Keeping Parents Involved at Home

29 July 2014
Lately I've been thinking a lot about how to get parents more involved in the learning that happens at school.

In my board, more and more over the years we have been discouraged from sending home work that is to be assessed.  There has also been a major reduction in homework in general - homework is not something to be assigned for the sake of giving homework - if work is sent home, it is usually something the student didn't complete during class time.  

Now, don't get me wrong - as a parent of three, it's lovely having that home time free of homework most nights.  My kids are quite busy with their extra curricular activities, and we do read nightly at home (along with other learning rich activities).  But, as a teacher, I have noticed an increasing disconnection with parents involved in their students' learning.  Yes, they support the school, and are kept aware of activities and the learning we are doing through newsletters, phone calls, or apps like Remind 101, but they just don't have the same opportunities to get involved in the learning - to actually SEE the learning their students are doing until after the fact when the completed and assessed work is sent home.

I asked my followers on my Facebook Page how they keep parents involved in the learning, and they (as always) had some great suggestions to share.  
  • Send parents links to websites or apps to support students' learning (update regularly to match classroom work).  You can even make your own videos to send home (showme app) (Katie)
  • Have a "Secret Reader".  Parents sign up for a time once a month or so to come in and read to the class, and then do a craft.  It's so neat to have the kids figure out who the reader is using clues from the parent, and it's also pretty amazing to see which book/craft the parent picks.  (Christina)
  • Have a classroom blog or website where the students chat about what they are learning and invite the parents to ask questions and make comments.  Some of the more reluctant students really blossom when their blog post gets comments.  (Carol-Anne)  
  • After class assemblies (twice a year), parents are invited into the class afterwards to take part in topic-related activities with their child for the morning.  (Holly)
  • Use a twitter account that the students post to about their learning for the day (with parent permission first). (Karen)
  • Monthly parent meetings on different school topics.  (Amy)
  • Show parents a minilesson during conferences or on parent night.  (Kathleen)
  • Have students create youtube videos to share with parents.  (Meredith)
  • Challenge students and parents to "beat the teacher score" on online math game websites.  (Alan)
  • Send home Friday folders with all the completed and graded work for the week.  (Stephanie)
  • Family Math nights once a month - have centers and games with food and music.  (Katie)
  • Instead of traditional math homework, send home math games which parents need to play with their children to complete the required homework.  (Ellen)
  • Send home half-sheets for parents of each of the standards or expectations in math.  It has the "I can" statements and example problems on one side, and then the answers and any notes/explanations/steps on the other.  (Eildh)
  • Have a parent discussion question each week that students write in their planner.  During the week, they discussed it with their parent, wrote the response, and parents signed the planner.  (Krista)
  • Send home weekly reflection sheets that the kids write about themselves, their behaviour, and their work.  (Kathleen)
  • Have leadership nights where students share their data notebooks and goals.  (Laura)
  • Have a science kit with fun experience that goes home with a student to complete with a parent.  (Laurie)
  • Setting up online challenges through the class website.  (Marci)
  • Weekly homework sheet that has a current math concept, mini reading log, and quick reading piece with short questions to answer.  Parent participation was encouraged.  It kept parents in the loop and gave students practice with current work.  (Kathy)
  • Phys ed portfolio that is sent home with a family fitness challenge.  (Melissa)
  • Pose a question on the classblog about something learned each week.  Parents check the student responses before they post ... that way they learn about something we learned, and help their children with spelling and grammar.  (Kristen)
  • Send home math extension menu activities and get parents to try them out, too.  You can then have the parents do a reflective note back to the teacher about the experience.  (Melissa)
  • When preparing for tests, have the students teach their parents a lesson/skill from the unit.  The parents write to the teacher, telling what they learned ... and they get to brag about their child as a teacher.  (Lisa)
  • Through the shutterfly blog, you can take pictures of students actually completing the work, and parents can order the pics right through the site.  (Jen)
  • In the Friday journal, there are 3 specific questions about the learning from the week.  Students choose 1 of the questions and write a letter to their parents explaining what they learned.  Parents are supposed to write a short letter back to their child.  (Jennifer)
Thinking about this particular topic led me to create my Math by the Month resource.  Once a month, the corresponding math sheet / poster could be sent home for students to complete with their parents.  To encourage completion, students could be given a small reward, coupon, or entry into a monthly draw if sheets are returned by a certain date.  The posters also include the answers, where applicable (some of the questions are open-ended, or depend on the number of students in the class or number of members in the family).  A parent reflection checklist is also included for the parents to complete alongside the student (if desired).  You can take a peek at this resource by clicking HERE.  Be sure to download the free preview (I have included a free poster for you to try out in your classroom). :)

