Thinking Teaching Creating

Thoughts, Tips, Ideas, and Projects from a Creative Teacher Mama

Calling All 4th Grade Teachers!

The other day I asked #4thchat on Twitter for suggestions for read alouds for my class this year, and I got a great list started, but I know it’s just the beginning.  When another teacher requested that I share the list, it occurred to me that we can make it even better by collaborating on a Google Doc.  I’ve created one and put the list from the other day in it.  I’ve included fields for title, author, synopsis, theme, and CCSS ELA standards, but at the moment it’s mostly just titles.  I put the CCSS field in case there are standards that are really easy to tie in when you’re reading the story.  If you have books you use for book clubs rather than read alouds, feel free to add those as well.

If you have a great book to share, don’t feel as though you need to fill in every field.  That’s information I thought would be helpful, but whatever you add is great!  Thanks to everyone who has already contributed and everyone who adds more to this resource along the way!

#4thchat Read Aloud/Book Club Recommendations


Being A Mom (of BOYS) Has Made Me A Better Teacher

Now, before you get offended if you aren’t a parent, I don’t think that only parents can be good teachers, nor do I think that mothers of girls are inferior in any way.  Also, many of these can absolutely be true with girls too, I’m just seeing them through the eyes of a mom of boys who is also a teacher.  Being the mother of three (yes, three) boys has certainly been an education in just what boys are like.

I used to get really annoyed when my students couldn’t sit still, constantly fidgeted with everything they could get their hands on, and more.  And honestly, I noticed that it was most frequently boys who fit this description.  As my oldest son ages, I have become much more tolerant and understanding of these behaviors.  Boys are different, and that’s ok.  I always knew that, but I feel like I have a much better understanding of that now, and that will only improve as my little guys grow.  This isn’t about giving boys a pass to do whatever they wish, but giving the largely female world of educators some information about boys.

Here are some things I have learned about boys from my sons (they are all 5 years old and younger at the time of writing this):

  • Boys need far more movement and action than I ever guessed!
  • ANYTHING can be transformed into a toy gun with a little imagination.
  • Boys (mine at least), want to be heroes.  Playing where someone is the hero means someone needs to be the bad guy, and there will be battles.  As a teacher, I don’t mind non-touching battles.  The moment there’s touching, that game is over for the day.
  • Given the right story (or non-fiction topic), boys can be mesmerized by a book too.
  • Sometimes boys need to cry too.
  • The words “diaper” and “fart” are hilarious. Use at your own risk.
  • Beware of loopholes in your rules and instructions.  (Don’t hit your brother in the face can be misunderstood as meaning it’s ok to hit other parts of his body since not hitting his face was specifically mentioned.)
  • The words “don’t” or “stop” preceding what you want them to quit doing only make them want to do whatever it was even more.  Instead of, “Don’t throw things!” try, “We put things down gently when we’re finished with them.”
  • The answer to the question, “Why did you _______?” is typically answered with either, “I don’t know,” or “Because.”  Often the real reason is either that it was an impulsive response that they didn’t think through, or it was just to see if they could do it.  If it was impulsive, he probably feels really badly about it, and he might be able to tell you where he went wrong and why he shouldn’t have done it, but (despite his promises to never do it again) he’s probably going to do it again…soon.
  • Automatic, impulsive responses are going to happen…a lot (especially with younger boys).
  • The reason to destroy something is either a) to see what’s inside,  b) to see if you can put it back together afterwards, or c) both.
  • Boys do things rather than talk about them.  That’s not to say boys won’t talk your ear off, but expect action to occur before any discussion about little things like getting permission for something.
  • If he knows you care about him and are trying to help him, a boy will move mountains for you.

I am certainly not saying that if a boy is being disruptive or disrespectful that you should say, “Boys will be boys,” and call it a day.  I’m merely sharing some of the things I’ve noticed happen with my sons to give you a little bit more insight on what many boys are naturally like.  Knowing where they’re coming from can help to give a little extra patience and help you to determine the best way to help him to do what he needs to, whether that’s getting his work accomplished, paying attention to the lesson, or treating his classmates appropriately.

