The Third Wheel

Set Yourself Up for Substitute Success

School's back in session, which means it is almost inevitable that those back-to-school germs will be rearing their ugly heads soon enough. Before you end up sick with that first bug of the year (you know the one you get EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. because you wear yourself down trying to do it all in the first two weeks), it is time to start thinking about substitutes.

Preparing for a Substitute - The Third Wheel
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

Maybe you are lucky and you've already got a favorite who will fill in for you in a pinch. If not, here are a few great tips as you work to find that perfect (temporary) replacement for those days you just can't quite drag yourself out of bed and into the classroom with that fever, sniffle, snortle, or cough.

1) Make sure you leave plans for your daily routines!  This may sound obvious, but a surprising number of teachers leave their substitutes to wing it when it comes to things like lunch and recess routines.  Even if you have a seasoned substitute, keep leaving detailed plans until the substitute tells you she no longer needs them.  (This may never happen, so be prepared.)  I like to spend some time early in the year creating a template of the general layout of our day. I include which students leave for group and which points of the day, how we line up and transition to different places....basically, everything but the actual lesson plans themselves. This lets me plug in the content later and saves a ton of time when I have to do lesson plans for a substitute last minute in an emergency.

Here are a few important items to be sure to include in your template:
  • How you manage your classroom. Give a detailed description of your management system and examples of the behaviors you want from you students, as well as the behaviors you do not encourage.  If you hand out rewards like stickers or small prizes, let you substitute know where to find these items.  . If there are specific students that have "alternative" expectations because they are working on replacement behaviors, be sure you leave notes about this too so you can help prevent battles that don't need to happen in the first place, and if any students are on a behavior plan, leave the details with the substitute so she can carry it on.
  • Your schedule. This is how I lay out my sub plans. I use the time and subject as my headers and add detailed paragraphs under each. I describe my expectations for what that looks like for the students and what I would like the substitute to be doing during that time. Be sure to use the language your sub should use with your students to make it easier on everyone. Here's an example of what my sub plans look like with my schedule. You'll notice I even add images from Pinterest of the lessons I am using to help the sub out. (Ignore the names...I quick changed them to protect privacy and some didn't quite get capitalized correctly.)

Sub Plans from The Third Wheel
  • Bonus Ideas & Extras. Subs always love ideas for early finishers. They don't know your students the way you do. Anything you can leave that will keep the kiddo who finishes the work you give in 10 minutes busy for some time is going to help the sub. It isn't their job to try to figure that out. This also includes those times when the sub finds themselves with 10 extra minutes they need to fill between lunch and recess...or that random fire drill and library. It could be skill practice worksheets or directions to puzzles, the classroom library, and other materials in the classroom.  I always have a stack of skill related BINGO games on a visible shelf.  Students love BINGO, and I know they are working on skills while making it easier for the substitute to keep them on task.  Make sure the substitute can find the prizes.

2) Have an emergency substitute folder. I like to prep mine at the beginning of each month with some great themed substitute plans, and then I know I don't have to worry. If I make it through the year without using it, I just tuck it away in my files for next school year. Here's an example of what I have in my September Sub Plans.

  • Reading: After reviewing fictional elements and reading Miss Nelson is Missing, the class completes this super cute story element flip book including: characters, setting, problem, solution, summary, and a recommendation. Early finishers get the opportunity to color before turning this in. I also have an enrichment project that goes with this one that walks students through the process of writing a news article explaining where their teacher went including illustrations. It is super fun and ends up totally adorable. Here are a few images of the reading activities: 

  • Writing: I love having a related writing project to make it easier for my kids to transition. Sometimes I use the writing project in my sub plans. Other times I don't necessarily need it because of where we are in the writing process with other projects. However, it is nice to have just in case. Since my reading plans use Miss Nelson is Missing, I decided to have my students do a writing project about what they would do if they discovered they were the teacher for a day. I included a graphic organizer to help them brainstorm, and I made sure my lesson plans included scaffolding for those reluctant writers. However, I also purposefully pick writing topics that encourage engagement when I know I am going to have a substitute. 
  • Social Studies: I always include two passages that align with monthly themes in my social studies lesson plans. That gives me (or a last minute substitute) some options depending. For example, in September I have a passage on Johnny Appleseed and a passage on the branches of the U.S. Government (to go with Constitution Day). These are perfect for an easy grade, and I love that they allow me to bring in some timely social studies topics that I might not get to cover as easily otherwise. 

