Five for Friday!

I’m linking up again this week to Doodle Bugs Five for Friday. J

I played the Wild Sticks game I mentioned in my Super Sunday! post this week with my student who really struggles with his facts. I just focused on 0s , 1s and 2s. He knows his 0s and 1s pretty much down as they follow really straight forward rules.

His 2s he’s just starting to master. He is counting by 2s which is a HUGE leap from the beginning of the year where he would instead add two more (as in 1 x2 is 2, so 2x2 is 2,3,4!)

My favorite moment (besides when he tried to cheat and realized he really couldn’t!) was when on one turn he had picked up 2 x 10, and counted by 2s to get to 20. On his next turn he picked up 2 x 11. Instead of counting by 2s all over again, he said “Wait, the last one was 2 x 10 and that was 20. So this one is 2 x 11 so it will be…22!”



SBAC Testing officially begins in two weeks! Right now classes are taking practice tests at and below grade level to get comfortable with the new testing format.

But starting in two weeks they will be taking the real chilena.

Part of my duties are helping to administer the tests, which means I’ll be seeing a lot of the school computer lab for the next two months.

I made brownie last night for the re-scheduled faculty appreciation snacks.

They were a total fail.

I think I put too much oil in because they would not solidify! They were like molten chocolate. They tasted AMAZING but by 10 at night only about 6 of them had actually hardened enough for me to put into a container (I took them out of the oven at 7!). I ended up just semi covering them and going to sleep to deal with it in the morning.

When I woke up in the morning they were still gooey. I ended up at the grocery store at 6 this morning buying mini muffins and a small chocolate cake.

I’ll be posting again this Sunday for Super Sunday!

This week I’m going to blog about how I’m planning to prepare myself for SBAC and how I’ll help my students prepare.


Five for the 5 runs I’ve gone on this week! Yea!

I definitely got into a slump with the cold weather. Instead of staying an extra hour after school working as a I normally do, I left about 20-30 minutes after to take maximum advantage of the sunniest part of the day!

The odd thing is, instead of slumping in the afternoon and at night like I normally do, I totally got a second wind after my run. I was also more clearheaded during the day with my students and what I had to get done.

Super grateful for carving out this totally selfish me time!

Happy Friday:)


Five for Friday!

Linking up to Doodle Bugs for the second time!

(BTW I would totally be the one on the far right. Or the guy cleaning his nails.)
Jury Duty!

I was supposed to have Jury Duty today but thankfully it was canceled. This made me very excited because...

...Our whole school celebration day from last Friday was rescheduled for today. I was bummed at the idea that I would be missing it. Thankfully I'm not! We also had our mentor groups today and I would have missed them too! So relieved!

Super Sunday!

This is something I want to start doing. Every Sunday I am going to blog about what I'm excited for in the upcoming week. I know sometimes I can fall into a slump about Ugh! It's Sunday! The weekend's almost over!

I thought maybe if I posted about something in the upcoming week it would help shift my mindset to : Hey! A new week! Let's see what I can do this week to make my job, my teaching, and my life AMAZING!

My first post will be this Sunday and it would be really cool if other people posted what they're excited for too!

I blogged before about my new classroom management system and how I wanted the students themselves to log their points. I obtained some folders, color coded them by group and then on the left hand side put the classroom rules/point system handout as well as  the chart that tracks their points. On the right hand side I put the work they are expected to complete in that period.

I love it!

Instead of me scrambling to get their work out of my HUGE binders, it's in the folder. At the end of the period, I update the folder with what work they will be doing next based on what was completed that day.

The students are much more responsible: tallying their own points, and were much more accountable to their work. Maybe it was visually seeing and knowing "Okay this is what I'm working on today. I can do this. And if I do, then I can add more points. Hey! I'm at 7 right now!"

I had two students trade in 4 points to listen to their iPods. One of the students, after taking out her iPod, put it back and decided to save her points. I love how I could see her mind working. "Wait. If I use 4 points today, then I'll only have two points left. But if I keep saving..."

She ended up earning the "Hard Worker Award" for the day 1) because she followed classroom expectations, and 2) she worked really hard and her behavior had improved A LOT! She was pretty excited at the end to learn she had earned the extra two points.

Okay I'm not sure I have a five!

Oh wait! Here's a High 5 for all you fabulous readers!

Kidding...Kind of :)

Happy Friday!


Five For Friday!

