Saturday, August 27, 2016

Five for Fraturday - (Not Quite) Ready for a New School Year

Ready or not, here it is! Summer's over and on Monday, I'll greet 21 (or more) freshly minted second graders. This is my 20th school year and I've never yet felt "ready" to begin the year. Such is the nature of teaching. There is always way more to do than I have time to do (no matter how early I start or how many hours I work). After beginning several years feeling anxiety over not being ready, I've found a comfort in making sure I'm "ready enough." 

With that being said, here's this week's Five for Friday...well, since it's Saturday, we'll go with Five for Fraturday. Thank you, Doodle Bugs Teaching for hosting!

Tuesday is the day our district sets aside for in-service opportunities. I signed up for a great one by REAL School Gardens. The half-day workshop focused on using school gardens as an outdoor classroom to teach literacy, math, and science (and some social studies, too). The program sounds great and my colleagues and I will be talking with our principal about getting started at our school. Here are some photos I took during the workshop.

We were invited to explore and discuss bees (dead ones, of course) at our tables. The presenters then threw out several questions and interesting facts about bees.  Did you know they have hair all over their bodies? Even on their eyeballs! Wouldn't second graders love this activity?

We were encouraged to think about what and how we would teach in each part of the garden. Wouldn't this be a great spot to encourage writing about peace?
  • Persuasive writing during the planning stage: Why should we have a peace garden? 
  • How-to writing during the implementation: How to plant a garden.
  • Poetry writing: What does peace mean to you?
  • Informational writing: Who was Muhammad Ali?
How else could we use something like this to encourage authentic writing?

The curriculum is structured using the 5 E Model of Instruction. All the activities we explored were based on this model. This is exactly how I love to teach!

The garden was divided into different geographic areas. I love knowing that children are learning about where different plants come from. I can also see doing some lessons on invasive plants. Students could study why some species, like Kudzu, are harmful to native plants.
Do you have a school garden? How do you use it?

On Wednesday, we had a school-based in-service to learn about teaching children who have experienced trauma. Here's a quote that really stuck with me. Sometimes, we punish the behavior without addressing the cause of it.

It was a scramble getting my room ready for our Open House on Thursday. I kept reminding myself that no one would notice the things that weren't done. I worked on getting "ready enough." 

I'll share more pictures of my room later this week, but here's a shot of my math center. I haven't put the header up for my math word wall and there are a few more math tools to put away, but I think it looks pretty good so far.

Books, books, and more books. These somehow made their way onto my front porch this summer.  I have a problem, I know. But don't they look wonderful?!

I don't have a picture for this one. I know some of you are already well into the school year, some, like me, will be starting on Monday, and some are getting ready to start after Labor Day. No matter what stage you're in, I hope all of you have the 


Until next time,

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Five for Fraturday... and Free Writing Folder Labels!

It's been awhile since I joined the Five for Friday Linky Party. I'm happy to be linking up again with Doodle Bugs Teaching and so many other talented teacher authors.

It's been a busy summer and a very busy week now that it's time to begin getting ready for the school year. Here are some highlights.

I made a feeble attempt this week to join the latest teacher-author craze: video tutorials. I was making my writing folders for this year. I've been creating four-pocket folders for my writing workshop for several years and they really work well, so I thought I could share how I make them.

After multiple attempts to film myself using one hand to do a job that requires two hands, I gave up in disgust. I either need to hire a videographer or stick to using photographs.  

So here are a few photographs to show how to create the folders. I bought a class set of folders with prongs and a class set without prongs.  Putting them together provides students with four pockets that keep their resources, ideas, and writing pieces organized. 

1. Open the prongs on the first folder.

2. Turn the second folder (without prongs)
inside out. The ones I bought were already
hole-punched. If yours aren't, use a three-
hole punch to prepare the folder. Make sure
you punch your holes on the outer edge
of the folder (not on the fold) to avoid step 5.
3. Place the inside-out folder on the prongs
of the first folder.

4. Close the prongs.

5. If your holes were on the fold side of the
folder, you will need to secure the inner
folder using tape. Use a box cutter to
make sure the tape does not interfere
with the pocket.
6. Label folders as desired for student use. 

I'm pleased to offer you a free set of my writing folder labels. Please download them by clicking the link. You can print them on Avery labels #5163 or #8253. 

I made my annual visit to the Lakeshore Learning Store. 

I might have gone a little overboard. 


Enough said.

My district has officially adopted the Fry Words for word study progression. Once I got the news, I quickly got to work on creating activities for my second graders to practice their word wall words. 

Here's my latest product. It's available in my store.

Public Domain-US

This is how I felt on Wednesday when I found out that, due to zoning issues, the mobile classroom I will be moving into this year will not arrive until October. I'll be setting up in my old classroom for now, but will have to move once it arrives. 

I have no words. 


I've decided to live in the moment and I'm eagerly preparing my current classroom for my new group of friends.  Here's a record of my progress over the last two days. I'll post some photos of the finished product once I'm ready for Open House next week.

It's coming along.

That's it for this week. I hope everyone's school year is off to a great start.

Until next time,

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Where Did The Summer Go?

I can't help but think that summer went by incredibly fast as I sit here on my couch contemplating the very long list of things I wanted to accomplish (very few of which are checked off). So in the spirit of one last whine before I put on my positive pants and head back for another great school year, here is my ode to summer.


Now that I've got that off my chest, I'll get busy creating my writing folders and setting up my teacher binder. 

If you enjoyed my poem and would like a copy of it, click here.

