Back to school season is one of the most challenging times of the year. But there are some ways to reduce your stress and stay sane this year. Here are 5 tips to help out new and veteran teachers alike:
Tip #1: Keep a paper copy of parent information.
It's inevitable that just when the computer system, or the internet, or the power, or some other form of infrastructure goes out, you will need to be able to get ahold of a parent. I keep a lot of information on my computer, but I always, always have a binder with a paper copy that includes parent information and student transportation information.
During back to school night, I have my parents complete my Important Information Sheet. One simple page, hole punched, stuck in a binder, and I always have the ability to call home, and get my kids home. I also take this same binder with me on every field trip. I can't tell you how many times I've used it.
Tip #2: Teach EVERY routine through direct instruction.
90% of kids won't need instruction on how to sit down as they enter your room. But the 10% who will can throw your entire day off every day for the entire year. So I start out each school year assuming that every kid is in the 10%. During the 1st 2 weeks I give instructions like my kids have never seen a school or a classroom before. I model how to enter and exit my room, how to line up, how to get supplies, how to get my attention, how to interact with each other, how to take turns, etc. etc. etc. It makes the first 2 weeks slightly monotonous, but it makes the rest of the year so much smoother.
Also, especially with kids 3rd grade and up, they generally get bored with having things explained to in this fashion. So throughout the year if we start to forget expectations, I can often ask if we need to go back to "First Week of School Explanations" and they straighten up real quick!
Tip #3: Have puzzles ready during one on one assessments.
Puzzles are fabulous for so many things - academic skills, problem solving skills, etc. However, they are also something that can easily be picked up and put back down without stressing out the classroom or your students too much. For this reason, I use puzzles as what the class is working on while I need to pull students for one on one assessments in the beginning of the year.
Sometimes I use regular jigsaw puzzles, but most often I use Self-Correcting Puzzles or Tiling Puzzles. We all know that there's too much curriculum to cover, so having students beginning to play with curriculum puzzles before I start teaching curriculum gives them a foot up and starts building background knowledge. For additional ideas on how to keep kids busy during assessments, check out my blog post - How to Keep Students Engaged While You Are Doing Assessments.
Tip#4: Observe your students working in groups.
How students interact with each other will dictate the types of activities you will and won't be able to complete with your students this year. During the first two weeks, have students work on a variety of activities in groups, when you are NOT busy assessing, organizing supplies, or other beginning of the year activities. While they are working, walk around with a clipboard and take notes. Who are your natural leaders? Who gets off task easily? Who takes over and doesn't let others work? Who doesn't want to participate? Better than any get to know you game, watching kids interact with their peers will tell you a lot about the personalities, abilities, and motivations of your students.
Pinterest is full of cute STEM ideas that would work for these group projects, but if you need to start building in curriculum, think outside the box. Have the kids work in a group to create a mini test using my Be the Teacher worksheets, or have students work together to complete an internet scavenger hunt. Really any assignment can be made into a group task that you can observe to gather this information.
Tip #5: Start practicing math facts from the get go.
I have never worked at a school that didn't have a goal of building math fact fluency. We generally wait for about a month before we start taking stock of where we are and what we need to do. And then very often we spent a lot of time going back and re-teaching or re-practicing the facts from the previous year. I have never understood this delay.
I start math facts on the first couple of days, often starting with last year's facts to build up confidence. Then when everyone else is build a routine a month in, my kids are already used to daily practice. Plus, they have often refreshed their memory of last year's facts and are ready to move on to more challenging facts. I use my Math Fact Quiz package to meet my kids wherever they are in the spectrum of fact fluency over all 4 operations.
Keep your students engaged in distance learning from the beginning. Create a solid, 4 part classroom management strategy.
As the 2020/2021 school year approaches, teachers have a lot of questions about what it will look like. When we ask this question, it seems like all we hear is “We don’t know yet.” Since governors, district leaders and administrators don’t know what schools will look like next year, teachers are struggling to figure out how to prepare. In this blog series, we are looking at 10 ways that we can prepare this summer without wasting our time. Each way will prove beneficial to you, whether your district ends up using distance learning, traditional classrooms, or a hybrid education approach. Included in each blog post in this series will be tech tool suggestions, free resources, and a giveaway entry form.
