Sunday, May 22, 2016

Stress Free Teaching Tips and Giveaway!

I'm so excited for today's post! I know how stressful it can be as a teacher. You work hard all.year.long helping students do their very best! That's why this post is for you! I'm going to share a few tips I've used to help me unwind during the summer months that will hopefully help you out as well. Even better? I'm giving away a great prize as well! But the best part? I've joined some of my other blogging friends, and they are ALSO giving away some fun treats! Read on to learn about my tips for your stress free summer, to enter my giveaway, and to find the links to my friends' giveaways too. :)
So what are some of my stress free summer tips?
Are you a teacher? Are you stressed? Going into the summer months, we want to share a few tips to help you de-stress and unwind this summer. Plus we have a GIVEAWAY! Click through to see how you can win some great items! But act quickly because this deal ends on May 28, 2016.1.  Remember that our "summers off" gives us the chance to recharge at a different pace; we all work throughout the summer--whether we are reading new materials, organizing our digital and physical resources, coming up with new lessons, learning new get the picture.  Remember to pace yourself and do a little bit of work throughout the summer so you don't feel swamped at the start of the school year.

2.  The second part of the first tip--give yourself SOME time completely away from school!  Whether you take the month of July off...or never work after 2 pm...or only work on Mondays and Tuesdays--let yourself recharge for chunks of time throughout the summer.  We have a VERY stressful job and we owe it to our students to come back refreshed.

3.  Challenge yourself to try something new this summer--something NON school related.  Read a book that you have been hearing about.  Try growing tomatoes.  Take an art class or go to a painting night.  Rent a tandem bike.  ANYTHING that is new for you--and find someone fun to share the experience with!

4.  Reconnect.  As the school year goes on, I know my family does less together.  I don't talk with my friends and neighbors as often.  I go into survival mode.  Summer is the time to rebuild those lost connections.  Invite people over for a fire.  Take a walk through the neighborhood.  Slow yourself down.

5.  Treat yourself.  Whether you get yourself a pedicure, buy a new pair of fun sandals, splurge at the bookstore, sleep in until 9:00, or buy that giant treat at the bakery--summer is the time to splurge a little bit!

6.  Make yourself a little bit healthier.  Try yoga.  Reduce your soda intake (GULP!).  Exercise more or differently.  Try to add more vegetables into your diet.  Sleep more.  This "tip" is put in ESPECIALLY for me--because this summer I am setting some major goals in this area!

If we could all take some time to do these six things this summer, I think we will be a little more prepared and "centered" as we tackle our next group of students so we can give them our very best!

Whether you are still teaching and could use some last minute resources--or are already done and want to start thinking ahead for next year, who couldn't use a Teachers Pay Teachers gift card and some free resources from my store?  While I'm not asking you to sign up to follow me in any way, I certainly would appreciate you following me in any of the ways listed here: Newsletter (you get a FREEBIE when you sign up!), Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+. I appreciate the follow, but remember - for this giveaway it is not necessary.  Check out the links in the upper corner of my blog or check the rafflecopter for ways to enter.  That's it! Please enter the rafflecopter below for your chance to win.  
a Rafflecopter giveaway

  As awesome as my giveaway is, I'm excited to share that my fellow blogging buddies are doing their own stress free teacher giveaways too! Click on each link below to check them out. 

  Amy from Teaching in Blue Jeans 
  Heather from HoJo's Teaching Adventures 
  Jennie from JD's Rockin Readers 
  Jodi from Clutter Free Classroom Kalena from Teaching Made Practical 
  Meg from The Teacher Studio 
  Tammy from The Owl Teacher   

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Increasing Independence with Book Clubs!

Check out my post over at Upper Elementary Snapshots today!  Check out some of my best ideas for planning and implementing book clubs with your intermediate students.  I'd love to hear what you think--and to hear YOUR ideas about using book clubs!   Just click the picture above and check out today's post!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Decimal Sequencing and Critiquing Reasoning

"A well-crafted argument/critique requires a thoughtful and logical progression of mathematically sound statements and supporting evidence."
Pretty powerful words when you think about it, right?  Let's look at a few of the phrases:


thoughtful and logical

mathematically sound

supporting evidence

Pretty sophisticated stuff for fourth graders, right?

