how much feed is above the first post you read when you've spent half an hour there!


Instagram:

  • Visual and quick.  
  • Great way to share your products and a little bit about yourself - combine some product pictures, some personal photos, and a few thoughtful or funny quotes and you're good to go.  
  • To keep people engaged, you need to have clear and engaging visuals 
  • Post a couple of hashtags that allow others to find you.  
  • Post regularly.  Like multiple times a day.  

Pinterest:

  • Slow moving, but has longer staying power.  
  • Different purpose - people don't use it to see what their friends are doing.  
  • Search and discover tool
  • Because people pin and oftentimes come back later to look at their pins, there's a shelf-life for pins that doesn't exist in the same way for Facebook and Instagram.

That difference taken me a year to figure out.  While my results will be different than yours, when I look at my analytics on TpT, Pinterest is always second behind TpT.  It makes sense to spend most of my limited time there.

So how does Tailwind fit in with Pinterest?

  • Tailwind is an "organizer" app that allows you to pin relevant pins, days, weeks, or months in advance.  
  • You receive pinning time recommendations based on your past history.  
  • You can pin as few as a couple of pins a day to over 100.  Don't go crazy!  I adjusted my numbers a few times before I found that 15 pins a day worked for me.  
  • If you want to take advantage of Tailwind, here's my referral link which will you give a free month's trial.  Tailwind also pins to Instagram now, so you can try that feature, too.

Tailwind Tribes should be a no-brainer!

  • They are free 
  • . Tribes vary by topic or grade level and most expect that you'll pin as many other peoples' pins as you post of your own.  
  • The beauty of tribes is that you benefit (and add to) the collective reach of your pins. Which means that your pins could get in front of thousands, or ten or hundreds of thousands of people you don't normally have access to.  
  • If you're not part of any tribes right now, ask on Facebook if you can join some.  Most tribes are open to having new members.

Remember: your goal is to have more time to create and revise products, not to be working on marketing.  It takes time to create a presence on each of these social media apps so pick the one that works best for you and spend your energy there!


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Tutorial: Using Keywords to Promote Your Blog posts

keywords,search engine optimization, SEO, blog posts

Keywords.  Keyword stuffing.  Search engine optimization.  The importance of using keywords. There is a ton of stuff out there on this topic!  Early on, I figured I was too busy creating new products to worry about what they were or why I should even think about them.  But this summer, I've been reading and listening to folks as they talk about this and I've come to realize it's not that hard and it doesn't take that much time to do.

And it's very, very valuable.  It takes a little bit of thought, and then it's pretty easy to do.

This is for beginners, and I hope what you read here will help put your products and blog posts in front of more people.  So, let's start at the very beginning (the very best place to start.) Sorry, I come from a family that bursts into song when any random synapse starts firing.

What are Key words?  
Think for a moment about who purchases your products.  What does that person look like?  For me, my products are primarily ELA, for 4th-8th graders.  So my teacher would most likely be an upper elementary or middle school teacher.  Now, what words would that teacher be using if he or she was looking for say, one of my novel studies?  Lit circle?  Novel studies? Books for small groups?  Those are the words I want to make sure to include in my key word search.
Where do you insert key words?keywords, search engine optimization, SEO, blog postsi
Everytime you insert a picture into a blog post, you want to link that picture to key words.  If you ask people to pin your blog post, you don't just want the title to be "search-worthy" but also the pictures. And it's easy to do.  

Insert the picture where you want it and click on Properties.  That will bring up this screen.

keywords, search engine optimization, SEO, blog posts
In the alt text box, type in the key words you want to use.  You don't need to write a sentence, just write the words, separated by commas or /.  Don't overdo it - that's "keyword stuffing" and can result in bad stuff happening.  Two, three, or four words or phrases should be more than enough.

Anywhere else?
One final place, and that's in your blog post settings.  I use blogger, so I don't know how it works on other platforms, but I assume you can find it in your settings.
When you click on this, it opens a box that lets you type.  Once again, keep it simple.  Think of what someone would search for if they were looking for your blog post.

And that will get you started!  If you've found other tips that work for you, please share.  I'm truly at the beginning of this learning curve!



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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Powerful nonfiction books to read with your students

Four nonfiction books that will grab your students' attention and keep them reading.
I love read-aloud time in my classroom.  It's one of my favorite things to do.  No strings attached, an occasional question asked, but mostly this is time for kids to sit back and listen to good books and fluent reading.  

I try to stretch their reading interests.  You think you only like realistic fiction?  Listen to this historical fiction book!  Or what about this science fiction one?  

I love history and sharing background historical information with students to flesh out their understanding of something they're reading, but I'd never read nonfiction books aloud to them.  Until this year.  Here are four books that are worth reading to your upper-elementary and middle school students.
Nonfiction read aloud
Caitlin's choice of a penpal in Zimbabwe, because it sounded more exotic than countries in Europe, changed her life.  She began an unlikely friendship with Martin - unlikely because of the distance, socioeconomic differences, and that their friendship had to be maintained by writing letters.  On paper.  With a pen or pencil.  As unlikely as that seems, they exchanged letters for six years, learning a lot about each other and themselves in the process.  Chapters alternate between Caitlin's and Martin's points of view.

Nonfiction read aloud
This book won the vote for next read-aloud, between several nonfiction books, with one of my classes.  This is the story of eight men who (like Amelia Earhart, my students reminded me) couldn't find the island they were supposed to land on in the Pacific Ocean, during World War II.  On board their plane was VIP Eddie Rickenbacker (a name I wasn't familiar with, but a hero of both world wars) The plot moves more slowly because the men spend a lot of time in rafts on the ocean, but their struggles with hunger, thirst, and sharks, makes it a compelling read.  A few girls started to get impatient with the book midway through ("Are they going to survive?") but most students stayed pretty glued.
This is one of my favorite books because Malala Yousafzai feels so approachable in her book.  She's not much older than my students and she, like they, has strong opinions about school.  Unlike my students, however, she nearly lost her life for expressing those opinions aloud.  Continuing to champion the rights of girls to have access to education, she went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.  I have used this book in multiple ways over the years, including with small literature circles.  You can find the novel study for students to delve deeply into the book, here.
                                         Nonfiction read aloud
I picked this book up before I left for a quiet weekend get-away, thinking I might start to read it.  I couldn't put it down!  This is the story of NASA and the African-American mathematicians who performed the computations that helped engineers create flying machines - airplanes and later, rocket ships. Sound pretty dry?  Not at all!  These women worked at a time when most women didn't.  It is the story of civil rights, the Space Race, the Cold War, and gender rights. Powerfully told from the point of view of four women, its honesty and action will capture the interest of many students.  A novel study for students can be found here.

I hope you get the chance to read some of these books this summer, so that you can recommend them to your students ~