Sunday, June 18, 2017

The 40 Book Challenge in My Classroom


Last summer, I picked up a book I've been wanting to read for quite some time, The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. It's been on my to-read list for a couple of years and since I moved to a new school, I figured it was the perfect time to get some new inspiration.

Well, this book blew me away. You see, I love reading, and it is always my goal to help my students to love reading as well. I achieve this with engaging read-alouds, but I admit that I hadn't put much thought into independent reading other than to make sure that students are reading on their level, yadda, yadda, yadda. I realized that though I've stacked my classroom library with over 1,000 books, I've never taken the time to match students with a book that is perfect for them. I don't mean right in that it's on their level, I'm talking about it being right by being something that they are actually interested in reading. As I read Donalyn's book, I realized that I've missed out on great opportunities for meaningful recommendations. I was providing students with the opportunity to enjoy books that I read, but I was not putting enough thought into the books that they were reading on their own. Now that I've read The Book Whisperer, I am vowing to never let this happen again! Reading this book not only inspired me to create my own 40 book challenge, it also inspired me to rethink the way that I approach independent reading and I'm so glad it did. Below, I'd like to share how I'm using what I learned from her book in my classroom. I will preface this by saying that I've made changes that work for me, and know that perhaps the author wouldn't approve of every single one of them, but I pulled the most important components that were most meaningful for me and my growth as a teacher, and I think that is what is most important. I hope that Donalyn would agree.


I decided that I would keep the goal of 40 books, and I did say that they must be books that are on their reading level or above to count towards the challenge. At first, I tried to be flexible on the level because I don't want students to avoid great books that might be easy, but I found that they started to take advantage of this, so I tightened the reins on it. I did not assign certain genres as suggested in their book. The reason that I did this was A) I knew I was going to expose them to different genres through our reading curriculum. B) There are genres that I dislike reading as an adult. Put a science fiction book in front of me and my eyes immediately glaze over. I don't want to force my students to read books they aren't interested in because I believe that defeats the purpose of creating a love of reading. I want my 40 book challenge to be focused on books that my students will truly enjoy.


Click the image above to download this Q&A

I was really concerned about stressing my students out with this because I knew some students would hear me say 40, and then hear nothing else if I didn't put their mind's at ease right away. Teachers must keep in mind that there are some students in their class who don't enjoy reading yet. I knew I needed a buy-in from those students so I thought about what they would need to hear.

The first thing that I told my students was that this was not a competition against one another, but instead the same as setting a goal and working hard to achieve it. I explained to them that as long as they were completing their weekly assignments related to the challenge, I would be proud of them, regardless of whether they met their goal of 40 or not. To chart their progress,  I hung pennants each week with their updated number and they loved this and they also recorded their progress in their binders (more on that in a minute). I made sure that it was very clear to my students that this challenge wasn't about who can read the most, but rather who is working towards their goal. This conversation took a lot of stress off of their shoulders and helped them to understand that the goal is to enjoy reading.

Our pennants at the beginning of the year. Each one says _______(name)  is ready to begin the challenge.

The first week of school, I gave an interest survey. I had to do mine differently from the one used in the book because I'm elementary and hers seemed to be better for middle school. My main goal with this survey was to find out what makes each student "tick" so that the books I recommend for them will be closely aligned to their interests. I also asked some questions to find out their strengths and weaknesses with reading to give me a heads up on their needs. As I read each survey, I went into my classroom library and started pulling recommendations for my students and leaving them on their desks. This was great for me because it allowed me to become reacquainted with my own classroom library. It excited my students to see my recommendations. As we went through the year, I would order books from Scholastic and when they would arrive, I'd immediately introduce them to the class and then recommend them to students who I knew would enjoy them! They loved it and I enjoyed using their interest surveys to get to know them as readers and seeing their wish lists grow!

Click on the image above for a reproducible copy of my interest survey for elementary students.

Click on the image above to get a printable copy of this cover for student binders. I have it in 20, 30, and 40.

