Wednesday, December 26, 2012


A semester is done, and inevitably change has occurred.  The thoughts, ideas, and organization of August have slipped into something new.  Does this happen to you?  Each year, it does to me.
In just the last couple of weeks I've instituted two major changes:  YOGA BALLS and TABLES.

Writers Workshop time
YOGA BALLS - I've been reading about their uses in classrooms for at least five years.  I've even said to more than one parent:  If you purchase a yoga ball for your child, I'll let them sit on it.  No one has ever taken me up on that.  So, two weeks before Christmas, I tell my class:  Let's get yoga balls, instead of buying me a gift, buy a gift for the classroom.  So far, we have 18 balls. Several were donated by our gym teacher, principal, and myself.  The rest were brought in by students.  I've set up a rotation, and everyone gets to sit on a yoga ball at least half the day!

TABLES - I've been wanting tables instead of desks for awhile.  They're a hot commodity in my building.  Several of us have told our principal that in the future, we'd like to move to tables.  She's receptive and open to it.  So, I approach her before break about making the switch now.   I'm known as an honest (ok, maybe blunt is the right word) and if I try tables out, teachers will know I will give all the pros and cons.  One 2/3 High Ability teacher is using them with success.  All the Kindergarten teachers have them and love them.
My principal said IF I could find the tables and convince the custodial staff to store my desks to go ahead!  Well, I literally had to beg, borrow, and steal (okay, not steal, but coercion was used) to find six tables, enough for all 24 of my students.  Then, I had to literally make my case to the custodian.  She originally said no.  Then we talked, toured the storage space and came up with a deal.   She could store some of the desks - I'd have to find a place for some of them. (By the way, I used my computer table as a classroom table, then put the six laptops on their own desk!)
Then Friday afternoon before break the students cleaned out their desks, and put everything in their cubby.  (I have cabinets in my room, with small cubbies that books can fit into.)  Then , I partnered everyone up.  Each pair will share a crate that will be kept at their table.  It will have their practice books, math books, folders, dry erase boards, and other essential items.  Each student will also keep their pencil box at their table. 
I'm optimistic about the change, although there are a few worries.  What if some don't deal well with such a shared space as a table?  I figure if need be I can always grab a desk or two back.

If there wasn't a winter storm advisory in my area, I'd post pictures of my new tables.  Alas, I'm staying put at home and enjoying the quiet at home with my kids.

Other changes are on the way too:  I'm working on my National Board Certification (Generalist - Middle Childhood) and I haven't started my entries yet.  I'm still planning.  In fact, I should be planning now, but will get to that soon.  I'm looking forward to tackling that challenge.  I've also committed to blogging every Wednesday - as a challenge with my school's Instructional Coach.  We've promised to push each other.  So, with change comes more writing for me!

I wish all of you a happy break!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Writer's Workshop

Ahhhh....first semester is winding down and the kids are wound up!  I've tried hard to maintain a level of learning with a level of fun.  I'm feeling ready for break, and if I'm not motivated, then I'm sure my students aren't!

So, instead of lesson planning, or working on my National Boards, as I told my husband I was doing when I kissed him and the kids by for the evening, I'm going to blog!  LUCKY YOU!  :)

I've decided to reflect on how my writing has changed this year.  And, it has changed.  In Indiana we've had all kinds of reforms, and one of them that trickled into the classroom this year was creating a personal goal to work on.  Mine was writing.  In fact, my entire team is working on this.

As I started the year, I decided to look at my day differently.   I now do writing first thing in the morning.  That is a change.  It makes me more purposeful in planning writing, and not to let my content time continually takeover my writing time.

A big plus also, was this resource I found online:    The First 30 Days: 5th Grade.
Even if you don't use it verbatim, it's very helpful to get your gears spinning on what you want to do.  For me, just having this as a safety net was a huge help!    My team also used it with success.

Also, I follow Katherine Sokolowski on Twitter.   She has great ideas.  I especially liked her Greatness Writing Activity I found on her Blog - Read, Write, Reflect.

I spent the first nine weeks building my Writer's Workshop.   Since then, we've published three pieces this nine weeks.  I spent several weeks on mini lessons for each one, then rounds of working and editing together.   We've written an editorial, a personal narrative essay, and a free choice writing piece with the goal of varying sentences.  Now, for some of you, this probably doesn't seem like much.  In the past, that was how many published pieces I'd have in a year.  Maybe.

I feel much more confident in my writing instruction.  I've even created rubrics WITH the class which is a big step for me.  I'm finding that it really does help them be more purposeful in their writing, and in turn, I'm more purposeful in my conferencing.   My secret for rubrics:  Print off ones you really like to have as a starting point.  Make sure you've done mini lessons on what you expect of the piece, THEN do the rubric whole group.  They know what you want from your focused mini lessons.  One time I even passed out sample rubrics to the class and asked what should be on our rubric!  Another great fact, it makes it easier to conference with students when I know exactly what I'm wanting them to do!  I keep a copy of the current rubric in the front of my binder for easy reference!