  • Math: I tend to use math as a time for spiral review with a substitute because I don't want to worry about the depth and differentiation aspects for a new lesson. I build in some challenge activities and some early finisher tasks into my sub plans, and I am good to go. My September sub folder has place value, addition, subtraction, and rounding. Depending on when I am absent, I might not include 1-2 of the sheets in the pack, but overall I try to make it a fun, fall-themed review. I also always try to make the majority of the math sheets at least two steps so my kids get practice following multi-step directions. For the "Apple Addition" sheet below, for example, the students find the sum and then color the apples based on whether the sum is even or odd and the "What's the Score?" sheet has students think about decomposing and recomposing numbers then comparing them. 

  • Science: I always try to build at least one fun and hands-on activity into my sub plans. Science is a great place to do this in a STEM challenge format. In my September plans, I decided to to have my students work in groups to build the tallest tower out of index cards in 15 minutes. The groups will make a plan, measure their tower, and diagram their results before reflecting on how the process went. They get to record the whole thing int 

There you have it! Once a month I update my sub folder, and I don't have to worry about it the rest of the month. If you want to save yourself some time, I've packaged these sub plans up and included some ready to use lesson plans that can be copied and pasted into your own template and easy prep instructions. They also include all the printables in this post (and more)!  You can get them here.

Have a great week! 

How to Make Meet the Teacher Meaningful

I know it is hard to believe, but back to school time is right around the corner. If you are lucky, your room will be crammed full of parents who are all eager to meet the teacher and tell you all about their child. It can be overwhelming to see the room of parents full of hope and excitement...and perhaps a little fear...all sitting in front of you waiting to hear all about your plan for their children this year. As you begin your preparations (or perhaps worrying) for this important moment, here are a few important things that will have parents leaving your Meet the Teacher Night raving about the upcoming year!

Share the Important Information
A room full of parents can be intimidating, but remember that having strong attendance means your students have parents who are in a position to be actively engaged in their children’s education whether it be through helping with homework, or helping you with classroom projects. You may also discover your classroom has a few helicopter parents along the way.  To keep these parents flying high in the sky rather than right over your head, try to give them the information they want to know right away in your presentation rather than at the end.  

Don't forget those parents who are unable to attend your parent night because of work or other commitments, many of them are working hard to support their child, too! Their inability to attend Meet the Teacher doesn't mean they don't want (and need) access to the same information. Set up a website or create handouts that will let them see your presentation so they can stay in the loop. Todays Meet is a great (free) way to collect questions in advance and to be sure you are touching on the topics that are important to all parents. 

Remember, it is called Meet the Teacher
Chances are, you have already sent home a daily schedule and an overview of what your students will be learning throughout the year.  The standards for each grade are also posted on the school website.  Take a few minutes to cover logistics, and let parents know where they can find information on curriculum and then give them what they really want.

Parents want to know YOU.  You will be spending more waking hours with their children than they will on most days.  Parents want to feel comfortable sending their children to school, and knowing they will be under the supervision of a caring adult who loves their child.  Share a little about yourself, your family, your hobbies, and your summer vacation.  Let parents know about your journey that led you to be standing in front of them.  Why did you become a teacher?  What do you love most about teaching?  Share your passion. 

Connect Them to Their Child's Experience & Rope Them in as Allies
Give parents insight into what a day in your classroom feels like.  Explain your behavior management system, and emphasize the positive parts.  Let parents know that you intend to handle things in the classroom, yet you will notify them if you feel their child needs support.  Tell them how you handle common misunderstandings, and how you strive to ward off bullying by being proactive.  Tell the parents how much you love your students, and you want them to be successful as much as their parents do.  Give examples of ways you encourage students to be their best selves and how you let them know you love them.  Share stories of years past and how you have handled different situations. 

Many parents are concerned their child’s specific needs will be overlooked in a large class.  Reassure parents that you have systems set in place to make sure every child gets what he/she needs whether it be remedial instruction or extension activities for gifted students.  Let parents know that you see their children as individuals and you will look after them to make sure their school experience is positive.  Open the lines of communication so parents feel they can approach you with questions, concerns, or a peek into their child’s life at school.

When parents leave your classroom feeling that their child’s social and emotional needs are being met along with getting a strong education, they are more likely to be your allies should challenging situations arise.

With a little preparation, a successful Meet the Teacher event can be the precursor for a year full of amazing home-school collaboration. To sweeten the deal, I love to leave a little treat on each desk for the parents to enjoy during my presentation. There are a million great ideas out there, but here is the one I use in my room.
You can get it free here!

Wishing you a stress-free back to school season!