Not so fast.  Consider this simple activity.  We are deep into our studies of decimals through the hundredth place, and I really wanted to see if my students had fully grasped some of the misconceptions that we had been seeing in recent days--for example, that 5.4 and 5.40 have two different values.  I put my students into groups of three and handed each group a small collection of decimal cards.  I asked them to practice reading the decimals aloud (checking to make sure everyone in the team was confident with this) and then asked them to have a discussion about what whole number each was closest to.  I reminded them to use clear math language--and as I circulated, I listened for words like "tenths", "hundredths", and to hear if students were using what they know about halfway points between whole numbers.  Overall, things seemed pretty stellar!

I decided to push things a little bit farther by showing them these "category cards"--but instead of just using the "Close to 0", "Close to 1", and other whole number cards, I added in cards like "Close to 1 1/2", "Close to 2 1/2", and so on.  I asked the students to continue their discussion with their decimal cards by deciding if their decimals were ACTUALLY closer to those halfway points.  Now things got a little interesting!
After my students were convinced they had things right--I took them down the hall where I placed all the category headings in order and had the students place their decimals in the correct category.  I started down at the low end and called for all decimals close to 0...then all those close to 1/2...and so on.
When all the cards were placed, we worked to sequence the decimals in each category--and had some great discussions about  place value and how we KNOW what order is correct. 
As the process unfolded, we found some decimals that we couldn't get agree on.  Time to critique reasoning!  At this point, I really stressed the point that in order to truly "critique", students needed to have a clear point, use correct and mathematically sound language, and be able to give examples and evidence that would make their point clear to other students. 
 This became particularly true when we tried to place this one!  Where should 1.25 go--is it closer to 1 or closer to 1 1/2?  The debate raged--we had "Team Rounding" who was convinced that because the "5" made it "round up", that this card should be placed closer to the 1.5.  The other team felt this wasn't meant to be rounded--and that the number should go exactly halfway between the two.  
By the time the debate was over, people were satisfied (most anyway!), that this arrangement worked--and that unless we are TOLD to round, we have to follow the directions clearly.  And, in this case, they were told to put the cards in the category that the numbers were closest to--and for a few numbers they could NOT be placed in any one category but had to fit between them.  Not bad for a 25 minute math warm up, right?

These cards are a part of my Decimal Sequencing Activities.
I have similar activities for FRACTIONS and LARGE NUMBERS and a BUNDLE OF ALL THREE as well!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Teaching Tips for Concept Sorts!

Have you used concept sorts in your classroom?  If you have followed my blog for a while, you know that I use concept sorts regularly--and have posted a number of times about different ways I use them.  Click HERE and HERE for two of those posts!

Today I want to talk about a geometry sort I did the other day to "take the temperature" of my class after a few days of instruction about points, lines, segments, and rays and the terms "intersecting", "parallel", and "perpendicular".  Although I wasn't surprised at all the misconceptions, I am ALWAYS surprised at how many NEW misconceptions I discover!  If you are looking for a way to get much deeper math talk going on in your classrooms, concept sorts are truly an amazing (and easy to prepare!) way to force students to share their thinking and have great mathematical discourse.  Check out some pics from this week's sort!  I'd love to hear from any of you using sorts--and tell me if you think you've noticed an improvement in YOUR students' mathematical thinking!

 My students can get their sorts cut in just a few minutes now...they divide and conquer by each taking a sheet, then cutting the 8 cards in half, stacking them, then cutting them apart.  Voila!
 This is have to model (and if you have a group doing this well, try doing a fishbowl so the students can see this in action).  Students, by nature, want to just grab a stack of cards and put them into categories.  The assertive students take over, the passive ones sit back helplessly, and NO learning happens.  Show them how to take one card at a time to discuss it, interact with it--and make sure that all students are a part of it!  Watch for this as you teach...if you see students rushing, slow them down--even if they don't get through the entire stack.
 As you walk around, listen for the dialogue and interject when needed..."Is it possible for two segments to be perpendicular if they don't touch?" (YES!) or "Can two lines intersect if they don't cross?" (YES!).  Try to ask questions that get them thinking without TELLING them!  

