Monday, May 30, 2011

Take a Break from Testing with these Fun Ideas!

            State testing days are perfect opportunities for showcasing students’ creativity!  Not only are students emotionally and physically drained, but so are teachers; therefore, try some of the easy, fun breaks from your routine that are listed below.
            For starters, try a memory-making activity so students can reflect upon their school year.  Use the free handout, “What I Like About You,"  to have students record their school year memories.  Punch holes in the sides of the handouts and separate according to names.  Afterward, book jackets are designed for the pages.  Use colored string to bind the right edges.  Have students sign their “What I Like About You” personal pages for lasting memories.
            Another creative activity uses pipe cleaners.  Hand one pipe cleaner to each student and instruct them to  make pictures or shape(s).  Then, glue the pipe cleaner design onto a sheet of plain paper.  Next, write a poem, song, or story to compliment the picture.  For example, a pink pipe cleaner becomes a piglet with a curly tail, and a poem about a pig completes the scene.  Model the activity in advance.  Then, be sure to display the creations!
            Comic book writing is another fun break from the norm for students, and can be used with any subject matter. Free comics can be obtained from your local comic book store and the federal government to use as examples with students. Two websites make the task easier, so sign up for some lab time and have students visit Bit Strips or Make Beliefs Comix. Of course, you can go about it the old fashioned way as well. You can download and copy templates in various sizes to make the task easier. You might even have students demonstrate the literary idea of comic relief by making the state testing the subject of their comics!
Don’t forget to have plenty of interactive books such as I Spy, Where’s Waldo? and How to Draw…  If you will be teaching upcoming thematic units after testing days, turn your classroom into a topical library.  Load up on books about the theme so students can build prior knowledge. Remember to include a variety of books to accommodate different students' interests and strengths, such as fiction, nonfiction, picture books, and longer works. Books such as Testing Miss Malarkey, True or False? Tests Stink!, First Grade Takes a Test, 'Twas the Night Before Testing, Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!, and Scaredy Squirrel also provide some comic (and stress) relief for students.
Plain paper and coloring items can provide lots of fun!  Many students enjoy abstract, geometric pattern pages to color such as the ones found at the Printable Coloring Pages blog. These are great for early finishers during testing, and can provide a writing prompt when testing is over. Free, personalized word searches, crosswords, and puzzles can be designed at Puzzlemaker.  Also, incorporate students’ interests into puzzles by having them create personalized items in advance of testing days.  Instead of labeling the puzzles, such as Amy’s Music Crossword or Lance’s Skateboarding Word Search, let students guess their classmates’ identities based on the content of the puzzle.
Technology is also your friend in providing some stress relief for the students and yourself.  If students have access to computers or mobile devices, they can take virtual field trips at AreaVibes or SimpleK12.  Some sites, such as the Online Star Register, offer games and scavenger hunts for students.  Other students will enjoy getting creative with a site like Glogster EDU or Animoto. At Starfall, younger audiences or English language learners can interact with shapes, words, and more.
Activate your auditory learners' potential with some audio content. Try educational podcasts at the Educational Podcast Network.  Your students might even want to try podcasting for themselves! A full lesson plan by Nathan Shelley and an article about free podcasting tools by Richard Byrne will help you get started. Also, try the website Storyline, which offers readings of children’s books by famous actors from the Screen Actors' Guild.  Listeners see the books’ beautiful illustrations as they follow along.  The site also has a planning section for educators.   
            State testing doesn't have to make you pull your hair out! Fun breaks should be easy for teachers to plan and use, and they should be pleasurable for students. Use the time to create special memories that can be shared and enjoyed by all.

Related Products at Teachers Pay Teachers:
Grammar Rocks! 10 Reproducibles for Grammar Rock Videos, $3.50
Test Prep Homework: Getting Read the Night Before the Test, $1.50
Words at Play - Fun Language Arts Worksheets! Puzzles, Games, $3.50
Would You Rather Questions for Kids: 200 Discussion Starters, $2.75 (Top 10 product!)
50 States Practice (Computerized), $1.00
My Memory Book, $5.99
End of the Year Koosh (Smartboard) Activity, FREE
BINGO Boards for Every Season, $3.00
Academic Game Maker & Player - Single License, $20.00
Creative Writing Prompts with Lined Paper, What If...?, $1.95

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Parent Teacher Conference: The View from the Other Side of the Table

By: John Blake, Ed.S.

