Sunday, November 22, 2015

12 Days of Elf-Mas (Classroom Elf on the Shelf Ideas)

If you plan to use the Elf in your classroom this Christmas, I've got some great ideas for you! Rather than make it about behavior, I decided to use the Elf to inspire some Random Acts of Classroom Kindness with my students.  Read on to see how it worked!

I started by working backwards and creating a calendar based on our last day before Christmas vacation.  From there, I planned out each RACK that my students would complete, making sure we had enough time in our schedule each day to do so.  Then I brought out our Elf!

We took a vote and the students named her Melissa. 

The next day, Melissa brought us our first RACK and a special treat!

Each day, I tried to pose Melissa in conversation-starting poses which would enhance classroom discussion.  This day's discussion: can Elves read and write?

Melissa could be found all over our classroom.  I don't have many high surfaces, so I had to get creative!

One day, the students walked in and were so disappointed...they couldn't find Melissa as hard as they tried! 

It took quite a few minutes, but eventually they spotted her. 

I had conveniently posed the Grinch right next to the door with the duct sneaky, Mr. Grinch!

Melissa wrote us some funny notes on our Easel, too! This confirmed that Elves could write, but poorly!

She even brought some treats for our class mascot!

Melissa even zip-lined across our classroom.  But she got in trouble for breaking a desk while she was climbing up there. *ahem* It was fun to get our custodians involved in that one!

For her last day, Melissa brought us a final RACK by parachuting into the classroom.  She got stuck on the American flag!

Throughout her visit, my students were able to complete RACK's for soldiers, senior citizens, and our school community.  We wrote letters, sent thank-you cards, and sneakily dropped off packages of candy canes to other classrooms.  We decorated the teacher's lounge and sang carols in the classroom.  It only took 5 to 10 minutes out of our day, but it made us a much stronger community! 

Want to try the 12 Days of Elf-Mas in your own classroom? Feel free to use the ideas in the pack below- click here to download it!

Happy RACK-ing! 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

5 Questions with a Basic Skills Teacher

What does it mean to teach basic skills? What does a basic skills teacher do all day? Find out today from Amy, a teacher in Southern New Jersey.

Hi! This is Amy from Eclectic Educating, and I am a Basic Skills teacher in southern New Jersey.  I work with grades K-4.  I previously was a Title 1 reading and math teacher in Ohio for grades K-5.  Currently, I am in my sixth year of teaching and pursuing my Master's degree in Educational Leadership. 
Eclectic Educating

  • Begin the day with any necessary testing: Running Records, DRA's, and I&RS paperwork.
  • Pull out two groups of first graders for guided reading instruction and then rush off to Kindergarten for two more groups, push-in this time.  
  • Make my way to the top floor of the school for pull-out third grade guided reading intervention.  Squeeze in three groups before dashing to recess duty.  
  • Enjoy a 30 minute lunch with some of the funniest, most caring coworkers around in the faculty lounge.  Then, head off to first grade for writer's workshop conferences, followed by 40 minutes of prep. 
  • End the day with a second dose of guided reading instruction to the same first graders from the morning.  Depending on the day, attend PLC, staff, or parent meetings.

  • Working with a variety of grade levels
  • Getting to know students personally through the small group setting
  • Getting to work with and learn from a variety of teachers
  • and of course...working with kids!

  • The need to accommodate a variety of staff members' schedules and preferences
  • Not enough time for quality intervention in 20 minutes!
  • The large amount of testing and paperwork created by I&RS (Intervention and Referral Services)

  • Be flexible.  Working with so many adults and students can be very difficult.  Things will not always go according to plan. 
  • Stand up for what you believe in and don't let others take advantage of you.  Working with a variety of strong personalities can be challenging.  Be confident in what you are doing.

This is a tough there wifi on the deserted island? Since, I'm guessing no...the tablet is out.  So that  You can do anything with post-its.  Your own work, text-analysis, written response!

A big thanks to Amy for letting us get inside her head and her job! Still have questions? Leave them in the comments! 

Friday, November 6, 2015

5 Questions with an ESL Teacher

Ever wondered what an ESL teacher actually does? Or what resource she couldn't live without? Today I'm answering 5 Questions about my job!

To start the series, I'm answering my own questions!  First, a little bit about me: I'm in my 6th year of teaching, and my 5th teaching ESL.  I actually started my career teaching French, but quickly changed my specialty.  I have a Master's in teaching ESL, as well as a Master's in Administration.  I'm planning to become a supervisor or principal in the next two years.  I currently teach in Southern New Jersey, at a very small school with a pretty unique population of English Language Learners.  I blog here, and also have a TPT store.  

