The Teacher Studio: Learning, Thinking, Creating
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I spent some more time in my disaster of a classroom #justkeepingthingsreal today, and I started unpacking different boxes to begin the process of "reassembly".  I thought it might be fun to share with you a few of my classroom "must haves"!  Note, there are affiliate links in this post.

The first thing I unpacked (because it required no thinking!) was my mobile math cart!  I love being able to move this around my room--from my large group area to ALL the places I meet with small groups.  It has a bin of white boards, a tub of Expo markers and erasers, and then other "stuff" on the bottom shelf that varies depending on what we are studying...could be number lines, manipulatives, calculators, graph paper--you name it!  It keeps all those things at my fingertips and allows students to easily return these items to their proper spot.

The next thing I want to share was a new purchase two years ago--these collapsible book easels.  I have them all around my reading area to showcase new books, books related to a genre we are studying, "forgotten" books (I love finding great books that students may not have heard of to showcase), books I share during a book talk, or even content area books.  I bought a set of them and they are always full!  I also love to have student helpers pick favorite books to highlight as well!

As I unpacked a crate of office supplies, I couldn't help but pause over my prized stapler.  If you are like me, you probably have 9 of them--none of which work well.  This one has been A-MAZE-ING for is like a power stapler that has a super easy "touch".  I am thinking of splurging on a second one--and have given it as a gift to new teachers as well!

OK...let's talk writing utensils.  I have a bit of a problem--I can't lie.  I may or may not have a little problem when it comes to my favorites.  I thought I'd share a few--in case I can spread my love to at least one more teacher.  Let's talk pens first.  I am a bit of a pen snob--and this is my all time favorite! It comes in a few colors--but purple is my I typically buy purple--until I saw the multipack I listed below!  I love the smoothness of the ink and they last a really long time!

Now for markers.  I make a TON of anchor charts, and I really use color to highlight different components of my chart so Mr. Sketch markers are my favorites.  I like that I can use the wide side for titles and the thinner edge for lettering.
But this is only one way I use students' favorite is for signing their assignment books.  Every single day my students fill out their planners, and I'm trying to build good habits with them.  I ask them to share their planner at home with SOMEONE (I don't like to require parents because it puts pressure on families with complicated work schedules, and so on)--it could be a parent, a big sister, a childcare provider--anyone who is home with the student.  If they initial it, that counts!

When the students bring the planner back the next day, I "star" their initial with a smelly marker.  The students love to see which marker I am going to pick...and then on special days (Valentine's Day...Packer get the drift), I may just get a little creative!  I also use the markers to write special comments home like "GREAT job in math today!" or "Max was a great friend today!" or "Ask Anne about her story!".  The bright colors (and smells!) make sure families see the messages and encourage students to share them.
I'm not going to lie--I may have ordered 3 more packs. I started to put together my math area, I was reminded of how I could not live without my pocket charts.  I keep them up on my walls all year and keep a revolving collection of word problems in them.  Sometimes I have them tied to our current unit...sometimes they are "seasonal"...sometimes they are tied to our content (like human body).  I keep a nice collection printed and cut and ready to glue into math spirals!
Want to read a blog post with a few more details about this?  Just click on the image below...
I used to use this chart until I changed the color scheme of my room...but I loved the fact that you could use the charts together or separately.

So there you have it!  My musings after my first day back in my classroom--and some of my "must haves".  I hope you all have a wonderful school year!

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novel study Tiger Rising
That's right.  I couldn't stand it--and that's rare for me!  Several years ago, my team wanted us all to read "The Tiger Rising" to go with our realistic fiction unit, so I read it.  Then I read it again.  And again.  Each time I disliked it more.  I told them that I just couldn't do it--I couldn't invest that much in a book I didn't enjoy myself.  They were fine with I went on a quest for a new book to use.

Here's the deal--the more I thought about it, the more I felt I should do what my team was doing so we could have quality discussions about how we were using the text and so on.  Our unit was a new one, and I felt it would be odd to be the lone defector.  Besides, I reminded myself, it isn't about ME, right?  So I made the commitment to read the book with my class.
novel study Kate di Camillo

So I took it on and we dug in--despite my misgivings.


Seriously...each day as we read my students got deeper and deeper into it and we had some of the BEST discussions I have ever had with fourth graders.  From my top readers to my strugglers, everyone found a way to connect to this text.  We talked about bullying.  We talked about characters.  We talked about death.  We talked about animal cruelty.  But most of all...we talked about how powerful books can stay with you forever.  Another amazing thing happened--students all began to understand that they could HANDLE these very "grown up" texts.

