Coupons ROCK!!!

This is the first year that I have latched on to the idea of using coupons as rewards. To be honest, I've never used them for fear that fifth graders wouldn't buy in to them. In the past, I've tried rewarding kids in many different ways. In my first three years of teaching, I think I spent more money on items for the prize bucket than I made in a week! Then I did the worst thing a teacher can do: I gave them candy rewards. Yes, I am sad to admit that I actually rewarded their actions with candy. Of course, this led to the inevitable, "Mrs. O, didn't I do a good job? Is it worth a piece of candy?" Excuse me while I cringe at the thought. I eventually let go of the prize bucket idea and the candy and kind of scrapped rewards altogether.

But this year, with a fresh and new start, I wanted to try rewards again. I blame this on the never-ending amount of amazing rewards that are always listed on Pinterest. I mean, if all these teachers are doing it, shouldn't I? Yes, it's Pinterest peer pressure at it's finest! Needless to say, I worked hard at figuring out what coupons I would use and how they would be earned. When I met one of my teammates, she mentioned that she was using the ticket system. At first, I had dreaded flashbacks to my Friday drawings from my prize bucket and saw the money already beginning to crawl out of my wallet, but I did like the idea of tickets. I had to give it some thought. I went home that August evening and considered the tickets, and how I could use them without spending bundles on cheap prizes. I decided to use classroom coupons and a book raffle. Here's how it works: 

I give students tickets. I bought a roll at Target at the beginning of the year and still have more than half of it left. 

I did not designate what they could do to earn it other than if we have a full day of good behavior, everyone gets one. This was one I thought was important. I told them that other than that, I would give them out for various actions in class, obviously only for positive actions and behavior. That actually keeps them on edge, because they are never quite sure when they will get one. I also told them that they are positively not allowed to ask for one at any time. Amazingly, this worked! We're four months in, and they have never asked me for a ticket. 

Some of the things that I have given my students tickets for are: 

  • positive behavior
  • random acts of kindness (and I always make a big deal of these)
  • amazing grades on tests, quizzes, etc. (again, I make a big deal of these too)
  • solving hink pinks, hinky pinkies, and hinkity pinkities - if you want to read more about these, you will have to wait until my next blog :-)
  • acting appropriately during fire drills
  • positive changes in a student (ex. a student who doesn't normally do homework starts turning it in on a regular basis)
On 12/12/12, I also had the "12/12/12 fairy" leave 12 sets of 12 tickets in 12 spots in the room. Beware, this may cause a bit of chaos, but it was a total blast. I am already thinking of something fun for the 100th day, maybe hiding tickets in the school with different clues leading them to them or something along those lines. I will let you know! 

Students keep their tickets in a Ziploc bag in their desk. They are totally responsible for keeping track of them and if they lose then, I tell them there is nothing I can do. 

I have placed a poster up in my room with coupons on it. The coupons they can earn are as follows: 

  • Flip Flop - Swap seats with a friend for a day.
  • Stinky Feet - Go without shoes in class for a day
  • Story Time - Take over the teacher's read aloud for the day
  • Lunch With the Teacher - Self-explanatory
  • Pop! - Chew gum in class for the day. 
  • Move that mouse! - Get an extra computer rotation for the day.
  • Furry Friend - Keep a stuffed animal of your choice at your desk for the day.
  • Comfy Reading - Get first choice in the reading area for two rotations. (We have a very inviting reading area that students ALWAYS want to be in.)
  • Cool Cat in the Hat - Wear a hat in class for the day.
  • iPad Learning - Use the teacher's iPad in class during computer time.
The coupons range in price from 25 tickets up to 100.

Here is what they look like:

Then, I have baskets (all from the dollar store) set up with coupon amounts on the front. Inside each basket are different books. They are all from Scholastic, mostly purchased with points I've earned from book orders, though I throw in a few bucks here and there, but nothing to seriously break the bank.

So the students LOVE this reward system! The most popular coupons are stinky feet and flip flop. The most popular book items are always journals or diaries or anything related to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. To be honest, my students are more apt to just use the coupons, but I am happy that when they do choose a book reward they are getting an item that will enhance their reading or writing in some way! I am so glad to have come up with this system, a melting pot of other wonderful ideas that has created a positive, affordable system that the kids in my classroom thoroughly enjoy! 

