Sunday, July 27, 2014

My Year in 5th Grade

In April 2013, I interviewed for my first teaching position. Student teaching in 1st, I *knew* that I would be a primary teacher. Primary Land was for me. Hands down. No other option.

The morning after the interview, the principal sat me down and offered me a classroom....in 5th grade. As a first-year teacher, I accepted the position because quite frankly, it was a job. In reality, I was devastated. It was easily 6 weeks (around the end of June) before I could think about 5th grade without crying. Friends, I completely understand this sounds ridiculous and dramatic, but I'm an extreme planner...almost obsessively. I really don't love surprises, and I really do like straight lines. So, this 5th grade curve ball, was devastating.

I stayed this distraught until mid-June, transitioned to ambivalent until August, became hopeful after the 3rd week of school, and was swept-off-of-my-feet in mid-September. 5th grade was made for me. As someone who loves to learn, my desire to learn was satisfied. My inner traveler was fulfilled as I introduced kids to countries and cities they had no idea even existed. The word-nerd in me could rap with the best of P Diddy and Jay Z (maybe I'm taking liberties here). This was it. 5th grade was my home - a place where I could be the best me. It was a place of amazing growth and learning. My biggest lessons this year -

  • Relationships are important to me. Friends, this is honestly, my biggest take-away from this year. I've always enjoyed having a few close friends and being friendly with many others. Honestly, though, before this year, I would have been very comfortable teaching in my own little world, by myself. I never really though I needed people before. Naive? Yes. Ignorant? Yes. Prideful? Probably. But, it's true. I find being around people exhausting. If you met me in person, you'd never know, because when I'm "On" it's game time. Rarely have I so intentionally invested in a group of people, in the way I interacted with Jill, Kelly, and Dianne - the 5th grade team. This group of women allowed me to be all-the-way me and so willingly accepted my quirks. They taught me to laugh at myself and they taught me to be more flexible than I ever wanted. And, they taught me to be fun. They pushed me down the halls in a rollie chair, they fake-punched me (requiring me to fall on the gym floor) during an assembly, they dressed me as a minion, they taught me all about free-pie Wednesday. They taught me when I try something that is spontaneous and outside of my 'box', I can be fun. This year was amazing because of these women. It wasn't the learning or the administration or the books, it was Jill, Dianne, and Kelly who loved me, invested in me, and showed me how important people are.
  • 5th graders are still little, but they want to be big so badly. I loved my kids. Loved them. But, they are not big yet, and they shouldn't be treated like they are. When kids turn'big' there is a feeling like they need to be taught 'hard lessons' and 'learn the hard way' and 'shutdown quickly.' If we consider them little, we are willing to give second chances, willing to take time to explain, and willing to say 'You're right, and I was wrong. I'm sorry.'  How do I know 5th graders are still little? Their hearts can be crushed by us [teachers] in a single call-out, in a single hallway-conversation, in a single note home. We should keep our 5th graders little. It's better for all of our hearts.
  • An excitement for learning can be orchestrated. When you give me a costume or a microphone (i.e. Expo marker) or an auctioneer's voice or a tall chair, I can convince any 5th grader to read any book and be excited about it. Easy peasy. Done. I've got you've covered. 5th graders want to see that you're absolutely, ridiculously excited. When you've done this, you've won their hearts. Remember, their hearts are still crush-able or mold-able or win-able.
  • 5th graders smell, and giving the "Your bodies are changing" talk does nothing. Nothing. Also, around mid-October 5th grade teachers become immune to the smell only to be reminded of it by teachers who do not teach 5th grade. 
  • The testing pressure is real. Student teaching in primary, I had no idea. None. It may be different in different schools (and goodness, I hope so), but the pressure to perform on standardized state tests is significant. It negatively impacts our classrooms, our teachers, and our students. Words such as "On the test in May..." "On KPREP...." "When you take KPREP" came out of my mouth this year, friends, and I felt like a traitor. I felt as if everything I taught before these moments was void. It made makes me feel gross and frustrated and I want to see the alternative. Accountability is necessary, absolute necessary...but it's can't be like this. 
  • 5th grade is a really interesting social experiment  and teachers are privy to observe it. There may never be another place where so much awkwardness, odor, desire to fit-in, and curiosity exists. From this social experiment, 5th grade teachers have the best stories, the best sayings, and the most reasons to laugh. 