If you have any other ideas about keeping parents involved with the learning at home, I'd love for you to leave them in a comment below.  :)


Smooth Sailing into a New Year: Tips, Tricks, and Giveaways

27 July 2014
Are you ready to start sailing into a new year?

I've got a great tip for you on how to set up your classroom library.  I know many of you have wonderfully organized classroom libraries with rows of beautiful bright baskets filled with books.  I'm just not a basket person.  I love my classroom library.  I love seeing rows upon rows of books in my little cubby bookshelves.  I love that students can see all the spines, read the titles, and know what treasures are within.  I even have my desk positioned across from my classroom library because staring at it just makes me happy.  

This is my classroom library.  I'm not sure if you can see in the picture, but I have a little white label at the bottom of each cubby that has either a genre, author name, or series (if the series fits the whole cubby).  All the books in a particular genre (I have a few cubbies with the same genre), by a certain author, or within a series are *supposed* to go back to the properly labelled cubby.  In a perfect world.  ;)  My students are pretty good at returning series to the right spot, and authors sometimes, but those genre cubbies never stay right - and I've relied on students volunteering to reorganize the cubbies many times during the year.

And now I've got a solution!  I have a crazy washi tape collection that has just been sitting in a craft drawer (big dreams, no time).  To keep my library organized, I can put a piece of washi tape on the spine of my books that go into a certain cubby or shelf (and put a piece of matching washi tape right on the cubby (or shelf) the book belongs to.  I can write the genre, series, or author name right onto the washi tape.  I think this will be a beautiful solution, and I know it will help my students keep my library organized.  If you don't have washi tape, you could do the same thing with masking tape, and just draw a coloured dot or pattern on the masking tape.  Easy Peasy.


Hook Them from the First Day ... Tips for Back to School

21 July 2014
Like it or not, it's nearing that time again ... back to school.  I know some of my teacher friends are heading back already!

A few days ago on my facebook page, I asked people to leave a comment about their favourite back to school activity.  You know, those activities that start to build a positive classroom environment and get the students excited about the year right from the very first day.  Their ideas were so fabulous, I knew I had to share some of them with you (and get them down somewhere so I wouldn't forget them).

  • Make a silhouette of each student's head using a projecter.  Then, students draw pictures of their likes and favourites within the head.  (Kerri)
  • Students fill a brown paper bag with ten objects that reveal something about themselves, or evoke a special or humorous memory.  They decorate the bag and present it to the rest of the class.  (Candace)
  • Using a big ball of yarn, get together in a circle and toss the yarn ball to each other, holding onto the yarn.  Students usually tell something they want us to know about them.  Eventually it makes a huge web and we talk about unity and how we all have to work together.  (Monica)
  • Have your students write 5 things about themselves on a piece of paper, crumple the paper up, and throw it across the room a few times.  Students then find a paper and guess whose it is.  (Katy)
  • Read The Important Book and have students create a list of important things about them.  Then have students use Wordle, Tagxedo, or Cloudart to generate a cloud of words about them.  Make sure they also include their names.  Their work is then printed and posted.  (Kimberly)
  • Make hot air balloons.  Give each student a pre-made cut out of a hot air balloon.  On the front of the basket, students write their name and 4 things about themselves.  The balloon is for their goals for the year (at least one is personal/family/outside activity related).  The straps that connect the balloon to the basket display strategies that will help students reach their goals, and people who can help them. (Lesley)
  • Take a picture of the student on the first day and have them write a letter to themselves for the last day of school.  It's always fun to see how much they change in one year.  (Kristine)
  • Pass around a roll of toilet paper, asking each student to take as much as they think they need.  After all have done so, the students are then told that they need to share as many things about themselves as squares of toilet paper they have taken.  Always a fun way to start the day.  (Jody)
  • Write questions on a big playground or beach ball.  Toss the ball around and when it is caught, where a student's right thumb lands, that's the question they answer.  (Karen)
  • Measure the students on a bulletin board.  At the end of the year, you can put the paper back up and measure again.  Students are always amazed at how much they've grown.  (Katherine)
  • Do a team-building activity where you take one large marshmallow, 20 uncooked linguini sticks, and an arms-length of tape.  In small groups, the students work together to build the tallest free stranding structure.  (Kristi)
  • Make a "My Reading Timeline" where students make timelines that show their favourite books, series, authors, throughout the years starting as far back as they can remember.  Return the timelines at the end of the year so students can add their new favourites from the year.  (Jennifer)
  • Students decorate a butterly to represent them.  They pass it to the right and the person compliments them and then returns the butterfly.  It still looks beautiful and the student feel good.  Then, they pass it to the left and the person says something they don't like about it and then they crumple up the butterfly and return it.  The butterfly will never look as beautiful.  This activity then goes into a discussion about character and the importance of using kind words.  (Heather)
  • Students stand in a circle (teacher included) and toss a bean bag to one person at a time, saying that person's name.  Everyone has to remember who they threw the bean bag to.  Do it a couple of times with one bean bag going in the order you created, and then introduce a second bean bag so there are two bean bags going at once in the same order.  If they're really good at it, a third bean bag is introduced.  It's a great twist on the traditional name game.  (Cherissa)
  • Give all the children letters in a bag that say ______ Grade Rocks!  (without telling them what the letters actually spell out).  They then have to see how many phrases or words they can come up with using the letters.  Challenge them to use all the letters.  The students will usually end up working together to find the phrase.  (Kirsten)
  • Have kids wander around the room.  Call out a number and a machine.  Kids have to make groups of the number called and then "make" the machine with their bodies.  (Jennifer)
  • Read Giant Steps to Change the World by Spike Lee and his wife, then discuss things students can do in the school or classroom to make changes during the school year on little footprints and then display them in the hallway.  (Evette)
This was just a small sample of the ideas ... so many wonderful and creative ones were shared.  

