My Favorite Posts of 2015 Linky

Today I'm excited to share my 3 favorite posts from 2015 and host my very first linky! Scroll to the bottom of the post to link up!

1. I loved sharing my "Lessons from the Cool Down Corner" with you back in May.

2. "The Power of De-Escalation" might have been my most meaningful post this year. I really believe in de-escalation and practice it daily!

3. My style post back in October called "Kathleen Kelly Has My Ideal Teacher Wardrobe" was probably the most fun to write!

Now compile your 3 (or more!) favorite posts from 2015 and share the link to the new post below! Feel free to use the image at the top in your post :) 

New Product Round-Up (including freebie!)

So excited it's finally break! The last week was definitely a whirlwind. I wanted to share a few products I've created in the last month:

I'm most excited about this CVC Word Printables bundle. I have two students ready to transition from letter sounds to CVC words, and I couldn't find something beginner-friendly enough among my resources or on TPT. The bundle is made up of 10 page sections for each short vowel. Each section starts out with the student coloring in a picture of the word and then tracing and writing the word. This ensures the student knows what word the image is meant to represent-- that's one of my students' biggest issues with phonics work that I don't create myself. You can also buy the sections individually, though you'll save $4 by buying the bundle!



I also made a series of differentiated "Color by..." winter friends coloring pages:


These are perfect for early finishers or to add to sub plans!

Only a few days left to use this one, but I made some holiday-themed multiplication problems. I used this for a small group in an inclusion setting.


Finally, make sure you grab this fun freebie if you have any kids working on letter recognition!


New Products: Turkey Hunts!

My kids get soooo excited when I change up their work boxes, especially when the new ones are holiday-themed! I made two fun turkey hunts for different phonics skills.

The first is for consonant digraphs ch, th, sh, and wh:

The other is for r-controlled vowels or, ar, er, ir, and ur:

They come with a recording sheet, but I am actually having the kids underline the two-letter phonograms in my class, because that's something we're working on with the Spalding method! They can also be used as fun flashcards. You could even print all the turkeys twice to make a memory-style game.

Find the digraphs hunt here and the r-controlled vowels hunt here.

Kathleen Kelly Has My Ideal Teacher Wardrobe

My husband refuses to watch You've Got Mail with me (something about it only having a 6.5 on IMDB...?), but that doesn't keep me from watching it at least once a year. As I was watching it this year, I realized that Kathleen Kelly has the ideal teacher wardrobe. I mean, look at her! She's got the turtlenecks, the cardigan, the high-waisted skirts. She owns a children's book store and even conducts a story time at one point in the movie, so I guess she's not too far from a teacher. She looks crisp and elegant the whole movie (even in her pajamas!), but not frumpy. And I bet she could mix and match the heck out of everything in her closet.  So! I thought I'd gather up a few modern day teacher basics based on Kathleen Kelly's style:

1. Shift Dress from J.Crew
2. Turtleneck Sweater from J.Crew
3. Cardigan from J.Crew
4. Chelsea Boots from Everlane
5. Skirt from J.Crew

Anyone else love this movie? What do you wear to work?

10 Affirmations for Teachers

My latest blog post for TeacherPop is a list of 10 Affirmations for Teachers! I'm really excited to share this one because I think affirmations can be really powerful.  I've been listening to them on my way to school since last school year.  I have a few favorites that I genuinely think to myself during the school day.  It's a bit cheesy, but sometimes you really need to calm yourself down! Last year, I found myself feeling angry and frustrated that I was unable to provide all the services my students needed (due to unfilled special education positions at my former school).  I found that the affirmation, "I am a person of high integrity and sincere purpose," would remind me that I was doing my best.  This year, I find myself saying, "I am patient and calm, and greet the day with ease," under my breath.  I'm definitely feeling a bit frazzled as I adjust to a new school and a new caseload of students.  Anyway, you can check out my full list on the TeacherPop blog here! Do you have any affirmations or sayings you use to stay positive and calm? 

What's In My Teaching Bag?

I'm linking up with The Owl Teacher today to share what's in my teacher bag(s)! I really did pour out my bags after getting home on Friday to take this picture! I just kept some of the less photogenic stuff insides the bags, ha.