It’s four o’ clock and the last bus full of screaming children is just pulling out of the school driveway when you hear the dreaded sound of the intercom. “Mr. Blake,” the static-filled voice screeches, “your parent conference is here.” 

Quickly, you rush to hide the stacks of ungraded papers and wipe the cookie cake crumbs from the table. Within seconds you assume the role of “alpha” teacher as you sit in your simulated leather desk chair (the one you found at the local Goodwill store…but, that’s another article) and invite your wary guests to plant their adult-sized bottoms in the tiniest chairs you can find.
The parents of your darling student immediately begin with their list of demands, while you counter with the reasons their child is not succeeding in class. You envision yourself blasting these two encroachers from your classroom with a tirade about the need for discipline, consistency, and a healthy dose of Ritalin.

The fruit of this awkward meeting? Nothing near what you should hope for in an effective parent-teacher conference. Meetings like this only breed contention, resentment, and do nothing to build a healthy learning community.

The parent-teacher conference should be viewed as one of your most effective tools for building a partnership with the families of your students. A well-planned and well-organized conference can leave both parties feeling like active participants in the learning process. Below are a few tips to help you plan your next conference:

·      Get Organized: There is nothing more unprofessional than to have to stop in the middle of your conference to hunt down a student’s most recent fluency report. Try gathering all of your materials the day before and putting them in a folder that will be ready to go when it is time for the big event.

·      Set the Mood: Whether you want it to or not, your classroom does represent you as a teacher. If parents walk into a disorganized jungle of a classroom, their expectations of your effectiveness as a teacher will start pretty low. We are not talking a major overhaul here, but more of an “organized chaos.” Have the children help you prepare for “guests” before dismissal time and you can even let the “star” of the conference write a letter to his/her parents to welcome them to the room.

·      Walk in their Shoes: Or rather, sit in their seats. What is the background that will frame you as you speak with them? What chairs do you have available for adults? Can you make a few adjustments that will help your guests feel more comfortable? Make every effort you can, but don’t stress if your guests have to sit in student chairs…it might give them an interesting perspective of the classroom.

·      Take Notes: If your district does not have a conference form that you are required to use, then do a quick Google search and you will find a wealth of free forms out there (at the end of this article you will find a sample of some I found online). Jotting down information, comments, and questions during the conference not only provides a record for both parties; it also shows the parents that you really are paying attention to them! Make sure you have the parents sign the form, and then give them a copy.

·      Cut the Small Talk: Yes, the weather is nice and those Tigers are having an okay season, but the purpose for this brief meeting is to discuss the progress of the child. Now, before you start typing those replies too quickly, I don’t intend that anyone act rudely or impersonally; however, it has been my experience over the years that those parents who are most likely to digress with small talk are the ones who are avoiding the more pressing issues of their child’s education. There have been many times I have had to redirect (yes, just like I do with the children…ironic, no?) our conversation back to the topic at hand.

·      Let the Star Shine: The focus of this meeting is the child, so by all means let that child have a chance to shine. If the child is present for the meeting, allow him/her to add to the discussion. Allow the child to choose samples of work to share during the conference, whether he/she will be there or not. 

·      Start on a Positive Note: Yes, the child may have set fire to the toilet in the boys’ bathroom or “borrowed” $20 out of your purse for the book fair, but find something positive to say about that child before you start in on the rest. Something to the effect of, “Billy Bob has the most wonderful penmanship, which he exhibited by changing this ‘F’ to an ‘A’ on his last report card.” You get the idea.

·      Leave the Door Open: Well, I mean this metaphorically and literally. Prop your classroom door open so there are always “witnesses” around. This will help to insure that the conversation stays pleasant and on topic. In the metaphorical sense, let the parents know that your door is always open to them and that you do not mind meeting with them at any point in the future they feel is necessary.

Planning a productive meeting with the parents of one of your students is not rocket science, but taking the time to do it right can lead to an “out of this world” experience!
I would love to hear some of your suggestions for and experiences with productive parent-teacher conferences. Please share your thoughts by making a comment below.

Parent-Teacher Conference forms:

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cultivate a Bully-Free Classroom

Teachers have a sixth sense when it comes to student interactions.  You know the children who are making friends easily and the ones who have difficulty socializing.  You know who can’t sit next to little Billy and who needs a peer buddy.  You know which students are professional tattlers and which ones will "forget" to tell you about an incident on the playground.  We work so hard getting to know our students and making our classrooms positive environments to enhance their learning experiences, thus already taking preventative measures against bullying.   However, with the media attention on tragic events at Rutgers University leading to statewide legislation as well as the federal government’s anti-bullying campaign, teachers now have to make sure that they have evidence that they are making an effort to prevent and report cases of bullying.

