Sunday, September 2, 2018

Becoming a Reader

My great-nephew Ben is a reader. He loves books and stories. The picture I used above is from 2 years ago when he had just finished first grade. Mo Willems had become a favorite author and I had just given him several new Elephant and Piggie stories. 

Today, he sent me a picture of his favorite lines and illustration from The Wild Robot by Peter Brown. He wanted to share them with me because he knew that we have something important in common - we are both readers.

It occurred to me as I was reading his text that I don’t remember learning how to read. 

I don’t remember memorizing sight words or practice sessions with flash cards. 

I know I probably did reading worksheets in school, but I don’t remember doing them.

I grew up in the age of round-robin reading, Dick and Jane books, and bluebird, redbird, brown bird reading groups. But that’s not what I remember.

I remember singing alphabet songs, reciting nursery rhymes, and gathering for story time at the foot of my teacher’s rocking chair.

I remember sitting on my mommy’s lap while she read us a book. I remember sitting by her side as she encouraged me to sound out a word in Mr. Brown Can Moo.

I remember seeing my mom, dad, grandfather, and grandmother reading books and newspapers. 

I remember sitting at the dining room table as my grandfather read my brother and me the Sunday Funnies.

I remember playing the billboard game on every single road trip. My brother, sister and I would compete to find words starting with a-z on road signs and billboards. Whoever reached the end of the alphabet first would win. 

I remember going to the library and searching for Babar and Harold and the Purple Crayon books. I remember how excited I was at 5 years old when I got my very own library card with my name on it.

I remember discovering new series and being encouraged to read every biography in the children’s section. 

I remember reading books to my little sister, sharing my favorite stories and authors with her.

As a child in poverty, I remember how excited I was to gather a stack of books to trade for credit at the used bookstore. Checking out with a stack of new books. Riding in the backseat of the car to the park trying to decide which one to read first. Losing myself in a story while nestled in the trunk of a sprawling banyan tree.

I remember reading the Little House books because my mom loved them as a child, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because the librarian thought I might like it, The Hobbit because my brother was reading it, and Charlotte’s Web because my teacher read it out loud to our class.

I remember receiving books as Christmas presents and Birthday presents. I couldn't wait until all the excitement was over so I could dive into a new world.

No, I don’t remember learning how to read.

I just have wonderful memories of becoming a reader. 

My great-nephew sent me these pictures from The Wild Robot
by Peter Brown. He said it's a sad book, but it makes him happy.

I suspect Ben is the same way. He doesn't remember or care how he learned to read. He became a reader in a family of readers. He's a reader who truly enjoys reading and loves sharing that joy with others. He is a reader because he loves stories. He's a reader because he sees examples of readers in his own life. He's a reader because after Mo Willems, he found more favorite authors and more favorite books and more favorite series. He's a reader because he has learned not only how to read well, but to find joy and comfort in books. He has become a reader. 

I think one of my most important jobs as a teacher is to help more kids to be like Ben - to help them become readers, too. I try to help students become readers by modeling my own love of reading, by sharing my excitement when I find a new author or story that I love, by recommending books I think they will love, by reading aloud each and every day.

What about you? How do you ensure your students are becoming readers?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Terrific Tips for Building Positive Parent-Teacher Relationships

Image by Speech Language Pirate

I've been teaching for twenty years now and I can honestly say that parent-teacher relationships are one of the most important (and often overlooked) keys to a successful school year. One difficult parent, or even one misunderstanding or miscommunication, can lead to a year from ... well, you know.

With that in mind, I posed a question on my Facebook page: How do you establish and maintain a good relationship with parents? Some awesome veteran teachers shared their wisdom. Although I originally intended to write this post for beginning teachers, the tips are so good that I think all teachers can find something new to implement!

Tip #1  First Impressions Matter!

