Saturday, April 19, 2014

Weekend Words: Procrastination is My Enemy

So, Spring Break.  This past week has been mine.  I left school on Friday with incomplete lesson plans and lots of papers to grade.  No Problem!  I have a whole week to get this done!  Easter next Sunday and no school until Monday?  Plenty of time to do it all!  I can do a little work every day, or maybe do it all this weekend so I can just enjoy the coming week off!  So much time to get it all done! I happily stuffed my teacher bag to overflowing with work and headed out the door full of optimism and plans!

Today.  I have today to get it all done.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The New Blog Design is Up and Running!

It's here! 
The new blog design is up, and I love it! 
Thanks again to Megan at A Bird in Hand Designs who was so nice to work with.  It is still a bit of a work in progress on my end, but the overall design is just what I wanted.  I love the colors, fonts, and overall look.

Let me take you on a little tour! 

I'm starting with two fun things I really love and am so happy I included:
  • A Pinterest hover button.  If you want to pin a picture from the blog, just hover a second and to the side of the picture a little apple will pop up to click on for an automatic pin.
  • "Return to Top" button floating on the bottom right side of the page.  I love this button on any web page I go to.  How many times have you scrolled down a ways and then have to scroll your way all the way back to the top?  I so wish Google had this button on their search page.
The Header:
  • I do love the header Megan came up with.  She was so patient with me as we went through a few different designs for it with colors, backgrounds, fonts, and images.  One thing I really like are the tabs at the top.  That's one of the areas that is still a work in progress on my end.  The "Home" tab is the regular blog page. 
  • On the "About Me" tab will bring you to a blank page for now.  I am going to be putting up a mini bio to introduce myself and a picture.  The "Hello" on the sidebar will be a welcome-to-the-blog type of thing directing you to the Hello tab if you want to know more.
  • There is also a "Freebies" tab.  I wasn't sure what to do with the third tab.  I needed one to just balance the look of the top a bit.  I decided that it would be "Freebies" and I will list on that page links to all the different freebies/printables I post on the regular blog.  It will be a sort of quick reference.  If my blog were a box of Cracker Jacks, that page would be the prize at the bottom of the box!

On the sidebar, there were a few things I wanted:

  • Buttons! Buttons! Buttons!   There are a few social media buttons:  There you will find a button to follow me on Bloglovin', and buttons that link to my Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook pages. All of which I am really just getting started with.  Megan also designed covers for me so that the look of those pages matches my blog.  One social media site I use and like is Instagram, and I totally forgot to have that put on.  I will probably go back and see if Megan can do it at a later date, but for now I think I have enough on my social media plate.  There is also a button that links to my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  As I wrote in this post, it is also a new endeavor for me which I probably won't be doing much with until summer.  However, if I do put something new up, I will post about it as an FYI. I also have a button for email, and now that I have linked it to my iPhone, I'm finding it so much easier to keep up with emails from readers.
More sidebar features include. . .
  • A button picture for the blog with a "Grab My Button" code. 
  • "Follow My Blog" which I'm not sure I need as I have a link to Bloglobin' for following the blog, so I have to look into this.
  • "Hello"  This is a little welcome intro that will (when I get a chance to do it) direct you to the "About Me" page.
  • "Followers"  That's links and pics to you! Thanks for following!
  • "Popular Posts" that shows the 5 most popular posts from the blog.  Right now it is all time favs, but I think I might change it to most popular within the last month. We'll see.
  • "Let's Explore!" which has all my crazy post tags that I am still working on cleaning up.
  • "Blog Archive" for searching by date.
  • "Search This Blog" Just in case those crazy tags and the archive aren't working for ya!
  • "TBA" a Teaching Blog Addict award
  • "Stat Counter"
I do need to reorder the sidebar items a bit.  Not really totally happy with the order I have them in right now.

Other Extras:
  • The blog now has post dividers that will separate each post with a line of apples.
  • I also now have a signature with my name and an apple that will appear at the end of every post.
I think that is pretty much everything.  I had no idea how much there was to take into consideration when designing a blog.  You really need to think it out and know what you want on yours.  If you are thinking of doing it, I would suggest looking at blogs you really like the look of.  What do they have in common?  Look at their backgrounds, fonts, and layout.  What do you like and not like?

