Monday, September 5, 2016

I Will Survive!

I teach each year in themed units, and my first unit of the year is always survival. Considering I teach in a sixth grade only school, just about everyone in the building is in survival mode for the first few weeks, so it's a pretty appropriate way to begin the year. 

Each of my units includes a PBL (more about that in a future post) and an Independent Novel Study. Before we get started with that, however, I have the students begin thinking about the unit theme in different ways. 

For my survival unit, I ask students to define and illustrate what they think it means to survive. My CP students write a definition, and my Honors students are asked to use a simile or metaphor to define survival. It always results in some pretty amazing thinking, and I can then use the students' work to create a display that will stay up for the entire unit. 

Decorating When You Don't Have Time...

Last year I had a goal to create and hang a wreath in my classroom for each of the months/holidays/seasons. I made it to October before I just didn't have time to keep it up. I renewed my goal this year, but I also came up with an idea that I think is a bit more realistic as far as time (and money) is concerned.

I bought a monogrammed hanger from Michael's on sale for less than a dollar and spray painted it white. Using a velcro dot, I attached a small chalkboard with a welcome message and then hung the wreath with some "ABC" ribbon between my two windows. Voila! Instant "Welcome Back to School" wreath!

The best thing about this is how easy it is to change for the next season or holiday. As soon as college football season started, I traded the chalkboard for a foam Gamecock coaster (re-purpose EVERYTHING!) and my ABC ribbon for some garnet and black bows. It's instantly a new creation. I can't wait to switch it up for each new holiday!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Minimize "Stuff" to Maximize the Learning Environment

It's that time again - BACK TO SCHOOL! I'm already a week behind on the blog...there is no busy like back to school busy, and no tired like back to school tired. :)

I thought I'd start the year with a tour of my classroom. I am never satisfied with how my room looks. Every single year, I change at least one thing. This year, however, I made some BIG changes. We are only four days in, but so far, I'm loving it!

Here is a "big picture" picture of most of my room.

Things I loved and kept the same from years past: 

1. The Leader Board - You can read about the Leader Board on my "The 4th Nine Weeks Slump" post.

2. The bathroom/water/locker check-out system - I can't believe I've never done a post on this! It's definitely one of my very favorite things in my room, and it tops the list on classroom management priorities.

All of the classrooms at CRIS have four large metal cabinets in the back of the room. They aren't super attractive, but they do provide a lot of storage - and a lot of space for decorating. A few years ago I realized I needed a new system for how my kids left the classroom. I was encountering so many problems - the kids who wanted to leave seventeen times in one block, the kids who would just walk up to me in the middle of my lesson to ask to go to the bathroom, the kid who left his homework in his locker every single day...the list goes on and on. After much brainstorming, I decided to put those cabinets to work as my bathroom management system.

This is what the cabinets look like:


There is one cabinet for each block. I separated each block into three sections.

1. The student names - I printed each student's name and had them laminated. I then hot glued a magnet to the back of each name.

2. The "I'm Out" section - When a student needs to leave the room, he/she finds his/her magnet and moves it to this section.

3. The "I'm Back" section - When a student returns from the restroom/locker/water, he/she moves his/her magnet to this section.

The rules I go over with the students are:

1. You may only leave the classroom one time per block. So, if you need to get your homework out of your locker, you better go to the bathroom while you're out! Once your name tag is moved into "I'm Back," you can't leave again.

2. Only one boy and one girl are allowed out of the room at one time. So, if Suzy Q's tag is in "I'm Out," then Brenda Jo has to wait until she gets back.

This process has been simple and absolutely seamless. I was almost surprised and a little wary of how well it worked when I first implemented it. So far, it hasn't failed me!

