March 30, 2017

Morning Work Alternative: Task Cards

I needed an alternative to morning work. My students enter the classroom between 7:30 and 8:00. Having to find a worksheet or activity every morning that some kids finished and some kids didn't was driving me nuts! It wasn't until my friend Fishyrobb  suggested using task cards when my whole morning routine changed (check out her TPT store, she's amazing).

Why had I not thought of this before? Now, I use one math task card set for the week. I sort the cards out in the morning, put on some fun music, and get the kids up, moving, and learning. 
Students start the morning with task cards. 


Benefits of using task cards for morning work


1. Self-checking

Most of the task cards I make now are self-checking. I love this because it gives instant feedback and lets me know right away which students I need to help.  Of course, students are expected to show their work in their notebooks so just copying the answers isn't an option. I don't have to wait to grade papers to see who to pull into small groups. That makes me very happy. 

Fold back the answer tab, glue, and laminate for self checking.

2. Engagement

With morning work task cards, the vibe of room is just different. Like I said before, I put on some music, usually a pop instrumental, and the kids get out of their seat and move to the task cards. I encourage kids to work together and talk about their work. The engagement is so much higher and it sets the tone for the day. 
Engagement...with a bow.

3. Differentiation

Most task cards vary in difficulty. Higher achieving students can gravitate (usually with guidance) towards the more difficult problems. Students who need more support can work on easier problems which will scaffold them towards the harder problems. Knowing who my struggling students are, I can easily check in with them to see if they need help. If my higher achieving students get "finished" with the cards or do not seem engaged, I ask then to create some task cards that they feel would challenge other students. 





The Drawback?

The drawback of morning work task cards is that you have to have a collection of task cards to choose from. There are task cards kits you can buy from companies like Lakeshore that cost anywhere from $29.99 up to $85.00. Personally, I would start with TeacherPayTeachers.com. There are free task cards or task card packs around $2.50 or $3.00 and they are made by teachers like you. 



Here are links to the task cards from this blog. Click on the image for more information:


                       




 







March 15, 2017

How To Squeeze in a Read Aloud

As a teacher, I love the idea of engaging my fourth graders in a great chapter book. I can remember when my teachers read aloud Superfudge, Ramona Quimby, and Shiloh after recess. I fell in love with the characters and looked forward to that cool down, quiet time each day. I've tried year after year to jump into engaging stories like The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The BFG, Sarah, Plain, and Tall, and even short chapter books like Freckle Juice, but every single time school life gets in the way! It takes me MONTHS to get through one book and then I end up giving up. I would love to give my students the same literary experiences that I had as a kid, but honestly, who has time for THAT?

This year I tried a different approach: PICTURE BOOKS.
Each day, I grabbed a new, high-interest picture book to read aloud to my students. At first, I just read the stories and placed them on a shelf for rereading access. As time passed, students started noticing "good writer skills" such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, similes, metaphors, and vivid language. With each page, students would put a thumb up if they heard a good writer skill worthy of comment (if I was really with it, we could have recorded these down but I'm not quite there yet). I started reading the picture books at the beginning of each writing lesson.

I know, you're probably thinking "What's the difference?" Reading a chapter in a chapter book should take about the same amount of time as a picture book. I can't exactly explain the difference. Maybe it is the feeling of accomplishment for reaching the end of a book or maybe it is short problem-solution pattern of a picture book. Whatever the reason, it worked for me. I went from not reading aloud to reading aloud every day. Sometimes you just gotta do what works.

Here are some of my favorite read aloud picture books:
Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
Verdi
by Janell Cannon
Pinduli
(anything by Janell Cannon)

Owl Moon
by Jan Yolen

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother
by Patricia Polacco
My Brother Martin
by Chritine King Faris

Henry's Freedom Box
by Ellen Levine
Mr. Peabody's Apples
by Madonna
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles

January 8, 2017

Are QR codes worth the time?

Have you ever walked through another teacher's classroom and thought, "Dang, I need to step up my game?" That happened to me the other day when I visited my son's second grade teacher. All around the room she had super cool QR code activities for measurement and science. Granted, I had no idea what the activity was or where the QR code led to, but you better believe I felt much like the second graders wanting to find out. Yeah, I needed to step up my game.

