Big Kid Book Clubs for March

Time seems to fly with testing approaching for the upper grades. There are so many skills to review in preparation for the state tests that it can feel overwhelming to tackle it all. While this often seems like a time to revert to practice passages and the basal, I encourage you to consider book clubs or novel studies as a way to keep kids engaged with those essential (testable) skills. Sure, you can still pick one day a week to do a practice passage, but the other four days can be so much more enjoyable if you practice with authentic literature.

Below is a collection of books I've put together for March book clubs. I've pulled texts from a variety of genres and topics.

Dear Mr. Henshaw- This book is written partially through letters and is a great book for looking at author's craft. This book, by Beverly Clearly, covers so many topics that are really applicable to so many students but she did it in a really unique way. I definitely recommend this book to help push your readers toward out-of-the box thinking. I actually loved it so much that I wrote some trifolds to accompany it. Get the no prep trifold novel study here.

Who was Susan B. Anthony?- March is Women's History Month! This biography is a perfect book club choice for March because it focuses on an important woman in American history. Students will learn so much about this important American icon while being able to practice their critical comprehension skills on a literary nonfiction text.

Who was Dr. Seuss?- In addition to St. Patrick's Day and Women's History Month, March is also the month of the very well loved Dr. Seuss with Read Across America Day on March 2nd. Get into the spirit by reading this fabulous biography. I learned a TON about Dr. Seuss when I was working on a trifold for this book. His life was very interesting and is guaranteed to draw readers in!

Charlotte's Web- Spring is coming! This story is one of my favorites to read because it goes through an entire year of Wilbur's life starting with his birth as a spring pig. I read this text yearly because it is so rich in opportunities to discuss vocabulary and comprehension. The kids LOVE this story despite having seen the movie and already being familiar with it. Want to use Charlotte's Web with your class? Save yourself time by picking up this no prep trifold!

Magic Tree House: Leprechaun in Late Winter- A great, easy read that brings in the fun of St. Patrick's Day. Students love the Magic Tree House series, and there are great opportunities to talk about real world topics and the fantasy genre in these books. This is the perfect pick for a fun themed book club in March. You can even partner it with the nonfiction companion book, Leprechauns and Irish Folklore.

Bridge to Terabithia- A classic tale of friendship and imagination that will draw your readers in. This story is such a great one for encouraging some great conversations about friendship, but like so many great pieces of literature, the ending isn't quite picture perfect. I've saved you some time by creating a set of trifolds that cover a broad range of tested comprehension skills. You can check it out here.

Wonder- Okay, so I know I recommended this book last month. However, I really feel like it is a great one, and this is the time of year that kids really need the reminder to be kind to one another. Even in the most well-managed class, these weeks leading up to spring break are when the wheels start to fall off and the friendships start to get strained. This book is a great reminder about choosing kindness. Get the no prep trifolds here.

Happy reading!

Master Management Challenge #10: Grow On!

There are so many important ways to continue growing as a teacher. Classroom management is often overlooked. It is assumed there are those who excel and those who don't. However, there are just as many ways to improve as a classroom manager as there are as an instructor. We, as teachers, are just far more hesitant to seek them out or all the other training and professional development we must do ends up coming first. Today I am going to focus on a few ways to continue growing and managing your classroom.

  • Find a Friend. We all know there is that one teacher on campus who rocks at management. Her kids are perfect in the hallways... his class can have fun during lessons but still keep it together...People talk about how she always gets the "good" class. Time to buddy up. That person might just hold the secret to making your class run more smoothly. All too often we are scared to ask our colleagues what they are doing to make the magic happen because we worry about making ourselves look like we don't know what is happening. However, if you don't have good classroom management, everyone already knows it. Why not ask for help? The only thing that can happen is you can get better. Even if you do have great management, there are always new things to learn. Plus you never know when you are going to get that one kid who is impervious to all the tricks in your toolbox. 
  • Go Digital. There are some great resources online for teachers who want to improve their management and/or have behavior challenges in their classroom. One great one is Intervention Central because all the interventions are based on actual research...but they aren't expensive programs (that don't usually end up working without extensive time and training). 
  • Call in the Experts. Having one of those years where it feels like no matter how hard you are trying you can't get the rhythm? Find out if your district has any behavior specialists or instructional coaches with a behavior expertise. Most administrators would rather know you are seeking out support than to have to have the conversation about MAKING you get extra help. If you are worried about it, bring it up as your personal area for growth and frame it in that light. 

