Sunday, August 25, 2013

And so it begins....

Well, I survived Meet the Teacher. Don't ask me to pick any of my students out of a lineup...there were way too many in way too short of a time. I have a full load...23 students. But I'm excited about the year.
    My team is fantastic. Full of ideas and all willing to do whatever it takes to have a successful year for our kids.
   My room is done. Bright color was pretty much my only theme. But I'm happy with it.
    So excuse my short post but I'm gonna enjoy my last day of freedom! More to come.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Spelling Resources

 After avoiding a calendar for the better part of June, July and this far into August, I have gone into panic mode when I realized that next week, I will be back in school full time. Next week is the week we spend countless hours fighting sleep while in Professional Development, get exposed to a plethora of ideas and changes that will be implemented this year in Professional Development. My room is ready. My room is ALMOST ready. I feel like I need one of those professional interior decorators on tv to come into my class and help me spruce things up after seeing how many new teachers we have and how many of them have apparently tried (and been successful with) EVERY cutesy project on Pinterest!
   My Word Wall is done...complete with student names, because although that technically is NOT vocabulary, they love seeing their names on the wall, even for a week or so. My ribbon thing worked well even though I did not have clothespins....I improvised with paper clips. And yes, I forgot to take pictures!
     I told you in my previous post how I would be using my word wall and the why. Now I will address what I plan to do for spelling....because if you know anything about 2nd graders, you know that spelling is usually NOT a strong point. In a world of text spelling, phonetic spelling, and people who plain out do not care about spelling, I want my 2nd graders to be able to spell well and communicate their ideas. Let's face it, when you come across someone who cannot spell, their ideas, no matter how brilliant they appear on paper, just do not come across. (Or is that just me?)
   SO, with that in mind, I have a plan for their spelling. Our district had adopted a Language Arts program a few years ago, that I was NOT happy with. For one thing, the patterns they taught and the order in which they taught them made absolutely NO sense. Not to mention when we lined up the patterns taught with the ones required by our TEKS, there were several that were below 2nd grade level (that they spent too much time on ) and some that were never addressed (that we were still responsible for). SO we sought out several different options. Last year, I piloted Words Their Way in my classroom. I loved it. The kids loved it. The parents loved it......AND the kids learned to spell from it. So, winner, winner, chicken dinner! We decided this year we were ditching the one that went with our adoption and going full force with Words Their Way. It makes sense....its hands on....its progressive!
       So, our kids will be doing word sorts in class and at home with their homework. Yes, we will be giving spelling test on Fridays. AND we will include words that have the same pattern but were not on our 'list'. The point being we want the kids to realize you can spell rhyming words with the same pattern by changing the initial sounds. We also will be keeping a personal word wall for those words we constantly spell wrong. This may be different for each student.Some need sight words on there, some will not. I also have lists of words in my room in related categories. (Baseball, School, Home, October, etc.) in addition to having commonly used sight words available for the kids to use at any time. I am including my Personal Word Wall here....I print them off and glue them on the inside and outside of a file folder. The kids love it because they can use one of my 'fancy pens' to add words to their word wall, but are expected to spell it correctly afterwards.
    Happy Spelling!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Colorful Vocabulary