Here I'm meeting with Alex.  I have my conferring notebook out, he's reading his piece to me.  The post-its have 1-4 on it, and it's great for passing back with what they need to work on!
Next quarter I will be focusing on my National Board writings:  One expository piece and one narrative piece.  I've decided to do the expository on writing a literary review and the narrative on writing to a prompt as we prepare for our State Testing at the end of February.

Thanks for visiting my blog!  Feel feel to tweet or write questions in the comments section.  I hope your year has started off great and that you have a joyful holiday break!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hello, Again!

I'm sorry I've been away for so long!  I enjoy reflecting on my teaching and sharing ideas, but sometimes  I worry no one wants to hear it!
I've decided to not worry about those details, and write for me.  Hopefully you'll find something interesting to you!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

More Camp Read-a-Lot

More Purdue Softball - They read another Mo Williams book.  It was an Elephant and Piggie book - it was great for two girls to read together!

More Purdue Softball Players!

They read another Mo Williams book - one of the Pigeon books.

Hanging out - Reading!

We put desks against the wall, and then created "lanes" for students to stretch out in.

Spread out!
Mrs. George - she is the Southwestern math teacher.  She read a Humpty Dumpty book.

Cory Marshall - he is the principal of Wea Middle School, where the other 15% will go.  He read Pirates Don't Change Diapers.

Here's me - reading my Kindle!  Of course, I was reading today too!

Camp Read-a-Lot

Our entire school does a mini-economy.  Students earn money and can lose money based on jobs, attitude, behavior, and effort.  This year the fifth grade teachers have added "incentive" parties for them to spend their money on at the end of each nine weeks.  This time we decided to do "Camp Read-a-Lot" where they read, or were read to all day!
It cost $200 for everyone to attend (mandatory).  Students could also purchase if they wanted: 
  • wear pajamas for the day
  • bring a pillow
  • bring a sleeping bag or blanket
  • wear slippers
We emailed our superintendent's office and invited him, plus all the assistant superintendents.  My sister happens to be the baseball/softball/women's soccer secretary at Purdue University, so I was able to ask Purdue athletes to come visit too!  Since we're fifth grade, we invited next year's middle school principals, and one sixth grade teacher.  It was fun!

Dr. Hanback - Tippecanoe School Corporation's Superintendent.  I asked him to read Yes Day!  He told the students if they did really well, he would give them a surprise.  They did, so he said they had the whole next week off!   My fifth graders were quick though, they responded, "That's Spring Break!" 

Kim Fox - TSC's Chief Financial Officer.  She read Crazy Like a Fox:  A Book of Similes.

Mindy Higgins - Mayflower's principal.  She read a Skippy Jon Jones book.

Lexy Moore - Purdue University Softball Player.  She is a freshman from Missouri and read a Mo Williams Pigeon book.

Karen Smith - Principal at Southwestern Middle School where 85% of my class will go.  She read a Lemony Snickett book.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

I Love you, but I'm not IN love with you! A tale of Twitter....

I'm a self-proclaimed junkie when it comes to Reading Instruction!  I love reading and learning new ideas about it.  Twitter has been absolutely phenomenal in feeding that addiction the last month or so. 
But, don't you hate it when it backfires?  You know what I'm talking about, when you start reading all those fabulous things you should be doing, but aren't always a part of your daily lesson.  When you know what's best practice, but it's gone by the wayside. (Right, Gina Boyd?)
Well, that happened in spades to me this week.
I've always known that as a fifth grade teacher I really need to be up on great novels, graphic novels, and interesting picture books.  In turn, we can help find good fits for our readers.  Or, introduce them to something new, or .... (Submit your own reason!)
I have NOT done that this year.  I've barely bought any books, let alone read any to share with my students.  Of course, I already have Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The 39 Clues all going around, but nothing new or fresh. 
Cue Twitter - I follow Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer author) and she is constantly tweeting books she is reading and giving ratings.  Also, from following her, I have started following the Nerdy Book Club.  So, in this I found some really great books to read and share with  my students. 

Getting to my point, I shared these books with my students at the beginning of CAFE.  I explained what each book was about, and what I had enjoyed about it.  In the two days since I have shared most of the books I bough and have had more conversations about these books than I have about books this whole year. 
             So, Twitter - I love you!  I do, but at times you break my heart, so if it's OK, I can't be IN love with you.  I love your ideas, professional development, testimonials, etc., but I hate how you make me feel when I read all these fabulous things that I only dream of doing.

If you're interested, here is what I bought:
  • The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (Great, short book)
  • Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger (Great follow-up!)
  • Wonder by RJ Palacio (A real tear jerker - great story about hope and friendship)
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (Great book over perspective)
  • Smile by Raina Telgemeier (A graphic novel that is hilarious and true to real life)
These I found from either Twitter or Nerdy Book Club.  I also bought a few others for me:
  • Storm Runners by Roland Smith (Fabulous, I was mad that I didn't have book 2 to see what happens next)
  • Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick (Haven't read yet, but I'm sure it's fantastic)
  • The Big Time by Tim Green (Didn't read, but have some big Tim Green fans in my class)
  • Best of the Best by Tim Green (Ditto!)