My oldest son will start kindergarten next month, and I really hope his teacher is understanding of the fact that he is ALL boy!

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Worksheets – A Necessary Evil?

First of all, I think I need to define the term “worksheet” for the purposes of this discussion.  A worksheet is not necessarily every paper that has been copied for your students to complete.  In my mind, the term worksheet specifically means a paper or set of papers, regardless of the size of the paper in question, that asks students to do work to which there is only one correct answer, and typically does not utilize higher level thinking skills.  Many task cards are really just repackaged worksheets.  The Everyday Math Journals my school bought for years are nothing more than books of worksheets, at least for the books I used.  (They may have improved since then.)

Worksheet has become an ugly term in education, and I can understand why.  They’re often boring, and a fair amount of time, they don’t give much information to the teacher about what a child is capable of.  In a time where school funding is cut significantly each year, administration begs teachers to use fewer copies, so task cards were invented.  Instead of running off 25 copies of a worksheet, teachers are breaking their worksheets into one or two tasks and laminating them to use as task cards.

That being said, I’m guilty of using both worksheets and task cards.  However, I’m starting to think that perhaps there is a place for them, or at least certain types of them, where they can be valuable practice for students and helpful for teachers.  I need a new word for the papers that are copied for students, but aren’t mind-numbing tasks that don’t really help anyone.  The problem is, once a word for them has been coined, everyone will begin to use that word to describe every paper they ever copy for their class to justify its educational value.  I’m not interested in just rebranding worksheets, but rather I want to differentiate between a traditional worksheet and a page that has more valuable information about how a student thinks and what s/he understands.

I don’t really consider a paper a worksheet if it features some of the following criteria:

  • It uses higher level thinking skills, and is more of a guide for students to not forget to include certain things.
  • Anything that requires students to explain their thinking, especially if there aren’t a large number of low-level questions preceding the explanation.
  • Thinking maps/graphic organizers
  • Skills are used naturally, rather than forcing them

That being said, in order for a student to get to the point where they can do higher level thinking on a topic or skill, they do need to have a basic handle of the skill or concept, don’t they?  If you can’t actually add 24 + 93, how can I expect you to explain your strategy?  I would venture to say that perhaps traditional worksheets can be helpful, at least when introducing a new topic to students and a limited number of low-level thinking questions are asked to ensure basic understanding prior to moving on.  I think that a lot of teachers who don’t use worksheets still do this, but they do it in other ways.  Some examples of performing the task of making sure all of your students have gotten the basic concept are: students answering questions with clickers/polling apps, each student solves a problem on a dry erase board and shows it, exit slips, and I’m sure there are more.  These are all things that can replace worksheets, but the same concept of giving students a few low-level questions to answer on new material is there, and that is a good teaching practice.

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I Want To Learn More About…

Standards Based Grading

Genius Hour

Interactive Student Notebooks

Standards Based Grading intrigues me, especially because I do a lot of differentiation.  It would make more sense to have a standard in the gradebook, and mark the level of proficiency each student has achieved thus far, rather than having 3-5 different assignments side by side and only mark scores for the students assigned each task.  I’m curious about whether most teachers who use this system average out how a student performs on a standard throughout the marking period to create an overall score for that standard, or whether the most recent score, or perhaps the best score is the only one utilized.

Genius Hour sounds a lot like self-directed learning projects.  While I’ve done some self-directed projects with students in the past, it was always only with those who finished early or were already proficient in what the rest of the class was doing.  I have a few questions though.  For instance, what if a student is not completing their assigned classwork?  Do they get to participate in Genius Hour, or is it a privilege reserved for students who are completing their classwork as expected?  How long should a project take?  Does everyone need to finish and present at around the same time, or just let kids present as they are ready?  For elements that would be present in any project align with your standards, do you include those aspects of Genius Hour projects in students’ grades?  (I’m thinking things like research skills, writing/spelling/grammar, etc.)