1. Teacher Bag #1. My mom gave me a herschel bag as a gift for my last birthday and I love it! Looks like they don't have this pattern any more, but this one's the same color!
2. Teacher Bag #2. Sadly one bag isn't cutting it these days! This one is from Everlane and is a bit roomier, but not as sturdy.
3. Books. I'm always ferrying tons of library books back and forth!
4. Water bottle.  I know it's not enough, but I try to get at least 24 oz. a day.
5. Lunch box. I somehow haven't had a lunch box for the past 2 years! I just got this one and it's making packing ahead a lot easier.
6. Planning books.  Right now I'm trying to learn about and implement The Writing Road to Reading! Anyone else used this?
7. My planner. I use the Get To Work Book.
8. My "everything" binder.  I use some of the forms from Teaching Special Thinker's Special Educator's Everything Binder.

What are your teacher bag essentials? 

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Interactive Word Wall

This post contains affiliate links.

I started setting up my classroom at my new school this week, and was excited to find a place for my word wall in my pint-size, shared room! I almost didn't bring it with me from my old school, but I'm so glad I did.  

This word "wall" is actually a huge piece of laminated bulletin board paper with velcro strips on it. At my old school, I taped it onto the back of two bookshelves that served as dividers. In my new room, as you can see, it's taped along the air conditioning ledge. You could of course apply the same concept to a bulletin board, but the nice thing about this word wall is that you can put it anywhere and bring it anywhere! 

The first thing you need to do is laminate a long length of bulletin board paper (luckily I did this last year because my new school doesn't have a functioning laminator-- the horror!). Next, you'll need to figure out how you want to lay out your adhesive velcro. In my case, I did 12 vertical strips. If you're working with a narrower, but longer space you could do 26 short strips. Then, you'll need to add your letters of the alphabet. There are tons of word wall headers on TPT that you can just print and laminate. You can permanently affix your letters if you're sure of placement, or you can use velcro, as I did. Then just add velcro dots to the back of any words you want to add! The ones up on my wall are pre-primer words, and I'll add the rest of the Dolch words as the year goes on. I love having the velcro because I can easily switch out words. Kids can also pull of words to reference for spelling. I sometimes do sight word practice with it by asking students to pull of a certain word. Students can also practice recognizing initial letters by putting the words back on after they've been removed.

Here's a (badly lit) close-up of a portion of my word wall:

Let me know if you have any questions!

Summer Projects Update

I blogged about my personal summer projects a month or so ago, so I'm back to report on my progress since the summer's almost over.

1. Sweater = complete. I have to agree with my new husband that it looks a bit like a high-end snuggie. You can find the pattern here if you too want a giant knitted cocoon.

2. Scrapbook = also complete! I was almost too embarrassed to put it out at the wedding, but previously mentioned husband insisted.  

3. A Song of Fire and Ice reread = almost complete.  I'm actually kind of sad about being on the last few chapters of the last (for now) book.

I can't get into my new classroom until next week, so I'm keeping busy with tutoring and setting up my new apartment until then!

Recommended Listening: The Problem We All Live With

I'm a regular This American Life listener, and I think they do a really excellent job covering education topics.  This past week, the show tackled current day school segregation with an episode called "The Problem We All Live With."  So many people are under the false impression that segregation ended in the 1960's.  Some realize that it exists, but think it's accidental or unavoidable.  It is neither.  Please give the episode a listen! You can stream it here, or download it from your podcasts app.

Wonderful Idea Wednesday

I have seriously lost track of whether this was my original idea or not, but my "wonderful idea" for the Freebielicious linky is having students record their sight words using an iPad or other technology.  My students work at the sight word station independently and choose what method to use (dry erase markers, chalkboard, magnetic letters, etc.).  Then, they take a video of their sight words that they created (not themselves) and read aloud the words. You can also have students spell out the words, such as "s-a-i-d, said."  

The videos are rarely perfect (notice that he skips a few words above), but it allows students to get some extra practice actually reading the words before I check them for the day.  It also motivates them to work efficiently.  Before I started having them create the videos, they would often only get through a few of their words (they each have ten) because they were playing with the supplies or getting distracted.  Now, they stay on task because they want to use the iPad! 

Check out more wonderful ideas here! 

Must Have Monday

Today I'm linking up with Freebielicious to share some of my teaching "must-haves."

1. Binder rings are SO crucial for not feeling like you're drowning in tiny pieces of paper. Everything that can have a hole punched in it goes on a binder ring in my classroom.  I find them the most useful for student sight word rings, but I use them for all my flashcards as well.  I also use them to bind adapted books.