Why use QR codes?

I have asked myself this very question. Are creating QR codes worth the time and energy to make or is it just gimmicky and trendy? I guess the best way to find out and jump in and see how it goes. In my opinion, here are the benefits to using QR codes:
Engagement – the students are intrigued to find out the mystery behind the code.
No Searching – Since the QR codes lead the students right to the website, they do not have to search the internet.
Online text – You can control which research sites your students are getting their information from. Since their seems to be a trend of leaving text books behind, this can provide a way for students to read grade appropriate text on a specific topic. Plus, you don’t need to make a million copies!

The future is online – We did not grow up with technology at our fingertips, but that is how our students are grow up so we need to adjust. We have to prepare our students for the world they will live in not the one we grew up in.


How to set up a QR code

Good news: The set up is super easy.

1. Choose your website.
 I decided to do my QR code activity on a virtual tour of the old fort in St. Augustine, Florida (this is part of our SS Florida history curriculum). I copied the website.
http://www.harcourtschool.com/activity/castillo/castillo.html

2. Choose your QR Generator.
I used http://www.qrstuff.com/ and pasted the website into the URL box.
There are other QR generators. Most of them are free and simple to use. They instantly create your QR code.

3. Download or Print.
It is going to download as a long, random number. When you pull it up to look at it, you can click FILE and Rename it.  If you don't, you won't have any idea what it links to and you'll start to hate QR codes.

Make it kid-friendly

Paste the QR code into a kid-friendly directions sheet.


I added a response page to go with it. Personally, I wanted the response page to be more of an analysis of the virtual tour than a quiz so my response sheet was open ended.






Using the QR codes.

You do need to have  some sort of tablet to use QR codes.  You need to download a QR reader app on each device or tablet you have. These are free just find QRreader in your App Store. Once it's downloaded, open the app and aim your device at the QR code. You'll be amazed how it brings you right to the desired website! 

Technology Disadvantaged? I get it. 

 In my classroom, I have 2 Kindle Fires (I bought one each year  for $29.99 each during Black Friday), and one iPad. However, we are a BYOT school so kids can bring their own devices into class.  Once people know you want technology in your classroom, it becomes easier to find.  

Verdict....

The kids loved it, they stayed engaged and learned about Castillo die San Marcos. I guess it's time to step up my game. 

November 13, 2016

To the Classroom Batcave

If I can turn my classroom into a bat cave, then trust me, so can YOU! I'm the type of teacher who loves to go on Pinterest and pin, pin, pin away but nothing ever comes to fruition. That is how I know you can do this in about a hundred easy steps (as teachers we can bang out 100 steps into an hour).


Bat Cave Step 1:  Black, plastic, tablecloths. 
I bought them at Walmart for 97 cents each. I bought 3 to cover the long "tables" of desks, 6 to cover the windows, 2 to cover the entryway and a couple extra for whatever. I could have returned the "whatever" tablecloths but my very talented husband decided to create an oversized bat that "flew" when the air conditioner kicked on. cost: $8 - $15

Bat Cave Step 2: Ridiculously oversized bat
To make the bat, cut a tablecloth diagonally. You will use these for the wings. To make the body, use a rectangular piece of tablecloth to wrap up newspaper. To make the head, crumple some newspaper and wrap the table cloth around it. My kids made the decorations on the bat. 
Add caption
My husband, Justin, putting up the bat.
free labor
Creating the bat body.

I'm sure Justin will be thrilled he is in all these pictures. 

Bat Cave Step 3: Glow sticks and flashlights. 
I bought enough glow necklaces for each student. Again, I got mine at Walmart but you could probably get them cheaper online. I borrowed flashlights from everyone I could. One quick Facebook post, and they came flooding in. cost: $5.00

Reading by flashlight.



Bat Cave  Step 4: Bat Plans
I know, I know, this should be Bat Cave Step #1 but I'm just going to be real...decorations came first.  