We have already talked about setting up your digital classroom, exploring technology tools, exploring both digital and paper formats for teaching resources, building up a communication system for parents, digging deep into your standards and making prerecorded teaching videos. Today we will discuss something else all teachers should do to prepare for next school year:
You can create a classroom management system that will work with in class learning AND digital learning.
One of the most challenging things about distance learning for me personally was that I could not longer pass out dragon tickets (our school's PBIS rewards), which were the backbone of my positive behavior system. However, because I had built strong relationships with my kiddos, I was able to do very low key rewards like shout outs that helped keep my kiddos on track.
Now as we look at going into a school year that MAY begin with distance learning OR hybrid learning, we need to think long and hard about what kind of classroom management system we will need to develop in order to teach children that we may NEVER see in person. Two years ago, I wrote the blog post: Classroom Management Strategies to Get Your Class to Do Their Best. In this blog post, I said that in order to build up your classroom management system, you need to:
1.) Have clear expectations.
2.) Have good procedures and routines.
3.) Get to know your students well.
4.) Offer a variety of rewards.
All of these steps are still true if we are doing distance learning OR hybrid learning, so it is worth thinking about how each of these would need to be tweaked for a distance learning situation or a hybrid learning situation.
What will classroom management look like in digital or hybrid learning?
Having clear expectations in an online environment means knowing what to expect. Although this is slightly more challenging, it's also all the more reason to play with those technology tools BEFORE you need to use them to teach. By playing with them, you know what to tell your students that you expect. Additionally, explaining clear expectations in a distance learning environment, especially with younger students, might mean explaining those expectations to the parents as well. Since parents control the home environment, it will be important to communicate these clear expectations of how students should act in class with both parents AND students.
Having good procedures and routines will be important in digital and in person environments, but it will be MOST important in a hybrid situation where students may be moving between distance and in person environments. One of the procedures that will be extremely important will be having a clearly organized digital classroom (like Google Classroom or Edmodo) that students understand how to use. Be very clear with directions. And most importantly, keep these directions consistent with in class routines when students are working from a distance. If the distance learning looks completely different than the in class learning, you are asking students to learn double the procedures and routines.
Getting to know a student that you aren't in a classroom with for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, seems challenging. However, when I reread the blog post: Get to Know Your Students Better: Top 10 Strategies that Go Beyond the Beginning of the Year Ice Breakers that I wrote a few years ago, I came up with ways to make almost every strategy work within a distance learning environment. The one big challenge for me personally with be monitoring group work, as I use Google Meet, which does not allow breakout sessions. Those of you using Zoom should have less challenges with this one. But honestly, if you are having any kind of group interactions with your with your students, you can learn a lot about your students by who is and who isn't speaking up when.
Finally, rewards. In the past few years I had been encouraged to move away from digital behavior tracking systems like Class Dojo, and this meant that I had no way of rewarding my students during our live Google Meet lessons. Because I don't know what next year is going to look like, I know that next year I WILL have a digital behavior tracking system that can work WITH a paper system. This may be something like Class Dojo, Bloomz, or Class Craft, or something as simple as recording "points" with a Google Form. Additionally, I will provide rewards to kiddos that can be done in a digital system OR a physical system. I always allow students to pick a reward after they have collected a set number of tickets. (For 3rd grade it was 20 tickets.)
Some of the rewards I plan to include next year are: wearing a hat or sunglasses to class, show and tell passes, telling the class a joke, the student getting to choose MY hairstyle for the day, positive phone calls home, getting to sing a song to the class, getting to do a directed drawing, or getting to choose the GoNoodle video we watch. Of course in addition to these large rewards, I need to be more intentional about doing verbal shout outs and virtual high fives for my kiddos. It's easy to lose track of the need for these when you are not sitting right next to the kiddos. Since all of these rewards can be done in person OR digitally, having this set up will help me regardless of what the Fall looks like.