Every year I drive myself CRAZY trying to figure out the best way to expand my students vocabulary. I have a variety of students every year from an array of different backgrounds, cultures and home situations. My ESL students naturally use different vocabulary, as most are taught textbook formal English by their English speaking parent. I have several students who have been read to, traveled and exposed to a variety of experiences that naturally grew their vocabulary. Then I have a handful who grew up as latch key kids, had a tv as a babysitter and probably were not given many experiences or even opportunity to engage in picking up vocabulary from interactions with their parents. ( Put down the phone people, and start TALKING to your kids rather than texting them!)
   Anywho, THOSE are the babies I worry about the most. So, every year I struggle to find a quick, efficient, and useful way to put vocabulary in front of them without bombarding them with useless words or just having a word wall that is nothing more than a pretty wall space taker upper.
   I've tried everything...personal word walls, differentiated word walls, sight word only word walls, you name it, in my over a decade of teaching, I've probably tried it.
     This year, I sat down and asked myself what the PURPOSE of my word wall is going to be. After much conversation, debate and arguing with myself (it's okay, no need to call the local mental hospital, I won the argument!) I decided that the purpose of my word wall this year is going to be to give them new vocabulary rather than a source of sight words or correctly spelled words. (I'll address those two matters in upcoming blog posts.) Nope, this year I'm strictly using it for vocabulary. Let me explain my thinking.
     Let me start off by saying I hate standardized tests....but after I burst my bubble and sink back into reality, I realize although no one loves them, it's the world we live in and it's a necessary evil. With that established, we all know that there are items on those tests that we KNOW our kids know the answer to, but they didn't understand what the test writers were asking because the vocabulary tripped them up. One of the biggest complaints I've heard voiced K-5 is that we use different vocabulary for the same things. We used to call nouns "naming words" in lower grades. After much conversation, we decided to be on the same page and use the same terminology. One problem solved.
     Another issue is that word walls become cluttered....sight words , math vocabulary, LA vocabulary, science vocabulary, social studies vocabulary, grammar terms, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So what do you put up? Do you have five different word walls? Do you keep the same words up all year or cycle them through?
     I'm not pretending to have the be all, end all answers. But I'll let you know my plan and what works for me. First of all, the first part of my plan I stole, er , I mean was inspired by a post on Pinterest. This word wall used ribbon and clothespins.(See picture)  Words are able to be added easily and alphabetized ( my inner OCD child is so happy!) without major problems. So, I put up my letters and ribbon. (And had a math lesson for the lady at Jo Anna who swore she sold me a spool of 9ft of ribbon and was proven wrong when I measured and added it for her! Ha!)
    Next, I had to decide what words to use and how to distinguish them. Have I mentioned how much my inner OCD child LOVE, LOVE, LOVEs color coding? Well, she does. She's crazy like that! So, naturally, I conclude the only way to shut her up is to color code the words by subject.
     But what is going to constitute a word to be word wall worthy? Well, since my purpose is meaning rather than spelling, it will be words they need to learn to use in context. (Again, don't freak out, I've got the spelling issue covered in upcoming posts). So, my words will be color coded by subject and only be used for meaning, not spelling.
      How many is too many? Well, that's where the ribbon idea is genius. When the words get to the end of their rope, I mean ribbon, then the first up goes into a binder....a binder of Colorful Vocabulary that is put in alphabetical order. The definition is put on the back so a variety of games (again, an upcoming post) can be played to reinforce the word. This keeps the amount of words to a manageable number but also takes care of the "out of sight, out of mind" problem.
       So, what's your plan for your word wall???

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Only Profession...

Well, as a few people pointed out to me, its been a while since I posted anything. Almost a year, to be exact.
Sometimes life throws us changes unexpectedly...some we are prepared to deal with, others catch us totally off guard. Last year was definitely one of those years that caught me off guard. I guess I owe my blogging audience a bit of an explanation, so here is last year in a nutshell:
   *My youngest son shipped off to Marine Corps bootcamp and I ended up spending oodles of my spare time engrossed in all things Marine Corps. I got very involved in some Marine MoM groups and ended up blogging and writing for a few of their websites.

     *Schoolwise, it was a tough year with a very challenging class, very demanding parents and me feeling at times I was losing my sanity. Some years are just like that.
     *I unexpectedly lost my dad and spent the better part of my second semester trying to wrap my head around that new reality. Nothing can prepare you for it, and no matter how much you try to keep your school and personal life separate, there are things that change us so profoundly that it touches all aspects of our lives.
     *After a failed three year relationship and breakup, I finally met my soulmate and, as of last week, I married my best friend. I also gained a "bonus daughter" (I hate the term stepdaughter) who is 9 years old and reminding me how much energy it takes to be a parent!

