Gift of Reading Blog Hop

Guess what?  I'm not dead.
I know I haven't blogged in a while...but I have good news.  Today I will be sharing a freebie with you.

Some of my FB friends have gotten together to spread holiday cheer with FREEBIES!

Has this ever happened to you?  
You wake up 5 minutes late.  
You realize you forgot to pack your daughter's lunch. You pour a cup of coffee & realize you're out of creamer.  
By the time you walk out of the house you're running 10 minutes late.  
Yes, this has happened to me.  Okay, it happens more than I want to admit.  

My sanity saver is Bell Work.  It gives my students something to do while I'm getting things adjusted and drinking my coffee.  When I taught 3rd Grade Reading, my class began at 7:45!  Who's idea was it to start school before I finished my coffee?  I relied heavily on Bell Work.  My usual Bell Work was a short passage and questions that spiral reviewed the past few weeks of standards.  I like this format because it allows most students to be successful and it spotlights the students who need a little extra help.  
My freebie today is a Winter Themed Sampler of my STAAR Style Spiral Review/Bell Work.

Hop over to Emily's blog - she has some cute Cootie Catchers for you!

This Little Piggy plans to blog a lot more this Thanksgiving Break, check back!


Blasting Off the Year with High Flying Ideas!

Do you need a few new ideas to spruce up your reading instruction?  Today is your day!  A few of my bloggie friends and I are celebrating the new school year with some tips and tricks we use in our own classrooms.  

Today, I am going to share a creative graphic organizer strategy that I like to use with informational text.  I am a big fan of graphic organizers and Thinking Maps.  I think they help with both comprehension and critical thinking skills.  

Two years ago, our 4th and 5th Graders took a Field Trip to NASA in Houston.  Although my 3rd Graders couldn't attend the field trip, there was a lot of buzz about all things NASA.  So, we studied Ellen Ochoa and made pencil rockets.  This is the graphic organizer we used. 
If you like graphic organizers as much as I do, you can stop by my TPT Store and grab this quick freebie.  

Jana at Thinking Out Loud has a great book suggestion for you!


For my Decorating Challenged Friends

So, since you're my Teacher Bloggie Friends (yes, I call you this to my IRL friends), I'm going to admit something to you.  I have been teaching eleven years and more years than not I have had an
UGLY Classroom
You heard me right, "UGLY."  The first few years I taught Middle School.  Middle School Teachers don't decorate very elaborately.  In fact, if they put up a few cute or pretty bulletin boards and other teachers come around and ooohhh and aaahhh all over them.

Fast forward a few years when I was teaching Elementary School.  Pinterest wasn't around back then. Someone thought they were saving me from my ugly classroom & suggested I choose a theme.
Oh, a theme.  Great idea!!  
So I did what any good teacher would do.  I went to my local teacher store and I found a theme I liked (Hollywood Movies) and I bought all of the posters, decorations, border and even a matching calendar set.  I decorated in black, red, yellow and splashes of silver.
HATED it.  
So, how did I become #decorating unchallenged?  Pinterest of course!!   These tips are things I have learned throughout the years through trial and error.  I am by no means claim to be a professional decorator. Remember, these tips are for beginners who want to create a cohesive learning environment.  If you're passed that point, these tips might seem mundane.    
Start with a plan.  This is going to look different for everyone.  I print everything out & put it together in a folder.  It might seem overwhelming to the #decorating challenged but you can do it in a weekend.  
My plan:
-make a list of my "must haves" (ie: word walls, objectives board, centers, etc...)
-sketch out the layout of my classroom
-use pinterest to find inspiration
-print example bulletin boards
-sketch out the bulletin boards that I want & label them with colors
Decide on your anchor color - black, brown, charcoal, white, navy (furniture might dictate this).  Choose 2 -3 accent colors.  These might be dependent upon the butcher paper at your school.  If you don't want to use butcher paper, fabric is a great choice as well.  

I lean toward lime/turquoise/pink...but when I moved into my new classroom last year I found an UGLY orange wall.  So, my colors changed a bit.  I went with lime/aqua/tangerine.  
I'm specifically talking about bulletin boards now (they might already be in your room or you might make them).  With my current position, I am in and out of a lot of classrooms in a variety of grade levels.  The biggest mistake I see when I walk into rooms is random colored bulletin boards with wild borders - all mismatched and crazy looking.  If you want to do seasonal or decorative borders, I would highly suggest covering your bulletin boards in your anchor color. 

For the best results, go with 2 colors of butcher paper (the anchor color & 1 accent) and 1 or 2 colors of border.  An example of this was when I did brown & sky blue butcher paper with apple green/white polka-dot and pink borderette.  It was so calming!  It wasn't too girly. I made some little birdies out of scrapbook paper and used them to decorate.  It was my favorite room so far.  
Buying things from a teacher store isn't horrible.  But, I remember one day a mentor teacher telling me, " I can't explain it but your room looks cold and her (a teacher friend) room looks warm and inviting."  YES, I do hate it when administration compare teachers.  It creates a competitive culture not a supportive culture.    