 This is huge--and a piece of mathematics instruction we often overlook.  For this sort, I started off by NOT giving my students the category headers.  I wanted to see HOW they organized their cards on their own....and it allowed me to plan some instruction.  For example, one group made 14 categories--some of which only had one card!  We had a great talk about what makes good categories and then I handed out the four header cards.  Students then worked to reshuffle their groups to align to the new categories.  I also called groups over to look at this group's work because they were keeping everything all lined up rather than in piles all over the floor.  It makes it much easier to compare cards when they are neatly arranged.
Some groups are pretty convinced that they have everything correct, and if I want the other groups to have a little more time, I ask them to use the blank cards to try to make more examples for each category that are NOT found on any of the other cards.  This asks them to really apply what they know and to work together to do so.
 After my groups have their categories, we do a gallery walk where they travel as a team to check out the other groups and have some math discussions about what they see.  They look for similarities and differences and work to use that specific math vocabulary as they explain their thinking.
 As they worked, I asked my students to put a yellow mark on the cards where they struggled to come to agreement.  As they did their gallery walks, they looked to see if other groups had the same struggles!  After the gallery walk, I collected these cards for our class discussion.  One by one, I put these tricky cards under the document camera and we had "debates" as a class and looked for ways to prove our thinking...from lining up rulers to check for intersections to revisiting definitions. (If lines go on forever, don't they intersect even if the drawing doesn't show it?  YEP!).  This was a great time for me to hit home some of the big concepts I needed them to have--and for them to hear the thinking of others.
So...there was a LOT of math thinking that took place during this 45 minute lesson!  Hope this gave you some ideas about what you could try in YOUR class!  Let me know how it goes!  Want to see a few of my concept sort resources?  Here are a few of them! (Check my store for the custom category "Concept Sorts" for more!)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Task cards for "big kid" interventions!

If you are like me, you are frequently frustrated with the options for interventions for struggling readers in the intermediate grades.  No matter how low a student is, a 10 year old doesn't really want to read "Henry and Mudge" or "Billy's New Shoes"--not when their friends are reading and understanding Percy Jackson and Diary of a Wimpy Kid!

That being said, we know that students need "just right" instruction and just right books to read.  There ARE some great series starting to appear on the market that look like more "grown up" books with high interest topics yet at accessible reading levels.  The "Branches" books seem to really be getting this concept, and I am about to invest some money in more of them to appeal to those struggling readers who are several grade levels behind!  (I included a few links at the bottom of this post if you haven't seen these books)

What about those "gray area students--the ones who might slip through the cracks?

For those students who are CLOSE to grade level, I try to find short interventions that don't take away from their independent reading time but give me some one-on-one time working on critical reading skills like fluency, context clues, and inferential thinking.  After getting tired of scrambling for short and appropriate texts, last year I made some task cards with short text selections that were PERFECT for these 5-6 minute daily meetings.  It kept ME organized (no scrambling for resources), they were high interest for my students, they didn't interrupt their regular reading, I could get through 5-6 students daily, AND I saw the carry over into their regular reading. 

I was sold!

I started with a few groups early this year but in recent weeks, a few more students have "graduated" from their more intense interventions with a specialist and now are in my room daily with no support. I wanted to make sure they weren't left totally on their own during reader's workshop right away, so I wanted to meet with them daily to do some fluency and inferring work--at a more fourth grade level.  
I love this set of cards because there are so many teaching points on each one--and they are only a few sentences long!  We can work on our fluency--because the cards are designed to have a variety of "clues" that impact fluency--dialogue, bold words, words in all capitals, as well as a variety of punctuation hints (commas in a series, and so on).  There are so many talking points with students--and they can read and reread these short cards really quickly to practice each new concept.