What is considered bullying?

My school district gave an introductory workshop to bullying, and it was defined for us as follows:

Behavior that makes the victim feel threatened or powerless, physically or emotionally. 

More questions to consider when determining if harassment, intimidation, or bullying is taking place:  Is the aggressor trying to intentionally embarrass the victim?  Does the behavior violate the victim's self image?

Canadian researchers Debra Pepler and Wendy Craig define bullying as “the assertion of power through aggression.”  Whichever definition we use as professionals, we also need to make sure that we define it for our students.  This can be done as we develop classroom rules, guidelines, and consequences.  It can also be created as we find teachable moments and situations in our classrooms to make sure we create caring and supportive communities.

Creating a caring community

If we take the time to teach and integrate social and emotional learning throughout our day, we will reap the benefits behaviorally and academically.  Instructor magazine asks the question, “Can Kindness Be Taught?”, and I truly believe that it can and it needs to be.  Of course these skills should also be encouraged and modeled first and foremost in the home; however, as the article states, we cannot assume that students come to school with these tools.

How can we be proactive in our classrooms?  First, we need to take a look at ourselves:  we are the models for our students and the nuances of our words, our tone, and our behaviors are under scrutiny.  Students pick up on everything!  We can show our classes self-control, acceptance of consequences, and learning from mistakes, as we problem-solve in front of our students. 

Next we can look at the classroom rules:  have we modeled them, practiced them, and role-played them?  Ideally teachers want to spend the first few weeks of school defining these policies and procedures; however, even at this time of the year, teachers can take the time to encourage students to practice and re-define for themselves what these guidelines mean.  One of my favorite activities in the beginning of the year is having students sketch out each of the rules, and hang them up so we can refer to them throughout the year.  We revisit these guidelines when we have discussions about Thanksgiving, December holidays, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Moreover, as situations occur throughout the day, we use them as opportunities to practice our problem-solving strategies.

Another really great way to build and maintain a community of learners is by having a morning meeting.  This is a significant component of the Responsive Classroom approach, in which students come to a meeting place in the classroom every morning for 20-30 minutes to greet each other, share and listen to each other’s news, practice social and academic skills, and set a positive tone for the day.  This daily morning routine helps foster a sense of belonging and trust, and provides opportunity to practice social and emotional skills.  We used role-play situations that could happen during recess in hopes that students would remember to use these skills independently.  Many teachers' first response to the idea of morning meeting is "I don't have enough time as it is!" Remember that putting some time into helping students build community and manage their own behavior will save you valuable time in having to deal with behavior issues later. I remember one year having a very challenging group of students, and when asked about their favorite part of the day, they unanimously agreed that it was morning meeting.  From then on I knew that no matter what kind of curricular demands were required of me, I had to make time for morning meeting.


My intention in this article is just to give a snapshot of ideas and resources for this very important topic.  One of many hats that we wear as educators is researcher.  Here is a list of resources that will shed more light on this issue as well as help you grow professionally.  As Debbie Miller says, happy reading!

An amazing program to implement in K-6 classrooms to foster and build classroom communities and schools.  They have wonderful professional development and literature. Sign up for their free newsletter.

Here is a link about teaching students when to report an incident an adult.  Very crucial if bullying is occurring when we’re not looking because we’re still responsible.

Great article on teaching students how to not be a by stander.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Featured Seller: Lisa Frase

1.   How long have you been on Teachers Pay Teachers?  What made you decide to be a part of it?
I posted a couple of literature units on TPT about 2 years ago. After reading a success story from another seller on, I decided to try posting more products to see what happened. I started to see results immediately. I was hooked!
2.   When did you know that you wanted to be in education?
I used to play school when I was a little girl. I think I knew what I wanted to do since childhood, but I took a little longer to get there. I went back to school to pick up my teaching certification after my first child was born.
3.   How are you currently involved in education?
I am currently teaching fourth grade.
4.   What has been a highlight, thus far, about being on Teachers Pay Teachers?
I've tried to find ways online to make extra money. TPT is a hit! I've had some fun moments hitting new milestones. It's exciting to see your sales and followers grow.