FREE Resources for Your Classroom
As you take some time to think about your classroom management system, here are some free resources which may help you out:
Student Book Review Bookmarks - Kiddos can rate the books they read so that others know if it is a good or bad book to read.
Math Fact Reward System - Students get to color in symbols to show they have mastered different levels of math fact fluency.
Memory Card Game Template - Create a game for your students for any topic. Or let them make the game! Makes a great "learning" reward.
June Digital Learning Resource Bundle Giveaway
Now time for our giveaway!!! With today's giveaway entry form, you will be entering to win my 3rd Grade Internet Scavenger Hunt Bundle. This bundle includes: 8 different internet scavenger hunts. Each scavenger hunt comes with 4 different formats: .doc format that allows students to type on them, a .pdf that allows students to click the links, a QR code version that allows students to scan QR codes and a Google Classroom version that includes a Google Doc and a Google Form. Enter to win this Internet Scavenger Hunt Bundle, Enter to win this Math Projects Bundle, by completing the the June Giveaway Entry Form #7.
All winners will be chosen on July 1st. Winners will receive the bundle directly to the provided email. All those who enter will also receive my monthly Raki's Rad Resources News Releases.
Interested in more tips on how to prepare for the unpreparable 2020/2021 school year? Come back tomorrow for tip #8!
Missed a day? This blog post contains the entire list of 10 Things You Can Do to Prepare for Next School Year.
Nobody knows what the new school year will look like. Here are 10 things you can do to be ready for all possibilities.
If you're a teacher reading this, I'm going to tell you something you already know. Teachers are planners. Does anyone else remember filling out "Reflective Teaching Logs" when you were in college? These logs felt like such a waste of time while I was filling them out, but now I realize that they were preparing us for what teachers do each and every day. As we teach a lesson, we're mentally preparing for how to make this lesson better the next time we teach it. We do this each and every day with little things, but even more with big things, like setting routines and procedures. Halfway through a school year I have already made decisions that "Next year I'm going to do this differently next year." Before we finish one school year, we've already begun planning the next school year, and we spend a good part of our summer preparing (mentally and with new resources) for these tweaks, updates and changes.
This year, thanks to Covid 19, is different because we don't know what to expect out of next year. Will we be back to distance learning? Will we be in our classrooms? Will we be working on a hybrid system? Will we be in and out of our classrooms and digital environments throughout the school year? I've read all the blog posts speculating what it can, should and will look like. However, the end result is that we don't know and all the speculation in the world isn't going to change that. All of the not knowing can be very stressful, and it can make it hard to make good use of this time when we normally prepare ourselves for next year. However, there are some things that we can do to prepare.
For the next 10 days, we're going to look at 10 things we can do this summer that will help us no matter the fall looks like. These are things that will help us be better teachers if next year is all distance learning, but they will also help us if next year is a return to what we've always done. Hopefully, they will also help us with everything in between. Because if we're being honest, it seems like most of us will land in the somewhere in between zone.
Below is a list of the things we can do. Each item on the list will be linked to the blog post explaining it (as soon as that post is published). In each blog post, I promise to include links to new tech tools you can check out, as well as at least 1 FREE resource you can download. So, if an item on the list is not currently linked to a blog post, come back tomorrow, because I will be linking one a day, and you won't want to miss the information I'm providing. Also, as an extra incentive to keep coming back, I will be hosting a June giveaway. (I'm so excited, I haven't done a giveaway in years!) At the bottom of each blog post, there will be a quick entry form for you to complete. I will be giving away a different distance learning bundle on each blog post, so that is 10 DIFFERENT distance learning bundles that you can possibly win, just by checking back on a daily basis. And to give everyone a chance to enter, I will leave the entry forms open until July 1st. On July 1st, I will randomly choose a winner for each of the 10 bundles and email the bundle you win directly to you.