How Vocabulary is Destroying Your Test Scores...and What You Can Do About It

Vocabulary Development. Would you believe me if I told you I took a whole class with this title in high school? It was an English elective, and I had heard it was an easy way to get a credit. The rest of my schedule was full of AP this and that, and I desperately wanted a blow off credit. The teacher was as close to retirement as and human could possibly be, and while I would learn to love him, he could be a bit of a loose cannon if you weren't quite living up to expectations.

Why do I tell you all this? Well, Vocabulary Development turned out to be a class that has helped me in literally thousands of daily interactions. As a result, I make sure vocabulary is something I make a focused effort to teach in my classroom through authentic interactions and direct instruction. However, you don't have to take my word for it. There are literally hundreds of research studies that back up my experience.

1. Research has shown that 5th graders pick up between 1,000 and 5,000 new words in a year (Stahl, 1999).  Pretty amazing, right? That is a TON of vocabulary. However, think about it from a slightly different angle, and it becomes terrifying. The students gaining 5,000 words during the course of that year have a 5x larger gain than the student only gaining 1,000. If that continues across several school years, by the time two children at the far extremes leave middle school there can be an enormous difference between them.

Student A
Student B

Which of these students is most likely to be able to read grade level texts better? Write higher quality compositions? Have strong, content-related conversations? And the differences you see in the table don't account for any differences in vocabulary that the students come in with at the beginning of the year.

2. Vocabulary has a big impact on reading comprehension. Not that shocking, right? Knowing more words helps you understand what you read better. Whenever I am reading with students, I often have them stop to explain what they've read. More often than not it is just a word or two that has thrown off the meaning of the whole paragraph. You might be surprised to know that when researchers looked at struggling readers in 2nd grade and up, their language comprehension skills (aka their vocabulary) was so low that it actually prevented them from getting anything out of most grade-level independent reading. When we can build a child's vocabulary, we are really teaching comprehension in an indirect way.

3. Struggling readers won't just pick up vocabulary from books.  I was totally guilty of pushing context clues my first few years of teaching. I was just as bewildered when my students weren't picking up all the rich vocabulary I was exposing them to. I mean, how could that be? Over the years I naturally started tailoring my vocabulary instruction to be more direct with repeated opportunities to interact and use the vocabulary. As a result, my students began using the words we were learning.

The research supports my trial-and-error discovery. While most teachers do not explicitly teach vocabulary (the research says as little as 1.5 minutes of a reading lesson focused on vocabulary), it is truly the way to help the students add that word to their word bank.

4. Word learning happens best when done through multiple means. Students need opportunities to build words into their schema and to do that they need numerous exposures. They cannot just read the word in context and be done. Research supports introducing and exposing students to vocabulary through multiple modalities, as well has hooking it to their prior knowledge, is huge in helping kids make gains. This can include: reading, writing, non-verbal representation (drawing or acting), classifying words by part of speech, exploring semantic connections (synonyms, antonyms, word webs), and discussion (Marzano, 2004).

5. Dictionaries don't cut it. Students need clear, child-friendly definitions (Massachusetts Reading Association, 2011). They need opportunities to write their own definition after several exposures, and they need opportunities to experience the word in context if we want our vocabulary instruction to stick. While I may have learned quite a few words from my vocabulary development class, We studied 20-30 words per week for 9 weeks of instruction. We spent a lot of time looking words up in the dictionary, and well, we did a lot of activities that go against our current knowledge of how to make vocabulary stick. As a result, I still come across words regularly that I know we "learned" in my class. However, I lack the definitions for many of them because they were never connected to my experiences or other words I knew well. Vocabulary instruction needs to be accessible to kids or it is just a waste of time!

All that being said, vocabulary is a huge predictor of life, in school, and even on those dreaded standardized tests. Identifying those high power words and making sure your students know them is a great way to help your students get the edge they need for success in your classroom and for years to come. This year find time in your schedule to give some daily instruction to those critical academic vocabulary words. Build them into your bell ringer or dismissal routine, find a few minutes as you prepare for lunch, or (even better) during your language arts block. Your students will be the better for it.

Research-Based Daily Vocabulary by The Third Wheel
(Try all of the vocabulary morning word bundles free for a week by downloading the preview from TPT!)