Think about the layout of your blog.  Where would you want different parts to be?  For example, I had to decide if I wanted the buttons on the sidebar or up in the header.  Not something I even thought about before or even noticed.  Then I looked at other blogs and really noticed them. Everyone does it a little differently! 

Once you have an idea of what you want, I would even sketch out the blog layout to see how I want it to look. Or, you could just work with a great blog designer like I did who is patient with you while you try to figure all this out on the fly! :-)

As I wrote, there are still things to be done to clean up the blog on my end (finish cleaning up the tags, doing the About Me and Freebies pages, reordering the sidebar) but overall I'm just excited to see it up and running.  The procrastinator in my is also excited to see that I actually accomplished something on my 2014 Blog Goal list!  Now, on to the rest of that list. . .

Monday, April 14, 2014

I Did It!

I did it.  And, now I'm thinking, "Oh, my! What have I done?!"

If you read my blog, you know that a blog design with Megan from A Bird in Hand Designs is well underway.  You also may know that I set some blog goals this year, one of which was to create more literacy projects and dip my toe in the Teachers Pay Teachers site.

Well, Megan asked me for a link to my TpT store for the blog design.  What?!!!  You mean I actually have to have something going on there in order to have a working link? :-)

Since I had to have something ready to go, I decided to put the My Favorite Book bookmark that I created last August up as my first product.  It is still a free download, but it is now available in my Tpt store.  (Yikes!  I can't believe I just wrote that - my store!)

So, there it is.  I did it.  I finally opened a Tpt store.

Now, don't expect much for a while!  I had really planned to launch that whole project over the summer when I had more time to devote to it.  However, needing it ready for the new blog design got me moving now. I know I totally need to redo my "about me" blurb on the site, and I'm not sure if I will be ready to put anything else up for a bit.  I'm sort of baby stepping my way through this.  I should also mention that the store button does not reflect the new blog design just yet, but it will!

This is probably a good time to update the blog goals.  My last update was in February, so here's a quick one:

1.  Finish Blog Redesign - Sooooo close to being done!

2. Make at Least 6 Literacy Based Resources/Projects - Have some in the works, but nothing done yet.

3. Blog at least Twice a Week - Ummmm, no comment.

4. Step Up the Social Media Portion of the Blog - I'm trying!  There will be social media buttons on my blog to make it easy for you to follow, so I need to make a conscious effort to keep up with it all.

5.  Organize the Labels on Previous Posts - In progress!  Hoping to get it done this week!

6.  Connect with Other Bloggers - Not much progress here at all.  I love so many other blogs, but am still slacking on commenting.  I also need to make an effort to hook up to more linky posts that I can really add something to.  I don't want to link just for the sake of linking.

  If you have a Tpt store and have any words of wisdom for me, please share!  Or, if you buy from them, what do you wish sellers would or would not do? As I said, I'm sort of baby stepping my way through it all and would love, love, love any advice!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Weekend Words: Recognizing Strengths

Working with children reading 1-2+ years below grade level, I find this to be a mindful quote.  In a time where data drives all, we are constantly looking at data on our students.  
Too often I think we just note what they know, but focus on what they don't.  What do I need to teach?  What do I need to reteach?  Why aren't they getting this skill? 

Sometimes we need to step back and celebrate what they can do.  I find my students are often very well aware of what they can't do.  They know reading is hard for them.  They know writing is difficult.  They know they have difficulty decoding.  They know they can't understand what they read sometimes.  They know they can't always answer the questions teachers ask.  

What they don't often know is that there is a lot they can do really well.  There are things they can do better than other students.  Maybe they can't decode and have poor fluency, but maybe when you read with them and discuss the book they are awesome at inferencing. Maybe they can't spell, but maybe they are really pretty good at writing good sentences.  Maybe they struggle with higher order thinking questions, but have no difficulty with literal questions.