Interactive Student Notebooks appear to have two main parts.  First there is the teacher side of each set of pages.  From what I’ve gleaned, students copy, draw, or glue teacher created notes into their notebook.  Often the notes are made to look interesting in some way, and may require the student to use lower level thinking skills to complete a brief assignment on the new information.  The student side seems to be a bit more elusive.  This is the place where students are supposed to interact with their new knowledge to revisit the new ideas and put everything together with their prior knowledge.  I’ve seen lists of types of assignments, but still feel a little fuzzy on things like whether tasks are typically assigned, or whether there is usually student choice on how they synthesize information.  Obviously, at least at the beginning of using ISNs, students would need to be taught to use a variety of assignments so you don’t just tell them to show their learning and get met with blank stares.

If you use any of these strategies and have advice or information, I’d love to hear from you!

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Teaching and Pumping

No, I’m not talking about “pumping iron,” I’m talking about pumping milk.  This post is about breastfeeding.  If that’s going to bother you, it may be best for you to not continue to read this post.

Quite a few years ago, I worked at a school where teachers had 6 planning periods a week, and at least 5 of them every week were spent in a meeting.  Teachers ate lunch with their classes, took them to recess, and went to meetings during their planning periods just about every day.  Heaven forbid a teacher need to take a moment to use the restroom, because if so, you would be late to the meeting.  Being late to one of our perpetual meetings meant you got dirty looks and pointed comments about finally being able to get started.  During my time there, only one teacher had a baby, and I was not even a little surprised when she eventually opted not to return to work when her maternity leave was over.  I suspect now that she wanted to breastfeed her baby, and either thought the school wouldn’t work with her, or had asked and had been denied time to pump during the day.  That’s all speculation though.

By chance, I did not become pregnant with my first child until about a month after finding a job at another school for the 2007-2008 school year.  The school I moved to had two planning periods each day, and there may have been three times in an entire year that required a planning time to be used for a mandatory meeting.  Lunch was supervised by teacher assistants, who then took their lunch break during the other lunch period (the school had a small enough lunch room to warrant two lunch waves).  I pumped during my planning times, and sometimes lunch if my planning periods were significantly before or after my lunch time.

Fast forward five years, and I’ve breastfed all three of my children.  Well, one is still going.  You see, he’s just 4 months old right now, and if you read my most recent post, I just accepted a new job.  Luckily, a federal law was passed in 2010 requiring that employers provide reasonable break time, along with a private place other than a bathroom for new mothers to express breastmilk for the first year of her child’s life.  You can read more about those laws here.  Those laws made me comfortable enough to seek out a new job during a year that I would need 2-3 breaks a day to pump milk for my baby.

Now, knowing something is a law that must be followed and knowing that the employer is going to do so without making you feel like a pariah are two totally different scenarios.  That is why I broke the rules about things you aren’t supposed to discuss at job interviews, and after finding out how planning time is structured, I outright asked how they accommodate new mothers who need to pump breastmilk.  I know that not offering me a job solely because they would have needed to provide time and space for me to pump would have been discrimination, but there really wouldn’t have been a way to prove that was what had happened if an offer was not made.  Because of that, I don’t necessarily suggest approaching things the way I did, but I waited to ask this particular question until near the end of the interview, and I had the sense that they really liked me (and I was seriously considering accepting a position if it were offered).  It was also really important to me to know whether the breaks would be given with an attitude of legal obligation served with a side of snide comments and shunning or whether it would be a simple fact that for the first 7 months of employment, I would need someone to cover my classroom a few times a day so I could do what is best for my own child.

