Friday, July 14, 2017

Fun and Easy to Assemble Pocket Puppet Books

Our 1st graders can't get enough of these adorable, engaging Pocket Puppet Books. They love coloring, cutting, gluing and then reading them over and over using the puppet to tell the story. The Pocket Puppet stays in the library pocket on the back of the front cover until it's time to read. If these pockets are unavailable, a paper clip could be used. But trust me. There's something about putting the little puppet in the pocket that the kids just get a kick out of. 
Pocket Puppet stays safe in the library pocket on the back of the front cover until time to read!
Little Brown Squirrel Hides a Nut

Pilgrim Pocket Puppet Book
Santa Claus Pocket Puppet Book



All parts and clear directions are included. Easy and fun to assemble!
Students use positional words (above, over, under behind, etc.) as they tell the story. They use the puppet to go up a mountain, through the grass, around the lake, etc.
See the video below to see the Pilgrim Puppet Book in action! (If you don't see the video below, click the line that you see and the video should open.)
video
Check out all 3 Puppet Books here:
Little Brown Squirrel Pocket Puppet Book
Pilgrim Pocket Puppet Book
Santa Pocket Puppet Book

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

6 Things I Would Do Differently As A First Year Teacher


It was 1986. I had just signed my very first teaching contract... to teach 6th grade at a junior high school. My salary for the year was $14,500. (I'm not joking... I figured I could lose a few pounds anyway...) But I was going to have my OWN class! I was so excited I could hardly see straight. I envisioned attentive students in their neat rows of desks, absorbing every word of my flawless lessons. I could see it clearly. I was ready. Bring it on.

So the day came when they finally let me into my classroom. Geeze, I had only been pounding on the school door to let me in since June 15. There was my room. OK, so the desks were a little old and mismatched. I could handle that. But wait, were there enough desks? And where was my desk and chair? Shouldn't there be books? And shelves? Supplies?

Little did I know at the time, but the new teacher got the scraps. My room looked like it had been looted after a major riot. Once the other teachers came trickling in, they must have taken pity on me because somehow I managed to scrape up more desks, some books, shelves and had things halfway presentable for the first day. 

But it wasn't what I had envisioned. I quickly learned that (back then) it was sink or swim. I was determined to swim. But I felt very alone. Collaboration was not a thing back then. Teachers did their own thing. Now, don't get me wrong. The teachers I worked with at the time were caring, wonderful people. Mentoring was just not the thing at the time, especially at a junior high. But I knew I needed help. 

This was my thinking though...Maybe I should already know how to do this. Was it a sign of weakness to ask for guidance? It sure seemed like it. So I tried to figure it out on my own.

What. A. Mistake. I sank. Fast. No one really prepared me for 35 unruly 6th graders who were only 10 years younger than I was. (3 sat at a table in the back because I couldn't seem to acquire those last 3 desks...) Again. Not what I had envisioned. And why weren't they listening to me? All the other teachers seemed to have it all together. Why couldn't I?? I was in over my head.

After 3 or 4 months of (you know what), I began realizing I needed help. My classroom management wasn't improving. In fact it was deteriorating. I had so many questions. Since blogs and Pinterest weren't available back in the stone age, our teacher peers were our best resource. So I visited the veteran teacher down the hall, Mrs. Comeford. My savior. My angel. I cried. I put my pride aside and asked her for help. 

Well, she helped me. From classroom management to how to handle late papers, she guided me and I listened. Each day, each month, and every year I improved. I learned from my mistakes. And slowly, I got it together and began to evolve into the teacher I had envisioned. I learned a few tips over the years. Boy, if I could go back, I would definitely change a few things...


My hair looked a bit like this in the 80's. That's another thing I would do differently...

1.  I would seek the help from the teacher who had the classroom and the management that I had envisioned for myself BEFORE DAY 1.