Yes, we want them to be better in those areas of need and of course we will continue to work on them.  But, we also need to take time to celebrate what our friends can do.  

Two of the ways I try to recognize my students' strengths include refrigerator papers and high-five postcards.  I had these postcards specially made via Vistaprint.  I thought I had posted about them, but in looking back for the post I realized I hadn't.  I'm on spring break now, but will write about them when I get back to school and can take a couple of pictures.  Essentially, they are postcards to send home when a student has done something to deserve a high-five from everyone at home.  

There are lots of ways to recognize student achievement, but this post is more about recognizing what what our friends do well but may take for granted or simply not realize.  While it is important for all children to realize what they are capable of, I feel it is even more important for my friends who struggle. 

To bring my friends' strengths to their attention, I want to take a day out and simply let them know exactly what it is they are rocking.  Just one day not focused on what they need to learn or do better.  One day to say, "Hey! Do you know you are awesome at ___________ in reading class?!"

I'm thinking of having a circus "Strong Man" celebration. I see a different group of children each period of the day, so it would have to be something small but powerful that I can do in 40 minutes. 
I'm still sketching it all out, but it involves creating a strong man themed printable that I can list all the literacy strengths that child has.  Something colorful that I can print on card stock and give to them to take home. It will be a way to build confidence and help my friends realize they are more capable than they know.  I thought this would be a great end of the year celebration, but if I can get myself moving on this, it would be awesome to do the week before our state testing begins in May. I won't go in to all the details now, but will post about it when it happens.  I have some fun ideas!

The point of today's Weekend Words is simply to say, don't forget to recognize all your friends CAN do when focusing on what they still need to learn to do.

Weekend Words is a new post I would like to do each weekend. 
It would be a quote or saying that I find interesting, powerful, or just funny. It may or may not be followed by my thoughts.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

April Currently

Here's my April Currently courtesy of Farley of Oh Boy Fourth Grade!

Listening:  My friends in the Read 180 program record fluency passages on the computer as part of the program.  I can log in from anywhere, listen to their recordings, and grade them all online.  It is actually kind of cool. 

Loving: SPRING! I am so ready for some warmer weather after all the snow we've had this winter. The past two days I was actually able to leave with just a light jacket on in the mornings.

Thinking:  The blog redesign is underway!  One of my goals was to clean up the tags on my blog posts to make it easier to find posts on specific topics.  I actually thought I could sit down and do this fairly quickly.  Not happening!  It's not a terrible task, just time consuming.  Plus, I'm trying to figure out how to get Blogger to let me delete some tags I don't want to use anymore.  I'm so in awe of people who can do all these "computer things" with no effort!

Wanting:  It is 10:32 on a Thursday night as I write this.  I really wanted my lesson plans done before tomorrow so that I won't have to do them over the weekend. At this point, they are a bit more than half done. And yet here I sit working on a Currently. So, now I'm debating do I stay up late and get them done, get up super early and get them done, or just face reality and do it over the weekend.  Sigh. . . I have a serious procrastination problem!

Needing:  SPRING BREAK! I am so looking forward to it.  One more week to go until I have a full week off.  I'm so thankful that we were able to make up our snow days without losing most of our break.  I don't have any travel plans or any other big plans, but sometimes you just need a break from school stuff.  Not that I won't be doing some school work over the break, but I kind of love having the option of doing it all in my pajamas if I want to!

Hours & Last Day:  So, yeah those are my teacher hours - 8:35-3:20.  But, honestly it is so rare that those are my actual hours.  Most mornings I get in early, and I can't remember the last time I left at 3:20!  Not to mention all the work that still comes home.  And, I am sure I'm preaching to the choir here. :-) Only teachers truly understand the myth of "teacher's hours."  My last day is June 27th.  I know that seems so late to my southern teachers who are well into summer vacation by them.  It seems late to me, too!  I remember when I started teaching we would get out mid June.  It seems like out last day gets later and later as the years have gone by.  The biggest issue is the heat.  Our schools are not air conditioned.  In late June during a heatwave, it can be pretty tough to get kids to do anything in a hot, sticky, second floor classroom!