So, here are 10 things that you CAN do this summer to be prepared for the 2020/2021 school year, no matter what it looks like:
1.) You can prepare a digital classroom.
2.) You can explore new technology tools.
3.) You can search out new resources that will work with in class learning AND digital learning.
4.) You can make a plan for improving parent communication.
5.) You can dig deep into your standards and your curriculum.
6.) You can create teaching videos.
7.) You can create reward systems that will work with in class learning AND digital learning.
8.) You can consider differentiation options.
9.) You can explore ways to find a balance between parental and teaching responsibilities.
10.) You can take time for self care.
Be sure you come back each day to find the linked blog posts, and the giveaway entry forms! What are you doing to prepare for next year?
For One Month Only - FREE Back to School Escape Room to Spice up Your Getting to Know You Activities
Back to school sales, back to school planning, back to school shopping - it feels like my world right now surrounds around the back to school season right now. Is anyone else there? In addition to preparing for the Teachers Pay Teachers 2 Day Back to School Sale, which is going on now (Aug 1 & Aug 2, 2018), I have been putting the finishing touches on my Back to School Escape Room. I'm going to be using this with my classroom AFTER I have taught all of my procedures and routines. This will be our final "back to school" activity before heading into the heavy beast of curriculum, but I wanted to have it finished before I get back into the daily routine of school on Monday.
Now normally, I try out every resource I sell in my classroom BEFORE posting it on Teachers Pay Teachers. However, I wanted to make sure that others benefited from this highly engaging back to school escape room this year. So I decided to go ahead and list it early, and then leave it FREE - just for the month of August. My hope is that other teachers will try it out and let me know if they find any glitches. I can then fix any glitches before it becomes a paid product on September 1st. So if you or your colleagues want to be a trial classroom for my Back to School Escape Room, please download it at my Teachers Pay Teachers store BEFORE September 1st. Then after you have completed the activity with your kids, please send me an e-mail at the address provided in the escape room to let me know how it went!
Here's hoping your back to school season goes well! It's going to be the best year yet!
Get to Know Your Students Better: Top 10 Strategies that Go Beyond the Beginning of the Year Ice Breakers
At the beginning of the school year, most teachers spend the first two days on ice breaker games and getting to know you questions. Then they jump into curriculum and forget that getting to know our students is the key to teaching.
Getting to know our students is a key to building positive relations and to being able to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of each student. The more we know about our students, the better we can fit our instruction to their levels, their interests, their background knowledge and their needs. Fitting our instruction to our students - instead of trying to force our students to fit into our instruction allows us to make more of an impact on our students' education and on their lives.
There are so many ways to get to know your students better, not just at the beginning of the year, but all year long. Here are the 10 getting to know you strategies I use every year:
1.) Have conversations with the students and their parents. Especially at the beginning of the year, it's important to start conversations and to listen when the kiddos and their parents tell you stories about their life or giving you little snipets of information. Sometimes these pieces of information will be the key to helping you know how to help your students succeed.
2.) Get to know your students' goals. This year I started out the year with my Long Term Goals Sheet, where I asked students to work with their parents and think about where they want to be in 5 years, in 10 years, in 20 years, in 30 years. It was a great way to get to know my students on a new and different level. Hearing their college and career aspirations made each of these students so much more real to me. Now the student who wants to fix computers is a "tech support helper" who I have introduced to code.org and the student who wants to travel to multiple countries is reading books about those countries and studying French on Duolingo.com. Knowing who the students want to be when they are an adult, even if they're only in 3rd grade now, allows me to break into their interest levels in a completely different way.
3.) Read their writing. The way that a student responds to a writing prompt says so much about the student. For example my students are currently writing narrative stories about a picture of a girl falling off of a swing. The stories I got range from a first person narrative where the main character helps a girl who falls off a swing and wins an instant friend; to a story where aliens were purposely breaking the swing each time the main character sits on it. In between, I also got a story where the main character's mother fell in love with the doctor who helped her and one story where the girl was pushed on purpose and the pusher got a large punishment. Reading each of these stories with my students helped me to better understand their background knowledge and their viewpoint as well as their writing ability. I often use my Genre Writing Journals as a way to give the entire class the same prompt.
