Saturday, September 22, 2012

Reader's Response Tic Tac Toe





Don't you just love it when a new curriculum creates new ideas in your head? I do!

This year we're using Benchmark Literacy. It's pretty overwhelming. I've been using all of my free time to figure out how it works in a 2 hour block of reading and writing, and I am slowly working it out, though I am sure I will be working out kinks for the next month or so. One thing I love about this program is the idea of a daily reader's response. I have tried this in the past, but I have never really had a set of responses to work with, thus leaving me to write the response once a week on the board, and then completely forget it by the following week. 

New school, new plan to stay organized! So what else would I do on my weekend but create something wonderful to use for reader's response. I saw a tic-tac-toe board for primary students and decided that my fifth graders needed some of those ASAP! The first plan of attack was listing our main skills and strategies with some sentence starters. This will be helpful to all level of students, and is something I will have them glue into their journals right away to use as a reference all year. It's never easy to choose the skills and strategies or name them since I know that after working in three different states, everyone has a different name for the strategies and skills (anyone care to debate whether predicting and making inferences are the same thing? J/K...I've had that debate too many times already!) 

Anyway, I am extremely satisfied with the list that I came up with and hopeful that it will be applicable to teachers all around the world. I have four pages that look like this: 




From there, I created five different tic-tac-toe boards for fiction. That's right, each one has completely different questions! I'd be lying if I said that it wasn't a process, but all good work comes with a price, and I think the hours I have put in show in my product! I wasn't planning to do nonfiction today, but since I was on a roll, I figured I might as well and I created two boards for nonfiction as well. I even through in a blank for the fun of it!

I labeled each board as A, B, C, D, E for fiction and A & B for nonfiction. My approach, as of right this minute, is to have my students glue all of them into the front of their notebook. They will then, at the beginning of each week, choose a board based on the book they are reading. They will indicate it on the page where each week's journal begins by writing fiction or nonfiction A,B, etc. in the upper right hand corner. That way I won't have to copy them a zillion times and they will only take up seven pages of their journal. I think this will work, though I can't be sure until I try and there is always a chance that I will have to give them one per week if they constantly choose the same one week after week, but my students are so responsible this year, that I think they will mix it up if I direct them to do so. 

Obviously they won't be able to do all of them right away since some of these skills and strategies have not been modeled yet. I am thinking that lower level readers might need me to choose theirs for right now so that is something else that I will need to consider. I think they can be used in so many different ways, the possibilities for their use are endless! 

Anyway, I'm very excited about this product! I'm proud of the hard work I put in to creating it and I cannot wait to introduce it to my students on Monday. Reading has always been my passion, so anytime I can create something that will enhance my teaching, I get rather giddy! 

Here's a board to preview: 



You can purchase them using the link above! You'll get the 4 pages of sentence starters, 7 pages of boards, and a bonus blank board so you can write up your own! I am confident that this can be used in any intermediate classroom with some needing more guidance than others based on their exposure to each skill and strategy used. I definitely plan to do a lot of modeling so that students have a firm understanding of my expectations when it comes to their responses. Have I mentioned that I am excited to start using this? 


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Positive Parent Communication

Well, the first full week is complete! I'm still staying until 7 each night because we have a new reading curriculum and it's got tons of great stuff, but putting it all together in a two hour block is presenting a bit of a challenge. What would we do with just a few more hours in our week day?

Anyway, in my first few years of teaching, I didn't spend much time focusing on parent communication. It's not that I didn't think it was important, but as a new teacher I was very overwhelmed with trying to master instruction, so I didn't think about all the other pieces that make for a great year. I definitely had a couple of those conferences that I now frown upon, where it was November and it was the first time I communicated with a parent. I definitely had some parents who weren't too happy with the idea that I had waited until then to communicate when their child was struggling. In my second year, I made sure to print monthly progress reports, and that was my way of communicating with parents more often. It took me a few more years to realize two things: #1: Parents want to hear from their child's teacher #2: They don't want you to only call when something bad has happened. So, in the past few years, I've been working on that, and making positive phone calls more often. 


Last year, I decided to designate one day after school to call a few houses, usually a Thursday since I stay late that night trying to prep for the next week anyway. Well, at first the parents were a bit apprehensive, probably nervous that a phone call would mean something bad had happened. But after they knew it was a good phone call, they loved it! They were so thrilled to have a phone call that was a celebration instead!


This year I found this idea on The Mailbox:



Divide the inside of a file folder into boxes that are slightly larger than small sticky notes. Write students' names in the boxes in alphabetical order, one name per box. Whenever you want to make a note about a student's progress, jot the information on a sticky note and then place it in the appropriate box. Periodically move the sticky notes to students' assessment folders. You'll have valuable information at your fingertips when it's time to prepare report cards.