 So, with all that said, I had pretty much decided the blog could go by the wayside. That is until I received the sweetest email from a new teacher asking me to consider blogging again because she used some of my ideas and advice. I am aware enough of the education blogging world to know I am a very small fish in a big pond, but if this last year has taught me anything, it has taught me that God puts people in our paths for very real, very necessary reasons. I learned this through several students I had last year, my son becoming
a United States Marine and allowing me exposure to that very different world, the passing of my dad in a way that I feel could not have been orchestrated by happenstance or coincidence but was truly a showing of God's grace, and the fulfillment of my heart and family by bringing the most amazing man and bonus daughter into my life. And so, I am committed to take up my school blog again. Bear with me....and take away from it what you will.
   And for that sweet girl who sent me the email that brought this full circle for me, Thank you. As one of my favorite teacher
 friends used to point out to me, teaching is the ONLY profession that you get a fresh start every year.For that, I am grateful.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Well, thanks to the baby boy shipping off to Marine Corps boot camp, I have THROWN myself into my job and my room is almost ready to go. Just a few finishing touches....but it's coming along.
Here's what I've done so far:

Finally finished the hall bulletin board. Went with an Olympic theme...yes, I know Olympics are over, but it went well with my giant flag,which I LOVE!

This one is a little hard to see, but I moved my banner from the top of the window to the middle. It was driving me crazy..and I planned on curtains, but am told the fire marshal says that's a no-no. I'm such a rule follower. UGH!

I improvised to block out the light in the window and door at the back of my room AND make it useful. This is where I display my monthly helpers and birthdays. Its not my fave, but it'll do.

I'm utilizing every inch of space I can! I SO wanted a Boggle board, but didn't have the space. So I'm using my magnetic letters (which I have  TON OF) and my file cabinet to make a magnetic boggle board. I can change it weekly and although this is a small one, I'm starting them off easy and looking to expand the Boggle board to full size when they get the hang of it!

Thanks to PINTEREST, I found these cute birthday balloons which I attached to birthday pencils, and this cute little "Birthday Book" where the kids will write about what they want for their birthday.  I ran the balloons off on colored the different colors!

We start Monday...and I'm still working, but am pretty comfortable with my room's status!! Ready to get the year started!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

My 2nd Graders go to College!

Yep, you read the title correctly. My 2nd graders go to COLLEGE!!!
Some pretty prestigious colleges at that: Texas A&M (Gig'Em Aggies), Texas Tech (Guns up!)
University of Texas (Hook 'Em Horns!) and TCU (Fear the Frog!)---and our first year even Baylor (Go bears!).

That's how smart they are..
All because of their 2nd grade teachers!

Okay, let me explain. They don't really GO to college. That's what we call our focused groups
What? Need me to explain further? Okay.....

A few years ago, I was sittng in a workshop with other 2nd grade teachers and we were discussing HOW ON EARTH we were going to fit in all the things we were required to do with our new Language Arts adoption....Mc-Graw Hill Texas Treasures.

There simply WASN'T enough time in the day......everything was specialized......3 different spelling lists, 3 leveled books, 3 different stories a week. It was all TOO much! My class was all over the spectrum......low babies who barely knew the letters in their names to PACE kiddos who could read anything I stuck in front of them and everything in between! There was only ONE me and I had no idea how I was going to give them ALL my best when I am only one person!

Luckily I wasn't the only one in the district stressing about that. It lead to a very in-depth discussion and one lady told us what they did at their school and how it had served ALL the kids and improved their reading (and their scores)....but more importantly their learning!

So, I took the idea she gave me back to my (at the time different) principal and she basically told me if I believed it was going to work and help the kids to GO FOR IT! So, We came up with 'colleges'.
We each named our group after our Alma Mater.....luckily none of us went to the same college, and used testing data to divide the kids into 4(or 5 our first year) groups. That first year we had 2 'high' groups- they are the kids that can read fluently, they worked on expanding vocabulary, improving their writing and higher order thinking skills. We had an 'average' group- they worked on comprehension and some fluency as well as vocabulary. We had a "below average" group- they could decode, but needed extensive work on fluency and comprehenshion. And then we had my low baby group- we worked on decoding, accuracy and fluency.