Wishing everyone a wonderful school year!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Five Things I Learned That Make Me a Better Teacher...Thanks, Mom.

I've been away from blogging for awhile, but I had a very good reason. My mom passed away at the end of May. She was my best friend, my rock, the confidante I turned to whenever I needed to talk. I miss her every moment of every day.

Since this is my first blog post since her passing, it feels appropriate to dedicate it to her. I hope you'll also see how much I learned from her and how I feel it helps me in my teaching career.

A sense of fun and adventure

My mom had a wonderful sense of humor and knew how to make ordinary activities fun. We had family game nights with Scrabble, Boggle, Yahtzee, or card games. We would play with troll dolls and mom would make them "talk" with funny voices. 

She even made riding in the car fun. We would drive around town and she would exclaim, "Oh, no. We're lost!" We'd have conversations about where we might be, where we would end up, and how we would ever find our way home. We'd see a little park and pull over to play. We'd look for street signs that might be familiar. We'd try to figure out what direction we were going and which way we needed to go next. "Turn right!" we'd say and my mom would turn right. My brother, sister, and I never knew for sure whether we were really lost or not, but we grew to love the anxious excitement of trying to find our way. Unknown adventures awaited those who were lost. 

Teaching and learning are a little bit like that. You step away from the familiar, explore and discover different paths to knowledge, and find excitement in discovery. Teachers are guides along these unknown paths, but sometimes we're learning our way along with our students. Sometimes we need to let our students tell us where to go and then follow their lead. Unknown adventures await those who are excited about learning.

In my classroom, I try to make learning fun. I read aloud using lots of expression and character voices. (My mom used to do that, too.) I find or create math games to teach concepts and fluency. I get kids up and moving several times during the day. (Go Noodle is the best!) When kids are having fun, they don't even realize they are learning!

The importance of kindness

Mom was endlessly kind. She'd smile and strike up conversations with strangers in the grocery store. She loved animals and I don't ever remember a time when we did not have a stray dog (and occasionally, a cat) that we had adopted. We never had much, but that didn't stop her from offering what she could to others. Whether it was offering a place to stay, a meal to eat, or a dollar for gas, she never hesitated to give help when needed. She encouraged me to work toward my goals. She empathized when someone was sick or going through a hard time. She lived her life by the golden rule. Through her example, I've tried to do the same.

Because of my mom, I know the value of showing kindness. I've also discovered that, in the classroom, it needs to be modeled by word and action. It needs to be explicitly taught. In my classroom, I teach kindness every day. From the first week of school when we create our class promise to our 100 Acts of Kindness challenge to the last day of school when we have a kindness celebration, I teach students that kindness matters. 

The gift of patience

Patience is a virtue. It's an axiom that I learned at my mother's knee. Whenever we were waiting in line, she would remind me to be patient. She didn't show anger at having to wait. We'd complain about waiting in line at Disney World or at the Dade County Youth Fair. She would remind us that the reward at the end would be worth the wait. She was a single mom with three energetic children. I'm sure we taxed her patience often, but that rarely showed. She knew how to deliver "the look" and we would get a talking to if we needed it. When she did lose it, you knew you had messed up!

Patience is a necessity in a primary classroom. Students constantly find new ways to try to push my buttons. It can be difficult to maintain calm. For me, this has been challenging at times. I often try to channel my mom's patience on the worst days. She was in my mind as I was writing my poem, Hold On To Your Patience

The value of hard work

My mom was a single mother with three kids. Child support checks rarely arrived on time and sometimes didn't arrive at all. Mom never finished high school, but she always worked hard to provide for her family. She was a waitress for most of my childhood. We moved often and paying the bills was tough. Some years, she worked three jobs to try and make ends meet. My mom followed my grandfather's belief that you didn't take government handouts, so we never had the extra help of food stamps or welfare no matter how desperate things got.  My mom just worked. And things eventually got better. My siblings and I got jobs as soon as we were old enough. Later, my mom got into training and restaurant management. Her example throughout my childhood taught me the value of working hard for what you want.

Mom with my niece just before leaving for work in 1987

My mom was a model for growth-mindset long before it was an educational catchphrase. 
I carry that belief with me today. I work many hours to prepare lessons and meet the expectations of my job. I pursue professional development opportunities in a quest to improve my craft. I try to be open to new ideas and to try a variety of approaches in order to help my students. I never stop learning.

In my classroom today, I try to instill that work ethic in my students. Learning anything new is never easy. We have to work hard and do our best. If we mess up, we learn from our mistakes and get back to work. We improve and learn through effort. 

An attitude of optimism

Mom was an expert at looking on the bright side. No matter how dark things got, she would find the silver lining in the clouds. She knew (and because of her, we did, too) that things could and would always get better. Bad times were temporary. Good times were just ahead.

Sometimes, it's hard to be a teacher. It's hard to go in day after day and battle the same battles. Kids curse us, they throw things, their parents bad-mouth us, administrators want us to prove we are doing a good job. Some days you just want to say, "Enough!"

I love teaching, but I have my bad days. Sometimes, I wonder why I do what I do. Because I have my mom's optimism, I always come back to the belief that today will be a better day, that today is the day I will make that breakthrough, and that I am making a difference. I'm able to take the long view. One bad day does not equal a bad career choice. With an optimistic attitude, I am able to stay focused on the reason I do this job: for the kids. 

Our matriarch with family on her last birthday in September

In a way, Mom began preparing me to be a teacher when I was very young. She would have been a great teacher herself. She taught me so many values that make me a good person and a better teacher. I wish she were still with me. 

I guess, in a way, she is. And always will be. 

Until next time,