Wednesday, April 8, 2015


If you haven't visited VistaPrint yet, let me encourage you to do so! I love personalized things and VistaPrint allows you to customize items such as business cards, post cards, and note cards. They have templates you can customize or you can upload your own. I can spend hours there making up things!

Another thing I love is sending and receiving real mail, not just email. There's something special when you think that a person sat down and gave five or ten minutes of their time to write a note and mail it. I usually send postcards each year to welcome students to my class and I always write them by hand just because I think it is more meaningful and special to the student. (I usually started writing them one or two at a time in June, so by the time the start of school rolled around in August, all I had to do was add the student's name and address.) Another thing I send to students is a Good News card. If I notice a student doing something worthy of praise, sometimes I choose to jot it down on a postcard to send it home. This is a great way to build parent - school relations and the kids always enjoy getting a card in the mail.

Here's what I ordered from VistaPrint today:

Good News Postcards

Welcome to my class! Postcards

No Homework Pass - This is made from a business card template.

Hard Work Club / Free Bonus Points Card - Another made from a business card template.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Planning Ahead

I'm a planner. There. I've said it. I plan ahead and I make lists like nobody's business. I write things down on my to-do list just so I can get the satisfaction of checking them off! It makes me feel like I've accomplished something (and that's good on days when I don't feel like accomplished a lot at school).

And I must admit that now, even as we are in the midst of a school year with about six more weeks to go, I am already planning for the next school year. Who doesn't plan ahead? I started planning for next year on the first day of school this year...."Wow, that lesson went well! I should do that again next year!" or "Yikes, that activity tanked. Don't repeat that one."

Anyway, I LOVE me some composition notebooks. I buy these in bulk at the start of school and stash them away. I use these to jot notes in during faculty meetings or team meetings, or just to record my thoughts or ideas. I just recently (literally thirty minutes ago) broke out a notebook to use for planning 2015-2016.

I don't like plain black and white marble covers. I like to cover them with scrapbook paper and then customize the cover for whatever purpose the notebook is being used for and then laminate the low cost way (in other words, I cover it with clear packing tape!). Here's my guide to covering a composition notebook cover at Cafe1123.

I'm using handy-dandy Post-It tabs to divide the notebook into three sections:

1. Classroom Climate - Somehow in the jump between teaching third and fourth I didn't realize that the kids still need a LOT of social teaching and reinforcing. I'm looking for ideas on prosocial behaviors, behavior management, and classroom management (in other words, I'll be cruising pinterest a lot!). This is the section of the notebook that I'll jot down those types of ideas in.

2. Content - I'm also looking for new and fresh ideas for teaching math and science topics. This is where I will jot those down.

3. To-Do - Can't go without a section for my to-do list! This is where I'll have my running to do lists, but I'm not going to mark off many pages for this section.

I find it handy to always have a notebook nearby. You never know when a great idea is going to hit and you want to jot it down before you forget!

Geometry Charts

I love making anchor charts. As a literacy teacher I made charts all. the. time. My all time favorite one was a cause and effect chart I made with the Titanic on it. Kids love the Titanic and boy did they pay attention to that one! I drew a ship cruising into a floating piece of ice for the cause, and then I drew the bottom of the ship poking out of the water for the effect. The kids loved it!

This year I've been so busy trying to learn the lay of the land in math that I haven't had time to make charts, so my room has been pretty bare. (That's sad...but I'll do better next go round for sure!) Anyway, we are right in the middle of a unit on angles...we've been measuring angles, classifying angles, naming angles, sorting angles, and so on. Here are a few charts I've made about angles. I'll try to keep up with photographing the charts as I make more.

Tip: I do laminate my charts and reuse them from year to year. When not in use, I roll them up and store them in clorox wipe containers or pringles cans by unit. So when I taught reading, all my cause and effect charts were in a can together, all my context clues charts were in a different can together, and so on. This made it easy to sort them and easy to find.

2F, or Feedback Friday

2F necklace from our very first Feedback Friday - (2F because Feedback and Friday both start with F, and the glitter because my partner in crime is all about the sparkles!)

My state is a Common Core state and our students take the PARCC assessment. After giving the practice test in February, my colleagues and I noticed that there were several questions that asked students to evaluate a person's work for errors. Our kids needed more practice with this concept, but we weren't sure how to go about it in a way that was engaging for the students. From our talks and brainstorming, Feedback Friday was born....on a Thursday afternoon at 4:30! Don't you find the best ideas always come at the last minute?

Each day our students begin with some sort of opening activity, whether it is answering questions on a daily warmup, working on an application problem, or some other meaningful task. On Fridays during the months of February and March, students engaged in Feedback Friday activities. Students were given a real student work sample (that we copied and removed the student names from) and were asked to evaluate the work. Did the writer truly explain as the question asked them to do? Did they include all the elements that they were supposed to include in their answer? Was their reasoning sound? Did the writer make an error? What would you say to the student who wrote this paper?

This worked well with our students. Our kids needed to see real life work - they needed to see another fourth grader's response to a problem. It made it more real for them to know that the work was from another student in our building, not just an imaginary person made up. They also needed to truly understand what explaining meant (more on that in another post to come) - explaining means more than just writing "I know my answer is four" - and the amount of writing truly involved in explaining. They needed to see examples of good student work and examples of student work that could use improvement. Using the gradual release model, kids need a lot of practice doing this together, both as a class or working in teams or partners, before being able to do this independently.

We still do Feedback Friday every so often. Kids need a good handle on the content before they can truly evaluate a work sample beyond the basic "They answered all the questions" or "I agree, the answer is correct." Building the ability to respond to these types of questions takes lots of time and lots of practice. We'll start with Feedback Friday at the beginning of the school year next year and see where it takes us.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Thanks for stopping by! This is where I'll post my thoughts, ideas, and experiences from my classroom. Stay tuned! If you would like to see my previous posts on literacy, visit my other blog at Cafe 1123.