Since I'm always trying to get better at what I do, I decided to use this and let it be a part of my communication. I use two different color sticky notes: pink for concerns, green for outstanding actions. I also have a class roster that I use as a monthly checklist. I put a check next to a student's name once I have called that month, so that I call about 6 homes per week with positive praise and each student gets one positive call a month. I start my call with, "Hi Mrs. ___________, this is Mrs. Ostrander, _________'s teacher, and I'm calling with positive praise." I then go on to share with them any positive actions I have recorded that week. I do not report the concerns on this phone call. The concerns will be a part of my observations, and of course a lot of them will mean a separate phone call, but i make the positive phone calls only about positive actions. Parents really do love them and they make me feel good because I know I am having good communication with parents, my students will also know that I will be communicating parents with often (which helps with their behavior in class), and I'm also helping my students to be recognized at home. I'm now calling on Fridays because I think it's a great way for students to start the weekend. Already, my students are asking, "Who's getting the Friday Phone Calls?" They want a phone call home because they know it will result in praise from parents!

I know we already put a lot of hours in beyond the school day, but I do believe that this one is worth the time it takes. If you manage it the way I do, it should only take about 30 minutes a week and I guarantee when you're finished, you'll have a huge smile on your face knowing that you have happy students and parents! 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Open House Success & My 2012-2013 Classroom

Why is it that every year I feel like everything is ready until the day that Open House arrives? All of a sudden, I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off as the clock ticked away towards 4pm. It wasn't big things, it was all the little tiny things like sign in sheets and welcome letters that kept me busy right up to the last minute!

Well, my open house was a great success! I had 20 out of 23 parents in attendance, my biggest turnout ever! I am sure that I am new to the school didn't hurt, as that always piques curiosity, but I was thrilled either way!

It was a tad overwhelming at first. I wanted so badly to chat with each parent endlessly as I am quite the talker, but because I had so many parents show up all at once, I tried to walk around and greet each parent and child, and then move on to the next. I received lots of compliments on my room. Parents loved the Peanuts and Polka Dots theme! Everyone thought it was colorful and inviting, a great place to learn and I have to say, I agree! My hard work has definitely paid off in what is now a beautiful classroom, probably my best one yet visually. I am sure I have Pinterest to thank for much of it :-)

Here are some pictures:


My entrance: used a bit of my dots on turquoise to keep my relaxing blue color theme. I attended a workshop last year that talked about the best colors for learning and they talked about calm colors so I went with lots of blues this year.









Couldn't get maintenance to come in and get
 that extra bulletin board for me...but it will be up and
decorated soon!
Their desks are ready! On desks I have welcome letters for students on polka dot paper, an All About Me paper for students to fill out - also on polka dot paper, and their welcome goodie bags with their poem on polka dots too. There are also other supplies on the desk. When students or parents asked what they could take home, it was easy to tell them to take anything with a polka dot, leave anything without! I also put their name on the cut out apples on their desk instead of writing them on their name tags. Because I buy the expensive removable adhesive name tags from Really Good Stuff each year, I always wait until the end of the first week to add their names to the tags in case of spelling corrections, name changes, etc.


 I received a lot of compliments on my reading area. I bought 5 ottomans and a dish chair from Target. We have lots of foam pieces for the floor so I put those together underneath, adding a couple of body pillows with covers (which I wash once a week), and found a bargain beverage tub ($5 - woohoo) that I filled with stuffed animals. The stuffed animals were from Walgreens. You know the ones that are always above the front counter area? Check it out next time you go...are there still bunnies and reindeer up there? Managers are happy to give you a discount to clear those items out. I love paying $7 for a $20 jumbo stuffed animal and students love reading with them!


 Here's another view of our reading area.














I've organized everything in colorful bins and have labeled as much as I can at this point since some bins are not filled yet.













 My calendar area above my desk filled with some of my favorite classroom posters. On the board are tons of magnets....hooray for having a whiteboard again! You will also see beads hanging under the magnets. I use these as recognition when students wow me. I make a big deal of putting the beads on them and letting them wear them for the day. At the end of the day they trade them in for a certificate to take home.







If you've read my blog for awhile, that chair should look familiar as my summer DIY project! My students have cubbies this year, which is new for me.


 Our Hopes and Dreams will go on the cubby doors. I plan to take pictures of the students holding up a wipe off board with their names on it.

At open house, I had a letter to parents and students displayed, and then various information including a sign in sheet, transportation checklist, a letter for parents, sign ups for classroom parties throughout the year, a communication info sheet for parents to fill out, and a list where students could list alternate student names or nicknames they go by. I also put out apples for the parents with cards on them.


If I could change one thing about my room, it would be that my reading area would be where my classroom library is, but I made it work! Books are separated by genre, then leveled with stickers and the front of the books is roped off with a Coming Soon sign. I will try to take a close up of this to share.












One last view of our fabulous classroom!