After I stopped crying and fell in love with met my 90 kids, 5th grade was phenomenal. It was a challenge (please note - challenges are my favorite!). It was exhausting. Many days, it was beyond frustrating. Ultimately, this year was both satisfying and fun - two things I never expected or even wanted to say about 5th grade. And one day, I would love to return.

Early in June I had the opportunity to interview for a classroom at my dream school (outside of the Ron Clark Academy) - a brand new (only 2 years old),  Light-House school with a young and energetic staff, fantastic leaders, and in my hometown. Signing my contact Friday, I'm comfortable saying that I'll be moving to 1st grade for the 2014-2015 school year.

If there is something I learned this year, it is that change can be phenomenal and it is the best learning tool. I promise I have shed zero tears this year, and I am truly thrilled. Without a doubt, I will dearly miss 5th grade. I'll miss the content, the sassy-ness of the kids, their smell desire to be big...but I am happy for 1st in this moment.

It is going to be wonderful. I am at a school where every teacher I've met has said to me, "You are going to love it here." What a statement! Friends, I'm so excited. I feel like I'm a first-year teacher again and am terrified, but this time, I already know it will be great. There will be a learning curve and some failed ventures, but 1st is going to make for a joyful, loving, and happy 2nd year.

For my friends in Intermediate Land, I'd love for you to stay tuned-in for my adventures. I still have several more intermediate resources in-the-works and several lessons I'd love to share throughout the year. Plus, tech tricks transcend all grades, right? Primary friends - get ready! It's going to be a whirlwind of a year, and I cannot wait to share my 1st year in 1st with you. :)

So, here is to learning and challenges and positve change

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Reading Response Letters & On Demand Writing

Hi, friends! With training in my new district starting Monday, I've been spending a lot of time at Panera polishing the resources I used throughout the year to get them ready to share with you! Today I wanted to share my most recent resources and give you the opportunity to win them for your classroom! To learn more about these resources, click on the links or pictures below. :)

Teaching fifth grade for the first time, I began implementing reading response letters (replacing book reports) and I was completely overwhelmed by the amazing results! Writing back and forth, I formed a special ‘reading bond’ with my students. From these letters, I knew their likes, dislikes, struggles, and tendencies as readers. I was able to recommend certain books for them, help them identify their ‘just-right’ book level, and I could encourage them to think more deeply about the text they were reading. This resource is my favorite resource yet, and includes all the materials and tips you need to implement reading response letters in your classroom.
Teaching writing to 90 5th graders, my teaching cohorts and I were desperate for a more equitable and faster way to assess student writing. Students wrote at least one On-Demand piece a week and the grading was killing us. These rubrics were developed to facilitate the feedback process, as well as allow students to see exactly where their piece needed tweaking and where their writing was spot-on. A companion to my On Demand Writing Prompts resource, these rubrics are standards-based and Common Core aligned for 5th grade.
Rather than introducing or creating ‘class rules’, these "We Believe" statements are ideals my class holds about our classroom, our work together, and the world. Short, sweet, and easy to remember, these phrases have tremendous power. Within the first few weeks of school, we discuss (as a class) the implications of these statements asking “How will my actions reflect these beliefs?” This neon set was made upon request of some sweet followers based on my original set that uses a white background (saving ink) and non-neon colors.
Assigning students table numbers, as well as, a partner letter (A or B) is an easy management tool. These editable desk labels allow for simple material distribution, an easy partnering tool, as well as, an effortless way to call on groups of students. I've included premade labels show in the 8 colors below, as well as, editable labels to meet the needs of your class!
All of these resources have been classroom-tested, tweaked, and approved! I'm so excited to share them with you and your students. I'd love to give you a chance to snag the resources that would work best for your classroom. Pin any of the resources shown above (from the links I've given you in the Rafflecopter) for a chance to snag them. I'll choose and announce 4 friends on Monday! :)

For right now, have a wonderful evening! I'll see you all tomorrow for some BIG news.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

5th Grade Reading Logs & Book Series (Wild Readers Make Plans)

Happy Thursday, friends! Today marks the second-to-last week of our Reading in the Wild summer book study. If you are just joining us and missed the first week (Wild Readers Dedicate Time to Read), second week (Creating a Workshop Schedule that Works for You), third week (Building an Excitement for Reading), 4th week (Curating a Classroom Library), or 5th week (Conferring: What's the Point?) make sure to check them out!