  • ELA -  We used our flashlights to read an article in Time for Kids about bats. They completed a main idea and details graphic organizer. 
  • Writing, Students began a multi-paragraph essay responding to the text.
  • Math - Students worked on bat themed division task cards.
  • Science - Each student received one toothpick, and Almond Joy, and a recording sheet. We pretended students found fossilized bat brains. They had to work with their partner to figure out ways to get the bat brain out of the rock (almond out of the candy) without touching the rock with anything except the toothpicks. Each person could only use one toothpick at a time. 





After digging for bat brains. 
We had such a fun day in the Bat Cave! With a couple plastic tablecloths, some glow sticks, and a few flashlights, you too can have a batastic day!

Kim White
@White's Workshop


August 4, 2016

Best Books for a Caring Classroom Community

I love the first week of school!!! It's a new beginning. A chance to set the tone and let my students know what our classroom culture is going to feel like. Here are a couple things I rely on each each to make sure I create an environment where it is "cool to care".

Awesome and Amazing Picture Books about Friendship

Here are some picture books I love reading aloud every year. There are so many discussions and activities that can stem from each story regardless of the grade you teach. If you're looking for a lesson on comparing two text, you can choose two of these books. They all have a great message.
  • How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer
  • Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
  • Mr. Peabody's Apples by Madonna
  • The Brand New Kid by Katie Couric
  • The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
  • The Greatest Gift of All by Jack Canfield
  • The Meanest Thing To Say by Bill Cosby
  • Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester
  • King of the Playground by Phyllis Reynolds 
  • Charlie the Caterpillar by Dom Deluise
  • A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni
  • Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester
  • I Wish I Were a Butterfly by Ed Young

Kid President

Who doesn't LOVE Kid President? If you aren't sure what I'm talking about, you have to check him out. During the first month of school, we watch Kid President videos, close read his speeches, and post positive sayings around the room reminding us of how to BE AWESOME!!


You Have to LIVE IT

Throughout the entire year, we talk about and discuss issues, problems, and concerns that arise.  Kids need assistance with how to talk to one another and modeling on how to forgive. Conflicts can become learning opportunities. When there is a problem, I  talk to students in private and ask them how they could have handled a situation differently. Talking to students in private rather than "yelling" at them creates a trusting, safe learning opportunity.

Posters, Bookmarks, and Sweet Reminders

Sweet posters like the ones below can be placed in strategic places around the room to remind students of the classroom culture you're trying to create. Of course, it takes more than posters. At the beginning of the year, I use these as little gifts. I print them out on dictionary paper, scroll them up, and tie them with ribbon. As an Back to School activity, each student opens his/her scroll and we have a class discussion about what they mean and how it feels. This is powerful dialogue from Day One. Throughout the year, I print them out and give them to students who may need a boost or a reminder.

Students also receive these cute bookmarks at Meet the Teacher. It is a small token but who doesn't love a gift?
These are FREE in my Teacher Pay Teacher store. Click on the picture to get you FREE bookmarks!!

What Matters Most

Back to School always brings mixed emotions for teachers. Who doesn't love the freedom of summer Sunday nights, Margarita Mondays, or sitting in your pjs on the couch with your morning coffee? Ah,  yes, summer is so wonderful! So how do we get motivated to get back into the hustle and bustle of August? Every summer, I reread Todd Whitaker's book What Great Teachers Do Differently: 14 Things That Matter Most. I love this book! 


I read this book every year to get ready for Back to School. 

I am going to sum up my favorite 5 Things that Matter Most. 


1. It's People, Not Programs

Social media is flooded with interesting, new, and amazing ideas for your classroom. Your first back-to-school faculty meeting will probably be filled with lots of "new and amazing" mandated programs. As all this information floods your brain, from flexible seating to data based instruction, Todd Whitaker releases the pressure and reminds his reader that its not what you do, its how you do it. Programs so not improve schools, teachers do. So, if you love the idea of flexible seating, then for it!!! Your excitement will translate to the students.  If the idea of flexible seating makes you cringe, then don't go there. It's not the flexible seating that moves a classroom, it's you: your heart, your energy, your attitude, and your relationships with your students.


2. Who is the Variable?

Can you think of a teacher in your school who year after year always tells you that she has "THE WORST" class? Honestly, she probably believe that she does. I love this chapter because it tells you how to take the teacher victim card out of the equation. Todd Whitaker bluntly states the the different between great teachers and poor teachers is how they respond to classroom issues, not the issues themselves. Every class will have high achievers, low achievers, good behavior, and poor behavior but how the teacher responds makes all the difference. Great teachers take responsibility and adjust, poor teachers wait for something else to change. 