Splitting the kids this way allowed us to tailor everything for them.....spelling lists, the pace we taught the stories and concepts, station work, EVERYTHING was targeted for just them. The kids loved it. The parents loved it. We loved it.

Last year, we got a new principal. I wasn't sure she'd love it....but she did. Our groups are very fluid...if a kid does alot of improving, he/she may 'transfer' to a different college. If they are struggling, they may do the same! We saw some really positive things come out of it. Noteably:

*The high kids were no longer the 'shining stars' in the classroom. There was an entire class of them, which prodded them to work harder, smarter and have higher quality work so they could stand out of the crowd.Many of them weren't used to this, and it greatly improved their effort ,they stretched themselves in learning. and some of them learned the hard lesson of "you can't win all the time."

\*The low babies began to participate in class. It was a safe environment. There was no Einstein to compete one to outshine them....they were all in the same boat. They began to get comfortable and take chances. They supported each other. No one was 'stupid' for not knowing an answer. Their confidence increased greatly and they grew leaps and bounds.

*The average babies grew HUGELY. They were no longer falling between the cracks....low babies were not getting all the attention and the geniuses were out of their loop so they had no one to 'carry them' on their portion of the work.

It was a win/win situation for all of us.

The downsides were:
* The low baby teacher (me) had a LOT of documentation to do. However, it was easier to do the documentation because I found an easier system and could do it for everyone!
*You're letting go some of your babies......which means you have to have total trust, confidence and participation from all of your team members for this to work. It's hard letting go. It's hard not knowing what your babies are doing. But this lead us to in-depth discussions as a team about where each kiddo was. It also gave us the benefit of having more than one teacher able to give input about where we saw a kid being and what they were struggling (or excelling) in!

Thankfully, it went over so well, our principal is COUNTING on us doing it again! I'm excited because now in year 3 I think we are 'tweaking' what we can do with these kids and I expect the huge growth to continue!

So, our 2nd graders will be college bound again this year!!!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Birthdays- 2nd Grade Style!

I LOVE birthdays!
Not mine, that just means it's another year I'm going to have to lie about my age!
But in school, I LIVED for birthdays!
Mine was always one of the first since I'm a September birthday, so I couldn't WAIT for school to start as a kid.
However, when I was in school, teachers stopped making a big deal about birthdays in about the 2nd grade.
Major let-down.
I was DONE with school after that.
Not really, but it was sad!

So, I love to celebrate birthdays in my class!
Kids are allowed to bring treats for the class....which they LOVE to do.
But this year, I think I'm going to do things a little bit different!
First of all, when it's their birthday, their morning work will be a little different.
They will get a fun "Birthday" book color page to do instead of the regular morning work!
The Birthday book will then be put in the writing center for students to 'sign' and say a nice word or two about the birthday boy or girl!
It will be their keepsake at the end of the day to take home.

Secondly, they get to sit in the "rolly chair" for the day.
BIG deal in my class!
They love the rolly chair!

Next, they will get a Birthday pencil, and a "Pick a recess equipment" tag to use whenever they wish.
(Not just the day of their birthday)

And finally, we will sing the Birthday Chant (Marine Corps Drill Instructor Style ) to them
Saw this on pinterest....can't take credit for it....
But in true Marine Corps cadence style, I changed the ending......
Here's mine....

I'll throw this little gem on my not-as-smart-as-yours-board and we'll chant away while marching in place for full effect! Then I'll tell them all to drop and give me 20!

And for the final touch, I'll take their birthday picture and give them that as a keepsake too!

I've seen TONS of ideas of what other people do for birthdays! I think this is gonna work for me this year!