In addition to the fluency work, the cards are written in such a way that students need to imagine the situation--and talk about what might have happened before and what might happen after.  This ability to infer enough to place a situation--as well as to infer about character feelings and actions is so critical as students move into more complicated texts.  After working with these cards, it's great to dig into their independent reading books and then find similar situations where we can ask the students to make inferences about characters, settings, and events.

To keep my life easy, I simply keep a recording sheet for each student--and in that short 5-6 minutes, we usually tackle two cards and I jot my notes--words they might have missed, teaching points they struggled with, or other notes I want to remember.  It keeps it all in one place and helps me know what cards we have done and how they are progressing.
So...consider seeking out some really short texts to try some of these strategies--reading for fluency for "big kids"--looking for those trickier punctuation and comprehension clues as well as considering different inferring skills.  Whether you pull small selections out of your read aloud, use poems, write them yourself, or want to try these cards--these little frequent "mini interventions" have been REALLY effective for my students.  Give it a try!
Want to read another post about a "context clues" intervention group I did earlier this year?  Just click here to check it out!

Like I said in this older post, ideally, these students would get endless one-on-one attention, but the reality is that there is only one of me.  These students are also the same ones who struggle with their independent reading--so not much reading gets accomplished.  Pairing their 30 minutes of independent reading with this assortment of 5-10 minute mini-interventions from me is a nice blend of reading experiences.  Students are learning to read--and they are feeling like they are developing into "real" readers.

Here are a few of the task card sets I have used with success in my class.  I'm open to suggestions for my next set! 

Interested in looking at those Branches books?  Here are a few--but there are lots more!

The Teacher Studio is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Sunday, April 17, 2016

3 Formative Assessment Tips: Coaching Misconceptions in Math

One thing I know to be true...

Most struggling students do not do their best learning during large group instruction.  Sometimes, even small group instruction isn't enough.  Some students just need coaching--pure and simple.  

Of course, we can't do one on one instruction for 25 students every day.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out.  But we can work to get better and grabbing these precious moments with students whenever we can.  Knowing how to "spend" your intervention minutes is an integral part of what we do.

One way I make sure to touch base with students who need it is to use entrance slips OFTEN.  I use entrance slips several times per week to do any of the following:

1.  See how students are doing on a topic we are working on

2.  See how students have retained a topic we did days/weeks/months ago

3.  See how much students already know about a topic we are about to cover.

Sometimes these slips are purely computation based like those shown above.  We are currently working on partial quotients division, so nearly every day I do an entrance slip to see how my students are doing.  Sometimes the slips are more open ended or problem-based.  It all depends on what information I am trying to collect.

What is most important to me is the next step...I quickly sort their slips and "see what I can see".  I do this AS the students are turning them in whenever possible because I want to be ready to address misconceptions in any spare time I have.  These slips aren't meant to be taken as a "grade" (although often I record them because I can't remember ANYTHING these days), but are meant to guide my instruction.  After all, what "grade" do you give a child who gets one out of three division problems wrong?  What if it was a simple fact error?  What if they got all three wrong and it was simply because they didn't include the remainder?

So what I do is simple...after sorting the slips into groups based on levels of  success, I have one of three options:

1.  Do I really need to reteach the entire class?

2.  Do I have a group that has similar needs--not necessarily the same number wrong--but are making the same mistake(s)?

3.  Do I have some individual needs that are best met in a one-on-one conference?

By asking these three questions, you can make decisions on the fly as to how to spend your precious minutes!  Yesterday I did the entrance slip pictured below.  We are on about day 4 of "partial quotients" and we've been doing a LOT of collaborative work.  It was time to start honing in on who was getting it and who was not.  Today, learned that . . .

1.  I did NOT need to back up and reteach the entire class.

2.  I did NOT have a small group that needed reteaching.

3.  I DID have 5 students I wanted to confer with about some misconceptions or "technique" issues they were having.  One student was really not understanding the method at all--so I knew we needed to back way up and get some manipulatives to model the process.  Two students needed me to talk with them about how they were organizing their work because their lack of organization was leading to precision errors.  One student needed me to help them better understand remainders.  Finally, one student needed to find his own mistakes...he is a "rusher" who knows EXACTLY what to do--but tends to rush and make silly mistakes.  He was easily able to find his mistakes.