I created each student a book challenge binder of their own. In that binder I placed a reading log where students tracked each book they completed, a wish list for students they wanted to read in the future, and sample book reviews in journals, to be explained in an upcoming blog post. Of course, you are probably wondering how I knew for sure that they were reading each book, and for this, I did a combination of Donalyn's ideas, my own ideas, and what the students have already been doing. 
I decided to have students complete a weekly journal in which they write about a book that they are reading. I respond to their entry and it becomes a weekly chat between student and teacher. Their journal entry makes it clear if they are reading or just skimming. Look for a more in-depth post on the pros and cons of this, as well as a more-detailed explanation. 

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not an AR person. I wish it would go away entirely. However, my students have spent the past 5 years participating in AR and some really love it, so I didn't want to take this option away from them completely. I allowed students to take a test on their level or above and as long as they passed it (I set the goal at 80%),  I allowed them to count the book towards their 40 book challenge. I did have one incident where students were all taking the same test and sharing the answers (one of the many things about AR that I do not like), but it was an isolated incident. I monitored daily to make sure that did not happen again.
For students who don't often pass AR tests, or do not enjoy taking them, I allowed students to complete a book review with two options, a written review on Kid Blog or a video review on Kid Blog. I purchased the yearly subscription to Kid Blog and loved that we could use this format to share the fantastic books that we are reading and recommend them to others. I did my own examples of each and posted them to Kid Blog in advance to share them with my students. I also created a rubric to share with the students and walked them through their first book review on Kid Blog. I found that they were much less nervous about book reviews once they completed one together. It's all part of the I do, we do, you do model when it comes to these. I required everyone to complete at least one book review per month, but the remainder of the books that they complete can be AR tests if they choose. Overall, this went well, but I think they got a little bored of it, so I am planning to add a book project each trimester that will take the place of 1 book review each trimester so that they have a bit more choice in their accountability. I plan on sharing a more detailed post on our book reviews soon.
 I am very pleased with the results of the 40 book challenge. As I assured my students on the very first day, it was always about finding books they love and reading because they wanted to, not because I was forcing them to. In the end, only three students met the challenge of 40 books (with one reaching 73), but every single child surprised themselves because they read more this year than they ever had in years before. Even more importantly, they loved each book they read. Parents were a bit nervous about this challenge at the beginning of the year, but they were thrilled with it in the end because they saw that regardless of how many books they had read, all students were seeing themselves as readers and were proud of what they accomplished because of this challenge. What more could a teacher ask for?


I will absolutely do the challenge again. I will tweak a few things here and there. As mentioned, I do think that the book reviews became a bit monotonous so I need to reevaluate those. I think a project a trimester will help and I'm going to think about other choices that I can offer that students will be excited about. Also, I'm going to do a better job of modeling their journal entries in the beginning so that I get more meaningful journals from students. I do plan on following up this post with more detailed posts on book journals and book reviews very soon so stay tuned!
The final pennants! 

Want my pennant template? Click the image above to download it for free! You will need to add text boxes to add student names and numbers. 

If you have any questions about how I did the 40 book challenge in my classroom, please feel free to comment below! I strongly encourage you to grab a copy of The Book Whisperer before starting your journey! 


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Editable Student Bookmarks


When I shared my end of the year gift for this year, I realized that in the madness of my move last summer, I never shared the gift that I gave to my students last year. If there was one book that my students LOVED last year, it was The One and Only Ivan. Even months after we had finished, my students were still talking about it! So when it came to an end of the year gift, I knew I wanted to give them a copy of the book, but I also wanted to give them something personalized. I decided to create a "One and Only" bookmark for each of my students, with a clip art picture that had a likeness to each student. This was a bit of an adventure in buying clip art!

I created a template using PowerPoint by inserting a rectangle with curved corners, changing the inside color to white and the edge to black with a thick border. I then added a big dot at the end of each bookmark as a place for me to punch a hole. After adding the graphics and the names, I took my templates to Office Depot and had them laminate them with thick laminate and let me tell you, it was THICK! They offered to cut it for me and I didn't take them up on this. If you decide to take this somewhere to have it laminated, let them cut it for your own sanity because the thick laminate is not easy to cut through at all. Also, purchase a corner rounder from Michael's. It was a life saver. I also bought some ribbon from Michael's and tied it through the hole for the final touch.