Eliene's advice was echoed by other teachers. Laura Howland Aquilone says she "call[s] all my parents after the first week to get an at home perspective." Hilary Philpott-Gard says she tries "to send every parent a positive e-mail about their child by the end of the first month."

I know that I consider Meet the Teacher Day to be one of the most important days of the school year. It's my first opportunity to get to know parents and to let them get to know me. Letting them know that I care about their child as a person goes a long way toward starting a good relationship. I make phone calls to the parents who are unable to attend due to work or other commitments. It's so important for that first contact to be friendly and positive!

Tip #2  Keep It Positive!    

Crystal Cash White agrees. She advises, "Start the relationship early and keep it positive!" 

The First Grade Flair says, "Try to communicate positive things, too! So often teachers are just calling and emailing when something is wrong. Positive notes and calls go a long way in building trust between us and parents. I try to do 2 positive notes a week usually on a Friday and I track to make sure each student gets at least one a year." 

Believe me, this is excellent advice! I send home Happy Notes to my parents a few times a month. I keep track on a simple class roster in my communication binder to make sure everyone gets one. The parent's often surprised, yet happy reply never fails to make my day!

Tip #3 Make Parents Feel Welcome!

Linda Griffin had some great suggestions. "Have lots of special days that you invite the parents in to help with activities etc. We have Grandparents and Special Friends Day, Thanksgiving play and feast, Christmas/Holiday Spectacular, parents help make things and do activities, Field Trip Chaperones, Spring Fling/Easter egg hunt and activities, various other opportunities for parents to come in and share and then our Graduation and play. These help parents see their child and you interacting in the classroom."

Parents love to volunteer. Don't be afraid to ask parents to help in the class. Ask them to read or practice sight words with a child. If you have trouble giving up control, start a Guest Reader or Mystery Reader program to get them in. Ask them to help with copying, laminating, or other clerical tasks. You will help parents to feel welcome, build that relationship, and get some help with your overwhelming workload. It's a win-win!

Tip #4  Use Technology!

Other teachers suggested communication apps, as well. Donna Murphy writes, " I use Class Dojo with my class. Give parent[s] a look into what is going on and it is using technology. Something that is always looked for in a classroom."  Hilary Philpott-Gard uses Bloomz and sends "tons of pics in the first week or so." 

Deann Marin shared a great idea: "We do a video titled A Day in the Life of Your Child for parent night. We follow the kids to all their classes, PE, Art, etc, even to the cafeteria for lunch. We tape each other teaching. Parents love seeing their kids. They see first hand our teaching style. They can tell we care. Once they realize this, they're very happy. Great ice breaker."

Other teachers I know have a classroom Facebook page, Twitter account, or blog. Use the technology you're comfortable with to connect with parents.

Tip #5 Listen and Address Concerns!

This is such a great tip. Too often, teachers view parents as the enemy. It's important to remember that whether or not you agree with their concerns, parents are acting as their child's advocate. Take the time to listen and be as objective as you can when a parent raises a concern. Work together to find a solution.

Aren't these terrific tips? I know I was able to find something new to try this year. I hope you did, too. If you have a tip to share, please add it in the comments below!

If you're having a parent conference, make sure you check out the tips in this post.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Want to win? #Springbackin Giveaway!

This post will be short, but very sweet!

I've gotten together with a wonderful group of TpT Sellers to host a Spring Giveaway! Who doesn't like a chance to win a gift card? Especially when it's for Teachers pay Teachers!

We'll also be sharing some more Spring Surprises over the next two weekends! Make sure you follow me on Facebook so you don't miss out.

Enter the Giveaway below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Making Time for History

Why don't we teach more history in elementary school?

Oh, we teach history on Dr. King's birthday and President's Day. We cover a few historical figures during Black History month, Women's History month, and Hispanic Heritage month. Maybe students at your school might do a biography project or study important inventors. But many of us don't really teach about more than a handful of important people.