So often we break reading up into its small components--especially for our lower readers--and we don't give them enough time to just immerse themselves in wonderful stories.  I've always said, if a child is reading at a "Henry and Mudge" level, they still MUST be exposed to rich, sophisticated literature or they will never learn how to read it and think about it.  Our read aloud texts are the perfect way to do this.

I am getting ready for my fifth year of reading this book with my students, and I can't wait to see what elements this group relates to the most.  Each year we seem to take a slightly different spin on it, but the effect is the same--books can make us FEEL, and when we can learn to do that with a read aloud, we can learn to do it when we read on our own.  So this fall as we begin our study of this masterpiece, I am reminded that teaching isn't about's about my learners and the interactions and experiences I provide for them.  I can't wait--and a good reminder that we don't have to LIKE something...we just have to be open to learning how to love it!
Kate di Camillo novel study
I even invested in a set of 25 so we could use the text later in the year to "dig deeper" and go hunt for evidence!  We ended up talking about this book and the characters ALL year.
To help me and other teachers really dig into this book, I have also created a novel study to go along with it.  I hope you find it helpful.  Use it to help guide your discussions or to provide occasional writing reflection opportunities. It helps me make sure to maximize the content of the book without having to take copious notes.  See what you think.
novel study

Want to see more about it?  This is an affiliate link if you are interested.

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Today is my day to blog over at Upper Elementary Snapshots, and I'd love for you to stop by and check out my 10 tips for making sure your classroom is a place to nurture life-long readers!  I hope you'll click the image above and check it out!

Don't forget that my new Fraction Webinars start TODAY!  If you haven't signed up, the registration link can be found right HERE.  

It's TIME!  The official Teachers Pay Teachers Back to School Sale is happening today!   I try to not do shameless product plugs...but at these sale times, I do like to showcase some of my favorite products you may not know about.

I also have a freebie if you want to grab it as well! now some of my absolute favorite resources...

My number 1.  My fraction unit.  This unit literally took months and months and was a true labor of love as my students and I worked through it.  I believe it to deepen true understanding of fractions at a level no textbook I have seen provide, and I love that you can use it as a complete replacement unit or use parts of it to supplement a textbook.  

This huge bundle has the fraction unit plus NINE more quality resources for you to use as you immerse your students in fraction work this year.

 Then it gets tricky to choose...

Another set of "favorites" are my word problem bundles because I am PASSIONATE about getting our students to do more problem solving and whether or not you have a series you love, a series you despise, or no series at all--we ALL need to have more word problems on hand to use as class warm ups, cooperative problems solving, stations, and more.  My bundles of word problems are pretty popular and I have gotten lots of feedback about what a time saver they are.  Here are a few!
Another thing I feel pretty passionate about is helping students learn to be independent readers and book lovers!  These two resources have been helpful to hundreds of teachers who are looking for new ways to keep their kids reading, to track their reading, to build excitement about books, and to realize that reading is a personal and enjoyable experience.  The calendars are updated yearly so you only need to buy it one time.

I know lots of you have used my concept sorts over the last year, so I had to include my latest one. If you haven't tried using concept sorts--either that YOU have made or that you got from seriously HAVE to try.  It is so much fun--and you can see how much more deeply your students will think about the topics.  I have more in the works--but this one is a GREAT one for back to school because it really gets them thinking about the concept of "equals"--the foundation of SO much math work!  There are also fraction, multiplication, geometry, and angle sorts available so far in my store--and a bundle as well!
In staying with a math theme, developing number sense is SO important--and many students move to the intermediate grades with a less sophisticated understanding of our place value system than we would like.  Using number limes in an open ended way has really helped me both see where my students' understanding is AND help me create lessons and practice opportunities for them. Last year I created a resource using the numbers 0-1,000 and it was a perfect thing for first quarter.  As the year went on, I realized that I wanted to do more with the higher numbers, so this resource was born!  It is a challenge for many at first, but you will see their understanding grow as you work through these and share ideas as a class. I have both sets available and on sale.
Along the same line, I feel pretty strongly about helping students learn to tackle challenging problems--even problems that may have more than one answer--so that they learn the trait of perseverance.  So often students are unwilling to take risks when they come to my class OR math has always been so easy for them that they don't know what to do when they encounter something tricky.  Thus, "Perseverance Problems" were born.  In my class, I used them in a few different ways--from cooperative problem-solving exercises to challenge work for some of my top students.  This is definitely one of my favorites--so check it out!
Another product line that has made a HUGE difference in my classroom is my Thinker Tasks.  These open ended problems area great for whole class, small groups, or fast finishers.  They are all differentiated and students can work at their own pace--some doing just a bit of it, and others taking full advantage.  There are 7 different products in the line now--and a bundle of all 7 at a reduced price.  See what you think!