These would be great as stand-alone gifts or with a book. I added a note to go with the gift as well as a handwritten personal note to each student. My students loved the bookmarks, and kept asking how I got each one to look like just like them. But I can't give them all of my secrets, can I?


If you'd like an editable bookmark template to use, click on the picture below to download the template I created. Please keep in mind that only the words are editable. I cannot create a completely personalized bookmark for each of your students, but I did attempt to include a wide range for you to choose from. Directions for editing are included in the download. Make sure you download this to your computer and open the Powerpoint file, not just open it in Google Slides.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Jars of Positivity End of Year Gift


Each year, I try a different end of year gift for my students. After 12 years of teaching, it's not easy to come up with something new each time. I've used original ideas as well as ideas I've found on Pinterest. I've done some that I loved, and some that I wouldn't likely repeat again (beach balls are only a great idea if you love the idea of 25 beach balls being blasted around your room for the last hours of the school year). Since I'm a military wife, I move around quite a bit, so there's really no reason to not repeat some of the more successful ones. However, my goal is to try to come up with something that is specific to the group that I have and as anyone who has taught for a few years can tell you, no two groups are EVER alike. Thus, my attempts at mixing things up from year to year.

This year, we read some really amazing books together. We started with Rain Reign, then joined the Global Read Aloud and read Pax, devoured Maniac Magee, and ended the year with an amazing and inspiring book, Fish in a Tree. Most of our books focused on treating others with kindness and compassion, embracing our differences, and not judging a book by it's cover.

So what to create that represents those themes? I really didn't know. I contemplated those cute word cloud poems, but couldn't find reasonably priced frames that I love (yes...I'm picky). I loved the idea of embracing their positive qualities in some way, as I did something similar to that years ago and was happy with the results. Still...I didn't know exactly what to do.

Leave it to a shopping trip to Michael's to inspire me! I found these adorable little mason jars and my wheels started turning. I have a crafty parent that loves to use her Cricut and so I contacted her to see if she'd be willing to personalize the jars for me. The jars are about 4 inches tall They were about $1.50 each, but I had one of those valuable 25% off your entire purchase coupons, so it wasn't too bad. My plan was to fill them with positive words about each student and call them jars of positivity. Of course, the words weren't just going to come from me. I wanted their peers to write them because I know that those are even more meaningful at this stage in their lives. I created a letter and attached a template with the names of each student. To do this, I simply made a table in PowerPoint and made the borders thicker. I then typed their names in each box. I copied the letter and the templates on a variety of colors of paper.


Once I had all of these returned, the toughest part was cutting out each individual strip and separating them. I won't lie and say that this wasn't time-consuming, because it was.  But if you put on a good TV show in the background, it makes it go by a little quicker!


Now I was ready for the jars. They came out adorable thanks to my super crafty parent!


I folded up each strip and placed them inside the jar. This was also a tad time-consuming, but I think my excitement for the final outcome got me through. The different colors looked fantastic inside!


But...I needed one more thing, something to explain what was inside the jars. So I wrote a poem to go with it.


I put the jars in pretty bags and the students couldn't wait to see what was inside! 


Yesterday was our last day so I presented my students with this gift. I had them take the poem out and I read it aloud before they took the jars out. Because the last day is always emotional for me, I made it to the second stanza before I started bawling. 

So how did it go? Was it a hit? YES! They loved it. They couldn't wait to see what their classmates wrote about them and they had these huge smiles on their faces as they read them. One of my favorite moments was hearing a student who worked super hard all year read one aloud that said, "______ is a hard worker because she never gives up, even when it's hard for her." She beamed as she read that. That's how I knew this gift was exactly what I was hoping for. Although this gift took more time than I thought it would, it was completely worth it. I'd definitely do it again, but perhaps after I've moved so there is still an element of surprise. It was really a great way to wrap things up! 

If you'd like a copy of the poem without my name or the school year on it, you can click on the picture below. I print two to one page so that I can get a smaller version without losing any quality.




