Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Dreaded Homework Post

Take two...seriously, Blogger, don't fail me again! What am I talking about? Well, this post was completely finished. I hit save. It saved. I hit publish. The whole thing reverted the the version I had started on yesterday before I decided I was far too tired to speak (well, type actually) coherently about a topic as heated as homework. So here I go with my second attempt. Cross your fingers for me.

Long story (seriously, it was really long) short, homework is one of my least favorite parts about teaching. I am either getting calls that there is too much or I am getting calls that there is too little. Sometimes it is the same child's parents calling on opposite sides of the fence. At my campus, homework is not optional, and even if it were, the majority of parents want to see something coming home for their child to work on after school. However, it is definitely one of my least favorite things (Have I mentioned that yet?) because inevitably come Thursday afternoon (usually about 10 minutes before dismissal) I get the dreaded, "I can't find it...can I have another copy?" This is typically followed up by agreement from 2-3 other friends who have also lost, tore, or mangled their once pristine homework sheet.

"But there are other ways," you might say. Yep, I know. I've tried so many of them I cannot tell you. I've tried the homework logs with just reading and math minutes. They were great until somewhere around November when the forged signatures and missing papers began to occur. I've tried online homework and only giving printed homework to parents who requested it. That didn't work either. I've done review sheets that cover the topics we are learning or just finished. I've tried the Whole Brain Teaching method (which I will give it credit, worked great for a whole year at my old school...but it didn't make the transition to the new school quite so well. There's more, but I think you get the point. This year I have decided to try something different. I think...well, hope...this is going to be just the solution I have been looking for. What is it? Here's a peek:

Yep, that's right! Homework BINGO! I mean who doesn't love BINGO, right? So I took the key requirements my grade level and school set forth (some reading, writing, and math), and created a set of BINGO boards to try out. There are 25 total spaces and students must get 10 to be considered done with homework. Those students that get a BINGO (vertically, horizontally, or even diagonally...I'm nothing if not flexible!) will be entered for the coveted job of line leader for the following week. Not sure what it is about line leader, but even my student who doesn't seem to like anything will try to run over everyone in his or her path to get to the front of the line. Those weeks we all turn in our boards with 10 squares complete, we will have lunch in the room.

I even have a plan to solve the lost work problem! In years past, I have picked up poly folders. They are great and hold up all year, but at 50 cents a piece on sale during back-to-school, they add up quickly. This year I am going to utilize spirals. I've always had students keep one in their folder anyways. This year, they will glue their BINGO board in each week along with their spelling words. This means everything is in one place, and I can usually get a class set for under $2.50 during this time of year.  I figured even if I use two notebooks per student I have less than half the investment of the prior years, and who doesn't love saving money?

So here's a closer peek at one of my boards for September. I tried to include a little something for everyone, but I also wanted to push my students to try new things. For example, you'll notice lots of reading spaces. Some are free choice in fiction or nonfiction, but others have a specific topic or genre to encourage those readers who tend to just read the same series or book over and over again to branch out a bit. I did the same thing for writing, and each week the topics are slightly different to keep the homework fresh and engaging. The first question my husband asked was, "What about a free space?" It's there, but with a little twist. You see that spot in the middle? For my friends who don't have work to fix, that is the free space. Typically, I have a handful of students who rush, skip problems, or don't read directions and end up with a failing grade on an assignment. (Despite going over the directions together, trying 2-3 problems together, and talking about the importance of checking our work using our class checklist together). These assignments can be redone for up to a 70%. This space gives those kiddos who need to redo credit on their homework sheet for doing so. My hope is this will speed up the return rate of these assignments so I don't spend the last week of the grading period regrading assignments from the first week. It drives me bonkers, and does the child no good because the learning moment has passed so long ago.

Anyways, I also included a few squares that incorporate technology and programs my campus subscribes to. Many of my students LOVE to work on the computer, but I always have a few that don't have a computer at home. This allows for a happy medium. There are plenty of squares for those without one, but the kids who cannot wait to get online have their need met, too. So far I have only created my boards for September, but I am SUPER excited to try them out. Last year my team gave a math sheet a week, so I might incorporate that into the boards for October once we sit down and have our official plan in place.

So there you have it. My next attempt at tackling the homework challenge. My hope is that it will be fun and effective for students and easy for me, all while making the parents happy. That's no easy task so let's just cross our fingers and say a little prayer, shall we?

What about you? Do you have a miracle homework strategy, or are you (much like me) just crossing your fingers that this year's approach will be the one?

Happy Tuesday!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Coming out from under my rock to step on my soapbox...