Find your Mrs. Comeford. The teacher down the hall who has "It". "It" might be a little different for each of us. But generally, this teacher has students' respect, attention and love. They adore their teacher. Students know what the expectations are and they do their best. There is flow in the classroom. Think about what you envision for your own classroom and find that teacher who will help you accomplish that. It might even be a combination of 2 or 3 teachers. It might be hard to find that someone before school starts, but start looking early so you have some solid plans in place. Ask for some of their time each week to share some of their secrets. Plan some questions ahead of time like, "What kind of classroom management do you use?" "How many warnings do you typically give a student?" "Can you show me your plan book and grade book?" "When and how do you plan?"  etc.  If you are lucky enough to meet weekly, you will learn so much and perhaps make a new life-long friend. 

2. I would keep it simple. 

With so many ideas for organization, classroom management, decor, and instructional techniques out there on social media, it's hard to filter out the ones that will really work for you. You can't implement them all, no matter how amazing the ideas are. Besides, so many of these ideas cost $$$. And remember... Less is better your first year. So narrow those best ideas down to just a few. Keep your classroom decor inviting but simple and purposeful. Wall space is at a premium, so choose what you display wisely. What resources will the students need and use throughout the year? If it is just cute to look at, you might want to replace it with a purposeful student resource: word wall, alphabet cards, sound cards, calendar resources, anchor charts, rules, clip chart, and so on.

When searching for instructional resources online, stay focused on your students' needs and the standards. If I could go back, I would master the curriculum and standards for the first year and only supplement when absolutely necessary. If you are not familiar with the curriculum that the district has provided, it's hard to supplement appropriately. So keep it simple and just use what they've provided for the 1st year. When you feel confident with the curriculum goals and state standards, then start to supplement with materials that will truly help your students reach their goals. 

But keep it simple. More is not always better.
Remember... KEEP IT SIMPLE

3. I would try REALLY hard to go home at a reasonable time each day. Enlist VOLUNTEERS!

No, really. I mean it. Set a time and stick to it. You need to have time to relax and refresh. If I could go back, I would round up as many parent helpers as possible to help with tasks that can be done by anyone: bulletin boards, organization, center prep work, and so on. Then you can focus on the tasks that only you can do: planning, grading, parent contacts, emails... 

Have a volunteer sign-up sheet at meet the teacher and/or open house. Place it on a table with cookies or other treats with a big sign. Use a sign-up website to do the work for you like SignUpGenius where parents see what tasks you need completed and they sign up for dates/times to come in and do them. When parents sign-up for specific dates and times, they are more likely to follow through. Plus, they get automatic reminders from SignUpGenius! Ha! One less thing to do! 

Be ready for your parent volunteers. Have a tub with materials ready for them in a consistent area of your room with simple directions. If you're lucky, you will have that one parent volunteer who can read your mind. One who just jumps right in and can see what needs to be done. Ahhh.... I've had a few of those angels. Remember them at Christmas and the end of the year with little thank you gifts! 
Thanks, kindercraze.com! Check out her post on Thank You Gift Tags for Classroom Volunteers FREEBIE!


4.  I would keep the grumbling to a minimum

I'm not proud of it. I whined my first year. I lacked support, I missed my family and friends, I was starving (I actually did lose more than a few pounds) and I was struggling to get it all done and maintain my sanity. But I complained too much and smiled too little. Thankfully, I figured it out fairly early on that people were more responsive and supportive when I did my best to be positive. I learned to save my venting for my closest family and friends and tried hard to be solution oriented. Not just a whiner. Don't get me wrong. We NEED to vent once in a while. But be careful. Choose your allies wisely and keep the venting to a minimum. You want your co-workers and administrators to view you as a positive, valuable staff member. Your positive attitude helps your relationships with peers, family, students, parents AND yourself!

5. Stay organized

If I could add up the minutes I have spent looking for something in my classroom, it would add up to days...maybe weeks. I don't know. My point is, I sometimes put things in very special places. So special, I can't find them again. 

I LOVE it when I have spent a few minutes labeling, tidying up, tossing old things I've never used but was sure I would...

After 31 years, I decided to get rid of the teacher desk that I never sit at. It just became a place to plop things and hide things in the deep black holes called drawers. I tossed things from the 90's and found some great school pictures I had forgotten about. (I took them home and made a photo album and had a great time laughing at the ridiculous hair and clothes through the years.) I even found $20 buried under 5 staplers and a bunch of useless claw staple removers. 