Monday, March 31, 2014

New Chairs? Yes, Please!


A few weeks ago, I was approached my my assistant principal with the news that there was some money available for some extra materials for the reading program I teach. Was I interested in selecting some things?

SERIOUSLY! When does that ever happen?!  Of course, I immediately screamed, "YES!!!!" smiled and said, "Thank you, I would love to order a few things."  While I ordered some usual items like folders and notebooks, I was really looking for some floor chairs for independent reading time.  I searched high and low until I found these on  They come in a bunch of different colors.  I didn't get to select a color.  I would have loved the lime green, but it's probably for the best as the darker blue will hide more. The price on Amazon varies according to color.  I have seen that a few other times on Amazon with products and can never figure that out.  The prices range, as I'm typing this, from $33.03 to $59.99!!  Crazy expensive!

I also found them sold as "teacher folding floor seats" on the Kaplan School Supply site for $44.95. Crazy expensive again!  I don't' know where my school ordered them from or exactly how much they paid, but I do know that we use specific vendors that give the district a discount so I'm sure we didn't pay anywhere near those prices. If we had, I probably would have gotten just one! :-)

I will say they are worth the money.  I teach 4th and 5th grade students who range in size from fun-kid size to almost looking full grown adult size!  I need floor chairs that were going to be sturdy and withstand some weight.  The kids love them and say they are really comfortable.

The chairs are adjustable, but I haven't really told my friends that yet! The one rule we have is no rocking in the chairs.  They are very light weight and lay flat for easy storage.  Also, there is a strap if you are on the move.  I saw these chairs advertised as beach chairs on one site, perhaps that explains the strap.  They would be great to take outside for reading.  The chairs are covered in a wipe-able fabric that would clean up easily, too.

So, yes these chairs can be a bit on the pricey side.  But so far, they seem sturdy enough for my older friends and have inspired them to read more just so they can sit in them.  Let's hope the shine doesn't wear off too soon! While these may not be in your budget, if you do happen to come across some extra school funds, add these to your wish list.  You won't regret it!

As always, this is not a paid endorsement.  I just like my chairs!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Give a Book! Take a Book! Let's Swap!

Give a Book!  
Take a Book!  
We had a Book Drive! 

I thought I would share a great program that runs each year in my school.  For the past eight years, our Environmental Club has been running a book swap for the kids.  It is a two day event that they run around the same time as Read Across America. This year, over 1,600 books were brought in to be swapped.  In the eight years the program has been running, a little over 18,500 books have been swapped between children.  The Environmental Club calculates they have saved over 6,188 trees!

Here's how it works.  Each homeroom is given a cardboard box.  Students bring in a children's book from home that they have already read and are willing to swap.  They fill out a little slip with their name and homeroom teacher.  They put the slip in the book and the books in the box. The collection runs for about a week.  The club advisers set up two pick-up days after school when the club will meet to pick up all the books and process them.  I've not been a part of the process, but it seems they pull the tickets which are kept sorted in big envelopes by homeroom and student and then sort the books by genre, series, etc.

On the day of the swap, the books are put out in the main hallway for display.

I should mention that these pictures are all from the second day of the book swap when most of the "good" books were already snatched up and the supply was dwindling.  I write "good" in quotes because I think you would agree there were lots of great books still available on day two!

The day of the book swap, the envelopes are delivered to each homeroom and the tickets given back to the children.  During lunch/recess periods, students can come to the table and pick one book for each ticket they have.  An even swap!  There is a check-out table manned by club members.  They count the tickets and books to make sure they match.  Then, they tear up the tickets, bag the books, and send the readers off with a new stack of books to read!

For some reason, every year there are books left over.  The club advisers allow teachers to come after school on the last day and pick through any leftovers.  Even after that, there are still books left.  This year, as I was leaving the building, the advisers had let all the students in our after care program come and take as many books as they wanted.  The kids were so excited!  It was like getting a surprise birthday present!