In case you are new to the blog, I have an almost two year old. My life outside of work consists of baby dolls, playing outside, potty training, and Doc McStuffins. If it isn't sung by either the Wiggles or those weird Gabba characters, I probably don't know it...and that is more than fine by me. That being said, I recently caught a glimpse of the interview Matt Lauer had with Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors (for those of you who also live under rocks, like me). Long story short, he basically asked her if she believed she could be a good CEO and a good parent at the same time. Ouch! Tough question. My knee-jerk reaction, of course, was to go into long "why isn't he asking any of the men in CEO positions that same question" rant in a conversation with my husband, who (of course) totally agreed (or at least was smart enough not to interrupt me).

The reality is the more I really think about the question the more it really makes me think...and think...and think. First off, what does GOOD mean? As a teacher, "good" is one of those overused words we push students to move past because, the truth is, it has really lost most of its true meaning. It is subjective, non-specific, and really doesn't tell me much about anything. So the real question is, what does Matt Lauer really want to know? Is he trying to find out of Ms. Barra feels bad about having to miss out on events in her child's life because of work? I think anyone who works feels that pang of regret at times. Whether you work at the local gas station, the school, or in the big corner office, you cannot be everywhere at once, and the bigger picture must prevail. Money for braces, after-school tutoring, or even enough food for dinner are all factors in making those tough choices. Why would a CEO be any different? Is my presence the indicator of quality? What if I sit on my phone the whole time playing Angry Birds? Still quality?

I may not be a CEO (thank goodness), but do I pride myself on being a "good" teacher? I do! Twenty-something little minds are entrusted to me for 180 days. I better find pride in doing that job well. I diligently read and research the best new methods. I track my data and keep detailed files on each of my students. I apply band-aids and give hugs when scraped knees happen at recess. I email, call, text, and meet with parents (sometimes weekly and over the tiny, seemingly-inconsequential concerns). I plan fun, engaging lessons, and I help my students find their personal interests and passions. Am I perfect? Is my desk empty and my to-do list clear when I leave each day? Nope, but that is teaching, and I truly believe that I make a difference each day.

On the flip-side, I can ask the same thing of myself as a parent. Do I pride myself on being a "good" parent? You better believe it! Unlike those little minds that I get for a mere 180 days, I am responsible for this one for 18+ years. I better have some vested interest, right? I wipe tears, kiss boo-boos, dance like a maniac in celebration of a tiny drip in the potty, make real dinners for fake babies (even organic, at times), read the same book 10 times in a row, and can snuggle like it is nobody's business. I live for the moments when those chubby little arms wrap around me for a big hug and kiss, and I have been known to make strangers look at adorably cute photos of my adorably cute toddler without fathoming I might be slightly biased.

The question becomes one of balance. Where does being a good mom balance with being a good teacher? I refuse to believe I cannot be good at both, but I do believe balance is the key to everything. Some days balance is a work in progress. Other days, the clouds part, the sun shines upon me, and I feel the perfection of knowing I have given both my students and my child everything they needed from me that day. These, of course, are the rare exception, but like finding a four leaf clover on a walk in the park, I stop in those moments to appreciate my good fortune. Even on those perfect days, I crawl into bed focused on tomorrow. Did I pack enough lunch for my little bean? What story should we read tomorrow? What am I going to do about so-and-so who is still struggling to read...or to get enough food to eat? How can I be better tomorrow than I was today? Because even in those rare moments of perfection, there is always room to grow. There are always problems to solve. The reality is, if they have felt special, loved, and cared about today, then I have been more than good at both.

So I close with a thank you to Matt Lauer for asking a slightly discriminatory question because the reality is no matter what we choose to do, we all take on more than one role in our lives. CEO, teacher, employee, mother, daughter, wife...the list goes on and on. There is no perfection in any of these. I may do a bang-up job today...and tomorrow could be just one of those days. That's just life, and we're all doing the best we can with what we have at that moment to be good at it. And just in case today is one of THOSE days for you, you are doing a good job. Keep being awesome because (if nothing else) tomorrow will go better!

Monday, July 14, 2014

5 Things To Do NOW to Make August a Little Easier

Happy Monday! I know many of you will be looking toward back to school time in just a few short weeks. I just got the official email telling us our rooms are clean and ready for action, so I know summer is coming to an end all too soon.

This past weekend I enjoyed a few days in sunny Las Vegas. Can I just say, my feet still hurt?! Seriously, should have thought to bring some sneakers. Live and learn, I guess! Besides the sore tootsies, I just have to say how absolutely fabulous my trip was! I met so many fabulous educators and had a great time learning lots of new tips and tricks that will (hopefully) make the blog even better. Oh, and the view from my room was BEAUTIFUL! Seriously, see for yourself. Gorgeous, right? 