Black History month and Women's History month were both started in order to combat generations of teaching about the history of "old, white men." And I guess that when I was growing up, that's who we mostly learned about.

George Washington and his cherry tree (pure fiction by the way). 

Abraham Lincoln and the log cabin. 

Benjamin Franklin and his kite. 

Thomas Edison and the light bulb. 

Henry Ford's car. 

Alexander Graham Bell's telephone.

So how did I come to know the names Clara Barton, Helen Keller, Elizabeth Blackwell, Molly Pitcher, Jane Addams, Florence Nightingale, Amelia Earhart, and Abigail Adams? How did I grow up with a love of history and a fascination with the men and women whose stories I read?

Was it the library with its wonderful wall of (somewhat fictionalized) biographies?

Was it a teacher (or two) who taught history with an air of fascination and wonder?

Or was it just me, longing to be like these people who overcame hardship to make a difference in the world?

I honestly don't know.

I do know that when I ask young children today to name people in history, I generally hear four names: Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln.

In my state, our standards do require us to teach history, but how many of us go beyond those four names mentioned above? 

How many of us effectively help children to grasp ways in which the past has influenced the present? 

How many of us have made an effort to find historical role models to whom our children would relate?

We have no knowledge-base or interest. We "don't know much about history..." as the song says. We find history dry and boring, filled with dates and battles and documents to memorize.

We have no resources. We don't have a social studies textbook in our district. Our social studies resources consist of geography materials, a few trade books, and a teacher's guide. History isn't a major priority, so the resources are simply not available.

We have no time. Our schedule is tight. We have to have two hours of balanced literacy instruction, at least an hour of math instruction, an intervention block, and just thirty minutes a day for the teaching of science or social studies. We dedicate three weeks to social studies, then switch to science for three weeks, and then back to social studies. Oh, and for the record, I don't know anyone who is always able to stay on schedule. And if we run out of time, guess what gets left out?

That needs to change.

Children need role models and history is full of them.  They need to see representations of themselves in successful historical figures so they can realize the unlimited possibilities of their own lives. They need to know that what is, wasn't always. They need to know what used to be so that they become convinced that change is possible. They need to know that one individual can be a powerful agent of that change. And to embrace the idea that maybe, one day, they could be that agent.

So how do we make time for history in our classrooms?

Expanding our personal knowledge base

In the age of the internet, learning about history has never been easier.  You can sign up for daily emails from This Day in History or check out the Today in History page from the Library of Congress. You can like and follow Facebook pages such as A Mighty Girl, the History Channel, or the National Museum of American History. You can tour local monuments and historic sites or visit a history museum. You can listen to stories on StoryCorps.

If you're not a history fan, that may be because your experience in learning history was filled with memorization of dates, battles, and documents. While some of us find this aspect of history fascinating, others find the stories and personalities more relatable. Focus on people if dates make your eyes glaze over. You can always google the dates things happened.

Finding the resources

There are a wealth of resources for teaching about history. Here are just a few:

Biographies - Create a section of your library that is dedicated to biographies. Seek out some of the lesser-known names. Make sure you have books about people from all races and backgrounds, especially those that reflect the diversity in your own classroom.

Here are just a few of the biographies I encourage students to read during
Black History Month (and all year long)

I try to include a variety of biographies in my library.
Here are just a few.

Historical Fiction - This often-overlooked genre brings history alive for some kids. I know it did (and does) for me. Look for books that are historically accurate with relatable, realistic characters.

I put these historical fiction titles in a basket to celebrate Black History Month.

Here are a few of the historical fiction texts in my classroom library.

Primary Sources and Realia - Whenever possible, expose students to real images and objects from history. For objects, think about bringing in old coins, invite families to "show and tell" their family heirlooms, or visit local history museums to observe artifacts. When I go on vacations, I love to explore historical sites. Their gift shops often have replicas of historical objects for sale. Build a collection for the units you teach and create a display in your classroom.