What I like about the book swap it that it build excitement for reading in the entire building.  Even those reluctant readers are excited about the book swap!  Invariably, there are those kids in your class that don't have books at home or don't have a book to swap.  I find a lot of teachers try to get a book in their hands to swap.  I have a pretty big class library, so if I have a student I know doesn't have a book to swap, I will give them one from my class library.  A loss for my library, but since I seem to have an addiction to buying children's books, not really!  Plus, the whole point is to get books in kids' hands.  This book swap does the job quite nicely!  I have even seen many kids selecting books not just for themselves, but also picking books they think a sibling or friend would like.

Finally, if this looks like a lot of work. . . IT IS!  No getting around it!  I would have to give a great big BRAVA!! to the advisers of the Environmental Club.  I hope they really know how appreciated and important this book swap is. And while I'm pretty sure they don't read my little blog, on behalf of all those kids reading "new" books out there because of you, I say THANK YOU!!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Helping a School in Need

On March 22nd, an elementary school just a few towns over from my school district suffered a devastating fire.  Thankfully, the fire started at night and no children or any adults were harmed. However, the school is a total loss.  Here is a news report of the fire if you would like to know more.

As it turns out, the fire was started by a custodian who was smoking in the building and threw away his cigarette which wasn't completely extinguished.  It was an older building and did not have sprinklers.  As I wrote, the building was a total loss.

But, we educators and children are a resilient lot!  The school has been moved to space in a local community college until a semi-permanent place is found until they can rebuild, and the community has kicked in to help.  So has my school and many of our surrounding schools.

Our student council has started a supply drive. When you walk into our main lobby, there is a donation table with a basket for pretty much everything!

Everyone has been amazing about bringing in supplies.  One of the other schools in our district has been collecting books to help with rebuilding their school library.  Overall, it is wonderful that we are able to provide some necessary school supplies, but I have noticed that the message to those children affected and those children giving is what is most significant.  They see that in times of trouble, people reach out and help each other.  That it is going to be okay.  It reminds me of this quote from Fred Rogers, which I just love:

                                    “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”  ― Fred Rogers. via FB  #Fred_Rogers

This was a very comforting quote for me during 9-11 when our community was so profoundly devastated.  And now, in this time of need for those experiencing loss from this fire, I'm proud of our students who are learning to be those helpers, those caring people.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

8 Random Thoughts

Long time, no blogging!  I seem to hit these hiccups where life gets in the way of blogging as evidenced this past month.  So, in a random segue, here are some random thoughts on random things.

1.  Convention Anyone? I've been toying with the idea of going to the International Reading Convention in New Orleans.  First of all, New Orleans?  Yes!  I've never been but have always wanted to visit.  Second, I've also always wanted to go to an IRA convention.  There are some amazing workshops that I would love to attend.  Even better, there is a long list of AMAZING speakers such as;  Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, Debbie Diller, Richard Allington, Gail Bushey, Joan Moser, Jeff Kinney, Dav Pilky, and more.  I also want to be around professionals that know literacy.  I want to learn more and bring it all back to my classroom.

So, what's the hesitation?  Well, the expense makes for a definite pause.  I figure it will cost me about 3 grand in all to do this between registration, air fare, hotel, meals, and more.  It is a lot of money for a working vacation.  And, it certainly isn't something my district will pay for.  While I can afford to do it, there is a big part of me that is a cheapskate and hesitates.  The other thing that makes me hesitate is that I would be going alone.  I don't have any colleagues that would take this trip and I would feel bad dragging a friend or family member when I would be leaving them alone all day long. I don't mind traveling alone, but I'm not sure what I would do with myself each night when I don't know anyone there. I guess I have until April 14, when the early bird registration ends, to decide what to do.  What would you do?  Any advice?