1. I start my day by checking emails and corresponding with administrators and classroom teachers about student issues, policies, and best practices.
2. I teach 4 pull-out classes, ranging from grades 1-5 and all levels of proficiency.  With some classes we follow-up or preview the skills from the basal series, and with others I focus on the specific skills my students need to work on.
3. I have a working lunch, during which I eat with one hand and type lesson plans/search Pinterest/answer emails with the other.
4. I teach 2 more classes, this time to students who have newly arrived to the US and really need some extra help.
5. I answer more emails about student issues, grading policies, standardized testing, or upcoming events, then I go home to get ready for the next day.

1. I love being able to work with diverse groups of students- all ages, all levels.
2. I love reading and researching about ESL in other parts of the country.
3. I love being there for the light-bulb moments, and the many "firsts."
4. I love that I loop, and have students for 3 or 4 years in a row- it's great for relationship building! 

1. Communicating with parents, due to the unique languages spoken in my district.
2. Teaching students who exhibit symptoms of PTSD, especially those who have come from war zones.
3. Knowing that sometimes the only time my students feel comfortable or have the chance to speak English is in my classroom.

1. Don't listen to the people who "preach but don't teach."  There are a lot of people who claim to be experts in second language acquisition, and they may be smart, but they don't teach your kids.  YOU teach your kids, so YOU know what resources or strategies work best for them. 

2. Don't get caught up in the latest teaching trends or fads from other states, or even other schools nearby.  Your population is unique, so make sure you are planning lessons that work specifically for them.

(I could keep going, but I will follow my own rules and stop here!)

1. I'm kicking myself for this question.  But seriously, if I had to teach on a deserted island, I would bring whiteboards and dry erase markers.  I use them all day every day in my classroom and could not live without them.  From math problems to vocabulary words to life cycles, you can teach anything with just a whiteboard and markers!

I hope that gives you a peek into my life as an ESL teacher! Still have questions? Leave them in the comments! I have a great line-up of teachers, administrators, and specialists coming up, so stay tuned!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

November Currently

November is a big month in my house! We'll be celebrating our 4th anniversary, Thanksgiving, and welcoming a new baby! I'm linking up with Farley to share more about the month coming up.

1. I love PBS.  Rick Steves, Antiques Roadshow, This Old House...those shows speak my language.  And sometimes help me fall asleep.  What am I, 78? No, just an old soul, I guess.

2. I keep telling my husband, "This may be our last kid-free weekend/date night/pizza/movie, ever." So I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts! I've been told children are fun to have around...but after reading blogs and books galore, I'm not sure what we're in for!

3. See above.  If I keep myself ultra-busy, maybe I won't have time to think!

4. I'm on maternity leave now, so I've decided to really up my game in the kitchen as long as I can.  Menu planning used to mean looking at the circular as I pushed the cart through the grocery store, but I am finding it's fun to plan ahead. 

5. See 2, and 3.

6. Cranberry Sauce is always my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner, along with whatever else my mom tells me to bring.  It's been my job since I was 12 years old, and I'm quite protective of it.  Not that the recipe is a state secret or anything, but it's nice to have something that's solely yours to claim! (And take home the leftovers!)

What's up with you this November? Link up with Farley!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Differentiating in a 1:1 Classroom

My school has recently gone 1:1 with technology, and I'd love to share a little bit about how I differentiate.  If  you're not 1:1, stick around- there are lots of ways to adapt these strategies using the technology you do have!

My class is broken up by proficiency and reading level.  I have three groups in my 4th/5th grade ELA class: Transformers, Avengers, and Marvel.  Some teachers use colors, some use numbers, but since my class just so happens to be all boys, I decided to play up their interests.  Transformers is my lowest level, Marvel is the middle, and Avengers is high-performing.

Recently, we were completing some non-fiction reading about bats, and to build some background we did a little shared research.  We started whole-group by completing a KWL on the board and then watching a few youtube videos. Once we had established some goals and questions for our lesson, we grabbed our tablets and separated into groups.  This is where the fun started!  And remember, if you're not 1:1, just adapt the strategy using the resources you have in your classroom.

Prior to the lesson, I previewed the videos I was assigning to my students.  Previewing the resources is an important step- something may be called low/medium/high, but once you get to the meat of the book/video/article, you may find it's not suitable at all. In this case, each video was about the same length, but differed in amount of visuals, speed of speech, and quantity of information. (For more about the videos and the research lesson itself, click here.)

In partners, my students watched the video and then took notes or answered questions that were specifically tailored to them.  Each group received their own assignment and could not see what another group had received, since I dropped the page directly into their online notebook. We use Microsoft OneNote for all of our work. (Click here for a post all about it!) Don't worry if you don't have OneNote- it's easy to do the same thing with Google Drive or Dropbox.  If you are using paper notebooks, just print the page you need for each group. 