The internet has a  wealth of historical images. One of my favorite resources is the Library of Congress. They have an amazing collection of historical documents and photographs that bring history to life.

Your local public library is a great source for books, audio, digital images, and even artifacts. Ask a librarian to help you gather materials for your unit.

Teachers pay Teachers - There are many quality resources available for free and for sale on TpT. Use the search bar to find resources on historical figures or events. You can build your unit around a poem or non-fiction resource.

You may be interested in my newest freebie, Do You Know Her Name? Shirley Chisholm. It's the first of a new series of historical poems and activities featuring famous women in history.

Making the time

This is the hard one. Trying to teach all of our social studies objectives in the time we have available is difficult, so adding anything else seems impossible. It's not. We just have to be creative in our use of the time available to us.

One of the easiest ways to add the teaching of history to your instructional day is by incorporating it into your reading instruction. We need to teach students how to read non-fiction, right? Why not include a few biographies or biographical articles in your plans? If you're teaching a unit on realistic fiction, include some historical fiction. You can teach the same reading skills as students learn a little bit about the way things used to be.

Another great way to add history to your curriculum is through student research projects. In my school, we teach students to research topics of their own interests and share the information with their peers.  If you have a student who is interested in math, you can encourage him/her to research a famous mathematician such as Paul Erdos or Katherine Johnson. A student who loves science may be interested in the life of George Washington Carver, Marie Curie, or Louis Pasteur. Students who love art might want to find out about Frida Kahlo, Faith Ringgold, or Pablo Picasso. I could go on, but you get the idea. Don't know who to research? Do a simple Google search, and you will come up with quite a few names to get you started.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Do you teach history in your elementary classroom? What are some of the resources you use? How do you make time for it? Please share your ideas in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Jolly Good Deals Week December 12 - 16

Welcome to #JollyGoodDeals week! I'm working with some other talented Teacher-Authors to bring you a week full of bargains and freebies. Check out what I'll be sharing with you this week!


Today was all about our Facebook Giveaway! This week, we are teaming up to offer you a chance to win one of six $50 Teachers pay Teachers Gift Cards. The Rafflecopter will be open until Friday at 12:00 pm, so make sure you visit my Facebook page to enter!


I'll be offering my Word Finds for Sight Word Practice and my Word Finds for Second Graders as part of our #JollyGoodDollarDeals on Tuesday. You can pick up these fun word search resources for just $1 each. Enter #JollyGoodDollarDeals into the search box on TpT to find more great products at this bargain price. 

On Wednesday, we are featuring some amazing free resources. I'll be sharing my freebie, Winter Theme One Hundred Twenty Charts. It's offered for free in my store right now, so you don't have to wait to download it. Just be sure to visit TpT on Wednesday and search for more #JollyGoodFreebies


Don't miss out on the chance to grab my already-discounted Poem of the Week Bundle at an even deeper discount! Purchase of this bundle will get you four of my popular Poem of the Week products, including my best-selling A Kind and Caring Classroom Poems of the Week That Promote Good Character. Don't forget to search #JollyGoodBundleSale to find some more awesome bundles at deep discount prices.

Last, but not least, on Friday, you'll be able to search for some #JollyGoodHalfOff deals. I'll be offering my popular Honeybees Literacy, Science, Math, and Art Activities. Your students will love exploring the science of Honeybees with this engaging unit.

Don't forget to check back in on my Facebook page on Friday. The giveaway will close to entries at 12:00 pm. We'll be revealing the names of the winners that evening.

I hope you enjoy taking advantage of all the #JollyGoodDeals this week!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Wishlists, the Cyber Monday Sale, and a TpT Gift Card Giveaway

I love Teachers pay Teachers!

I've purchased and downloaded so many wonderful resources that I've used in my classroom and to create my own products. There are so many great things to choose from that I always have quite a wish list going! 