Using formative assessment is SO key to making good instructional decisions.  I found myself CONSTANTLY creating exit and entrance slips to go with my lessons--so I created this resource as a time saver!  Each one has a whole bunch of "empty" slips for you to use to tailor to your lessons--almost like graphic organizers.  New to this?  I have given suggestions for use for EACH one!  Check out the preview for me.  I use these ALL. THE.  TIME.
Finally, last year I was complaining to my friend about how my students over the years seem to lack the creativity they had years ago and we chatted and put blame on everything from TV to video games to our textbooks and so on.  I went home that night and decided to do something about it! Over the next months, 6 different "activities" were born and all 6 of them are included in this bundle.  This is rapidly becoming one of my best sellers--and my students LOVE them!  See what you think!
I also am in love with my latest line of novel studies including one for the AMAZING "Fish in a Tree" book.  Have you read it?  If not, I highly highly recommend it!  

And finally, my "Maps and Globes" unit is done...this is how I start the year and it is full of projects, creative thinking, interactive notebook components, assessments, and more.  I am super proud of the level of challenge--AND the level of fun!

You may also know I have a TON of math games...I have started bundling them together in sets of "like" games to make planning easy.  They even have labels included for labeling bags or bins!  Here is one...there are 3 sets so far and more on the way!

So...this is just a small handful of the many products in my store...and after the sale is finished, this post will be hidden from view!  If you end up purchasing any--I'd love to hear what you think!  Stop by my STORE or my FACEBOOK page and check things out!

back to school classroom library
As we move into a new school year, many of us are searching for new systems.  If you are anything like me, you have probably uttered the phrase, "Next year, I am going to be SO much better at...".  And you can fill in the blank.  Better at recording grades...better at keeping your desk clean...better about providing timely feedback to students--we all have tons of areas where we wish we had a system that worked.

Several years ago I created a system for taking status of the class--something I value very much.  I had tried everything...class lists, special forms--you name it.  What I finally came up with was a calendar system...I LOVED being able to see the entire month at a time.  What I REALLY loved was being able to take some anecdotal notes right on the page...and then to use the back to work with students on word work or other decoding skills.  I despise my voice--but I did make a video of this process last year if it helps anyone visualize it.

I so firmly believe that we, as teachers, send messages all day long to our students.  I want one of my crystal clear messages to be--I value you as a reader.  I care about what you are reading--and I can't wait to hear your thoughts.

When we take time every day to hear what our students are reading and to do a brief "mini conference" with them helps us know their reading habits, patterns, and to help coach them to the next level.  See if this video explains it more clearly!

I seriously love knowing what my students are helps me make book recommendations, it helps me know where to focus my instruction, it helps me make small grouping decisions, and it helps students know they are accountable.  It truly is one of my favorite times of the day...and it works toward building that all-important culture for learning.  I actually make each month's calendar on a different colored paper and get them all ready before school starts so each month I can just grab the next stack.

This is a perfect habit to build at the beginning of the school year.  I use it and many of the forms and ideas from THIS RESOURCE to help students understand what independent reading looks like and sounds like in my room.  It is a sacred time in my room, so I want to set the climate from the very first day of school!  It is SO worth investing the time early on to set those routines and expectations.

forms independent reading more item on my "to do" list is to do a little library reorganization.  Since reorganizing last time, I've added some new series and need to make some new book bin tags.  I LOVE how my library is organized and my students can use it totally independently which is so important to me.  One of my favorite times in those first weeks is a one-on-one conference I do with each child IN MY CLASSROOM LIBRARY where I get a feel for what they like and don't like, and so on.  We start their "books I can't wait to read" list during that time and make sure everyone has a book to get started on.  Even 5-6 minutes per student can give you SO much information about them as readers!

Interested in how I organize my classroom library?  Just click the image below.  Disclaimer.  I despise my voice in this video as well...but sometimes "seeing" makes it easier.  I do not organize books by level as I believe students need to learn how to pick books on their own that interest them and are "good fits" so we work on that extensively at the beginning of the year.
reader's workshop independent reading of the first things I start to think about for "back to school" is getting ready for a great year of literacy--so I hope these gave YOU some ideas as well!

Building a relationship with each and every reader in our class is so important--and SO much fun!  This is what reading is all about...helping develop life-long book lovers!  Thanks for stopping by.

Interested in the calendars?  Just click the image below.  They are updated each year so you don't ever need to repurchase.
reader's workshop independent reading

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