What makes it warm and inviting?  A few hand-made things.  Start with 3 hand-made items.  

I hear you.  You're not a Crafty Teacher, then I would suggest buying a few things to make your room feel homey --  lamps and pillows.  
Paint is NOT my friend.  My mom does my spray painting.  Maybe your grandma gave you a vintage stool in her garage, spray paint it to match your room and voila re-purposed and homey all in one!!
This Little Piggy wants to know, how has Pinterest helped you grow as a teacher?            


Creative Teacher - Giveaway!

As back to school approaches, teachers become "busy bees".  A couple of my bloggie friends decided we'd put together a 'crafty' spin on a blog hop.  As you hop through you can enter rafflecopters to win hand-crafted school related items.

Today, I'm going to show you how I made a cute Classroom Library/Reading Center Pillow that brings that comfortable, homey feeling to my classroom.  My students love to use the pillows when they read.
You will need just a few supplies.  The material of your choice (I bought a flat quarter for $2, you can buy a quarter of a yard), Heat-n-Bond (a quarter to half of a yard), material scissors, letters to trace and 1 pillowcase.
Iron the material (no creases).  Layout your Heat-n-Bond so that it covers your material, but doesn't go off of the material (tip: don't iron it to your ironing board)  Iron flat.  
Cut out any letters or designs.  If you have a Silhouette Cameo it should do it for you.  I printed letters onto cardstock, cut them out, laid them backward and traced them onto the Heat-n-Bond.  Remember to trace the letters backward!  
Cut out the letters (tip: don't leave your material scissors at school over the summer, like I did).  Then, lay out the letters onto the pillowcase to find a design you like.  
Finally, iron down the letters!  Iron a few times to ensure that the edges adhere to the pillowcase.  You can put frey-check around the edges if you want to.  The good news, if an edge begins to pull away from the fabric, you can just iron it back down. 

For today's Giveaway, I made a "READ" Pillowcase you can win for your classroom library!  The material colors are blue-green-pink-orange-brown (it looks like black, but is brown) and will match a variety of classroom designs.  My classroom colors are lime and turquoise and this actually matches fairly well.  I know some people have allergies and you should know that this craft was made in a home with a small family dog.  The winner must be a classroom or homeschool teacher, they must live in the contiguous US and all entries will be verified. 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you want to look at all the crafts, continue along the blog hop.  Your next stop is Mrs. Payton's Precious Kindergarteners!  


Class Dojo - 2 Thumbs Up

Today we are winding down my Behavior Management Mini-Series.  Today's topic is one I am incredibly interested in because it has a parent notification element.  Parent Communication is kind of a "buzz word" at my school.  
 Today we're looking at Class Dojo.  Since the website pretty much holds your hand and walks you through how to set it up and how to use it in your classroom, I wanted to get real teacher's opinions about how it worked for them - what they liked, what they didn't like, etc...

I interviewed 7 teachers from a variety of elementary grades and 7 out of 7 said they used it and liked it!

All 7 teachers said that their students enjoyed hearing the little dings knowing that someone earned a point. 

Last year I read a parent written article about ClassDojo that claimed it made her child feel bad to hear the dings.  So, I was a bit worried that it would be a negative reinforcement, but all 7 teachers interviewed said it was much more of a Positive Reinforcement.  

Bex Mawn from Reading and Writing Redhead reinforced that it could be used in a positive manner.  "I liked it because it was a quick, easy and visual way of reinforcing behaviors. I mostly used it reinforce positive behaviors. I could also have the scree off and then the kiddos would just hear the sound."

Caroline from Giggles and Grades with Mrs. Gallagher made a great point, "I loved using Class Dojo! I had always used the card flip previously. I feel like kids were to focused on their color and other kids colors. I know my niece who was in kindergarten this year would always tell me what color a boy in her class was on (because he'd always get in trouble). I think the kids were more focused on themselves with Class Dojo- which is how it should be."

Miss Martin from Miss Martin's Classroom said something that intrigued me as an Upper Elementary Teacher.   "I was worried that the little monster characters would seem babyish to my fourth graders but they loved it! They became infatuated with seeing their graph throughout the day and trying to do better than yesterday. It was almost like a game, and yet it was giving me constant data! When I showed them their individual graphs throughout the day, we could have a quick, meaningful discussion about what the positive and negative points were for (because it listed it clearly at the bottom)." #Data
Both Teresa Kawant and K's Kreations both said they used Class Dojo to give classroom incentive parties, which is something I hadn't thought about.

K's Kreations also said her parents liked that she used Class Dojo. "I had many parents tracking data daily. It was a great tool to send home quick messages and updates directly to the parents. I always print a copy of the reports at the end of the week for the families without internet."