2. I don't think I could go back to teaching without LessonPix or something similar! I seriously use it every day.  The visuals are great for everything from sequencing a story to labeling containers.  I especially love that virtually every image of a person comes in multiple skin tones! 

3. I actually wear a half-apron every day to teach! At the beginning of the school year I felt a little self-conscious about it, but it quickly became a "must-have" for me.  Many of my work pants and skirts are black, so the apron actually isn't very noticeable... except that I'm constantly using it! I always keep a pen, a chart paper marker, a highlighter, an eraser, stickers, and my phone in there... and usually a bunch of other random stuff besides! It's particularly great when you're working as an inclusion teacher, because you can modify assignments on the fly, even if you don't have access to your teacher desk.  

What are your "must-haves?" You can link up and check out the other posts here!

Personal Summer Projects

While I have three major, not-so-fun projects (moving, new job, wedding), I also have three fun, personal projects I'm working on! It helps me to think of them as "projects" so that I don't feel guilty doing them, as I would in the school year.  So here they are:

1. I'm knitting a sweater! I love to knit, but I normally only tackle small projects during the school year (hats, scarves, etc.).  I'm about halfway done the 'Glam Lamb' sweater!

2. I've been working on a scrapbook of the last 3-4 years since winter, but now I'm really focusing on finishing in time to have it out at the wedding (since it focuses on Rob's and my relationship).

3. Finally, I'm rereading A Song of Fire and Ice! I read all five a few summers ago, and I've been wanting to reread since watching the show.  It feels a bit self-indulgent, but hey-- summer!

Do you have any personal projects or hobbies you're indulging in this summer? 

Teaching Harry Potter with Thinking Maps

This spring I did Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as a read-aloud with a group of second and third graders.  I also taught Harry Potter last year, but this year I had the added bonus of thinking maps, which I also used with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.  I LOVE using thinking maps as anchor charts and visual cues with read aloud's.  They allow students to access higher level texts without getting confused or frustrated. As with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, we used circle maps to keep track of character traits: 

(click image to see larger)

I would point to the character who was speaking to help students understand the dialogue. The circle maps also led to some interesting connections.  One of the students asked, "Why do so many people hate Harry?" which I'd never really thought about before! We did have "hates Harry" written on Aunt Petunia's, Uncle Vernon's, Dudley's, Malfoy's, and Draco's circle maps! 

We also used a flow map for different chapters and events, rather than for the whole book, as I did with LWW.  I had a photo of the one we did for Diagon Alley, but I think it must be on my now-turned-in school computer. 

I also did a "word collector" with new words we came across. A word collector isn't strictly a thinking map (I got the idea from the Daily 5), but it worked well with this book.  The kids were always asking me to add words! Seeing them everyday (and not just once and forgetting about them) increased their actual usage of the words... they particularly liked "revolting"! 

The day before we got to the sorting ceremony in the book, I had the kids take a little quiz to figure out what house they should be in.  Then, as I was reading the sorting ceremony part, I called up the students as if they were characters in the book and had them try on the wizard hat to find out what house they would be in.  They LOVED it and couldn't believe their names were in the book! (ha) I also made up little certificates to give them:

I'd love to offer the certificates as a freebie, but the crest images aren't mine.  Maybe it'll be a summer project to come up with non-copyrighted crests!

Sadly I must admit that I didn't finish the whole book with this group. We got to Chapter 10 and then I recommended they check the book out from the library and ask a parent or sibling to read it to them! 

Have you done Harry Potter as a read aloud? What was your experience like?

MORE Spring Poems

I've kept up with the weekly poem for my kinder/first grade group, so I thought I'd share the ones I found that were simple enough for them to keep up with, but still engaging.  I found all the poems through Google or Pinterest. Click on the images to see them bigger!

And yes, I know penguins aren't exactly "spring!"  But I've been coordinating our poem with our animal of the week and easy art activity (I use these ones from Teaching Special Thinkers), and a penguin theme was the most feasible that week.  

