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Traffic Light Reflections

I'm trying something new with student reflections this year - traffic light reflections.  In the past, I've done Glow and Grow reflections (you can read a little more about that strategy HERE), and I still love love love those reflections, but with my students already familiar with our Traffic Light Comprehension Dots  I decided to keep things simple for them, and changed up our reflections a bit.

(That and I found the coolest light up traffic light at Hobby Lobby and made it a fixture in our class - it's the little things that make me happy).  ;)

I'm planning on doing student-led conferences near the end of the year this year, so I wanted to make sure their portfolio pieces contained a lot of reflections they could refer back to - not only for the conferences at the end of the year, but also to drive their everyday goals.

This week we've used the traffic light reflections with our first writing piece - I just kept it very simple and made a quick template with three dots to resemble the traffic light.  They colored the dots red, yellow, and green - and then had to write down something from their writing for each level of dot:

  • red shows an area where they know they need to improve
  • yellow shows an area where they are working on and improving in ... but can continue to work on
  • green shows their strengths - something they are really proud of
They also used the red, yellow, and green to mark their own writing and show where the areas were in their writing.  When finished, the reflection sheet was stapled to the back of their writing, and placed in their portfolios.

We also used the traffic light reflection on our summary of learning at the end of our math unit this week.  As part of our review before our summative, I do a "summary of learning" where they come up with and reflect on all our learning goals from the unit (this time using "I Can" instead of "I Will" because it's the end of the unit).  I did a class anchor chart, and students copied this into their own notes.  I then asked them to individually reflect on those goals - putting a traffic light dot beside each goal, depending on their level of comfort with the goal.  I reminded them to let this help drive their studying and review for the test - spending more time on concepts they felt were a yellow or red.

We also reflected as a whole group - asking everyone how they felt about a specific goal, and taking a vote for the traffic light reflection dot for each goal.  This was done on our anchor chart.  This gives me a great insight into which areas to do a little more review on before the summative, and I can see who to quickly pull for a little small group practice.  I usually get asked, "Do students really want to admit they don't understand and put down a red dot on their paper, or raise their hand for a red dot?"  And my answer is YES.  I've done traffic light comprehension dots (and now reflection dots) for 4 years now, and my students have always been willing to admit where they need a little extra help without any apprehension or embarrassment at all.  And I am so thankful for that.  And so are they - knowing it's one way of letting me know they need a little extra something from me.

Happy Wednesday!

A Tree for all Seasons

I'd like to introduce you to the newest attraction in my classroom - our beautiful, life-size learning tree.  I am in love with it.  And so are my students.  Seriously in love.  It took me a few days to get it finished, and the students weren't quite convinced it was actually tree for the first day or two, but it was so very worth it.  It's going to be a permanent and treasured fixture in our classroom all year long.

It all started with these little back to school apples. I like to do this craftivity during the first week of school.  They tell me a lot about the students, let me get some quick insight into their writing skills, and look great in the classroom - especially during parent nights and open houses.  I usually just line them up along the top of our bookshelves for a perfect back to school display.

But then, two of my blogging friends raised the bar ... all the way to the top.  Mrs. Mathis' Homeroom  and Teaching is a Gift also completed this apple craftivity and sent me the most gorgeous pictures of the trees they made to hang the apples from.  I was hooked.  And I just knew I had to do this right away.  

I started with a roll of brown craft paper I bought at Staples (the kind you use to wrap packages in).  A small roll will do because you don't use all that much.  I cut a strip the length of the wall I was working on, and began scrunching it up and taping it to my metal wall with packing tape - now, these metal walls are terrible for tape actually sticking to them, but the packing tape has worked wonderfully.  For the branches I cut smaller strips and scrunched and twisted them up.  I slid in one end behind the trunk and taped it there, and then used another piece of tape at the end of the branch.