4.) Ask students to visualize stories. Last year I demonstrated to my students how much background knowledge plays a part in the pictures they visualize. I read them two stories that I wrote, which were almost identical, about families that were having dinner. One story took place in Morocco where the family was eating couscous. The other story took place in New Mexico where the family was eating enchiladas. While I read each story, the students drew pictures of what they were visualizing. Then we looked at photographs of a family in Morocco eating couscous and a family in New Mexico eating enchiladas. The pictures the students drew of the family in New Mexico (where we live) were very close to photograph we looked at, but the ones they drew of the family in Morocco were not close at all. Background knowledge affects what we can visualize. So as often as possible let students draw pictures of the stories they read. How they visualize the story will sometimes surprise you, but will often give you good information about their own background!
5.) Use turn and talks about their home life. Morning meetings are a great way to get to know your students. Often during morning meetings I will ask students to turn and talk to a neighbor about a topic, what they did over the weekend, their favorite food, the pets they own, a time they were scared, etc. etc. Then I let the students report out about what their friends told them. You get interesting information about both students this way, because what the person reporting hears as important is often something that relates to their own life!
6.) Allow time for Genius Projects or Passion Projects. Ask your students "If you could learn about anything, what would it be?" Their answers will be telling enough, but then give the students time to plan out and work on genius projects. Watching them work on these projects will tell you a lot about their commitment, their work ethic and their interest level. Genius projects in my room often lead to new read alouds, writing prompts, math scenarios and science experiments because I know better what will connect to my students' learning.
7.) Find Vocabulary Connections. One of my favorite ways to get to know my kiddos background knowledge is to discuss vocabulary with them. When I ask them for a definition or sentence for a vocabulary word, their background knowledge comes spilling out. Hut is a great word for this. Most students will tell me "Oh, like Pizza Hut", a few will say "Like the little houses in Africa", but my favorite was the one student who told me you mean like "hut, hut, hut in football?". Background knowledge, it just spills out, doesn't it? You might want to use my vocabulary graphs as a basis for some of your vocabulary conversations, the connections students make are great.
8.) Challenge students to an activity that you think may frustrate them. Watching students be frustrated can be an eye opener. It's always interesting to me to see "smart" kids hit a brick wall with something new and difficult, while kids who struggle often spend a lot of time trying to get to the answer before they give up because they are used to the struggle. Not only do frustration triggers tell us a lot about students, but watching students handle those frustrations tell us a lot about students. Once we know where students get frustrated and how they handle frustrations, we can better help students manage frustrations. We will also know how and when to support students so that they can either avoid certain frustrations or deal better with frustrations when they happen.
9.) Monitor group work. Students often work differently in a group than they do independently. Some students will automatically lead, some will automatically follow, some are peacemakers and some will respond negatively to other students. As you walk around and monitor your groups you will see how students react to each other. Then, mix up the groups and watch again because students often respond differently to different group dynamics differently.
10.) Incorporate activities that are not "normal" school subjects. Recess, PE, art, music, computer skills, cooking, sewing, nature skills - anytime that I incorporate these things into my lessons I see a completely different side of my kids. Students who often struggle will come out of their shell during a cooking lesson or run faster in the race than anyone else. Students who are the top of the class often get frustrated or scared to try new things. These activities remind us to think about our students as a "whole person" instead of just as a student.
It’s the beginning of the school year, time to teach, right? Wrong! For many teachers the beginning of the year means sitting down with each student and assessing them to build their base line for those data walls. While studies show that assessments shouldn’t be done until 3 - 6 weeks into the school year, when students have regained whatever they lost during the “summer slide”, we all know that many administrator want these assessments need to be done by the 10th day of school.