As I was waiting in the airport, I pulled out my notebook and started looking over/adding to my seemingly never-ending list of things to finish, and I realized just how little summer was left! With the slot machines cha-chinging (yep, totally not a word) beside me, I decided right then and there I needed to get some things done...FAST! So with no further ado, here is my list of 5 things to do NOW (like right now....maybe even today) that will make back-to-school a little less stressful. So here they are (in no particular order): 

#1) Update your Meet the Teacher letter.
For you new teachers, it is time to draft one of these! Seems silly, but 10-15 minutes you will spend come August are PRIME TIME! Once that summer staff development hits, the to-do list seems to grow a mind of its own. Therefore, take a few minutes now to look over that letter you send home with students the first day of school (or at school supply drop-off...or whenever) to be sure it still represents you and gives families the first impression you want them to have. You are much more likely to find areas to update when you aren't stressed with the list of 500 other things to print, laminate, and prepare.  

#2) Decide on an organizational system...or evaluate the one you have.
I personally keep a binder to help me track everything. It isn't the prettiest thing ever...seriously, now that I look at it, the cover needs some serious help. YIKES! I am actually going to go fix it right now...it's really that bad. 

Ok, done. I always go low-ink to save myself money or the campus ink...depending on where I am when I get to print. So here is my new cover. 
See that adorable mini-me? Teaching in the Tongass

I am going to work to update the inside of my binder and remove the info from this year's students, but here is the general overview of what I have inside. Once it is finished, I will dedicate a longer, more detailed post to this topic, but for now, and overview will have to do. First, I have 2-3 plastic folder pockets. I use these for handouts, papers that aren't binder ready, and stuff I need to laminate. Basically, it is the catch-all. Behind that you'll find the yearly calendar. I got mine from KindergartenWorks. The editable version lets me type in all my important dates (breaks, testing, etc.) before the school year starts. Then I print it off and the rest gets written in by hand. (Hint: Hole punch the pages so the calendar opens flat and you can see it all at a glance like mine below.)

After that I have sections for my plans (which contains the year at-a-glance up until I start planning), an assessment and grading section (which includes my BOY data sheet and once I know my students' names my grade tracker), a student information section (which I use to keep all the information forms I get from the parents at the beginning of the year organized by student), and an information section (for notes, duty schedules, and other stuff).

#3) Update your Website...or create one if you don't have one! 
I cannot tell you enough how much this has helped me. I have a bit more to adjust, and there will inevitably be some new things to add once I sit down in a staff meeting or three, but having this piece of the puzzle off my plate is a lifesaver. It truly is one of the first impressions the world (AKA your new families) gets of you as a teacher. Spending a little time in July between relaxation means you can really focus your energies on making it great. I, personally, use Blogger, as my district drank the "Google Kool-aid". However, there are lots of great free sites to set up a website, if you don't yet have one. 

About a year ago, I decided it was worth it to plop down some cash and bought an inexpensive pre-made template from the lovely Emily at Blogaholic Designs (In case you are looking, she was fabulous. I had a small issue on my end because I like to think I am more techy than I am, and she was able to quickly and easily remedy it. I HIGHLY recommend her.) Here's a little peek into what my class blog looks like: 

This year I am really focusing on ensuring that I have working links on my student links pages (the icons on the left designed inspired by Ladybug Teacher Files), and I am spending some time writing short descriptions for all the units I teach (which will go under the what we're learning section). This will allow me to cut and paste the paragraph that gives the parents background about the standards and add in details about the projects and activities we'll be doing throughout the year. The parents love to be up-to-date, and I can spend more of my time focused on adding pictures rather than writing (for the tenth year) what we are doing in each subject. 

#4) Prep Your Back to School/Parent Night Presentation
Again, I have to give a shout out to Ladybug Teacher Files for making this one a snap! I used her super adorable, editable template (which you can get for free here) and made it my own. It took some time, and there will always be things to adjust each year, but now I am able to tweak and adjust vs. reinvent the wheel each year. I also had a few slides of my own (and thankfully the same set of clip art that she used)...I call them my bonus slides, and they are based on my campus and personal philosophies. 

First, I added a technology slide. We use a lot of technology in my room (and at my campus, in general). As a result many of the parents come ready to ask questions related to what their child will be doing on the technology. This helps me prevent a slew of those questions at the end. I also added slides about enrichment and PBL, both of which are campus initiatives. Finally, I added a slide to get parents to sign up for Remind 101. This let them do it right then and there...saving me LOTS of time and explanation. Finally, I added the Before you go slide. This was left up on the screen and reminded parents of what I needed from them before they left.

This year, I will be adjusting some things and making some clarification on items parents asked a lot about last year, but this still should only take me a half-hour or so. I will also probably put together my forms and other papers into parent file folders so maybe an hour and a half, tops! 