Sunday, January 8, 2017

Happy New Year!


Happy New Year! Goodness, I've fallen off the Earth a bit when it comes to blogging, but I'm hoping to get more posting in this year. Our move to California presented me with a new challenge: taking college classes for the first time in over a decade. Since we have a high amount of EL students in our state, California has a requirement that teachers have certification in teaching EL learners. Since this has not been a requirement anywhere else and wasn't the focus of my master's degree, I had two choices: take a test on things I've never taught/learned or take 18 college credits in one year and get certified in EL that way. I chose the college credits path since it never hurts to have some extra credits. To say that it's keeping me busy is a bit of an understatement.

So that's the main reason for my absenteeism when it comes to blogging. I've still got two classes to go, but I'm working hard to balance it all! If you're still hanging in there as a follower, thank you so much!

Today, I'm working on my monthly behavior rewards. Each month, those students that earn all of their behavior punches get a treat, along with a cute note to accompany the treat. This month, it's a box of Swedish Fish! I've created a cute little note to go with it, and it's yours for the taking by clicking on the picture below!


Wishing you a New Year that's filled with love, health, happiness, and memories that make you smile!


Sunday, August 7, 2016

My New Plan for Positive Behavior in the Classroom


I'll admit it. I'm one of those people who was still using a behavior chart in my classroom when school ended in June. I even talked with my teammate about how much I hated it before we started the year last year. She agreed. But when we put our heads together, we still couldn't come up with an alternative.

Why do I want to go away from the behavior chart? Rather than explain this and not do it well, I will point you in the direction of my friend Nikki from Teaching in Progress. Her post Why I Will Never Use a Behavior Chart Again really opened my eyes to the negative impact a behavior chart can have on our students. Her post is not new, so I even felt guilty last year that I was implementing it again, but in fifth grade I needed some way to track student behavior and hold students responsible for their actions, so I had trouble figuring out what could replace it and also avoid having a negative impact on my students.

So this summer seemed like the right time to come up with a new plan for positive behavior in my classroom. To be honest, I've actually never really had bad behavior. I've had some normal, chatty fifth graders, but I am very clear with my expectations and this results in very little behavior problems. In fact, at one point last year, I jokingly laughed that the behavior chart had become more of a decoration in my room than anything else.

I first had to consider what it was that I wanted to get from my behavior chart and then decide what it could be replaced with that would give me the results I was looking for. It came down to the need to track behavior and provide students with an incentive for making great choices in their daily behavior. I remembered using punch cards many years ago with younger students and started to consider how I might use these instead of the behavior chart.

Here's what's great about punch cards:
1. They are not posted on the wall so students do not have to worry about being embarrassed in front of all of their friends. I bought pencil boxes for each of my students, which is where they will keep their monthly card. At the end of each day, they simply leave their pencil boxes on top of their desks and after dismissal, I go around and punch the cards of all students who made positive choices in their behavior, including the ones who maybe had a rough start to their day, but turned it around. No one knows how many punches each student has unless the student chooses to share that number with their classmates.
  • If you are concerned about whether you might remember who you spoke to and who you didn't, avoid writing it on the board. Instead, get a small notebook to discretely record student names in during a down time like lunch or prep time. Then you can return to the notebook at the end of the day, add names, and cross off the names of any students who turned their day around. 
2. I can see which students are struggling with behavior quickly and easily. If Henry doesn't get any punches for the entire week, then it's time for me to give his parents a call to discuss this. I can keep track of and stay ahead of these students to work with them, as well as their parents, to find ways to fix the problem now, rather than later. I suggest holding on to the cards in student folders from month to month as they will be helpful if you end up needing to bring data to an IEP meeting or child study.

Click on the picture above to see these in my store. I found the adorable paw print puncher in the scrapbooking section of Michael's! 

At the beginning of each month, we identify how many school days we have. I give students the cards I've created, each of which has 23 days, and have them cross off any extra days if the month we are on has less than 23 days, which will happen. When we have figured out how many days they are responsible for, each child sets a realistic goal for their behavior. If Devon has a rough home life and occasionally has a rough day or two, he might be realistic and say that his goal is to get a hole punch on 18 out of 20 days. I urge students to have high, but realistic expectations for their behavior, as I have high, but realistic expectations for their behavior, too.  