Often we need to start assessing before we have even finished teaching procedures and routines, which means that the students who are not being assessed end up working on busy work in order to keep the class calm and quiet while we are assessing. So, how do we keep the other student engaged AND have a class that is quiet enough to do a quality assessment? Here are some ideas:
1. Whole class learning videos with graphic organizers – You know what science and social studies topics are coming up, start building up your students’ back ground knowledge by putting on a learning video about an upcoming topic. While students are watching, ask them to complete a graphic organizer – to keep them focused and quiet. You will get the ability to pull students one at a time for assessments, then when you start teaching this topic, students will have some background knowledge on the topic and you can show the video again, stopping to explain where necessary, without kids whining about wanting to see the end.
2. Autobiographies - Have students write an illustrated version of their life story. Tell them that spelling and grammar doesn’t matter – just try their best, but that you are looking to get to know as much as you can about them. This will make a great beginning of the year writing assessment, as well as a piece of writing that you can later use to help students practice revising and editing. Plus, you will get lots of information about your students that can help you form relationships and build in student led differentiation.
3. Board Games – You know all those games that you never get to pull out? Now’s the time to pull them out and teach kids how to play them. Take a minute to go over the rules of each game before you have kids play them, and then split them into groups to play games like Scrabble, Dominoes, Yahtzee and Battleship. Students will work on cooperation and problem solving while you get your assessments done. Extra bonus - later on in the year you can pull out these games for early finishers or to reuse with academic rules.
4. Math Projects to Review last year’s skills – Have students work on real life math projects – like my Ice Cream Shop project or Designing a Dream School. Choose a project that is just below your instructional level, so that they can do the entire project independently, building confidence and reviewing key math skills, while not boring students so that they get distracted.
5. Reference book scavenger hunt – Split kids into groups and have students to find information with the reference books in your classroom or library. Ask students to find the meaning of key vocabulary words using the dictionary, synonyms and antonyms using a thesaurus, bordering countries or states using the atlas and fun facts using the encyclopedia. The group that finds the most items wins a small prize (like a no homework pass), and the quietest group gets 10 extra points. This gets kids looking through reference materials they forget about, working with each other and you can pull kids one at a time for assessments.
6. Puzzles – Jigsaw and self correcting – Puzzles build critical thinking and problem solving skills. Having students work on any type of jigsaw or self correcting puzzle will get students using their noggen and staying focused, and hopefully quiet, while you are assessing.
7. Let the Kids be the experts – Most kids think that they are experts at something. While you are assessing, tell students that they will be teaching the class about something they are an expert at (can be anything, video games, dinosaurs, making a peanut butter sandwich, whatever!) and this is their time to create their lesson plans. When all of the assessments are done, take a day or two and let each kid teach the lesson they created. The kids will get a chance to be the teacher – every students’ dream, you will find out what kids are interested in and what they already know about, and how they are at public speaking. But best of all, students will be so busy planning their lesson, that they won’t have time to interrupt you while you are assessing their classmates.
8. Read & Review Classroom Library Books – Give students time to read several books from the class or school library. After students have read a book, let them rate and critique the books with my Book Review Bookmarks. Hang the bookmarks around the library so that students can make an “informed decision” the next time they choose a book.
9. Explore apps or websites to be used during the school year – All year long, we are in a rush for students to use this technology or that one for a specific project, but students rarely get a chance to just “fiddle around” with apps and websites. However, children (and adults for that matter) often find that they learn more about how to properly use an app or website by “fiddling with it”, so take this time to let students play around with apps and websites you’ll use later in the year. Students will be excited to “play on the computer” while you know they are really building background knowledge that will be used in future assignments. For more information on what apps or websites to use – check out my blog post –Technology Accounts to Create for Your Classroom.
10. Fast fact practice – Two months off means most students have forgotten their math facts – well not forgotten, but they certainly aren’t as fast as they were in May. Use this time to let students practice their math facts with dice and card games, or laminate math fact quizzes and let them use a dry erase marker to race each other or a timer.
How do you keep the other students engaged while you complete your assessments?
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