After the first day my students didn't believe this was really a tree.  I'm quite sure they questioned their new teacher's artistic talents.  lol

But then, as more branches were added, the tree began to take shape.  And then once the leaves went on (I used two colors of construction paper, cut out random leaf shapes, and just stapled the leaves to the branches), it really really started to look like a tree.  

To hang the apples, I stapled the apple leaves to the branches - two staples through one of the leaves, and it held perfectly.  One of the other teachers used tape, and the other hung them with Christmas hooks.  All three techniques have worked quite well.
As soon as the apples were hung, the whole tree just came to life.  I can't stop staring at it just yet - and that's OK, because every time I stare at it, the ideas keep rolling.  Next week we're going to add some fall colored leaves with poetry written on them.  And then, just before Halloween, we'll take down the apples and we're going to complete another craftivity to hang from the branches - my Comprehension Strategy Ghosts.  And because we're reading Fish in a Tree as our read aloud right now, I just know at some point, there will DEFINITELY be some fish in our tree, too.  I am so excited about this!!!  I can't wait to keep sharing pics with you over the course of the year.  :)

If you've been following me on facebook or instagram, you may have already seen some of these pictures as part of my #project 188 - where I share a pic from my school day for each of our 188 school days (we just finished day 14).  I often share different pics on instagram and facebook, so be sure to follow both!  

Happy Sunday!!!

Classroom Tour 2015

So, you're all probably totally over the gorgeous classroom tours that were all over facebook and pinterest last month.  Maybe I just like being fashionably late ... or maybe I just haven't been able to find the time to share my pics earlier (the latter being the case ... always).  ;)

As I've shared earlier, I switched to a grade 4/5 class this year, and with the grade change, came a room change.  This was my first room change in 12 years - I had changed grades before, but kept the same classroom.  It wasn't a big move - literally next door, but with 12 years of junk valuable teaching materials crammed into every corner and cupboard in my old room, it certainly felt like a big move to me.  This picture shows what my old classroom looked like cleaned out at the end of the year.

And so the move began ... I was so overwhelmed I didn't know where to begin.  You may notice that my new classroom looks extremely similar to my old classroom - there are 4 small pie-shaped rooms in my end of the school - and they are all almost exactly the same ... with the exception of my beloved smartboard which I had to leave behind ... I'm still not quite over that.  :(

After a day or two of working on my own, I decided to bring in the troops (my girls) to help me finish the job - sometimes they were a big help, and sometimes I questioned my decision repeatedly.  haha.  But, somehow, it all got finished.  I decided to change up my colour scheme a bit - leaving behind the deep red and bringing in some fun black and white polka dots (most of my decor was purchased from SchoolGirl Style).  I kept my teal and turquoise accents because they went so well with the black.  

I have a lot of empty wall space still - I'm waiting on some bulletin boards to be installed, and I like to fill the classroom with student work, but it's getting there.

This is my reading area - my books are organized by genre / author / series in the cubbies.  The area above the bookshelves is one of the areas where I'm still waiting for bulletin boards (this is where my reading, writing, and math goals will go from my Building Better Responses resource).  I do love this happy little corner - and since my girls were happy to curl up in a bean bag chair and grab a good book, it must be kid-approved, too.

This is my desk area - I can't quite give up my desk yet.  Behind my desk is my tech area - printer, document camera, laptop, laminator, etc.  And I was super excited that there were already little hooks there perfect for hanging my question fans.  The little table beside my desk is for working with small groups - I've been wanting a kidney table for ages, but I haven't been lucky enough to get one yet.  The polka dots on the table are vinyl circles - which students can write on with dry-erase markers during our small groups.

View from the door.  I completely cleaned off ALL those bookshelves and started from scratch.  A lot of work, but everything is perfectly organized ... for now.  ;)  I attached my grammar dots to the fronts of the cupboards - colourful and practical.  :)

My back wall.  That big bulletin board (my ONLY bulletin board at the moment) will be my writing board - students will update it weekly with samples of their work, becoming an interactive writing portfolio for them.