Today, I'd like to share with you some of the products I have wish-listed. I'll also share the products in my store that have been wish-listed most often. Make sure you read to the bottom of the post for a chance to enter my TpT Gift Card Giveaway and then hop to the next blog for another chance at winning!

First up - what's on my wish list?

This looks like such a fun way to teach my second-graders about different holidays! Students watch a video that introduces Globe Trot Scott. They then travel with him around the world, collecting letters, learning about different holidays, and creating crafts that become souvenirs of their journey. I can't wait to add this one to my collection of TpT resources!

This looks like an amazing resource! I've been implementing a guided math model in my classroom this year. Organization is definitely a big issue for me. This resource would not only add to my center collection, it would help me organize everything so the students could access it more easily.

I HATE writing sub plans! Nothing is worse than waking up sick and then having to type up something creative and engaging for your kids to do while you're out. This product would make it so much easier for me to call out sick. It has no-prep activities that can be used with any book! The same activities can be used over and over with different books, so students know what to expect. I have got to get this resource!

Now that you know what I want to get, here are my top three most wish-listed products.

Besides being my most wish-listed product, this is also my top seller on TpT. I created it during and after a year that brought me one of my most challenging groups of students. I wanted to find a way to encourage respect, responsibility, and empathy among all my students. I wrote 14 original poems intended to be used as part of a Poem of the Week program. By reading, analyzing, and revisiting these poems, my students gained insight into how their behavior impacts others. The poems have definitely helped me to create a kind and caring classroom environment over the last three years. 

I love to integrate my instruction. Science and poetry may not seem like a natural fit, but I've found poems to be a great way to introduce science concepts and vocabulary. This product includes eight original poems and accompanying activities that will help broaden your students' understanding of science while you teach also support their use of literacy skills.

My third most wish-listed product came about due to a school Science Fair. My class was required to conduct a science fair project and we chose bubbles. After reading, researching, conducting the experiment, and writing about what we learned, I thought this would make a great integrated unit! I included literacy, science, and math in the unit. I also included ideas for a fun art activity. We had lots of fun doing our bubble unit and I know you will enjoy it, too.

Now that you have some ideas for products to add to your cart, I'm happy to announce that TpT will be having a Cyber Sale from Monday, November 28th through Tuesday, November 29th. My entire store will be on sale for 20% off. Many other sellers will be holding sales as well. The best part is that you can save an additional 10% off at checkout when you use the code CYBER2016. I'm planning to get some of the products on my wish list. How about you?

I'd love to help you get the items you've wish-listed. That's why I'm participating in the Blog Hop to give away $10 TpT gift cards! You can enter to win my gift card below. After that, make sure you hop on over to the next blog to enter to win another one!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks for entering my giveaway! The winner will be notified by Tuesday morning in time to shop for the sale!

Now, head on over to

to enter the next giveaway!

Good luck and happy shopping!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Five Tips for Successful Parent Conferences

Our district requires us to have a Parent-Teacher Conference at the end of the first quarter of school. I'm almost done with this year's conferences, so I thought I'd share some tips for making sure they are successful.

Be prepared.

This one seems like a no-brainer, but I can't tell you how many times I've been rushing around trying to find a work sample or print out a report at the last minute. I end up feeling frazzled. That's no way to begin a conference! Prepare for your conferences a day ahead of time. Make sure you have your work samples and test results organized in a folder. Put them in the order you like to share them. Make sure you have a parent conference form partially completed. You can always add notes while the conference is in session, but having an agenda or outline will keep you on track and make sure you won't forget anything.

If parents email or (worse) show up asking for an on-the-spot conference or one with very little preparation time, do your best to schedule it for the next day. I've been known to pretend to have a prior commitment, but you don't have to lie. Just say you are not able to have a conference today and then provide one or more dates and times as alternatives. People don't just drop in to see their doctor, lawyer, or dentist and expect immediate service. Why should we allow them to do so in the school setting? Professionals set appointments for a reason - so they can be informed and prepared for the meeting.