2.  I have a CRAZY teaching schedule.  We have 8 period days making a 40 period week.  Five periods are lunch, six periods are prep, and the other twenty-nine are teaching period.  Here is the breakdown of my twenty-nine teaching periods:

  • 6 periods are teaching Scholastic's Read 180 intervention reading program.  
  • 2 periods of small group, pull out remedial literacy
  • 17 periods of push-in basic skills guided reading groups in five different classrooms
  • 4 periods of small group, pull out enrichment literacy
In all, I have to keep track of sixteen different groups of children.  And, my schedule is not consistent across the week.  Every day follows a different schedule, often with days between seeing the same group again. As you may imagine, planning is everything!  You should see the hard copy of my lesson plans.  There are notes all over it!  If I don't annotate what we completed each period I would be lost.  I'm used to it now, but it took a while.  I do like seeing so many different children at different grade levels.  Still, CRAZY teaching schedule! :-)

3.  I'm reading some great books with my friends!  Between some of my classes, we are currently reading Stone Fox, The Sign of the Beaver, No Talking, and  Heroes for All Times.  All really great books!  I was very happily surprised by Heroes for All Times.  My friends reading it are loving it.  What got them hooked is that the first chapter is all about Florence Nightingale and talks all about her work in hospitals during the Crimean War of 1854.  Some of them immediately connected it to what is currently happening in Crimea, and I heard from a couple of parents that they were impressed with how the book connected to current events.  Totally not planned!  The book was in the plans for a while, but I have not control over when and where countries invade! My friends were also blown away at the lack of knowledge at the time regarding germs, hospitals, and sanitary procedures.  Easy way to hook a nine year old into a nonfiction book?  Start out with something a bit gross!

4.  Loving Read 180!  I posted a while back that mid-year my district implemented this new intervention program.  Three months in the kids love it, and I am seeing some real progress!  I actually hope my district will expand the program and offer it to more kids next year.  

5.  Looking forward to the new blog design!  I am next on the list to be done by A Bird in the Hand Designs.  I'm excited to see what Megan comes up with.  I love what I see her doing with other blogs.  Part of getting the new blog design involved some homework.  I had to complete a survey of likes, wants, and more.  It was much harder than I thought it would be.  I had to really put some thought into what I wanted.  Overall, I'm looking for a more modern-ish design. I think I might throw up a picture of myself, too.  I know I always like when I can see the blogger that writes the blog I'm reading.  I'm sorry to report I was really late in turning in my homework to Megan.  Sorry, Megan!!! If you need to push me back a bit because of that, I totally understand! Honestly, here I am a teacher turning in homework late!  Sheesh!

6.  I just completed my second observation.  We get three twenty minute observations each year, two unannounced and one announced.  This second one was my announced.  It went well, but I have to say this new observation model we use (the Danielson Framework) is soooo involved!  There is a ton of pre-observation questioning and uploading of documents to be done and then more of the same after the observation.  Not sure I agree with all components of the evaluation as in some areas it seem to be impossible to achieve their highest rating when you work with particular populations.  However, my observation went well so no complaints! But seriously, if you don't know anything about the Danielson Framework, click on the link and take a look.  You will see just how involved it is, for better or worse.

7.  Common Core Gaps?  I have noticed lately that in doing my lesson plans, I see some gaps in the common core standards.  There are things I need to teach that are not addressed in the CCS for the particular grade level.  I then look across grade levels but don't see it anywhere else.  It then becomes a stretch to say, "Well, this could fit this standard. . . "  Nothing terrible, just wondering if anyone else has noticed some gaps in the CCS as you have been teaching.

8. Enough with Winter!  Spring starts tomorrow!  I could happy dance all over the place!!  I am so tired of winter.  We used five snow days this year, had a few delayed openings, and one early dismissal.  Thankfully, we had four snow days built into our schedule, so there was only one day to make up.  They took back the Monday after Easter.  I'm good with that as Easter is an early day holiday in my family.  Plenty of time to regroup and get ready for the work week.  I saw that some schools are having their staff come in on Saturdays to make up the missed days.  I would so not be happy with that!  At this point, I'm just really looking forward to Spring Break. We will have the whole week before Easter off.  Yipeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Were these thoughts random enough for you? :-)

Any thoughts or suggestions on the convention?  
Because, this indecision bugging me!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Test Post

<a href="">Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a>

Sorry, this is just a test post.  I am claiming my blog on Bloglovin and working on updates to the blog.  I know it has been a bit since I last posted, but more is coming soon!