More Test Motivators

By request, here are some more test motivators.  I cannot claim any credit for these!

  • Crunch those numbers!  (With a Crunch bar)  Credit Nancy Nargi
  • Don't Get Nutty!  Take a deep breathe, relax and show me what you know!  (With a Nutty bar) Credit Alisan Clayton
  • I think you are Magnificent & Marvelous Do your Personal Best (With M&M cookies)  Credit Alisan Clayton
  • SKOR candy bar - SKOR big!  Credit Alisan Clayton
  • Your effort this week is worth a $100 Grand!  (With a 100 Grand bar)  Credit Alisan Clayton
  • I give my students a small bag of cookies and give them a paper that says: Remember, you are a SMART cookie
    S- stay focused
    M- mark the right choice
    A- always do your best
    R- recheck your work
    T- take your time   
  • SMARTIES-Have some SMARTIES to Super-Energize your brain cells and help you to do your best!
  • SNICKERS-No time for SNICKERS yet! You're almost finished with testing!
  • Gum: "CHEWS" your answers carefully on the test
  • EXTRA gum: Work EXTRA hard to make the best choice on the test
  • Cheerios - Cheering you to success or I'm CHEERing you on
  • Super Bubble Gum - I know you will do a SUPER job
  • Lucky Charms - Good LUCK today on your test
  • Starburst - You are a STAR or Shine like a STAR today
  • Licorice Twists - Don't let the test TWIST your mind
  • Hershey Hugs - A HUG from me to you to do the best that you can do
  • Millky Way - Success all the way to the Milky Way
  • Gum with a note that says: Blow the top off the test!
  • 1 Peppermint for every test.... to boost your brain power!
  • Eraser... to get rid of those brain freezes (what I call mistakes in my room)
  • 2 Pencils... to record all the knowledge you have learned
  • 1 stick of gum for each test... to remind you to stick with it!
  • 1 highlighter... for highlighting of course!
  • 1 Hershey's Hug.. for all your hard work!

  • Credit to unless otherwise noted

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Test Motivators

This year to kick off ISTEP+ testing, my principal did a "Rock the Test" assembly for grades 3-5.  She invited a teacher's husband, Matt Call and a former Mayflower Mill student turned musician, Mike Kelsey.  They played a fun, motivating hour set.   Our kids really liked it!  We have banners in the main hall that say:  Rock the Test! 

Here are other motivator's you could do in your classroom:
  • a mint:  You are 'mint' to rock this test!
  • a starburst:  You're a rock star! 
  • a smartie:  Show how 'smart' you are as you rock the test!
  • a cookie:  You are one smart cookie!
There are a lot of other ideas online.  I have the parents of my students send in a sealed letter to wish them luck.  For the students who don't bring one, I make sure and provide on.  I got the idea from ProTeacher about 5 years ago and have done it ever since. 
Here's a link:  Letter to Parents for Motivating letter

To everyone who is starting standardized testing, otherwise known as "March Madness" in the education world:  Good luck! 

Here Comes ISTEP+

Well, the time has come.  ISTEP+ testing is here (Indiana state achievement test)
This week my students will take the open-ended portion of the ISTEP+:  English/Language Arts, Math, and Social Studies.
I get nevous every year right now.  What if I haven't yet covered what's on the test?  What if my kids don't read carefully enough and write down a wrong answer?  What if....  I could go on!  I always tell my students "We're not playing the 'what-if' game.  We could do this for hours!"  Yet, undoubtedly every year, I play the same game. 
Have I prepared my students?  I think I have...but what if....

Monday, February 27, 2012

Back to Math

So, way back in September when I started this blog, I focused on small math groups and how I would operate them.  Now is time for some reflection:
  • They are only as good as you are prepared.  If you don't have a GREAT, SHORT lesson, it isn't valuable.
  • Only one hour for small math groups is not enough time to do it right.  My math is one hour - we start at 9:15 and go to special at 10:15.  Due to my inclusion students who leave after special, I cannot get back to math.  I have a block the last half hour, but it is really hard to get back into the math rotations groove, so I choose to do math remediation at that time.
  • To be effective, you SHOULD do a minilesson before you break into small groups.  I try, but am not successful, and I think it would have a big impact on my lessons.
  • Change up your groups every now and then.  I changed at semester and it has been helpful.
  • Something I need to be better at is varying the rotations that aren't with me.
What I would like to do in the future:
  • Utilize my smartboard more for games/activites for students to do in their group.
  • Allow more choice in the centers.  (I have two independent - fact fluency and skill review)
  • Have SuccessMaker be 12 minutes instead of 15 minutes.  (This is a computer program purchased by out corporation.  You can change the time, but our corp. is mandates 15 minutes.)
  • Have time built in to go over previous night's homework.

Someday is not a day of the week

I keep saying that "Someday" I will get back to this blog.  Well, someday never seemed to arrive.  Then, my principal started blogging and is really encouraging me to get back at it!  So, Mindy - this is for you!