This week's hosts are Deb at Crafting Connections and Kim at Finding Joy in 6th. They are the sweetest ladies, so make sure to stop by and say, 'Hi!'
In Chapter 5, Miller focuses on the steps readers take to plan and organize their reading. Many times students have never done this, so we (as the adults) must model and guide students through this process. Modeling after Miller, our school accepts the 40 book challenge for Intermediate Students. At first  students are positive that it is not possible. One of my 5th graders actually told me, "I've never finished A book. I can't finish 40." In reality, the number 40 matters a whole lot less than the goal. Some of my students never made it to 40 books (66 of my 90 met their 40-book goal), but they did read 26 books, 30 books, 35 books in a single school year. They were so proud of themselves, and so was I. They set goals, they tracked their progress, and they made tremendous strides towards becoming life-long readers. As students finished books, they would record them on this Reading Log, along with a rating out of 5 stars. 
When conferring with students, we would often pull out this log, check their progress, and talk about any books they had finished since the last time we met. After Winter Break, we had a more formal reflection period as an entire class. Students took the time to look at the reading logs and complete this reflection form. They graphed their reading for the fall, set goals for the Spring, and told their classmates about their favorite read so far. We discussed how we've grown as readers, our favorite books, things that have surprised us about reading, and general observations. It was really neat to see how the kids' perception of a ‘reader’ has evolved. The entire conversation was so encouraging. 


Switching gears within this chapter, Miller also asks the question, "How can students' reading experiences, interests, and goals lead them to the next book, and then the next? How can unmotivated readers develop reading plans than build momentum and increase engagement?" She goes on to discuss that books in a series are a powerful tool for building "readers" in the classroom, and I completely agree! In my classroom, our Book Series shelves (see below) were the most visited. With books in a series, students are more confident because they are familiar with the characters, as well as the writer's style. While there may be many surprises within the plot, there is more predictability and safety for students. Plus, it is motivating for students to finish a book because they know another fabulous one awaits!
As you can see, we housed a lot of series and, many times, several copies of a series. My classroom library was the only library my 90 5th graders saw, so a single set of Diary of a Wimpy Kid or I Survived wouldn't cut it. Thankfully, Scholastic offers series for awesome prices and you can snag them with bonus points! Below are some of our favorite series from the year. The Lightning Thief and A Boy at War were more popular at the beginning of the year, while Alex Rider and The 39 Clues caught on in March-ish. My girls were loving The Secret Series and my struggling readers found a 'just-right' series in A Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries. As you start to build your libraries this year, I would definitely encourage you to check theses series out. They offer a great way to 'hook' students and naturally allow students to have a reading plan. Plus, series books are great for building a community of readers!
So, friends, how do your students make plans for their reading? How do you check-in throughout the year? I would love to hear about what works for you and your classroom! If you're a blogger, I'd love for you to link up your posts/ideas. If you're not a blogger, that's great, too! You can read/follow and comment. We want to hear your advice, thoughts, and ideas for the classroom, too. The more teachers we have joining, the more amazing our classrooms will be this fall! Next week, we will be reading Chapter 5: Wild Readers Show Preference.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

July's Stitch Fix: The Best Yet!

Hello, friends! As you know, I am a monthly subscriber to Stitch Fix, an style-at-your-door service. I have really enjoyed the pizzazz Annie (my stylist) has put into my wardrobe. Plus, I'll be honest with you - I really dislike shopping for clothes. School supplies, I love shopping. Clothes and shoes, I'd rather not. Therefore, Stitch Fix has been a fun and easy option for changing up what I'm wearing. :)

Here we are! In the note Annie included with my fix, she explained that her focus this month was some fun pieces for back to school. Wouldn't you know that this month EVERY single item fit?! And the style was so much more me. 
After unwrapping the beautiful mint scarf, I was welcomed by this adorable grey-printed top. A little loose at the bottom and a modest V-neckline, I am in LOVE with this blouse. It looks great with white Capris, tucked into a skirt, or out with black dress pants. Annie hit-the-nail-on-the-head with this one. It was a definite keep!
 Another perfect tee this navy and white-striped top would be perfect for summer...but, I have already purchased 2 tops almost identical to this through Stitch Fix. I loved that it fit, which gives me hope for the success of future fixes, but it was a top I sent back.
 When I first opened my aqua box, this gem greeted me. Friends, true confession??? I own a ridiculous number of scarves. A whole lot. Like too many. But...this Asha sacrf was SO lightweight and perfect for summer. Plus, it was super silky and laid perfectly. It was love at first sight and I couldn't say no. :)