5.   What is something fun about you that other teachers don’t know?
Although I teach Language Arts and social studies, I have a speech and drama background. I've actually taken reader's theatre classes and performed as troupe member. One of my goals is to add more authentic reader's theatre scripts to my product catalogue.
6.   Do you participate in education outside of the classroom?  In what type of role?
As an NBCT I help mentor National Board candidates. I'm also a National Writing Project Teacher Consultant. I recently turned over my last duty as Past President of the Greater Houston Area Reading Council. I am currently serving on a committee for the Texas Council for the Teachers of English Language Arts. I stay involved and busy!

7.   What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
I am a writer. I am currently seeking publication in children's picture books and young adult. I also have a book on teaching writing that I am finishing up. I had the incredible opportunity last summer to attend the Highlight's Foundations Writer's Workship in Chautauqua, New York last summer. I spent a week rubbing elbows with Jerry and Eileen Spinelli. The entire experience was like having chocolate overload cake.
8.   What profession would you not like to do?
I could never, ever be a doctor or nurse. I can't handle blood.

9.   Who is your favorite author?  Favorite educational author?  And why?
That's a loaded question! I think Jane Yolen and Kate DiCamillo are definitely at the top of my list. My favorite educational author is Katie Ray Wood. Her book, Wondrous Words literally changed my life as a teacher and writer.
10.  What would be your advice to people who are considering joining Teachers Pay Teachers?
You can learn a lot by reading the forums. Take a look at top sellers and see what they do. Find your niche.
 Lisa Frase

Monday, May 9, 2011

Celebrating Mothers

Mother's Day may have been yesterday, but that doesn't mean that the teaching opportunities aren't still available.

We can understand why Mother's Day is an official holiday in many countries around the world.  Mothers not only give birth, but give hope for a better future and world.

"Grandmother remembered her, a daughter she had loved, loved harder than any other, harder than she loved the night breezes or the brackish bayous or even the man who had been her husband.  Harder than that.  Oh yes, Grandmother had loved her beautiful daughter."  Pg. 40 Quote from:  THE UNDERNEATH by Kathi Applet

Wikipedia tells us:  "The modern Mother's Day is celebrated on various days in many parts of the world, most commonly in March, April, or May as a day to honor mothers and motherhood."

By scrolling down on this link:
There is an amazing chart with flags of different countries showing the celebration dates of their Mother's Days.  Students would find this chart interesting, and it is probably something they haven't thought much about before.  The chart is a testament to wonderful mothers everywhere.

Mothers have a special bond with their children, and the words motherhood and maternal bonds have special meanings.  Mother is a word that means love that lasts forever.  

When preparing cards or maybe planting seeds in cups for Mother's Day, teachers have to remember a harsh reality of life.  Some children may not have mothers who are in their lives each day; they have mothers they can only visit or that live elsewhere, or mothers who choose not to be in their lives. 

With that idea in mind, allow students to choose to whom their Mother's Day gifts and cards go to, which may be a grandmother, step-mother, sister, father, or a neighbor.  Children know who is meeting their needs and to whom love should be expressed; so by allowing them to pick an important woman, or important care giver - you are allowing every child to celebrate their 'mother'.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Lets Get Them Reading

Want to read more great articles about teaching reading? Visit the Reading Workshop Linky Party at Effective Teaching Articles!

Our 2-year-old was having a hard time going to sleep the other night. But, instead of the usual toddler antics, he chose to rest quietly in bed "reading" Curious George until he fell asleep. This reminded me of Jim Trelease's "Three Bs" of Reading from The Read Aloud Handbook and how they can influence a child of any age to become a better reader.
* Book Ownership
There's just something special about owning a copy of a book. Everyone prefers to own favorite books; teens are no exception. And, if ownership is not possible, the next best thing is to have the book available in the classroom or in a frequently visited library.
* Book Rack
Bookshelves (and the presence of many interesting books, of course) encourage students to read. The more variety available, the more likely a student is to find something she likes. "Book racks" also serve 2 greater purposes:
1) Modeling. Students need to see teachers reading, or at least know that they are "readers." This helps them see reading as an enjoyable, worthwhile hobby.
2) Additionally, the more a teacher reads, the more reading material he will have to share. It's hard NOT to pick up a book in a classroom where they're falling off of full bookshelves!

* Bed Lamp
As my 2-year-old has discovered, reading in bed or another relaxing spot is a joy. So the purchase of an inexpensive lamp and the creation of a comfortable reading area in your classroom could illuminate more than just the words on the page. It could help your student become a better reader, a better student and, ultimately, more successful in life.

Tammy Lee

Visit Scholastic and scroll to the bottom of the page for lists of the latest books likely to interest your students, no matter what their grade level.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...