I have a favourite activity to share, too.  I like to do this bio poem with my students on the first day.  I project the poem first for students to get a rough copy done, then give them the templates for students to complete and decorate their presentation copies.  Students also make a picture of themselves to display with the poem.  The poem template is a freebie in my TPT store, and there is a template included for each grade, so I've got everyone covered.  ;)  You can download it by clicking HERE.  It makes a great bulletin board display that is ready to go by the end of the first day.

I have also bundled together some of my favourite back to school activities on TPT into a great First Days of School Activity Bundle.  This bundle includes my Back to School Drama Circle (a fantastically fun ice breaker activity), Back to School Cootie Catchers (for students to get to know their classmates in a small group or partner activity), The Length of a Summer (a fun mathematics problem-solving activity), and my newest First Day Apples Craftivity (get your students writing and create a fabulous display all in one activity).  You can view this bundle by clicking HERE.

Whenever your first day happens to be, I hope you have a WONDERFUL back to school start.  And maybe you gathered some new ideas today.  ;)


Currently in July ...

02 July 2014
So, I'm a day late linking up to the oh-so-fabulous Farley over at Oh Boy 4th Grade for her Currently linky.  But I'm OK with that - it's summer, right.  We're allowed to be on our own schedule.

Speaking of the oh-so-fabulous Farley, I wrote to her and asked if I could change up the July Currently template a bit to make more of a Canadian theme ... because yesterday was all about celebrating Canada Day here.

Loving the summer holidays!!!  It's been a LONG year, and this is exactly what I need ... even if it does mean listening to way too many kid shows on TV.

I'm determined to stay organized this summer - I've got a way-too ambitious to-do list on my computer, organized by day, with jobs for all of us (the kiddos are NOT excited about this).  ;)  I'm worried if I don't do something like this, the summer will just slip away on me.  And I do love the satisfaction I get crossing something off the list.

I'm almost ready for the Vegas trip ... just need to do a little more shopping.  Wishing I had lost a little more weight (hate shopping right now), but it is what it is.  I did put exercising on my daily to-do list ... today's activity is some Wii Dance with the girls - figure it might as well be enjoyable and keep the girls entertained.

Yesterday was Canada Day - and we had a lovely day at my parents' cottage with the whole family.  It was a beautiful day for a BBQ and a swim (and a couple of photo opportunities).  Perfect.  We capped off the day with fireworks - it had been raining all night, but they still went ahead with them, and we cuddled in the truck with our bags of popcorn to watch the show.  Perfect.  It was a great way to kick off July, and I have a feeling the rest of the month will be just as ... perfect.  :)

Happy Wednesday!