My very large white board area.  I went out and purchased these cubby bookshelves for under the whiteboard because it just needed something there.  The baskets in the cubbies will be for student supplies (you know, all those extras they can't quite fit in their desks) and I did enjoy decorating the top of the shelves - some beautiful hard cover books with stuffed animals that go along with the books, some cute boxes I have manipulatives stored in, and a few flowers.  The rainbow drawers house tons and tons of student supplies - everything they need to get them (and me) through the day.

I didn't wait for long to begin to decorate the area above the board.  On the first day we made "All About Me Hands" where the students traced their hands and filled the inside with their name and some of their favourite things, then I put the letters COLLABORATE above the hands because collaboration is so important in our classroom.

And, that's about that.  Not quite as colourful nor as full as my previous classroom.  But that's OK.  I can't wait to see it evolve this year as it becomes a lively place full of learning and growth and engagement.  I'm pretty sure it won't be long before I love it just as much as my other room.  

Happy Sunday!!!

Back to School Essentials

It's August ... and that means my thinking about back to school time has kicked into high gear.  This year I'll have a new grade level AND a new classroom so my prep is a little more ... and a little more stressful.  ;)

This year I will have a 4/5 split - although I will have mostly grade 5 students, I will have a handful of grade 4 students, and the grade 4 curriculum is brand new to me, so I've been doing a lot of curriculum reading this summer.  I'm also moving into the classroom next door to mine ... which makes me a little sad, honestly.  I was in the same classroom for about 12 years (even through grade level switches) and had put a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and money into making it the perfect little environment for my students and me.  The classroom I'm moving into is the exact same odd little trapezoid shape, but it is completely bare, and doesn't have a smartboard (sniff, sniff).  I'm excited to start decorating again (and my living room is FULL of goodies I've begged, borrowed, and bought to make my space), but I am going to miss my smartboard ... big time.  I can't wait to show you the pictures once I start the set-up process (but since I don't actually start until September - you'll have to wait).

One of the main questions I get from my blog and facebook followers around this time of year is "Of the resources you've created, which ones are your favorites or must-haves in your classroom?"

You can click on the image above to see all of my Back-to-School Essentials - resources that will take you through the entire year in your classroom, and are the backbone of my teaching - all student tested and loved.  

For math I always turn to my:
  • Interactive Math Journal - we do one entry every week - and I wouldn't trade that time for anything in the world.  My students love the entries and I love how self-sufficient they become as learners as they have created their very own reference guides.  
  • Math Reflection Fans - these go hand in hand with my math journal as I use the questions for the reflection portion of their journals
  • Building Better Math Responses - we start on this the second week of school, and the scaffolded goals have been essential to the students' success in math communication
  • Stick-It-Together Math Responses - perfect for small groups and peer work when learning new concepts.  LOVE the collaboration that happens with this resource.
My reading must-haves are:
  • My Reading Comprehension Binder - so many graphic organizers that I can grab in a pinch to support any reading comprehension strategy
  • Comprehension Fans - I use at least two questions every single day - and use these questions to give the students a purpose for their independent reading and guide their pair-shares after reading
  • Building Better Reading Responses - again - absolutely essential to my program - my students' responses have improved so much with this resource
  • Stick-It-Together Reader Responses - once a week I use this instead of their traditional independent reader response questions - that peer collaboration really helps bump up their answers
  • Reading Comprehension Posters - I love having a variety of posters I can use to pull from to use as formative or summative assessment activities and informational reading in the content areas, plus, they make a great bulletin board display of learning and portfolio piece.  They are also a perfect sub day activity.

The BIG Back-to-School TeachersPayTeachers sale is happening this Monday - Tuesday (August 3rd - August 4th) to help you gather some resources you'll need for back to school.  For two full days, all my resources will be on sale for 20% off, and if you use the code BTS15, you'll receive an additional 10% off at the check-out (don't forget to use the code - I'm telling you this from personal experience - lol).