So my "food for thought" for the weekend is--how often are you using formative assessment?  What are you doing with the information?  If you are interested in some ready-made formative assessments, I have many in my store.  The slips shown above are found HERE

I also have them for area and perimeter and addition and subtraction with more on the way!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Math Talk, Open Ended Problems--and Thinking Backwards!

As you know if you have followed me for any length of time, I love to have my students work collaboratively on "challenging" tasks...and because it is testing season in my room, I like to give my students as much interaction with each other in our non-testing hours as possible!

You may have seen (or even tried) some of my "Thinker Task" they involved a real-life scenario where students work alone or collaboratively to find a solution, organize their work, explain their thinking...blah blah blah.

I was getting ready to introduce one of them to my class when I accidentally turned on my document camera with my stack of  papers under it.

My students went nuts.  

"Do we get to plan a menu?"
"How many movies can they see?"
"How much money can we spend?"

(Remember, they haven't seen the scenario yet!)

A little light bulb went on in my very tired brain, so I told them that THEY had to write the questions!   They seemed less than impressed with this idea...but I sent them to get their notebooks and asked them to try writing some questions using this real world data.  Some did a decent jobs...others struggled with how to get started.   I love the idea of this "backward thinking"--making THEM think of the math.  I've done it quite a bit in the past...check out THIS POST and THIS POST for some more examples.  This is TOTALLY something easy you can do any time you see numbers in the real world!

After a few minutes, I brought them back up to the front and we studied our "Math by the Numbers" sheet a little more closely.  We talked about the different types of numbers found on the page.  We talked about the types of QUESTIONS we could ask ("how many more..." problems, multiplication problems, comparing problems, elapsed time problems) and I heard a lot more "ohhhhhh" murmurs.  So many had started with rather simplistic questions like:

"How much would 2 small pizzas cost?"

and started coming up with questions like:

"If I had to be my friend's house by 6 pm and it is now noon, which movies do I have time to see?" and other more outside the box ways to look at this information.  I saw questions that had more than one answer begin to appear like, "What are all the different ways I could spend $20 at the restaurant?" and then I knew we were ready to tackle the ACTUAL task that I had created!  Students did ask if they could keep writing their own questions and solving them ( want to do extra math?  SURE!)

Getting better!

So...the next day I gave the students the actual scenario to work on and asked them to work in teams of 2 or 3 to dig in and start TALKING about what some of the possible ways to tackle it would be.  Because we had already studied the data sheet, they had some great background and this process went quite smoothly.  I didn't want them to start just solving the problem without thought--so I made them take some time to think.  The scenario asks them to make a bunch of decision--and eventually come up with both a budget AND a time plan for the time frame of the sleepover.  Students had to decide if the brother and sister and their friends would do everything together or separately--and how they would allocate their time and money.  OH the discussions and negotiations I heard!  After some planning, they got to work in their notebooks.
...and although they aren't finished with the first part (this will go on for the next week or so for my fast finishers), they are well on their way to planning a superb sleepover!
I dare you to give it a try--snap a photo at the grocery store or bring in ads from the newspaper--ask students to think backwards and write their OWN problem and see how it deepens their understanding!  In a nutshell...make your STUDENTS work hard than you do!

The resource used in this post is listed here, as is the bundle that includes 7 of these tasks.

This bundle currently has SEVEN Thinker Tasks to use!

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Benefits of Spiraling Math Instruction..and a few tips on how to do it!

One thing that always bothered me with many math textbooks and curriculum maps was the idea that math instruction is best done in "blocks"--3 weeks of geometry.  2 weeks of addition.  4 weeks of fractions.  You know as well as I do that students need far more repetitions of math concepts that this arrangement allows.  That being said--I have no problem with intense units on different math concepts.  Heck, my fraction unit is pretty involved and intense!

That being said, I make sure I deliberately plan to keep weaving other concepts into my instruction no matter how involved we are with our current units.  The simple truth is, if we don't continue to review and reinforce and reteach skills, our students simply don't solidify those synapses to make that learning permanent. can we work this into an already packed math class?