Once I purged 3/4 of what was in my desk and kept only what was truly necessary, the desk was rolled out of my room and replaced with this (purchased at Sam's for under $30):
Yes. Everything necessary from my desk has now gone into these wonderful drawers. No more plopping either. I sit and work at the kidney table where I teach small groups. I HAVE to clear it off daily so I can teach. So I must file away papers. I use something similar to this to organize those loose papers without a home, although my labels include M-F files, team meetings, to file away, to grade, etc.:

I also organize with binders on my shelves. 

We'll see how it goes this new school year. My hope is I won't spend half my day looking for things. More time to spend on important things! 

So get organized in a way that works for you. Don't wait 31 years to do it though...

6. Win over parents

I found that only being 10 years older than my students my first year teaching was challenging in many ways. It was especially challenging to get parents to trust in my expertise as a teacher. If I could go back, I would work harder at winning over parents. Since then, I've learned that when parents are in my corner, I can accomplish just about anything. Call parents periodically to tell them about something wonderful or funny their child did or said. Or send home positive notes regularly.

Happy Go Home Notes are a quick and easy way to let a parent know their child had a great day. Some parents even keep them in a scrapbook. They are important. Take the time to send those positive messages out to parents. You care about your students. Let your parents know how much.

Take time after school to make positive connections with parents. Say hello. Ask about the new baby in the family. Tell a quick, positive story about their child. Be friendly and smile. It goes a LONG way! When I noticed that the father of a certain little boy in my class would look worried if I was holding his child's hand after school, I decided to take a different approach. Yes, I needed to let him know that his son had a hard time once in awhile. But I also had to let Dad know when his son made good choices, tried hard that day, or just made me smile. I saw that worried look on Dad's face less often when I was holding his son's hand, and saw more smiles. 
Make those positive connections with parents! 
I could go on and on about what I've learned since that 1st year of teaching. It is an endless list. But the important thing is I learned from my mistakes and made the necessary changes. 

My hope for you is that you save yourself the trouble and be proactive instead of reactive like I had to be. Learn as much as you can from those teachers that have "It." And stay positive and friendly. One day you will be the teacher who has "It" and the new teachers will flock to you for your secrets! ♥

Thursday, June 8, 2017

5 Survival Tips for a ROUGH School Year

Well, I'll admit. It was a difficult year for me. Full of challenges, new and old. But after 31 years of teaching, I know that although it might be a rough school year, I have the opportunity to reflect and grow from the experiences from the year... or I can pass on the blame. (I guess that's always an option, but may not be the most productive one.)

So as I look back on this past school year, I have identified some survival tips that have helped me get through some of those hard times. Because everyone's difficulties are different, I have listed tips that can be generalized to many situations. I hope they help you!


1. Keep it Real. There is no such thing as a perfect teacher or perfect classroom.


All teachers have their struggles. If you subscribe to other teachers' Facebook, Instagram or blogs, you often just see their best. Their best projects, their best student products, and their near perfect classroom set ups. It's similar to fashion magazines. We are led to believe that the women featured in these articles are always skinny, blemish-free and perfect. So depressing. Just keep in mind that you are seeing them at their airbrushed best. You can get wonderful ideas from these magazine articles and similarly, online teaching posts. I often say to myself, why didn't I think of that?? I learn so much from their innovative ideas. These outstanding teachers are to be admired for their successes, but remember that NO WAY are they that perfect all the time. Just like the rest of us, they make mistakes. There are days when they cry in the car on the way home. There are lessons that don't go as planned. And there are even days when they ask, "What did I get myself into?" Know this is normal for all good teachers who care. Keep it real. Brush yourself off and work to make it better.


2. Focus on what you can control and on what is already working.


Be solution-oriented, not a whiner.  We all "vent" now and then to keep our sanity, but the best teachers move on and and work to improve the situation. They seek out solutions for what they can control. If they can't control it, they figure out how to work around it. Think about the professionals you most respect in your building. I would imagine they are positive go-getters who are solution-oriented. I doubt they waste time on gossip or frequent complaining. They may not have all the answers, but they work hard to find them.