This is the first time I’ve ever participated in Five for Friday so I am super excited! I’ve been reading other bloggers Five for Fridays for a while but I wasn’t sure exactly how to jump on the bandwagon.

On Traditions, Laughter, and Happily Ever After’s blog she mentioned Doodle Bug which I had also noticed on the Five for Friday icon. I Googled Doodle Bug Five for Friday and Voila! found Doodle Bugs blog as well as what Five for Friday is: Essentially on Friday you post five things from that day or week then link back to Doodle Bugs post.

The most obvious thing (in my mind at least!) is that it’s Valentine’s Day! I have always, always loved Valentine’s Day, even during those dark years in high school and college when we were supposed to scorn at the Hallmark holiday. Nope! Sorry! Nothing makes me happier in February than pink sparkly hearts, candy hearts, and chocolate. I just LOVE it.

It must be the elementary teacher in me.

Anyways, last year and this year, the PBIS team had planned to have hot chocolate and sweets for the faculty as a thank you and recognition for all the hard work they do.

Although a snow day interfered, I luckily got to help pick out decorations. I was one happy girl!

I also made my pretzel, Hershey kiss, and M&M snacks for the faculty. I made them last year too and it took a while but it’s also fairly easy (when I tried to make St. Patrick’s Day cookies for the March Thank you let’s just say the color was a little off).

They’re super easy to make as in all you do is put pretzels on a tray then place a Hershey kiss on top of each pretzel. Heat them in an oven or microwave until the kiss is soft. Then place an M&M on the top of the kiss, pressing down on the tip.

In the recipe I followed last year it recommended that I put them in the refrigerator to cool. I did this (maybe I’m just impatient!) but I found that it took way too long for them to harden. I ended up putting them into the freezer instead. They hardened much quicker which meant I could pack them up sooner.

Sadly, I don’t get to share them with everyone. Hopefully they don’t spoil because…

…I have had a snow day today and yesterday which will be followed by our February break of two days, meaning I have six days off in a row! I know I’m probably sacrilegious for saying this, but I’m starting to HATE snow days. You have plans all laid out, you know what you’re doing, then BOOM! Snow day and everything gets messy. Beside the fact that with each snow day, it means an added day to the end of the yearL where we are all inside in a too hot building instead of outside enjoying the sun!

I mean honestly, which one looks better?

I recently started posting more to my Teaching Voracious Readers blog (or I should say posting again!). I’ve been focusing more on YA books as well as sports themed books with the latest posts. I think it’s a combination of working in a middle school and trying to motivate myself to exercise which leads me to read these books.

I used to post in the past more about picture books and younger age chapter books. One thing I’ve been playing with in my mind is the role picture books have in a middle school environment. Do they have a role? I can imagine using them in science class (such as There Once Was a Sky Full of Stars about light pollution). I can also see them being used in art classes as a study in technique. They would clearly be used as a warm-up or to finish up the end of a week, but they could still be used.

I created new Banners for this blog and my reading blog which I’m very excited about. I had been playing around with this for a while but hadn’t come up with a look I one hundred percent liked or a file that would load properly into the banner space. 
Unfortunately my Teaching Voracious Learners banner is too big. Bummer! Mission (almost!) complete!
Here they are:

Happy Friday! :)

Classroom Management: Points and Rewards

This handout provides more specific detail about how students can earn points and what they can trade their points for.

I also created a points binder where students can record how many points they earned that day, how many they have in all and whether they are trading them for anything. I want the students to put the points in themselves so they see the points adding up. But so far I have been entering them in. With short periods and trying to fit everything into the period, the kids race out of the room to go to their next class.

The last thing that connects to the point system is my points chart. It is not very pretty right now:

Students can earn smiles and frowns each day. The above chart is one I want to turn into a poster and laminate so it’s not as messy. One thing I’m still working with is how students earn frown faces. The obvious answer is when they break classroom rules.

At the beginning of the year I had more of a countdown system and when I was done counting down if they were still exhibiting the undesired behavior, they would get a mark. (I also changed my count down from a 7 countdown to a 5 countdown. The 5 countdown seems much more natural than the 7. Students were a little bummed at first because it gave them less time to get their act together but oh well!).

But now with the new system I feel like students should earn frown faces RIGHT AWAY when they are exhibiting the undesired behaviors and not just after counting down. Then I can use counting down for when I need all of their attention and not when they are doing something unwanted.