To my high and middle groups (Marvel and Avengers) I gave the same graphic organizer, but my Transformers (low level) group received something that was much more on their level. If you're interested in the 4-3-2-1 organizer in the picture, click to grab it here from google drive. Below, you can see my Transformers group working on their Can Have Are chart, which was much more applicable to their learning level. 

 Differentiating this way allowed all three groups to watch different videos and answer different questions about the same topic.  Once each group had finished, we reconvened to fill in our whole group KWL, and each team was able to tell a little about what they had discovered on their own.  From a teacher or student perspective, they all learned about the same thing: bats.   But looking down from a differentiation perspective, this lesson wasn't as much about WHAT they learned, but HOW they achieved their new learning.

Now, if you are not a 1:1 school,  you've probably already stopped reading.  For those of you who haven't, don't fear differentiation! You can complete a similar lesson on any topic of study by printing one assignment/worksheet per group, and having groups rotate or share computers/iPads.  If you have no technology available to you, pick up books on the topic ranging in reading levels.  I've found that finding the sweet spot with my groups and levels takes time and patience, but the results make it worth the effort!

How do you differentiate in your classroom? It can be a tough thing to do, but the more we share the more we can learn from each other!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

You've Been Boo'ed! (Staff Morale Booster)

One of the traditions at our school is the annual "You've Been Boo'ed" game.  It's something I look forward to every year, and this year, I decided to give our tradition a little face-lift.

If you've never been boo'ed, it's simple! One person starts the chain by placing an anonymous basket of Halloween goodies in front of another classroom door.  The recipient then puts an "I've Been Boo'ed" sign on the door and "boo's" another person.

It's completely anonymous, low cost, and requires no staff meetings (hooray!).  Want to try it? I just posted a free version in my TPT store- click any picture to download! If you're not sure what to put in your basket, here's an example.  Best part? Everything came from the dollar store!  

In my basket: 
A mixed bag of candy (because chocolate makes everything better)
Fake spiders (for decoration or to make someone squirm!)
More candy (because, why not?)
A rubber bat (for decoration or to really make someone squirm!)

I wanted to make my basket look like a cauldron, so I placed everything in layers of tissue paper.  I had a specific person in mind for my boo basket, so I made sure to layer the candy with the fake spiders for an extra spooky twist.   

Here's what it looked like in our hallway when I dropped it off:

Post the directions in your faculty room or near your copier so everyone can see, and then get  your boo on!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Fun for Fall: Write on a Pumpkin!

Need a fun and engaging idea for your students? Try writing stories on a pumpkin! This is an activity I've done for the past 3 or 4 years in a row, and it always comes out so well! You can adapt it for any grade or subject area, too! In math and science, have students write their predictions for weight or graph whether the pumpkin will sink or float. For Social Studies, have students research facts about fall and share them on the pumpkin.  Here's how I did it with my 4th and 5th grade ESL class:

I started by bringing my pumpkin in a bag and having the students guess what it was.  I wrote sentence frames for my lower proficiency students so they could easily say, "I guess there is a ___________ in the bag."  

Next we guessed how much the pumpkin weighed using the same sentence frames, and I started the story with that sentence.  "Mrs. M-C picked a pumpkin that weighs 9 lbs."  We passed (rolled) the pumpkin around the carpet, and everyone added one or two sentences to the story.  Of course, our story took a rather strange turn, but once everyone had dictated their portion of the story, they read it back to me from the chart.  That is the basic tenet of LEA- "what you say, you can read."  It's a great ELL strategy, because it proves to struggling students that they can read, and that gives them so much confidence to keep going.

The cool (and unexpected) thing about using a pumpkin as a vehicle for our story was the motor development practice it gave them.  It's hard to write on a pumpkin!  I traced a straight line with chalk for some of my students who really needed help, but I think they did a pretty good job with their handwriting, bumps and lumps and all!  They were so proud of their pumpkin, and it sat on my desk practically until Christmas. 

I think I may switch it up this year and do smaller, individual pumpkins that we can display on our windowsill.  How cute would that be?! 

Here are some other pumpkin writing ideas I love! 
Unique pumpkin decorating ideas -- this would be adorable on the kitchen counter for Fall.:
Easy I am Thankful Pumpkin Craft! Perfect for children's ministry or the classroom. We have paper and paper cutters down in the IRC, so not only can you make these but you won't have to worry about tediously cutting each strip one at a time with scissors!:
Source: The Moffatt Girls
Bookbto make after exploring the inside of a pumpkin:
Source: Simply Second Grade

Let me know if you plan to write on a pumpkin this fall- I'd love to see the results! Happy fall, friends!