Focus on what has worked. What engages your students? Who works well with whom?  Are there rewards that your students will work toward? Make a deal with your students that you can live with. Write the goal on the board and remind them daily. Have them earn a letter of the goal word each time they meet the goal. As always, be consistent with giving letters. Then celebrate when they reach the goal. Send positive notes home. Use individual behavior plans for students who need more direction. You can find some great positive notes and editable behavior plans in my Behavior Management Pack.




3. Seek out allies who will help you solve problems.

Our job is difficult. Make your life easier by sharing issues and
collaborating with others. 2 or more heads are better than one, and when you need solutions, some of the best ideas come through collaboration. But choose your comrades wisely. I am very fortunate to have a productive team that is supportive and works hard to solve problems. But if the team you meet with daily is not as supportive or productive as you would like, seek out others in your building you can trust to be positive and solution-oriented. I had a friend in our building like that for a number of years before she selfishly retired. :)  I could always bounce ideas off Debbie and she listened. She didn't let me whine too long. Just enough. Then she redirected our conversation on a more productive path and soon I had the beginnings of a solution. I love and miss that lady! Now I feel I have taken on Debbie's role with some people in our building, but I still seek out those individuals who are "Debbie-like." Be like Debbie or find yourself a Debbie! (Debbie and I still meet for lunch once in awhile and I treasure that time with her!)
Above: Not the best picture of my incredible team, but there they are. I was using a selfie-stick that I got as a gift from a student. I need to work on my selfies. LOL (I'll have to find a picture of Debbie...You would love her too!)


4. Communicate about issues early on.


Don't wait until problems escalate. Communicate with the people involved early on.

If there are issues with a student, communicate right away with parents. Keep that line of communication open whether it is through email, notes, phone calls or face to face after school. A wise person once told me that parents believe the first person who describes the incident. Be the first person. The student's story may not jive with yours and you want your version to be heard and understood first. Let them know you are looking for solutions and not just complaining or expecting them to solve it. Be clear that you want to work with them to help their child succeed. Your words and meanings behind those words matter. Document all communications with parents. Keep a piece of paper in each student file where you can jot a quick note including date, form of communication and content of conversation. Print off and keep all email correspondence.

Communicate those student issues with resource people in your building. Don't be afraid to let the principal or assistant principal know what is going on and what interventions you have already tried. Good administrators appreciate teachers reaching out to those who can assist. It is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign that you are willing to go above and beyond to help a student succeed. I like to email my concerns and cc other resource people (counselor, teammates, or anyone else who may need to know). You may have future issues with the student and now you have documentation and proof of reaching out to others. You can't get support if no one knows you are having issues. Start the RTI process early on if needed.


5. Stay positive and take care of YOU!

A positive attitude can go a long way. I know. It's hard sometimes. But your students can sense when you are unhappy or stressed. Their behaviors often reflect your mood, so try not to make things worse with a sour attitude. Choose positive actions that you know work. Like having well thought-out plans to keep the day moving smoothly. We all know that works. Choose activities that are upbeat and keep students engaged. Remember why you are there and why you keep going back. You are making a difference. Your students need you and you care about them. They are learning from you and they are better because of you. 

Take time for you. I try very hard to keep work at school and not drag it home with me. I used to take it all home. Everyday I had a mountain of work. I have learned over the years that this was an unhealthy practice for me. I never had a place I could go that was away from work. Now that I rarely take home work, my home is my sanctuary... a place of peace where my priority is my family and myself. Yes, sometimes I have to stay later at work and I usually get to school early before others, but at least I know when I get home after a long day, I can relax and put my feet up (and have a glass of wine...).

We all have those years, so what survival tips do you have? I'd love to hear from you!


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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Enter to WIN! Memory Book for End of the Year!


Check out the product HERE.
Enter Below! 3 Lucky Winners!
Ends Sunday night, 5/7/17

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Thanks for entering! Winners will be notified by email Monday morning 5/8/17!

Monday, May 1, 2017

End the Summer Slide!