I also am not sure how to balance the happy v. frown faces. If they have a mark under a frown face does that mean that I take away one of their smiley face points? Or do I only count the frown faces if they lead to a lunch detention, etc. (two marks = lunch detention, three = level 1, four=level 2). This is something I’m still ruminating over.

Other than that, it all seems to be working (for the most part!) so that makes me happy! Smiley face for me!


Classroom Management: Where am I? Chart

This chart lets the student know what kind of work they will be doing that period. It has four sections for beginning a new skill, working on a skill activity, completing a practice question, or taking a test on the skill. One item I didn’t include was homework, which students sometimes work on during the time I meet with them, but this has yet to become an issue. We'll see if this matters in the future.

This chart is a tool I feel is super helpful when used when small group instruction. It can also be used in a classroom setting where students might be at different places. For example, during guided reading, some students might be meeting with the teacher, some might be completing Read to Self, others Read to Someone, and perhaps another group is journaling. For this scenario, I would make the chart bigger. I also would put it on a small whiteboard that way the options can be changed over time. Students could then just write their name under each section then erase and rewrite their name when they finish journaling and move to Read to Self. This would promote self-regulation as well as let the teacher focus more closely on the group at hand.

For my classroom, since we are focused on skill work and intervention work, the options p0retty much stay the same.

Classroom Management: Noise Level Chart

My second classroom management tool that I'm sharing this week is my Noise Level chart. It was based off a chart that I used during student teaching:

The chart has four levels:

0: Silent

1: Quiet Whispers

2: Group Talk (Raise Hand)

3: Conversation (Free talk)

I used clothes pins to mark where each student is. I created both individual clothes pins with student names as well as an “All” clothes pin. My students did point out that on one set of the pins, I wrote their names upside down! Whoops!

So far this has been successful, even having the students reinforce the level for other students. I think the biggest part for me will be being conscious of when the noise level changes need to occur. Since I have groups that change each period, I've found changing the pins before they come helps a bit, as it orients me to where they are as well as helps them know from the get go what the expectation is.

I typically use silent for when they are testing, quiet whispers for students who are doing independent work or an activity that relies more on my involvement, and group talk when discussing a new skill or getting oriented for the period. I honestly haven’t used the Conversation level yet much because the periods are usually pretty packed and there isn’t much time for more relaxed talking as their might be at the end of a day when students are packing up or perhaps during an indoor recess in a regular classroom. I can see using this though as students trade in their rewards for chalkboard time or game time.


Classroom Management: Use a Sticky

On my last post about classroom management I described the more technical details of the system as well as background on how the system was shaped. This time I want to share the more fun stuff, or the things I added in more detail. I'll be sharing different aspects over the next week.

The first one I'll share is "Use a Sticky".

This is something my cooperative teacher used during student teaching. I wasn’t 100% of the logic behind it. It was one of those things that ‘just was’ in the classroom. The students when they had a question during guided reading or another time where the teacher or I were working with a small group of students would write their question on a sticky and leave it by the teacher. Now, I realize the beauty of this. How many times have you been mid-thought and discussion with students only to have another student interrupt? Very frustrating!

Now when I am working with a student or students, I have the other students write their question on a sticky (I like to use the small mini ones for this). This will definitely be a process because the first time I tried this, my students gave me a sticky that said “I have a question.” Next week, I’m going to begin ignoring those types of stickies and only respond if they write the actual question on the sticky to phase out this behavior.


QISSR - A Mathematics Word Problem Strategy

When I was student teaching, I had amazing cooperating teacher (shout out to Lauren!). She had her bachelor’s in math and I was getting mine in history. We were a pretty good match for that reason (and a million others!).

Easrlier in the year, she had taught the class a word problem strategy called QISSR, which she then taught me and I used with the kiddos. Looking at the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice, I found this strategy helps to meet at least two practice standards. The first, Practice Standard 1(Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them) and the second, Practice Standard 5 (Use appropriate tools strategically.).

QISSR is an acronym that stands for:

Question – What is the problem asking? (Highlight)
Information - What important information is provided in the problem? (Underline)

Strategy – What strategy will you use? What operation? What tools?

Solve – Solve the problem using your strategy.

Recheck – Check to make sure your math is correct. Also check to make sure you answered the question asked.

I (of course) had to make a poster for this.