I plan to add more coupons in about midway through the year. If you'll notice, the items I posted have some really great ideas that I would love to add, but for now my students are quite content with what's being offered and that makes me a happy teacher! 



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? 



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! 


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!


Welcome Back Poem Filled With Goodies

Over the years, I've seen many versions of the welcome back poem that goes with a goodie bag. It's one of those, "Oh, I want to do that next year," projects that I forget about by the time the next year rolls around. But since I'm super motivated to make big changes this year, I finally decided to hop on the wagon and do a goodie bag for the first day. Instead of grabbing an already created version and using it to create my shopping list, I went a little backwards. Instead, I thought of all of the things that I would like to put in the bag, bought them, then sat down with a version of the poem a teacher gave me a few years ago. I don't think anyone knows who the original author is since it's been around for so many years and edited to fit everyone's needs, but whoever began this, teachers around the world adore you and if the creator happens to be you, send me a message so I can credit you for the years of inspirations! Anyway, since I now had the items and a poem that only fit a few of them, I sat down to revise the poem for my classroom. That seemed easy, and perhaps I should pretend it didn't take me hours to get it just right, but it did. I'm very happy with my final poem and of course, it wouldn't be right if I didn't add some polka dots as well! I've used the polka dot borders for EVERYTHING this year! You can get them at Free Polka Dot Classroom Labels.

So for my bags I included the following items:

white lunch bags (Target)
fifth grade specific pencils (Really Good Stuff)
Welcome bracelet (Really Good Stuff) - These were a big hit last year
Lifesavers, Smarties, Laffy Taffy, Starbursts

You can grab the poem here: Welcome Back Poem for Back to School

I can't wait to surprise the kiddos with these on the first day!



Last Year's Classroom

Since I'm not quite ready to share my new classroom set-up, I thought I'd share some ideas from last year.

On the doors are plastic sleeves/sheet protectors. I attached them with Command strips and they stayed up throughout the year. I placed student work in them and then changed it weekly. 

My last school was older, and it still had chalkboards. Since I won't use the chalkboards and we had a Promethean board, I covered the board with fade-resistant paper and used it as my calendar/birthday/homework area. It stayed up all year long!

An inviting student library is the key to reading success. I've stocked up over the years, and each year I invest in updated collections. I also use book displays and label all books by genre. I know you are looking at the stuffed animals and wondering why I would have them in a fifth grade classroom? Well, it's because fifth graders are still children, and if you successfully make reading with a stuffed animal look cool, even your most mature students will do it. I promise!

Also, I always put an opening soon sign across my library and wait a few days to open it, and then use a classroom meeting to talk about our new rules, and how we can apply them to the classroom library. I have a contract that I have students sign to say they will be held responsible for any books they sign out. This is helpful for damaged or missing books. 



Rejuvenated Chairs, Relieved Mrs. O

I have had a reading stool for a long time. It's just your basic wooden bar stool from Target that probably cost me around $20 when I first started teaching. It's that light wood, and I use it constantly, so suffice it to say that after 7 years in the classroom and two moves across the country, it was in rough shape.

When I was teaching in Washington, a lot of teachers would put things they didn't want in the teachers' lounge. Actually, that's happened everywhere I've taught, but this short story takes place in Washington. Anyway, someone left high kitchen chairs (or a stool with a back as I refer to it) for the taking. I took one and used it in addition to my stool, mostly in my carpeted area where I did a lot of whole group lessons. Anyway, that was the same wood as the stool, and when we moved to Virginia I didn't have room for both in my classroom, so naturally the trusty old stool got to come to the classroom and the chair became a nuisance in our baseball rivalry room at home.

Since it's summer time, I've had nothing but time on my hands so I decided I'd take my skills, or lack thereof, to repainting the stools. (Thank you Pinterest for making me think I am a do-it-yourselfer.) So I decided I would paint the stools to my blue theme and bring them both in to my much larger, new classroom.