I have a few ideas for you!

1.  Math warm ups

Whether you throw a problem under a document camera or print problems off for students to glue into their math notebooks, warming up with problems from previous units is a great way to keep them fresh.  Not only does it help students understand that topics aren't learned and forgotten (think weekly spelling lists!), but it can really help us as teachers see who is continuing to struggle.  In fact, I often will throw an "entrance slip" in as a warm up--and it's rarely on the content we are currently studying (unless I am trying to judge how instruction is going) but is often revisiting a skill from a previous unit to see if it "stuck"--and who might need more review.

2.  Practice activities during math workshop

If you teach in a "math workshop" or guided math format, students' independent work time is a great way to spiral past instruction.  Whether you have some review sheets that you didn't get to, workbook pages you skipped for whatever reason, games or other activities related to past units, or other practice activities--providing students with opportunities to use those skills on a regular basis is so important.  I often have students work in partners to do this kind of work to serve as a sort of  "checks and balances"...they can refresh each other's memory along the way.  I love to use resources like THIS and THIS that are a little more open ended so all students have the chance to practice skills at a "just right" level.

3.  Intervention groups

As I move from topic to topic, I keep a list of students who need continued work.  I don't know about you, but I feel there is a constant battle in my mind of "Should I move on because MOST students get it?" or "Do I need to spend another few days on this concept?"  Know what I mean?  The best solution I have found is to be constantly on top of which students are the "getters" and which are the "needers"--and I move on with the class and focus the "needers" in small group work.  After all, if they aren't getting it with whole class instruction, another few days of it probably won't help either--they need more targeted help.  I use formative assessment resources for this constantly so I always know where my students stand.  Here is an example of how I keep track of this...
This is from my Area/Perimeter Formative Assessment Toolbox...
4.  Games!

If you have followed me at all you know that I am a firm believer in using games as a way to review skills.  I have games in circulation at all times that help reinforce a variety of skills...and I work very hard to help students recognize the different value of playing games and how to choose the best games to build fluency and accuracy. Check out THIS POST for more details! I was doing my planning over the last month or so and wanted to do some really focused review work.  State testing was coming up and I wanted to at least give a cursory glance to a few topics we hadn't studied in a while.  As I started creating some task cards to use during math workshop, an idea came to me.   What if I created cards that addressed ALL the fourth grade standards?  What if the first set was at a more basic level (like to help transition from 3rd grade), and each set got progressively  more rigorous?  I could use them all year to build in this spiral review--and it would be a TOTALLY flexible resource that I could use for any of the above purposes--I could use them under the projector (or photocopy some) to use as warm ups.  I could use them in stations.  I could use them with partners.  I started working on them--and this resource was born!  Right now I have the first three sets made...and if it looks like they will be helpful for others, I will keep going!

So often task cards are based on skill--which is GREAT if you are in the middle of an in-depth unit...but I wanted MIXED cards to deal with everything from place value to fractions to computation to geometry.
 I also didn't just want "fill in the blank" work...I wanted students to have to explain their thinking at times...write equations at time...find rules...critique reasoning...look for patterns...I needed cards that addressed the math standards at a deeper level.
 I also wanted to make sure that I had plenty of rigor--but also a way to push those students who could handle it, even on the easier first sets.
And I wanted a chance for students to practice some of those all-important standards for mathematical practice...explaining thinking, using proper labels, working precisely, and so on.  I wanted to be able to print them in color and black and white (this set is printed in black and white on orange cardstock).  Each color set has a different background color to keep them organized.

So...these have been working great for my class and hope you find them an easy way to keep the spiral going in YOUR room.  Whether you try them for warm ups, math stations, or with intervention students, I am just happy to have them all ready to use!  I'd love to know what you think...and your thoughts about proceeding with the next three sets!  Interested in checking them out?  Just click below to see them!  I have the first three sets finished and figured I'd bundle three at a time for those interested in digging in!

Also...congratulations to Holly M and Heidi S for winning the two $25 Teachers Pay Teachers gift certificates in my giveaway!  Check your mailboxes, ladies!