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I know it may be early for some of you, but I couldn't wait to share with you my new 1st Grade Summer Review Pack! We only have about 3 weeks of school left, and while we are continuing to learn and grow, we fear the dreaded summer slide for our students. 

We need to remember that the summer slide is very real, but preventable if we provide our students with the right tools for the summer months

I created this 1st Grade Summer Review Pack product with my own 1st graders in mind. We work so, so hard over the school year on essential reading, language, writing and math skills that I felt I HAD to do something to keep those skills strong so they are confident and ready on the first day of 2nd grade. 

If your school is like mine, the first week back to school is spent testing in reading, writing and math. Yikes! I want those babies of mine to retain those skills we worked so hard to achieve and I want them to shine on the first day back. Imagine how proud and confident they will be when those skills are fresh in their minds.

So, with that in mind, I created a content-rich, NO FLUFF, Common Core aligned summer activities book. Many summer books out there have much less content and lots more fluff. This engaging activities book has a 2-day literacy and math routine with essential skill review in mind. 

This book is so content-rich, it is a perfect supplement to any summer school program for 1st graders entering 2nd grade!

Each day, students complete a page of literacy activities and a page of math activities. This part of their daily routine should be about 10-30 minutes, depending on their skill levels and/or parent support during activity completion. Some literacy activities require reading words and/or sounds repeatedly to an adult. These are the daily drills. It is recommended that parents are there to support during completion of all activities as well as for checking answers upon completion. Answers are included in the back of the book.
Answer Key is included! (Some literacy pages do not require written responses or responses may vary, so those pages are omitted from the answer key.)
Every 10th day is MATH GAME DAY! There are 5 engaging math games included in the activities book for students to play again and again. These games review number sense, number order, addition, subtraction, coins, and more! All they need is dice and something for game pieces. Here are 2 math game examples below:
Another key element to this summer activity book is the reading and math logs. Students set a daily reading goal (like reading for 20 minutes) and a daily math goal (like 5 minutes of flash cards). They keep track on these logs. When they reach a sun, parents can choose to give a small reward of their choice (tablet time, game time, etc.).

This part of the daily routine should be about 25-35 minutes depending on the individual goals set. 
Total time involved each day for completion of all above suggested activities: approximately 35-65 minutes.

In the fall, reward those students who show you their completed books with a prize and a certificate! Get the backing from your PTO to help with funding rewards for students! 
On the last day of school this year, I won't have the summer slide worry for my students that I have had in the past. This year will be different. Each of my first graders will leave with a bound copy of this content-rich summer activity book, 1st Grade Summer Review Pack . I know if they work on it with fidelity, they will be prepared for 2nd grade.

Get a closer look here: 1st Grade Summer Review Pack

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Fluency Phrases to Improve Reading Fluency

May is the month where we make a mad rush to help those students who still need to improve their fluency before the end of the year. We read, reread, do repeated timings, work on word attack, improve our expression, partner read, and so much more. The strategy I have found to work very well with those reluctant to read fluently is to identify and underline phrases.

Some new readers get into a habit of reading. like. this. and. stop. after. every. word. They don't see the phrases or the easy schmeasy words that they can read easily. We need to make them anticipate and see those phrases readily. 

So I gather them together and project a passage onto the white board. They all have their own passages in front of them. We read it together and then go through it underlining phrases. I model and model some more. I model some more by reading those phrases we have underlined. Then they read, and read it again. Then they take it home and read it to an adult.


 

Not brain surgery for sure, but definitely an easy way to get those students who stop in front of every word to read more fluently.

Check out great fluency building products HERE.

Try it! I'd love to hear what you think!

You might also like:
Improving Fluency at the End of the Year
5 Ways to Build Reading Fluency

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Earth Day Linky Party!

I Love the Earth BUNDLE!
93 page Earth Day Bundle!

Endangered Animals Posters and Trading Cards

Endangered Animals Tab Book FREEBIE

Grab one of these Earth Day products or choose from the many wonderful products below! Look closely...there might even be some hidden freebies (like the one above)! Don't forget to leave feedback on the product pages!

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