Building Science Vocabulary through Word Work

One thing I have noticed about my students is many of them struggle with content vocabulary. It totally makes sense when I think about it. Yes, we cover it in science, but how often are they interacting with these words beyond that? Not a ton. I decided to solve that problem by building in more exposure to the science vocabulary that my students will be tested on.

First off, I wanted to solve the problem of repeated exposure so I thought about how to maximize the time my students spent reading and interacting with our vocabulary in science. With our science time being limited to 30-40 minutes a day, there just isn't time to teach, do experiments, and spend a lot of time doing science vocabulary. Therefore, I went for strategic placement of science into the word work section of reading. I mean why not go for double duty and cover my word analysis and decoding standards while I cover the science vocabulary, right?

So I stared by picking the 10 most important words for each unit. These were the words my kiddos have to know...and that my students learning English often struggle with. I decided to have the kids cut and sort these words.

Building Science Vocabulary through Word Work

Sometimes the kids sort the words by length. Other times they put them in ABC order. I can also differentiate so my kiddos who need lots of support with ABC order might put them in order by length independently and alphabetize them with me.

Building Science Vocabulary through Word Work

Once the words are all sorted. The students do one of three activities. They might count the syllables, count the vowels, or write a fraction to show what part of the word is consonants. Again, the activities are great for differentiation because the biggest idea is just making the kids familiar with the words.

Building Science Vocabulary through Word Work

When they are all finished with the activity, I have the kids glue the strips into the vocabulary section of their science journal to create their own glossary. As you can see below, I have them glue the words in alphabetical order and write a definition in their own words. Then they can draw (and label) an illustration to represent the word. I love this part because it really tells me if they understand the vocabulary at the end of our science unit.

Building Science Vocabulary through Word Work

I purposefully made three activities for each item in the packet. The goal was to have one to use as word work when we start the unit in science. The second can be used when we are finishing the unit, and the final one is a refresher that rotates into our word work later in the year to help students continue their practice of the words. (The kids glue the words in after the second activity as a review tool before the assessment...and to be used as a later reference. You can also have them glue the activity sheet into their journal, too!)

Building Science Vocabulary through Word Work

Want to try these out? Just download the preview from here to try out the matter vocabulary in your word work for free.

And there you have it, another easy-peasy way to bring content vocabulary into your language arts instruction while still covering those standards. How do you give your students extra opportunities to interact with new content vocabulary?

Master Management Challenge #9: Track It

If your campus is anything like mine, every meeting you walk into is about data, and if you have concerns about a student, you better be able to back it up with data. With academic concerns, it is relatively easy. Bring in the benchmark assessment scores, and you've got your data. Behavior is a beast all its own because it requires additional work to collect behavior data...and the biggest complaint is it takes time away from instruction.
Image Credit: designsoliman | Dollar Photo Club 2015
  • Keep it Simple. My favorite is easy data tracker is paperclips. If there is a student who is consistently doing that one behavior that makes it impossible to teach, put a handful of paperclips in your left pocket. Every time s/he does the behavior, switch one paperclip to the right pocket. Count them at lunch and record. Repeat in the afternoon. Easy, right? Plus you don't have to stop what you are doing to fill out any data tracker. 
  • Be Honest. When I worked as an educational consultant, I cannot tell you how many times people would agree to a plan that we had developed with a team but not follow through. Having built a good rapport with many of them, I would always ask why they didn't follow through. Nine times out of ten it was because it seemed like so much work, but they were afraid to say something during the initial planning with the support team. They would much rather hear that you aren't sure that you can keep up with the tracking and need help (or to revise the plan...maybe using the easy idea above) than to come back three weeks later and discover you haven't collected a bit of data. Plus it makes you look better and more willing to adjust, too! That, in turn, will make them more eager to help you get more flies with sugar, right? 
  • Just Do It! It sucks. I know it sucks to have to spend the extra time and energy tracking data for that one kid, but if he (or she) is really THAT severe, you need to do it because that is the only way they (and you) are going to get the support needed. Yes, it is a bummer to have to spend the class time recording how long she throws herself on the floor and cries when you really want to be checking in with small groups. Just remember to think about how this is going to help you and if you put the time into data tracking now, you will have more support and be able to better help ALL your students sooner rather than later! 
Have another easy way to track behavioral data? Leave a comment so we can all make this step less cumbersome.