Next up was this perfectly-fitting, navy-striped dress. Literally, I died. Perfect, perfect fit. Unfortunately, it was missing sleeves and through Stitch Fix I now already own a ton of navy stripes (as seen above). So, this was a PLEASESENDMETHISDRESSINADIFFERENTCOLORWITHSLEEVESINAUGUST pass.
The great thing about Stitch Fix (other than the fact that I don't have to go clothes shopping) is that I put any of the clothes I'm not keeping in the bag they provide, seal it, and mail it (for free)! The checkout process is online and I can leave feedback/ideas for Annie. It's super simple. The hardest part is remembering to visit the Post Office to drop of your returns!
See, I really do like these tops and have even worn them in the real world! My first training in my new school was last Tuesday (it rocked, by the way!) and so I wore this coral ditty, and then, I've worn the grey-print top with friends and most importantly, when choosing a new class plant (see picture below).
So, tell me - do you Stitch Fix? If so, leave a link to your last fix. I want to see!  If you don't use Stitch Fix yet, are you tempted to try Stitch Fix for yourself? If so, it's a simple process - all you do is sign up, complete a style profile today, and schedule your first fix. If you use my referral link to sign up (included throughout this post) I receive a credit when your first fix is shipped. My next fix is scheduled for August 8th - two days after school starts. It will be a perfect way to begin my weekend! :)

Well friends, I'll leave you with a picture of the great grey top Annie picked for me and a very special addition to my new classroom! Last year, we welcomed a bamboo plant who was later named Plantuska. This year, we're welcoming a stunning sunflower who has yet to be named. For right now, I'm calling him Sunny. So, there you go! Happy day, friends. :)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Stacks: Making Learning FUN!

Happy July, friends! I would tell you Happy (insert day of the week), but all I know it is July. So, there we go. Today I am joining with dozens of amazing teacher-bloggers to bring you simple and promotion-free ideas for your classroom.
I'm sharing about an easy and fun way to practice skills that we want to become automatic for our students. Stacks, the real-world game, can easily be channeled into learning-goodness! It's great for students of all ages, and it requires minimal supplies - Dixie Cups and Sharpies. In 5th grade, one of our favorite ways to use Stacks was to learn Greek/Latin roots and vocabulary words. In this post, you'll see our root word and prefix Stacks in action! 

On the outside bottom of the cups, I write the "question" or what I want students to solve or answer. In the picture below students are expected to define the prefix on the bottom. Then, on the inside of the cup, I write the answer.
Stacks is one of the Word Work choices students may make during our Reader's Workshop! I include directions and "I Can" statement at the center to keep students on track. 

When we're not using a set of Stacks, I keep them stacked in a large Sterilite container. I've seen some teachers store the cups in Pringles cans...BUT I've eaten maybe 10 Pringles in my entire life. So, this storage works for me!
See friends, I told you, simple! This is a low-prep but high-return workstation that kids love. This was always one of the highest-demand stations because to my friends, it was a game. Plus, if 2 partners wanted to step up the game, they would build separate towers, competing to be the first person with a complete tower!

If you teach in Primary, you might consider using stacks for...
  • Addition and subtraction facts (doubles, doubles plus one, sums to 10)
  • Sight words
  • Times and clock faces
  • Spanish/English translations
If you teach in Intermediate Land, you might use stacks for...
  • States and capitals
  • Parts of speech
  • Greek and Latin Roots
  • Practice moving from Fractions to decimals or decimals to percents
The possibilities for Stacks are endless and fun. Students love the game-feeling, and I love the urgency in which they practice/quiz each other. Have you used Stacks before? If so, what do you use them to review or practice?

If you enjoyed this idea, I'd love for you to connect with me on Teachers Pay TeachersFacebookInstagram where I share loads of pictures each week! Now, to read about dozens of other ready-to-use classroom ideas, check the link-up below! Happy reading, friends. :)