Okay, technically there already was a poster in the SRBI math room that was similar to this. But the steps were backwards (See Purposeful Posters)! And they were not labeled with a cute catchy acronym (FYI QISSR is pronounced Kisser)! The acronym helps students remember the strategy even when they didn’t have the poster in front of them (i.e. in math class).

I happily pulled out my Sharpies from their baby wipes container and began to create a poster.

(Side story: I first bought these Sharpies when I was a junior in college and used them to make posters with my after school running club. I stored them in a thin rectangular baby wipes container because it was the perfect size and fit well in my tote among my million other things. A para who helped out with the club went to get the markers, but was confused why they were in a baby wipes container. Oh well!) It ended up looking like this:

(Okay so it wasn’t an artistic masterpiece nor did it have a pretty picture but…)
Since making the poster, I have used the strategy with several of my students. With one of my 7th grade students, it came in helpful when he had word problems for homework. He reported back success using it in class and that his teacher was impressed with how he used the strategy to complete his homework. Yea!

I also used it as an independent lesson with another 7th grade student. A third student, who was learning to subtract fractions, was working with some word problems. This student is an ELL student and I wasn’t exactly sure how she would fare with the word problems. Using this strategy she was able to successfully identify the question, important information, choose a strategy and set up the problem, solve then recheck. One interesting piece that came up was with how she worded one of her answers. The word problem was something as follows:

“Kenneth eats 2/3 of a pie. Lisa eats 1/6 of a pie. How much more pie did Kenneth eat?”

When beginning to read the problem she paused at the first name. I said it for her and she was able to repeat the name and read the rest of the problem successfully.

In her answer, however, she wrote “She ate 3/6 more pie.”

Besides having not simplified, it raised an interesting issue. She technically had not answered the question. We didn’t care about Lisa and Lisa in fact had eaten less pie than Kenneth, not more. When we went to Recheck we looked at whether she had answered what the question asked. In this case, by using the pronoun she, it made it seem like the student thought Lisa had eaten 3/6 more pie.

I mentioned that Kenneth is a boy’s name and asked if she would like to change anything in her answer. She reread the problem and the answer, then changed the “she” to a “he”. Now she had answered the problem correctly.

But it raised a larger issue: on tests such as SBAC, if a question like this is asked and the student responded as she did, would she be marked wrong? Since she was unfamiliar with the name Kenneth and for whatever reason thought it was a girl’s name (it is similar to the name Kendall, a popular name, so she might have made that jump), she answered incorrectly, through no real fault of her own.

After talking with the other math para about this, I came to the conclusion that it was really an issue of making sure she was using names in her answer and not just relying on pronouns. Next time I see her we can work on making sure she is specific in her answers to avoid this problem altogether. This was a conundrum that I realize is actually a real problem for all ELL students who may not be as familiar with common English names often used in word problems, and was an issue I had never really thought about before.

It is more important to Do Good than to Do Well: Classroom Management

All kids (and people!) need positive reinforcement. They need to know ‘I’m doing good’. Yes, they also need to know when they are doing something wrong, to be explicitly told and redirected. But they also need the positive piece to balance out the feedback about negative behavior. Yes, your behavior was not expected for a classroom and this is what you can do to do good.

I recently (as in TODAY!) implemented a new behavior management plan for my reading groups. I initially had a warning system that began last year. Coming from student teaching in a fifth grade to working in a middle school in one on one or small group settings. With my one on one students a redirection or a positive comment was generally enough to guide them along. I also gave punches (our school provides hero cards which we punch for good behavior and other recognitions. Students can then trade in their card for different rewards) and at times with certain students will reward working hard during the period with a quick 5 minute math related game at the end of the period.

With my reading groups, as there are more students, there tended to be a greater need for refocusing as the small group was conducive to side conversations. I installed the warning system last year where they would get 2 warnings before they got a lunch detention. This generally worked with most groups.

This year however I have one group of sixth graders whom this system does not work with. The main reason being that receiving a lunch detention is really not that big of a deal to them. Last week, it got to the point where I wrote out a Level 1 (a form that I fill out describing the behavior and then the student and parent sign and bring back to me). This for me was a breaking point. It was only the end of January and half way through the year. There was no way I was going to continue this way until the end of the year. I would be unhappy, the students were unhappy, and little work would get accomplished.

I first vented to the math specialist which helped me focus my thoughts. I needed to be consistent in my discipline. I also needed to start rewarding positive behavior.