4 Tips for Documenting Tier 1 Accomodations and Interventions

Ever had that kid in class who needs your support to get through the majority of the assignments? However, when you look at his (or her) grades, they appear to be doing okay because A) you are supporting them in completing their work, B) you are modifying and accommodating to meet their needs, and/or C) they are redoing assignments to improve their grade to passing.

Of course, being the amazing teacher you are, you've been in near constant communication with their family discussing how you are adjusting your teaching to meet their child's needs and giving them suggestions for ways to continue this support at home. However, at some point you come to the realization that the grades going home don't reflect where the child is independently functioning...and the parents (or RTI team...or whoever) are only focused on the score. Somehow all your discussions seem to have gone in one ear and out the other, and now there are questions about why their child has performed poorly on an assessment or is being referred because their grades "seemed fine".

Image Credit: Eurobanks | Dollar Photo Club

Here are three tips to help you document what you are doing in class and keep this issue from arising (because let me tell you, it isn't a fun conversation to have).

1) Stamp it out. I bought a great stamp (or maybe got it free back in the day) from Vistaprint. All it says is "Completed with Teacher Assistance". Any assignment where I had to substantially support a student or meet with them in a small group got a stamp at the top. I also recorded this in the grade book (see #2). When I sent these sheets home, parents could easily see if their child was needing extra support based on whether or not their paper was stamped. I referred to it at Parent Night so the parents knew what to look for, and the best part of this system was it only took seconds of my time. I kept the stamp near my small group station so that I had immediate access as I worked with a group on something that was for a grade.

2) Record it and report it. Every time your student completes an assignment where you are providing support, record it in your grade book. I had a shorthand code that allowed me to quickly and easily document what modifications and accommodations I was giving students who were not identified as special education. This let me quickly and easily communicate this to our RTI team when I began the referral process, and it let me share this information with parents. If I started to see a pattern, I also stapled a checklist to the assignment so parents would know specifically how I was supporting their child's success (get your copy by clicking the image), and I would include a short letter with their child's report card reminding them that the grades reflect significant support. I had the parents sign and return this letter for my files. If a parent came back and told me they didn't realize their child was struggling, I could pull this out and refer to it later. It was great for covering my booty, just in case. I've included a sample of my letter with the checklists to give you an idea of the specifics.

3) Track it. At the beginning of the year, I make a spreadsheet of my students. I make a copy for each subject, and as I teach units, I add objectives. When I have to pull a student for a small group reteach or give extra support on that objective, I document it next to that student's name by recording the date(s) that I met with them. Below is an example from my place value unit a few years ago (with the names changed for obvious reasons). It isn't a perfect system, but it really helps me see the big picture. I can target my time and referrals because I can differentiate a Tier 1 student (who just needs extra help in the class) and a Tier 2 or 3 student (who is not making progress with the extra support and intervention in class).

4) Share it. Another way I help ensure that everyone is on the same page for my struggling students is through the use of my unit progress reports. I made these reports in a fillable PDF so I could quickly and easily fill and print them. I also made room for parents to sign and for me to write notes so I always had documentation to indicate I had been in touch with the family about their child's areas of strength and concern. Here's an example of one of the reports I used for personal narratives, but I have these for all the units I teach in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.  You can get a copy of this free by clicking on the image below or get the whole set here.

I keep these in a portfolio for my struggling students and bring them with me (along with the data of any classroom interventions I have done to address the items I've rated with a 3-4. This provides the team with a clear understanding of the student's needs and prevents the student from being overlooked because I didn't provide adequate data.

There are so many more ways you can document differentiation, but these are the four I have found to be the easiest for me. Have another suggestion that works for you? Be sure to leave it in the comments to make life easier for all of us!

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