You can see my first batch of spring poems here

The Power of De-Escalation

When I went through teacher training, I was coached in using a commanding "teacher voice" and the all important Behavior Management Cycle (constantly referred to as the BMC).  And when I mean coached, I mean actually coached.  We would have "snappy practice" in which we had to take turns with another teacher pretending to order them to do something.  It never felt right to me.  And I was bad at it.  Here's the thing: when you order a student to do something, and they don't do it, then what do you do? You're stuck in a power struggle.  If you back down, you lack authority and you look weak.  If you punish a student, or worse, send them out of the room, you've probably lost any chance of them learning for the rest of the period.  And even if you command a student to do something, and they grudgingly do it, you may have lost them anyway.  Some of my fourth graders (the oldest students that I work with) asked me the other day why I don't yell at them or make them do things.  I told them the truth-- I don't think yelling or forcing a student to do something is an effective way to help students learn. It might get them to sit down, or be quiet, or stop tapping their pencil.  But none of those things are learning. So, what do I do instead? Well, I want to preface all this by saying that I'm very lucky to have my own classroom (well, shared with two other teachers, but I am the teacher who primarily works with kids there) and very small groups (no more than five). However, I also work in an inclusion setting in a room with 31 kids, and find these same strategies to be effective.
  • Give the reason for anything you're requesting.  This feels a little awkward at first, but it's really become second nature to me now.  "Please stop making noises with your fidget.  It's really distracting for the other students."  "I'd really like you to stop tipping your chair because I care about you and I don't want you to fall and hit your head."  "Please work hard on your task! It's helping you to become a better reader."
  • Speak in a quiet voice.  When my students are being defiant, I think they're very often stressed out and overstimulated.  Instead of increasing their stimulation, I try to lower it.  I speak very softly and calmly.  The most worked up I ever get (or try to get) is to tell a student that I'm getting really frustrated.  
  • Give the student an out.  I frequently see teachers get into power struggles with students, where neither of them feel like they can back down.  Yes, as the teacher, you can ultimately "win" because you have more authority.  But again, to what end? As the adult and teacher, you have a responsibility to be the more mature one and let it go.  If I am trying to get a student back on task and they are refusing, a way to give them an out can just be to say, "Okay, I'm going to work with another student.  I'll check in on you in a little bit."  Frequently, when I come back, the student is on task. They just didn't want to lose face by complying.  Not ideal, but more effective than their continued refusal.  Another out can be to offer a chance to go to the cool-down corner or the chance to work on something else first.
  • Ask the student for a solution.  Sometimes, I'll have two students in a stand-off, and I genuinely don't know what to do.  For example, last week, two students were sitting next to each other who don't get along (understatement) and are not supposed to sit next to each other.  Both were refusing to move and insisting that the other should move.  So, I just said, "Okay, we have a problem here.  No one is learning right now. Does anyone have an idea how to fix the problem?"  After a pause, one of the students scooted her desk a few feet away from the other.  In a few minutes, they got to work.  I could have escalated the problem and ordered one student to move.  The student might have done it, but held a grudge for the rest of the period and not accepted any help.  Or, the student could have an outburst and disrupt the whole class.  Instead, a student-driven solution allowed everyone to learn.
I can see that a more authoritative teacher might see all the above methods as letting kids run all over me.  Or as the teacher not having enough control of her class.  Well, guess what? I don't want to control my students.  I want them to learn, and I want them to learn to control themselves on their own.  

This definitely has the potential to be a tl;dr, so thanks for reading if you made it this far! I'd love to hear your thoughts about de-escalation and whether you use any of the above strategies in your classroom.

Work Tasks

Remember when I only had one work task?! My hour long block with my kinder and first graders now revolves around work tasks.  I don't know if these are really considered work boxes since they are all academic skills? My students have just really responded to working independently and mastering tasks.  I usually introduce a new task to students 1:1 during their "teacher time" rotation, to teach them how to complete it and make sure they will be able to do it mostly independently.  Here's what I use in my task boxes:

CVC Clip Task from my TPT store
Digraph Clip Task from my TPT store
Rhyming Clip Cards from Teaching Special Thinkers
Initial Sound Clip Cards from The Measured Mom
Alphabet Adapted Books from Teaching Special Thinkers
Assorted phonics puzzles from Lakeshore Learning
Egg Task 

I would love to include some more sensory tasks as well! 

Lessons from the Cool Down Corner

We have a school wide policy this year that every class should have a designated "cool down corner."  I only really got mine up and running a few months ago, but it's already become an essential part of our classroom culture.  Here are a few things I've learned along the way:

1. Don't mandate when a student should use the cool down corner.  I offer it when a student is becoming visibly upset, but I never make the student go there.  It can then quickly become a punishment and lose its value as a self-regulating tool.