I researched small group behavior management plans and came across this presentation. Going through it there were so many Aha! Moments and items that resonated.

I also perused the second document below but the first one was definitely more vital in shaping my plan.

The first included four reasons why students misbehave. Three of them were spot on! The students were misbehaving because 1) they didn’t know the expectations, 2) they are unaware they are engaged in the behavior or 3) misbehavior is providing the student with a desired outcome (either attention from adult/peers or getting out of doing work. The fourth reason was that they don’t know how to exhibit expected behavior. Since I have had the chance to see the students in other classes as well as the fact that at times they DO behavior well, I knew this wasn’t an issue for the most part.

Another two key points from the first document were consistent reinforcement is key and having a structure the students know is also key.

Honestly there was so much in this document that I could just keep writing about how it changed my perspective on management and my students. I might save that for another post, because I really want to share what I came up with.

I did two things:

1) I created explicit rules and expectations based around our school’s four core values (respect, responsibility, honesty, safety). I reviewed these with the student today and the students were able to spot the behaviors they had been exhibiting. They would say “Ms. K, you made the Stay in your seat while working rule because of me right?” or “Ms. K, the appropriate language one is because of me.” I admitted that some of their past behaviors had shaped (I think the word I used was “inspired”) some of these rules. Other rules were just common sense.

The student didn’t have addition or adaptations to make to the rules (as one student said: “Why would we want MORE rules?”) but through the period when observing them I decided to add a rule about keeping hands to one’s own belongings as the students tend to pick up items around the room (beyond just pens and items like this) without my permission and use them for inappropriate reasons.

2) I also created a point system that correlated to rewards. Students could earn points for completing their work each day they come. They also can earn points if they do not earn any “sad faces” during the day for bad behavior. The student who has earned the most points gets an extra two points. The students periodically take tests. Just by taking a test they get 1 point. By scoring an 80 or higher they get 2 points. At the end of the period the student adds their points to a log and totals up how many they have thus far.

The students can then exchange points for rewards. If a student earns three points during the period they automatically get a punch. From there on out students can exchange points for rewards. For example, 4 points can be traded for listening to their iPod while they work during workshop. 4 points also could earn those 5 minutes worth of drawing time on the chalkboard.

One of the aspects of the rewards was that I took things the students already did and made them earn it. The students loved to draw on the board. I realized one of the problems was that drawing on the board was a privilege not an automatic right. By having them earn it, it places the control of when they do it in my hands. It doesn’t make this off limits, it just gives it structure. I was expecting some uproar over this but they were okay with it. They even exclaimed over “Cool! We can earn 5 minutes of drawing on the board!” I decided not to point out they used to do this for free!

Other rewards include 15 points for 20 minute game time (cards, Board games, hangman) and 25 points for a gym day. I was a little leery of this at first because it seemed like hypocrisy that I would give up instructional time. However, my theory is that it will take them a while to earn all these points. They will be tempted by the smaller point rewards (i.e. iPod, drawing on board) and will use their points on that. The system definitely forces them to plan and use logic for the best deal.

Additionally, for items like the Gym Day I created guidelines:
Gym days must be scheduled at least one day before you want the gym day.
Gym days can only happen during workshop.
Other students in the workshop must be willing to exchange 10 points each to add to your points.
Whoever has the gym day gets to decide which activity we will do (within reason).

There is an aspect of compromise here as the other students have to be willing to give up 10 points to do an activity someone chooses, but they are also getting a Gym Day for only 10 points.

One reward they wanted to add was Social Time where they would invite one friend and get to socialize for the period. I have tentatively agreed to this but it will cost each student in the workshop 20 points and have the same rule as the Gym Day in that they have to ask a day ahead of time so I can make sure everyone has enough points and I can prepare for them.

I started this with the kiddos today and they were pretty positive about the new system. I was a little afraid they might be too overwhelmed by it (I also add a Noise Level chart, a Where Am I chart and the use of sticky notes for communicating with me).

I was initially going to just do this with one of my reading groups but I decided to do it will all my sixth graders since I recently started new sixth graders and want to set the precedent right away. There is also some overlap with some students being in more than one group, so this makes implementation easier across the board.

There will definitely be an adjustment period (or an acquisition phase as Dr. Borgmeier puts it) but hopefully over time the student (and myself!) will become more familiar with it and start to see its merits when they begin to earn rewards.


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