2017 - The Teacher Studio: Learning, Thinking, Creating
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 me...it 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 color...so 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 them...my 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 games...you 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.  


Finally...as 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 that...so 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.

And
my
kids
loved
it.

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 me...it'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!

OK...so 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 me...you 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 reading...it 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

Finally...one 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
Anyhoo...one 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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back to school preparation






classroom community
As I have taught longer and longer, I realize that this "back to school" season has taken on new priorities for me.

I remember scouring the back-to-school flyers looking for bargain school supplies.  I remember thinking about what colors my bulletin boards would be--or if I wanted a "theme".  I am still wondering what led me to the "fish" theme that one year...I think it was the clearance glittery fish I saw at the party store, but I'm not 100% sure.

With the growth of Pinterest and other social media sites, I have seen even more attention paid to these things...the colored bins.  The coordinated bulletin borders.  The works.  And you know what?It's FINE.  I know that we, as teachers, need to be happy in our classroom environments and creating that space can be a creative release for teachers as well.  That being said...I do hope that we always remember that we are there for the students and their academic and social growth.  Because of that, I wanted to share with you some of my current thoughts about back-to-school preparations.  When I plan my classroom environment, THESE are the ideas that help steer my thinking.

Teach Students to Work Together

One thing I expect ALL year is that my students work collaboratively and cooperatively.  This is not something all fourth graders do innately!  Early in the year, I immerse my students in practice opportunities where I coach and we work together to establish "norms" for partnering.  I truly believe that investing time early in the year in teaching students how to work in partners will pay off so much as I move to larger cooperative groups later in the year.

First, I encourage a discussion where we keep track of what students know about working in pairs. We FILL the white board with ideas and then work to group things together.  I later record the key ideas on a chart that I display ALL year. When partnerships are struggling, I send them over to refer to the chart and identify and work on the issue.
working in cooperative groups
I also get my students reading from DAY 1 that we work in partners a ton...and that we often don't get to pick our own partners.  I use "people picker" sticks a lot...and also use cooperative name tags that make it super easy to form groups of different sizes.  We talk about how important it is to be able to work with ALL students...regardless of friendships, skills, gender, or any other variable.  I also want students to understand how damaging a heavy sigh or an eye roll can be...and those are not allowed when partners are picked.  Ever.
picking student names
back to school teaching ideas classroom culture
Just click the image to learn more...


Immerse Students in Growth Mindset Language and Practice

Talking about growth mindset is quite trendy...but when I first started reading and studying the brain research years ago, a few things became clear.  This truly is a CULTURE that needs to be nurtured.  It isn't an "activity" or a project--it's a way of DOING things--all year long.  I do a lot of activities at the beginning of the year to get students comfortable with the language and ideas related to growth mindset...from reading picture books that represent it to using sentence stems to working with this bulletin board to really keep these ideas visible.
back to school teaching ideas classroom culture

teaching growth mindset activities
I also start the year off by providing students with a bunch of challenging tasks that help us practice a growth mindset and to build this culture.  This leads to my next point...we want to create a climate where mistakes are made, acknowledged, managed, studied, and even celebrated.  If you are interested in these growth mindset activities, click HERE or the images above.

Nurture of Culture for Mistake-Making and Productive Struggle

If we want students to be risk-takers and to be willing to try new things and receive feedback, we need to make our classrooms places where the pressure to be correct and perfect is absent.
productive struggle
It isn't enough for US as teachers to believe this...we have to clearly model it and communicate these truths to our students.  We need them to trust us implicitly--and that we actually VALUE mistakes and are there to help coach them through challenging work.

A few ways to encourage productive struggle…
1.Model it! Show your students how to tackle new concepts with an “I can do it” spirit!  Admit when you don't know something...and show them what you do next!

2.“Name it” when you see it!  Highlight student work and effort…show you value it.

3.Teach students how to work in teams and how to support each other through challenges.  Give them sentence stems to support their language.  I like to help them learn how to "coach" each other without simply giving away the answer.  I also want them to learn how to politely refuse help if they want to keep forging ahead on their own.

4.Remember YOUR mindset…students will value what you value.  I also love to find real world examples and examples in the books we read.

5.Think about ways to regularly celebrate challenge…tough math problems you tackle together, digging into rigorous but engaging literature, celebrating exciting new vocabulary words, cooperative puzzles…the sky is the limit!

Encourage Deep Thinking 

I know some people like to start the year off with a lot of low-stress activities--but I am a believer in digging right in and getting going!  In those first weeks, I do provide students with the chance to really practice those "culture" pieces--discussion, partnering, discussion, and so on.  This fun cooperative activity gets so much great discussion going--and the students just love it!  Click the image to go the blog post all about it...(and it's free!)
back to school teaching ideas classroom culture
Although I certainly do stick to the curriculum sequence, I also want my students to have to think deeply from the first day--and to realize that there ARE going to be problems this year that they can't solve right away--or alone.  We work collaboratively to tackle these back to school word problems, and it's a great opportunity for me to watch how students are working and what strategies they have dealing with problems that require a little thinking.  It is almost like a little assessment for me to see how they work together and how willing they are to tackle challenges.
back to school teaching ideas classroom culture
Just click the image to see more about these problems (also available in a digital version)
Another way I really get my students thinking from the first day is with my read alouds.  I start the year by reading picture books that get them thinking...and I also start my first chapter book read aloud of the year.  For the last few years, I have used Fish in a Tree as my first read aloud because it has SO much to offer...it helps us learn to talk about books, about bullying, about life at school, and about how we each have our own journey at school.  If this is a new book for you, I can't recommend it enough.  I have put together a resource with a lot of the writing and discussion prompts that I use along with this text in case you are interested.
back to school teaching ideas classroom culture

Help Students Recognize and Value Their Personal Learning Journey

Fish in a Tree is the perfect novel to kick of our year-long discussions about how we EACH have our own educational journey and a different path to success.  We start with a lot of interest surveys and self-reflections where we check out our strengths and do some goal setting.  This math behavior checklist is one of the things we do--and it really helps students start to move away from the idea that "good" math students are fast at math facts--and they learn that math (and other learning) is so much more than this.
back to school teaching ideas classroom culture
This is a part of my math practice standards self-assessment resource.  Click the image to see more.
Getting students to recognize and "own" their own strengths and goals is a great way to work on that culture for learning...that idea that we are all on this journey together.

Culture of Fun and Joy

I hope you can see that I firmly believe that despite all the demands placed on us by our policies, our administrators, our peers, social media, and more--we really CAN create a culture in our classrooms of acceptance, fun, and excitement.  Students need to feel like we are on their team and will support them unconditionally--and when we have this culture in our classroom, we CAN have fun and do amazing things.  So...go ahead and search Pinterest for the perfect classroom theme and have fun. But please remember why we do what we do...we nurture humans to become better humans.  Have a great school year.

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