Well, let me warn you: this wasn't cheap. I had thought a can of paint, a brush, and voila! No, no, no! This was a process, one that had me at Home Depot more than I've ever been. It took me two days just to decide what paint I would use. Then I researched on line to determine what I needed to do. I got two conflicting reports. One said that I could use bonding primer without sanding and the other confirmed that sanding was necessary. Since I live in a condo, I don't really have an outside area to spray paint, so I decided it best to get a can of paint so I could complete my work on the balcony. I decided to do the stool first, without sanding and just using the bonding primer. I also had the fantastic (read as: overzealous) idea that I would paint the legs and rungs two different colors! Ah yes, that was indeed a treat!  I had to do one color one day, then wait for it to dry, then wrap the whole thing in painters tape to paint the rest. FYI: The paint still dripped down the side. It was, in fact a challenge. Then, 4 days later, I had to apply a sealant, because if I want the paint to last and not chip, I need to seal it. I don't know how much money I spent, but let's just say that by the time I got to the chair, it got painted one color. I also sanded the chair and to be honest, I don't think it made that much difference since I applied the bonding paint. In the end, it was a lot more work than expected, but I am thrilled with my new chairs and I know they will be a wonderful addition to my classroom.

Here's the short list of this process:

1) Sand object down. If you don't feel like doing this part, get a bonding primer and apply a coat or two. Let it dry completely before painting.
2) Paint chair using whatever paint color you choose. You will want at least two coats. If you decide to paint in two colors, though not my recommendation, be sure to get some painter's tape and wrap quite a few times after it's completely dry. If you can spray paint, go for it, but be sure to research how to spray evenly. If you use a brush, it will look like you used a brush. If you use a mini-roller, you will get those little hard bumps. I used a brush on the stool and a roller on the chair and I liked the brush outcome much better.
3) Use paint sparingly and look out for drips. This was my biggest problem in the final product. I have some areas that dried in drip shape. After painting, go around the item and be sure it's evenly distributed, especially if you are doing a darker color.
4) If you plan to use what you are painting often, put a clear coat sealant on top. If it's just for decoration, you probably don't need it.
5) One additional suggestion, because Home Depot has everything you can think of: get the felt circles for the bottoms of your chairs so they don't scratch your floors. They can be bought in square, circle, or as a sheet. But be careful the adhesive on them is STRONG! You will peel paint off if you don't place it right the first time. Trust me!
6) Pat yourself on the back and pour yourself a refreshment. Your chair has new life and you've completed a do-it-yourself project!

I wish I had taken pictures pre-primer, but I didn't. So here's the chair with primer:

The stool before I added the second color:

The completed stool!

The completed chair!



Mailbox Makeover

In the early spring, I found Pinterest, which has easily come to be one of my biggest obsessions. I've been pinning like a madwoman. Now that I have been offered and accepted a position in a new district, I feel like a whole new teacher. Of course, in the past seven years I have spent lots of money on this and that's that just had to be a part of my classroom. This time, though, I am trying to be a bit more savvy. So when I saw an idea for rehabbing my mailboxes, I couldn't wait to get a roll of duct tape and some binder tabs and get to work! 

I bought these mailbox sorters from Office Depot my third year of teaching. Here's what they looked like after five years of use: 

I went to Target, bought blue and white polka dotted duct tape and hot pink duct tape. I wrapped the tape on the ends of each row, and then added a light blue binder clip, which I would use for their names, much easier than ripping the labels off. 

For whatever reason, after three days, the pink began to peel. I noticed that the two tapes didn't feel the same, even though they were both Duct brand, so I wasn't completely surprised, but it was a quick fix. Since I'm going with a theme in blue this year, and the polka dotted tape wasn't doing any peeling,  I figured I'd just pull the pink off and calm it down. To be honest, I'm happy with the calmer outcome. 



And so it begins...

Well here I am. Creating a blog has been on my to-do list for about three years now and since I'm all about being fresh and new this year, I figured I would finally get it started.

Welcome to my blog! It is my goal to use this blog to share the many ideas I get from my own brewing brain, from the brains of others, or a combination of both. I am an avid Pinner, so I'm always looking at other ideas and thinking of ways to adapt them for my classroom. I will always give credit where credit is due and if you find that I haven't, let me know right away!

This will be my eighth year of teaching and I'm starting at a new school. I've been doing fifth grade for five years now. I'm an Air Force wife, so moving isn't new to me, but for the first time I changed districts without actually moving. I've spent 7 years of teaching, plus two years with AmeriCorps in Title I schools. This will be the first time working in a small district, one with just one 3-5 building for the whole area, 6 fifth grade classes total! I am so very excited for all of these changes and delighted to share my ideas with visitors to my blog.

Off we go!

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