Invite and involve your students. I believe students should have a role in the conference because they are responsible for setting goals, completing work, and being a productive member of the classroom community. Having them there also sends a message that their parents and I are on the same page with regards to the importance of education. We're all on the same team.

I have my kids start the conference by sharing 1 or 2 entries from their math, science, and reading response journals. They also share a writing piece. It's always fun and informative to hear the students explain what we are learning in class. You can also learn a lot about how the parents interact with their children. Some beam with pride and give praise, others are overly critical. It gives you a quick idea about how to approach the information you will need to share. I make sure I provide additional information when needed. I often slip in some praise or comments on areas needing improvement.

Having the student present also provides an opportunity for problem-solving. If the student is having social issues, we can come up with some ideas for making and keeping friends. If the student has behavior problems, we can begin a behavior contract. If the student has academic difficulties, I can suggest ways the parents can help at home. The parents will experience less resistance to this extra work because the student was in on the decision.

Not all of my parents accept the invitation to involve the student in the conference. That's their choice and I absolutely respect that. However, I've always received very positive feedback and results from student-involved conferences. Give them a try.

Talking to parents can be difficult. They are sometimes defensive. Sometimes, they are not receptive to your concerns. Sometimes, it's difficult to get them to attend the conference. We sometimes make assumptions about parents like this:
  • They don't care about their child's behavior.
  • They don't have any respect for you or what you are dealing with.
  • They don't believe anything that puts their child in a bad light.
And sometimes - rarely - that's true. But most of the time, it's not. In my experience, parents from every walk of life have one thing in common: they care about their children and they want them to be successful.

Remember that the parents are not your enemy.  They are there to advocate for their child. That's their job. Don't take things personally (I know that's tough). Make sure you see and acknowledge the whole child. Mix your concerns with plenty of praise and acknowledgment of the good in the child. Never dismiss parent concerns or questions. Listen and problem-solve together. Be clear and professional. You are on the same side - you both want what's best for the child.

Anticipate parent concerns. 

If you have a student in your classroom who is very bright, finishes work quickly and correctly, and works at a high level, chances are the parents are concerned that he/she will be challenged. Instead of waiting for parents to bring that up, weave it into your conversation as you share test results or classwork. Share some of the activities, projects, or materials that you are using to help their child make progress. Parents will appreciate knowing that you have their child's needs in mind and are providing those opportunities for challenge and extension of the learning.

If you have a child who is almost always alone on the playground during recess, be prepared to discuss social issues. Make sure you let parents know that you've noticed and are concerned, as well. We do teach many children who are introverts. They simply are more comfortable being alone. And maybe that's okay. But, as teachers, we need to be aware that being alone is not always a choice. Sometimes it's a result of shyness or not knowing how to join other's play. Sometimes, more seriously, it's the result of bullying. You might bring up the concern first and ask the parent for his/her take on it. They may share information on the child's social history or specific problems with other children that you did not know about. 

Bottom line: Make your parents aware that you know and care about their child as a person. 

Start and end with positives. You never want to start or end on a negative note. You also don't want your conference to be a listing of complaints or things to work on. Find a strength to praise at the beginning of the conference, whether it be academic or social. Let the parents know you are seeing the good in their child. When you mention the behavior or academic difficulty, share how you are addressing the difficulty. Try to focus on just one area that needs improvement. If needed, make a plan for improvement with the parent's help. Then, as you are getting ready to close, make sure you praise another strength. By sandwiching a negative between two positives, you are more likely to make your parents an ally in their child's education.

I always end my conferences by emphasizing the good qualities of the child and why I am happy to have him/her in my class this year. It's not always easy to do, but remember: we praise the qualities we want to encourage in our students.  You may find that your students do better after they've heard that you like them.

So, those are my tips for successful Parent-Teacher Conferences. What are yours? Please share in the comments or on my Facebook page.