3. The Supply Cubby - When I taught elementary school, I had one of my friend's dad build me a shelving unit for all of my construction paper. When I moved to middle school, I didn't really need a home for construction paper, but I didn't want to lose the shelving unit. I decided to re-purpose it into a supply cubby system. I purchased some great tubs from the Dollar Tree and filled them each with some frequently used supplies (dry erase lap board, rag for erasing, Expo marker, ruler, scissors, glue, clipboard, etc.). When we are working on a project, I have students grab a tub (they are numbered, so students grab the bin that corresponds with their number). I don't waste time passing out materials, and students don't have to fuss with pulling everything out of their book bags.

4. Homework & Objectives Board - I teach two intervention classes and two honors classes, so I split the white board in the back of my room into two sections. On the left side, I include homework, reminders, daily focus questions, and weekly learning intentions for my intervention classes. On the right side, I include the same for my honors students. It's great to have a central location for all the "need to know" information for both sets of classes.

5. Anchor Charts - I love having a place to hang the anchor charts for each of my classes. You can check out how I made those on my "Polished Look" blog.

Things I changed for this year:

1. NO DESKS! - My biggest change for this year is that I got rid of all the desk in my room - including my teacher desk. It was a huge leap, but so far, I love it! (And the kids seem to love it too!)

Because I teach two intervention classes, I really needed a comfortable space for small group instruction. I knew that if I added a horseshoe table or something similar, I'd need to make space somewhere. The teacher desk had to go. Once it was out, I had so much more room. I scrounged up three trapezoid tables to create my own version of a horseshoe table. One of the tables serves as my "desk," and the other two provide plenty of room for small groups. It's perfect. I added a little fabric fringe, and it's really become a functional and welcoming space.

I also am a huge fan of alternative seating in the classroom. Last year I went half and half - I kept about 13 desks, and I used tables, floor seating, yoga balls, etc. for the other half of the seats. This year, I used my state teacher money to purchase six new tables (Thank you, Ikea!) for my room. I was able to get rid of all of the traditional desks, and I used stools and chairs that I had last year for table seats. I have gotten nothing but compliments from the kids so far, and the tables are PERFECT for group work. 

2. Minimize "stuff" to maximize the learning environment - I am a typical teacher hoarder. I keep everything; I accept every free book, ruler, pack of pencils, etc. anyone ever offers me. Last year, I was up to EIGHT full bookshelves of books. Maybe twenty percent of those books ever got picked off the shelf. So, I purged. I (along with my husband, Ian and my best friend, Lisa) spent several days getting rid of "stuff." We donated books, cleaned out file cabinets, and passed along supplies of which I had an abundance. If I couldn't remember the last time I used it, I got rid of it. My goal this year is to truly minimize in order to maximize the space and time we have for learning. 

Here is my new reading corner - about five bookshelves less than last year!

One of the things I love most about my profession is that it constantly changes. Each year I get a new classrooms of students with a unique set of needs. Every year is different; every day is different. I work in a school that encourages and embraces risk taking. My administrators love when we try something new - even when it doesn't quite work like we planned. I am so thankful to be here, and I know it's going to be a great year!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Welcoming All Learners

This year I was privileged to teach two intervention language arts classes along with my two honors classes. My intervention classes were small (maximum 12 students), and the students ranged from a kindergarten reading level to about third grade. Of my 21 intervention students, seven of the students spoke English as a second language. It was definitely a challenge, but it was such a treat to watch these students learn and grow this year. 

I always try to stay culturally aware having had the opportunity to travel the world and having a sister who has taught and studied abroad. When I realized I'd have so many students from other countries, I knew I wanted to do something special to welcome them each to the room. 

Above my SmartBoard, I typically hang a "welcome" banner. This year, I decided to add to it by welcoming each student in his/her own language. 

When I started the year, I had students from Japan, the Philippines, and Mexico. My sister lived in Korea and had friends who could write and speak Japanese, so I had her get a translation for me that I copied onto the poster. I used Google translate for the Filipino translation, and I asked our school's Spanish teacher to help me with the last translation. As the year progressed, I had some schedule changes that gave me a few more students. I ended up adding China, the Ivory Coast, Nepal, and Niger. 

 It was simple way to let my students know that I recognized their differences but accepted them all as a part of our classroom family.