---->After I wrote this post and started my year, I came up with another brilliant idea for those months that don't have 23 school days. Instead of crossing off the extra days, do double punch days! Think about those tough days (Fridays, assembly days, days right before holidays) and tell your students that morning that if their behavior is fantastic, they'll get two punches that day! 

Again, I understand that some students might have a rough morning and turn their day around in the afternoon. As long as they ended on a positive note, and did not get sent out of the room to the office, I will still give them a punch on their card, but they have to really turn their day around. I make this clear to my students from the start. 

So, of course, your natural response is...So what? Why do your students care about these punch cards? How do you get them to "buy in" to wanting that punch on their card each day?

In my classroom, students earn tickets for behavior, as well other actions throughout their day. These tickets can earn them classroom coupons, which they love. At the end of the month, students get one ticket for each hole punch they received and if they have a full card, they get 10 extra tickets. This way, everyone is being rewarded and no one is getting anything different from the other, aside from the number of tickets, of course. In my eyes, it's a win, win! 

I'm looking forward to trying the punch cards with my new group that starts on Thursday. I'm thinking they are going to love it! Here's the classroom reward coupons that I use with my class. Click the picture to view them in my TpT store! 

Behavior management can be one of the hardest parts of teaching, but when you set clear expectations and you don't lower those expectations, you'll set yourself up for success year after year! It's all about student buy-in and part of that buy-in comes from knowing that their will be positive consequences for their positive behavior.

Until next time, enjoy every second of the summer that you have remaining. My first day is in just five days!! Where did summer go?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

I'm officially back...but where have I been?

Hello, friends! Gosh, I can't believe it's been more than six months since I've posted. Rest assured, I have a great excuse. I've been a busy bee! Here's a quick rundown of what's kept me from blogging.

So, at the beginning of March, my husband received orders to report to Northern California by the end of June.
We'd been in Virginia for almost 6 years, so we knew our time was coming to an end, yet we weren't expecting to report so soon. Needless to say, the time between March and June was crazy stressful. There was suddenly so much to do. That three months FLEW by, filled with planning, packing, and trying not to be a giant ball of stress the entire time.


But, let me be clear that I was totally excited for this change, even more so because we were heading to sunny California! It seems that coast to coast moves are becoming my specialty, having moved from MA to WA in 2008, WA to VA in 2010, and now VA to CA in 2016. <--------- Is anyone else noticing that I keep moving to states that have abbreviations ending in the letter A? 


The month of June, as I now look back, was definitely the craziest of all. As soon as the year ended, the movers came to get all of our stuff and before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye to Virginia and the wonderful view we've had for the last six years.
Our view in Virginia

We did six days of driving across the country! We didn't have time to do much sightseeing since we were traveling with my two cats, but we did take in a few sights here and there. Here's a few pictures from along the way that you've probably already seen if you follow me on Instagram!

Hello from Indiana!
Hello from Nebraska!

Hello from Cheyenne, Wyoming!
Wyoming is beautiful! 

Hello from Utah! 
Hello from Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah!

Hello from two states, Utah and Nevada!
Hello from Nevada!

Hello from Northern California! 

Of course, my biggest concern was moving my two cats across the country again, as they've done all of my coast to coast moves with me and let's just say that they aren't big fans of travel.  However, they actually did quite well, although they were total bed hogs, just ask my husband! 



We arrived in California at the end of June, stayed on the base until we found a house to rent, and moved in to our new place on July 1st. Since then, we've been busy making our house a home and when that started to settle, I started to bring my things to my new classroom! Yes, friends, I will continue my teaching adventures in fifth grade in California so my blogging focus will continue to be upper elementary. 



Now that I'm getting settled in, I hope to get back to more regular blogging. I've got lots of creations and ideas to share with you. Thanks for sticking with me during my time away! Until next time, I'll just leave these palm trees here for you to enjoy! 

See those clouds? Nope, neither do I!