Saturday, August 22, 2015

Organizing the Classroom Library

We have been back at school getting ready for our new students to show up on Wednesday.  Summer sure did fly by after those seven snow-days were added on to the end of the school year!

One of my major projects this week was rethinking the leveled library in the third grade pull-out space.  Every general education classroom has an extensive library but I wanted to offer some lower level books for students who may not find what they're looking for at their "just right" level in their homeroom classes.  I was able to clear out a few shelves to make a mini leveled library that all students in third grade can access.  It's currently a work in progress, but here's an idea of how I'll be using the space.

This year, I discovered Townsend Press.  They offer a range of leveled books for just $1 each.  The books feature diverse characters and realistic school and home situations that all readers can relate to.

This morning I created book bin labels with clipart I found from Krista Wallden. She has lots of free clip art, fonts, and teaching resources on her TPT site.  My book bin labels include one label per A to Z level, a variety of topics, and all genres.  Snag them for FREE now!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Back to School- Gathering information from parents

The beginning of the school year can seem daunting. You have a brand new group of students and parents. The balance of listening to parent concerns and doing what you think is best can be tricky. The best way to combat this issue is by establishing a relationship with each parent early in the year. On the first day of school, I send home a parent questionnaire to better acquaint myself with each parent and what they want for their child. Parent - teacher conferences are too far away to wait and talk to each parent. Sending out a questionnaire is a wonderful way to establish a rapport with a child's greatest advocate, their family.

 Below are some of the questions I typically ask:

  • Do you have any social concerns or goals for your child?
  • Do you have any academic concerns or goals for your child?
  • How would you describe your child emotionally?
  • Please explain any concerns you have about your child transitioning into third grade.

You can find a FREE copy of the parent questionnaire in my TPT store. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Building Community in the Classroom

Building a strong community in the first month of school is so important to the success of your classroom.  When students feel part of a whole, they are more likely to be engaged in what they are learning.  Here are a few of my favorite community builders.  These have been successful with second and third graders but could be used for lower and higher grade levels.

  1. Hula Hoop Challenge - As a class, stand in a large circle holding hands.  One pair will start with the hula hoop between their connected arms.  The goal is to pass the hula hoop around the circle as students continue climbing through.  Remember - you cannot let go of each other!  I like to stop after each round and have the students discuss what went well and what they will do differently next time to make the passing of the hula hoop faster.  The students love to keep track of time and try to beat their previous pace.   
  2. Count to 10 - This community builder involves patience, self-control, and listening.  As a class, the goal is to be able to count to 10, or higher as an extension.  There is no planning, students need to say each number once, and only one student can say a number at a time.  If more than one student says a number, you start back at zero.  They get an absolute kick out of this and no materials are necessary!
  3. Mirrors - This activity is for partners.  One student acts as a mirror while the other partner moves about.  The mirror must reflect their partner's actions as best as they can.  This is all about working well together!
  4. Back to Back - This is another activity geared for partners.  Pair off students into groups that might not typically work together or socialize.  Have the students sit on the floor, back to back with their partners.  Their challenge is to stand up together without using their hands to push off the ground.  This requires a lot of talk about how to best work together to reach the goal.  
  5. The Wind Blows - This community builder will require a little modeling.  Have the class stand in a large circle.  Start in the middle and say the phrase, "The wind blows anyone who..."  This is where things can get a little tricky.  Model picking ideas that will be common among the class.  For example, anyone who likes the color green, went on vacation this summer, prefers math over reading, etc.  After the person in the middle makes the statement, anyone for whom that rings true will need to find a new spot in the circle.  The last one to find a new spot becomes the person in the middle.  This gives students a chance to see commonalities among their classmates.  
I try to use at least two team building activities a week, especially in the first month.  These can easily be a part of morning meeting, or integrated at some point throughout the day for a little extra movement.  

Reviewing IEPs

Do you feel like you could spend a whole year reviewing IEPs?

It seems like that's what I've been doing, gearing up for a new school year.  Although I only have 11 students to begin the year, it seems like a lot.  I typically identify several more in need of individualized instruction during their third grade year.  Last year, I typed up a grid for the general educators that would also be working with identified students.  This helped give a snapshot of what was in each student's IEP.  

Before I go on, I should mention that our school's inclusion model looks like this: one special educator per grade level, all students on IEPs divided evenly amongst the four general education classrooms, and me feeling torn in every direction.  Because of this, collaboration with the other service providers is so crucial.  Luckily, I happen to like everyone I work with!  

It helps to meet frequently with the other providers to ensure you are all on the same page in terms of each child's needs.  The grid that I use is up on my TpT site for FREE.  It can be printed out as is, or typed directly into, depending on what you prefer.  I based this grid on what I find most important in the IEP.  For example, I can get to know their skills through working with them pretty quickly, but might not always remember the specific meeting dates or testing accommodations they may have.  

Feel free to download this for FREE and share with the service providers you collaborate with at school.  

Friday, August 7, 2015

Hopes and Dreams for a New School Year

This summer I worked as the Head Wilson teacher at the Tufts Center for Reading and Learning Research. This program is for struggling readers and many have been diagnosed with dyslexia. In the near future, I'll be sharing some of the supplemental Wilson activities I created, but today I want to share a Responsive Classroom approach for the beginning of a new school year.

Being new to the the Responsive Classroom approach, I was very excited to try out any strategies our director suggested. One of these approaches related to sharing our hopes and dreams. As this program was related to reading, our hopes for the summer were pretty specific to this content area.

I modeled that our hopes should be realistic and attainable. I went the silly route and said that being able to swim 100 miles by the end of week five was unlikely since I'd be spending my time teaching reading. I assumed I would have to provide more scaffolding for this step as I was working mostly with emerging second graders, but this was not the case. They came up with some very realistic and individualized goals for the summer. 

Here are some student examples of the template I created. There are four options available in the pack. The variations are based on font (one is specific to dyslexia) and the border (stars or bubbles). You can find them for FREE in my TPT store.

Having students reflect on their hopes for the school year also lends itself nicely to classroom conversations about expectations and how we're going to help each other meet our goals. I'll be sharing how to create a class constitution together later as well.