20 Questions to Get Kids Talking

Ever had one of those weekends? You know the kind where you don't get a moment to breathe, let alone think about your lesson plans.  The baby is sick, your best friend got married, and you spent 4 hours trying to bathe the dog so she didn't smell like the skunk that wandered through your yard when you let her out one night. Okay, maybe your scenario isn't quite so dramatic, but it happens to the best of us. Despite your best intentions life gets in the way of wrapping up those final pieces of your weekly lesson plans. Suddenly you are preparing for your morning meeting, and you realize you haven't a clue what to talk about. Here's your answer: 

1. If you could meet _______ , what is one question you would ask?

o   The president
o   A character from a book the class is reading
o   A scientist the class might have researched
o   A person from the past
o   A favorite cartoon character
o   A celebrity
o   The principal
o   Another teacher

2. Think of your favorite __________ you would like to meet, and share why you chose the subject you did.
o   Character
o   Historical Figure
o   Hollywood Celebrity
o   Athlete
o   Singer or Band
o   Cartoon Character
o   Disney Character
o   Superhero
o   Villain
o   Person on TV

3. If you could go anywhere in the ________, where would you go, and why?
o   World
o   A specific continent or region the class has studied
o   A specific country
o   A specific state
o   Your nearest city
o   Your town

4. Would you rather? State your preference and give a reason you made that choice.
o   Camping or staying in a hotel
o   Mountains or ocean
o   Individual or team sports
o   Pets or no pets
o   Zoo or Aquarium
o   Thanksgiving or Halloween

5. What is your favorite ________ and why?
o   Season
o   Activity with your family
o   Activity with your friends
o   Game without technology
o   Game that uses technology (Wii, X-box, etc)
o   Website
o   Genre
o   Book
o   Movie
o   TV series
o   Meal – breakfast, lunch, dinner
o   Snack food
o   Ice Cream Flavor
o   Fruit
o   Vegetable
o   Subject in the classroom
o   Specials class

6. What career would you like to explore, and why?

7. What do you think you might be doing in 20 years?

8. If you could move any where in the world, where would you go?

9. What is your favorite hobby?

10. What is your favorite topic to research?

11. Why do you think it is important to have rules in school?

12. Why is it important to show respect to others?

13. How do you show kindness to people?

14. How do you like people to show kindness to you – hugs, notes, spend time together...

15. Share a favorite memory of time spent with your family.

16. Share a favorite memory from school.

17. Describe the most amazing thing you have ever seen.

18. Describe the most beautiful place you have ever been.

19. What is your most prized possession? Why?

20. If you could change anything about our school, what would it be? Why? 

What are your favorite questions to ask in morning meeting? Share them in the comments below!

Free Online Professional Development for Teachers...Yep, its all free!!

As we know, teachers do not “have three months off every year to spend by the pool.”  Hopefully, you will have SOME time to spend by the pool.  Maybe you can fit in some professional development while you are soaking up the sun. 

Many websites claim to have free on-line professional development, but when you look a little closer, they do not offer certificates of completion, and/or require you to pay a fee for continuing education credits.  If you are in need of college credit, many of these paid courses also translate into college credits - for a rather large fee. Not always the ideal scenario with all the other expenses that come along with teaching. Instead, I've collected a set of genuinely free classes that offer PD certificates so you can get credit for all that learning you do over the summer. 

1. ALISON: A New World of Free Certified Learning

certificates and diplomas available (Yep, you can even get a degree!)
free (with ads), can pay to avoid ads
courses are self paced

A Taste of What's there: 
Diploma in Educational Psychology
Diploma in Teaching Skills for Educators
Effective Communication Techniques for Teachers
Instructional Planning for Successful Teaching
Introduction to the Learning Process for Teachers and Trainers
Motivating Students to Learn
Understanding Student Development and Diversity
Working with Students with Special Educational Needs

2. OK2Ask: Free, live online “snack sessions” for teacher self-directed professional development and exploration

Live sessions, archived sessions available
Professional Development certificates available

A Taste of What's there: 
Integrating Technology into Lessons
Teacher Timesavers
Google 101
Book Club Opportunities
Common Core Ideas for Literacy, Writing, and Math
Special Ed & Gifted Learner Training 

3. Intel Teach Elements

Courses offered are online, face-to-face, or a hybrid
Self paced and Facilitated courses available
Includes projects

Credit hours available depending on how the course is taken
21st Century Learner Focused

A Taste of What's there: 
Blended Learning
Assessment in 21st Century Classroom
Inquiry Based Learning
Project Based Learning

4. Staff Development for Educators

Known for high quality PD
Video-based options
K-12 Topics

A Taste of What's there: 
Common Core Trainings
Centers in the K-3 Classroom
Grit Mindset
Singapore Math Strategies

5. Coursera

Provided by Universities including Ivy League
Varied Options
Cool topics

A Taste of What's there: 
Engaging Students with Art
Inspiring Leadership with Emotional Intelligence
Blended Learning
Get Organized: How to be a Together Teacher
Teaching Character 
Classroom Culture

With all these great choices, why not bust out the tablet and get learning while you relax by the pool! 

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