#5) Organize Your Pins
I am sure you are all on Pinterest pinning all the amazing ideas you plan to implement next year. However, if you are like me, you never get around to half of them because the pin gets buried somewhere and you never see it again until you've just finished teaching that unit you wanted to use the idea for...Murphy's Law, right? Well, now is the time to get organized. It's July. You're on Pinterest anyways. Spend 15-20 minutes deciding what you can do to organize your boards for usability. Right now I have my boards sorted by subject. I can tell you right now, it isn't working. We get to place value, and I remember that cute activity I wanted to try, and 30 minutes of searching later I end up getting distracted by another math idea. Therefore, I am going to start breaking my pins down by subject and unit...or maybe by standard. Haven't quite fleshed this one out yet. Either way, it will be much easier for me to find (and use) my pins in my classroom with far less digging with a fine tooth comb. 

So there you have it. Five things that can help you ease the hustle and bustle of the beginning of the year! Why not get a few things checked off the to-do list now? 

Mrs. D

Monday, July 7, 2014

Happy Monday! How about a FREEBIE to celebrate?

Hard to believe it is already July! The summer seems to be flying, and I am not quite sure where it is going.
This week will be another busy one with the TPT Conference coming up on Friday. I am really looking forward to the opportunity to meet and network with so many other teacher bloggers and TPT sellers. Got my handy-dandy, super cute business cards in the mail today (see below). Now I just have to pack and get my ducks in a row!
The super cute mini-me is from Teaching in the Tongass....LOVE IT! 

In an effort to get back on track with blogging, I am joining the Monday Meet Up over at The Teaching Tribune. It is week 6 for them...week 1 for me. If you haven't checked it out, I highly recommend it (but first finish reading this post...don't want to miss out on the freebie, you know!). 

Right now I am working on a number of projects to get ready for the new school year. The biggest have been the fillable unit progress reports. I finished up the math set this week, and all the other subjects are ready to make into a fillable format. I keep reminding myself how useful this will be, but I don't think I will completely appreciate them until the school year really starts. Currently, I keep a yearly spreadsheet of data on my students' performance, which is so useful come time to refer a student to step up a tier in the RTI process, but it is really a pain when it comes to keeping the rest of the student data confidential in a parent conference, etc. This was my attempt to solve the issue. I figured it is clickable, which means it will likely take WAY less time than all the other documentation I have been doing. Here's to hoping it works!

My wonderful husband has made a me a deal that I get to work 3 mornings a week while he mans the battle station with our (nearly) 2-year old. To say she is a bundle of energy is truly putting it mildly, but she is also smart as a whip and half the time she ends up talking daddy into letting her come "work" with me. Hence the reason my desk looks like it has seen some kind of natural disaster. Totally worth it though to see her "taking notes" in my notebook while I finish things up for the morning. 

Each day I am trying to get a start (or wrap up) a new project for the school year. Some days it works...other days, not so much. Today, I am happy to report, has been a big success! I have finally finished up my new addition freebie. My district has mixed it up a bit this year, and instead of starting with our usual place value (which many of my friends are not quite ready for), we are starting with addition and subtraction. YAHOO! I cannot wait to use this file when I start math stations this year.  Want a copy of your own? Just click the picture below! 

Hope you have a great week! 
Mrs. D

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Is it already time to start thinking about next year?

Woah! Where does the time go? Yet again, I find myself in summer and not a blog post for MONTHS! Getting back into the classroom this year was fabulous, but balancing a little one and a classroom full-time definitely reminded me of just how busy life can get. Anyhow, I am back and that's what matters, right? 

In other news, it officially happened last night... The dreams started. You know those back to school dreams where you are standing there on Parent Night just as the parents are about to walk in and you realize you have no idea what you want to say to them. Even after nine years, I still get the dreams, and I consider it my sign that it is time to start planning for next year. 

This summer's plans will be a little different than prior years, however. Not only is all the beginning of year stuff coming at me, I am also going to be out on maternity leave for the middle section of this year. When Baby #1 was born, I transitioned out of the classroom, so this will be my first time experiencing the long-term sub thing. It makes me a little nervous, especially with both my husband and I teaching and having lots of back-to-school prep work. As you can imagine we are super excited for the new addition, but I'm also realizing there isn't a day's break before the baby is due...so I better get my ducks in a row! Any advice from the maternity leave vets out there? 

For starters, I am working on getting some of my favorite documents into a fillable format. Last summer I worked on my grade book records, and they were FABULOUS. I was able to type in my class names before school started, and every quarter I just printed a new copy. This summer, I decided to do the same with my Beginning of Year student information sheet. Instead of having to try to read my beginning of year writing (usually I fill this form out in the midst of doing 20 other things and despite being super useful it is always SUPER messy), I can type in the names, check the applicable boxes, and print a neat, easy-to-read copy for myself and the long-term sub binder. 

The great news for you? Both items are fillable freebies! Just click the pictures below to get your copy.

And there you have it! I hope you enjoy these two freebies as much as I do, and don't leave me hanging teacher mama's...what suggestions do you have for preparing for maternity leave? 

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