I'm filling my wishlist with grade 4 materials right now!!!

Happy Sunday!!

Scaffolding the Learning

It's getting pretty close to back to school time again (and it's already that time for some of you).  Don't panic.  I've gotten together with some of my best upper grade blogging friends to create a back to school survival guide full of our best tips and tricks for you.  So ... relax and breathe.  And then breathe again.  We're all in this together.

If you are a brand new teacher, or are starting a new grade level this year (like I am), one of the first things you do is start to scour the curriculum to see the expectations and standards you need to cover.  And usually the second thing you do is start to panic, wondering how you are going to fit it all in and tie it all together in a neat little package so that your students are demonstrating their learning in those perfect little constructed responses that are required. The most important thing to remember is that these standards and expectations and constructed responses are something that students should know by the END of the year (or by testing time, which is often sooner ... but that's a post for another day).  You (and your students) have TIME to get there.

Scaffold the Learning:
Although you do need to start out right away teaching the expectations and standards, you don't need to expect full constructed responses from your students right away.  Let them start slow - their brains are hard at work learning the new concepts - give them a chance to master the material first.

When I do start them on constructed responses, I start out with one simple step.  I introduce our first response learning goal by the second week of school - and I keep it easy by starting with "start with part of the question in your answer" in reading and "plan your organization" in math.  We talk about why each learning goal is an important part of the constructed response, and we color code these parts when practicing our responses.

I scaffold the learning by introducing one step at a time, and give them time to master it before adding a second step.  This way the students aren't struggling to remember all the steps to constructed responses as well as the lesson standards and expectations for the concepts taught.  I keep a bulletin board of these learning goals (our response learning goals) and we slowly add to them each time I introduce a new goal (adding a new goal about every two weeks or so).  By January, we have a complete set of learning goals for our constructed responses, giving the students the rest of the year to practice combining the concepts they've learned with their constructed responses learning goals.  And by keeping the learning goals posted (written in the color they should use to color code their responses) they have a reference they can use independently to improve their responses.  By having them color code their responses, I find it increases student accountability and accuracy incredibly - they know what is missing from their responses and have time to add to their answers before handing something in for assessment.

Our first learning goal for responses in reading is "start with the question".  It gets posted on our bulletin board.  As we continue to add learning goals over the coming weeks, I place each one on the bulletin board below the one before it.
Our first learning goal for constructed responses in math is to "plan your organization".  This starting point helps them think about how to show their solutions in a neat and organized way that makes it easy to read (and assess).  Again, like in the reading, we continue to add learning goals to this bulletin board.

By January, our boards are a lot fuller and look more like this ...

The wonderful thing about scaffolding the learning is that you can work at the pace your students need - they will not get left behind.  Because you have time, you can spend longer on a certain area that your students have not mastered yet.  And because everyone continues to work on the same goal, there can be a lot of peer collaboration and helping in the classroom.  I like to do a lot of "turn and talks" where the students discuss with a neighbor how they will include the new learning goal in their answer and show each other what they have written.

You can read a little more about the strategies I use and see some of our work along the way in other blog posts I have written about this step-by-step process to building better responses.  Click HERE to see our scaffolded reading goals in action, and HERE to see our scaffolded math goals in action.  Each blog post also contains links to other blog posts I have written about this process.

You can create your learning goals based on the needs in your classroom, or if you're interested, I have made ready-to-use resources for scaffolding the learning that contain all the learning goals, posters, book marks, reflection sheets, scaffolded handouts, assessment ideas and activities for the students.  These are some of my most favorite resources I've created and they are invaluable in my classroom.  Click on any of the resources below or on the picture to the right to see a preview of my Building Better Responses resources.

Be sure to visit the blogs below to read their best Survival Tips, as well.  Have a GREAT start of the year!!!

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