Getting Nerdy with Gerdy commented that parents would email her to ask about negative behaviors. Jessica Hamilton from Hanging Out in First says, "My parents LOVE class dojo! Many of them have the app on their phone and are able to track their child's behavior throughout the school day." Jessica also has a blog post with a freebie about using Class Dojo, click here to read it.

This Little Piggy thinks I'll definitely give it a try next year!  What about you?


Behavior Management: Around the Holidays

I'm smack dab in the middle of my Blog Mini-Series: Behavior Management.  I've learned after 10 years that the magic of a behavior plan is to go in with a plan!  It takes multiple components to make it work.  High expectations, routines, communication and teamwork.  

Imagine this:  I'm a 3rd Grade Teacher, it's the end of the 2nd 6-weeks and about 99% of my kiddos understand and follow our classroom rules/procedures.  PERFECT!  Well, now it's the week before Thanksgiving and all of a sudden those little Monsters are coming out!!!
I'm pretty sure you know what I'm talking about.  They can't walk down the hall in a straight line, they are chatting a little more than normal during group work and they feel a little too comfortable with you and start pushing buttons.  Am I the only one?   

A few years ago I heard myself say, "I know that you understand the hallway expectations, but you aren't following them.  Why not?" When I went home, I scoured Pinterest and found a few solutions.  First, I found the Classroom Elf.  Ahh, cute idea, but it isn't Christmas time yet.  I also found the idea to put letters on my (then) chalkboard that spelled N-O-I-S-E and take a letter away each time the students "got too loud or didn't follow directions". Then, they would lose a privilege. It didn't work for my kids.  They need positive reinforcement, not negative.  

I took the strategy and tweaked it to work for me.  I put the letters P-A-R-T-Y on pieces of construction paper and every time my class (whole-group) followed directions in the hallway, they would earn a letter.  If they earned all of their letters by Friday, we would have a party.  They did and I brought Little Debbie Snacks, but my 3rd Graders NEVER got snack time, so they loved it!  

I want you to know that on a day-to-day basis, I don't hold the whole group responsible for behavior.  I believe in personal responsibility.  I also don't enjoy punishing the "great student" when they were great all day long.  So this incentive doesn't affect each student's daily behavior log.  

Let's be serious, it's a bribe or a ploy.  And I am well aware that it doesn't work in every school or for every teacher.  It works in my school and my principal supports/encourages it.  

If your students need a little behavior incentive prior to a Holiday Break, I've made a special pack just for you!  For the month of July, the pack is $1!  In August it will return to regular price.    
A noise freebie might help you regulate the incentives.  I found 2 free noise meters you should check out.
Picture Courtesy of Totally Terrific in Texas  
Next, I found www.bouncyballs.org an online site that allows your students to self-monitor.  As the balls, bubbles or eyeballs jump up & down it lets the kids see how loud they are being.  I picked the eyes because I thought this would be great in the Fall around Halloween!!  How cute!  FYI - make sure you let the kids get loud, otherwise they will on purpose to see the balls jump around.    

This Little Piggy hopes you can find something that works for you!


Behavior Management: What do you do when you don't have a "normal" classroom?

I'm continuing my Behavior Management Mini-Series today.  As you read yesterday, I am a fan of the clip chart.  Not just the clip chart, but the clip chart as part of a working system that you, your students, your team & the parents all understand.  But, what happens when you don't have a "normal" classroom?

This year I moved positions not a shocker to my dream job of teaching an enrichment pull-out class for GT Students.  I love my job!  In this blog entry,  I discussed a few issues I encountered with this position.  The main issue I experienced was that I saw my students at max 4 times per month.  I have pretty high expectations for following classroom procedures and I felt as if I was teaching them every time I saw the students.  

I got this position in August of 2013.  So, I had everything planned out for my classroom and suddenly, I had to change it all!!  I didn't see 3 classes per day, I saw 1 class each day.  I changed things up, but decided to keep the clip chart.  
I put each day's clips into zipper pouches and labeled them for each day I had a class.  I also assigned 1 person per day to be in charge of putting their clips in the zipper pouch and putting the next day's clips on the chart at the end of the day.  It turned out, 5th Graders didn't really buy into the clip chart like my 3rd Graders did.  
I didn't have a lot of behavior issues.  I only saw my students once a week, it was a project based classroom that encouraged groups to talk and explore.  I also used a lot of technology & let's be serious, technology =engagement.  I did have a few issues with one class in particular, which I attribute to the school norms/expectations at their home school.   

So, next year I've been throwing around the idea of implementing "behavior tags".  I have over 60 students per week, so I need to figure out how the students will keep up with the tags and what incentives I should have.  

Another option for next year is Class Dojo.  Join me Friday as I interview other teachers and find out how they liked Class Dojo.

This Little Piggy hopes you're learning a little this week.