3. The Teacher is the Filter

Have you ever noticed that when you're in a bad mood, the students bicker and argue more? Our attitude and out ability to filter our thoughts and feelings impact everyone around us. When a fellow teacher passes you in the hall and asks you, "how's it going?" they don't really want to hear about the 3 page head lice letter you got from a parent or that Johnny Jones is driving you nuts. You can just as easily respond with "Things are great! How's it going with you?" You can either pass on positive energy or negative energy. This chapter was an A-HA for me the first time I read it. At first, I felt like I was faking it. I was. I had to. I wanted to unload my worries on anyone who would listen as if they wanted to hear them. Then, I just stopped. Now, I always tell people I am doing great. At first I may have had to fake it but now I actually I feel more positive and I believe I am more enjoyable to be around.  

4. Don't Need to Repair - Always Do Repair

I am FAR from perfect and that is why I needed this chapter. I make a concentrated effort to treat students, parents, and colleagues with respect and dignity but... We all know that but, don't we? We have to admit that there are times when our patience is thin and we respond in a way that doesn't make us or our targets feel good. We probably don't NEED to apologize. Most people get over it but the foundation of that relationship may be damaged. Relationships are at the core of what we do so we have to keep them in good repair. 

5. Make it Cool to Care

This was not a hard concept to wrap my head around but it impacted me all the same. Just like it says.... Make it Cool to Care. I let my students know I care about them emotionally, socially, academically and I care about how they treat others. We celebrate successes and work through differences. This does not happen by accident.  Sometimes caring is uncomfortable like when we visit the students at our school with physical and mental disabilities. At first, my students don't know what to say or do but with some time and guidance, they learn to see past the wheelchairs, the moaning, and the disabilities and see them as kids who like being around other kids. It's super cool to care. 



FREEBIE!!!


These Kindness Bookmarks are FREE because it is super cool to be kind!!! Every kid should have one! Click on the picture to get your free bookmarks!!!



Click on the friendship poster to see more posters like this in my "Building a Classroom Community" pack. 




Creating Classroom Discussion


Last week, I sat in on a couple interviews for a new opening at our school. One of the questions  asked  was, "What is your best day of teaching?" It made me really think. How would I have answered that question? In teaching, our days is segmented into so many parts that it is hard to think of a "perfect" day. Instead, our days are made up of a million moments. It within those special, little moments that make teaching so magical.

One of my favorite teaching moments occurs when I can facilitate a great discussion amongst my students. I love taking a step back and watching my students steal the stage as they respectfully agree, disagree, and challenge one another. I can't help but secretly celebrate when one of my lower readers challenges one of my higher readers with logic stemming from text evidence.

 
Sentence stems in the form of speech bubbles.

Now, these moments don't just occur, they are bred. It takes time to foster a classroom culture where debate is celebrated. I start early in the year by posting sentence stems and encouraging (ok, praising) students who use them. We spend time talking about what RESPECTFUL discussion feels like, sounds like, and looks like. We role play positive and negative interactions. In the beginning, the instruction is deliberate and explicit. From there, I engage them in an activity that requires them to take a stance on an issue. I post a controversial statement on the board. Students have to decide if they agree, disagree, or can't commit. Sometimes I ask them to physically move to a designated area in the room while other times they commit by writing it on a white board. Throughout the discussion, students are allowed to switch positions but they need to acknowledge why they changed their position. Initially, I do not use academic text because I want to focus on the art of discussion and not the element of  being "right or wrong".  They have to do the very difficult skill of LISTENING to one another. When a student wants to debate a point, I require them to address the person to whom they are debating by name and look at them before stating their point. Students are not allowed to argue at the air. Here is a copy of my debate instigator.
The more we practice discussing and the more students understand what it should feel like, sound like, and look like, my role morphs from leader to facilitator. Eventually I can step aside while the students take the stage. That is when the magic happens.

This discussion pack can be found at my TPT store. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Sentence-Stems-for-Classroom-Discussion-1994402