2. Don't doubt a student's need to take a cool down. Especially when I first added the bean bag chair, students were ALWAYS asking to take a cool down, to the point where they were having to take timed turns.  While I knew most of these students probably didn't actually need a cool down, I let them all take one anyway.  This way, they got to practice using the cool down in a non-threatening way, and they would feel more comfortable using it in the future.  Sometimes, if we're in the middle of something really important or right at the end of class, I will prompt the student to think about if they really need a cool down.  If they still say yes, I let them.  Though perhaps this has made room for it to be misused a tiny bit, I think it's made it more effective in the long run.

3. The cool down is quiet time.  Sometimes students (especially students with ADHD symptoms) continue to call out from the cool down corner.  While I'm not a big "enforcer" in the classroom, I do insist that they are quiet in the cool down corner.  If a student cannot control themselves, I let the other students know to ignore them, and that by doing so, they are actually helping their classmate calm down.

Another great way to to facilitate social emotional learning in the classroom is to teach about having a growth mindset-- read all about Cultivating A Growth Mindset In Your Students here.

Spring Poems

I have a group of kinders/first graders for an hour every afternoon, and for the past few months we've started out every class with the poem of the week. I've been using LessonPix to generate images for a lot of the words to help the kids read along.  On Monday I usually read the whole poem through, and then ask the kids to pick out any sight words they know. Then I have them echo read the poem line by line.  Usually they are very eager to read the poem themselves! I try to connect the poem to some other element we are learning that week.  I didn't make up any of these poems myself-- most of them I found on Pinterest. You can check out my board of poems here.  

Teaching The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with Thinking Maps

Today I finished The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with a few of my third graders. We've only been reading it for, oh I don't know, four months or so?! This year I was finding it really hard to fit in authentic texts with the more workshop-like model I've got going.  I'm running several different phonics and fluency programs, plus constantly working on sight words and anything that needs doing from the kids' gen ed rooms.  My solution has been to still do a long-term read aloud, but to do it in a more low-key way.  For this book, we used thinking maps on chart paper to work on comprehension skills.  It was really neat to use the comprehension skills in context so that the kids could actually see the point, instead of just learning the skill in insolation. For example, we used circle maps to describe each of the main characters:

These got filled in very gradually as we learned more about each character.  They were really useful to refer back to if students were getting characters mixed up or forgetting what they were like.  Seeing the four children on one chart paper page also really reinforced the importance of there being four children in Narnia (there are four thrones at Cair Paravel). They also made it really easy to talk about how Edmund changed over the course of the book.  One thing I love about authentic texts is that they actually have dynamic characters! Edmund really lends himself to talking about growth and change vs. being stagnant. 

We also tracked story elements throughout the book using a tree map.  In leveled readers there is often only one setting, problem, and solution.  I love getting to show students that literature is actually more complex than that-- and more interesting! Tracking the problems as we went through the story allowed us to talk about what was still unresolved.  For example, when Aslan came back to life, the students looked at our tree map and pointed out that the problem of "Tumnus was arrested by the White Witch" had still not been resolved.  When Aslan headed to the White Witch's castle, they were able to guess ahead of time that he might fine a stone Mr. Tumnus there.  Students who might be struggling with the plot of the story are still able to participate by noting new characters and settings.  

Using a flow map to track events is what allowed us to get other work done! Because we had a record of the events, we were able to go several days at a time without reading the story, when we had to.  When we picked it back up, I would ask a student to read the last few events from the flow map out loud, jogging everyone's memories. After each reading session, I would ask a student to tell me what happened that day.  This also let us get some re-telling and sequencing practice in!

And, as a bonus, here's the KWL (Know-Want to Know-Learned) tree map we did before and after we started. I used this to get them excited to read the book.  We filled out the "Know" section using information from the title of the book and the front cover.  The "Want to Know" section includes their most pressing questions... my favorite is, "How many witches?"  They had completely forgotten about this chart, so it was fun to dig it out today and have them answer their own questions to fill out the "Learned" section.

There are so many cool things I could have done with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  In terms of the guided release model, everything we did with the book was "we do." When I did Harry Potter and The Phantom Tollbooth, we read them every day and students completed packets, took quizzes, and did final projects.  That one's way to do it.  But this year, I didn't have the same block of time with my students, and I had to do something different.  And in some ways, I like that this got to be a pretty stress-free experience for them.  For students with learning disabilities, reading is often a constant struggle, and I'm glad they now have some positive associations with it! I would love to hear from anyone else who has read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with their students! 
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