I’ve been pregnant, breastfeeding, or pregnant AND breastfeeding since June 2007.  Over the years I’ve watched this practice make its way back into the mainstream.  If you disagree, go check out Target’s intimates section and check out the nursing bras that are available.  Five years ago Target only sold them if they were DDs with an underwire in white or off-white.  (Coincidentally, underwires can lead to clogged milk ducts, which are painful and can lead to breast infections.  Trust me, you do not want that to happen!)  Once my oldest started solid foods regularly and decreased the amount of milk he needed from me, my need for a much smaller bra became obvious.  Unfortunately, they simply weren’t available unless you went to a specialty store and shelled out a lot of money.  I left many stores in tears after a frustrating experience and eventually just bought the nursing tank tops sold at Target and wore one every day under my clothes (even when temperatures in NC hit 90+ degrees at the beginning and end of the school year).  Now, not only does Target offer nursing bras in smaller sizes, but they even have some that are cute!  I think that’s definitely a sign that more people are breastfeeding their babies.

If you are a teacher who is a new mom, and you want to nurse your baby, I want you to know that it is completely possible to do!  I do have a few tips though:

  • Tell your employer as soon as possible what your needs will be so they can make a plan to accommodate them.  Arrangements may need to be made to find a private non-bathroom space with an electrical outlet for you, and some shifting of schedules may need to happen to make someone available to cover your class.  Don’t feel like you’re being a diva for asking for this.  It is your legal right to have the time and a place to either feed your baby or pump milk for him/her.
  • Stress will affect the amount of milk you can pump.  A relaxed mommy will get more milk than a tense one.
  • Get a double electric pump.  Another component of ObamaCare is that as of January 2013, most insurance companies provide new mothers with one breastpump per pregnancy.  You may have a very limited selection (I was given a choice of two different brands), but call your insurance company before you shell out $200-$300 for one.  Call your insurance company to set it up.  You can request your pump up to 30 days before your due date.  If you’ve already delivered, I think you have until your child’s first birthday to request your pump.  Even if you bought one and started using it, I recommend taking advantage of this.  With my first child, the motor in my pump died when he was 11 months old.  The company was amazing and sent a replacement for free because it was less than a year old, but I didn’t have a pump for a week.  When the replacement arrived, I suddenly was unable to get any milk from the pump.  (I went on to nurse him for quite some time afterwards, I just didn’t respond well to the pump.)  I stored that replacement pump for a few years until my second child was born, and it stopped working when he was just a few months old.  I knew I needed a pump pronto, and there was no way I’d be getting one for free.  I didn’t have the ability to spend the money on a double, so I settled for a single electric pump.  It was much less efficient and I very nearly had to supplement with formula.  It doesn’t hurt to have a spare pump on hand.  If you never use it, you can always save it for your next pregnancy, or pass it to a friend or relative who needs it if you’re finished having children.
  • To stay relaxed, you may not be able to use the time you’re pumping to grade papers or plan lessons.  I find that reading is a sufficiently peaceful activity for when I’m pumping.  If you feel guilty for the amount of “work time” you’re using and not actively working, you can always read professional books.
  • If some of the time you’ll be pumping is not during your planning times, try to schedule recess, a block of time for independent reading, or something else that your class can be pretty self-sufficient in for when someone will cover your class for you.  Knowing that whatever you’re missing is something that won’t matter who supervises it will help keep you from stressing out about missing too much time with your students.
  • From what I’ve seen, the recommended amount of time to pump is 15-20 minutes.  Make sure you schedule more like 25-30 minutes.  By the time the person arrives to cover your class, you go to wherever you pump, set up, pump, and put your things away, you’ll have added those ten minutes.  If you’re the only person who uses your pumping area, you may be able to shave a couple of minutes off that time by setting up your pump when you first arrive in the morning, and leaving it ready to use for your next session when you’re done.
  • It’s wise to order a set of spare parts for your pump.  I got a set for about $25 on Amazon for my Ameda pump.  If you have anything other than a Medela, it can be difficult to find spare parts at your local Babies R Us.  It doesn’t take much for the tubing to get punctured, and then your pump is useless until it’s replaced.  Again, if you never use it, you can always pass it to someone else later.

Big Changes Ahead

I’ve been a teacher for 10 years.

For 9 of those years, I’ve taught 1st or 2nd grade.

The last 6 of those years have been in the same school.

Next month, I will do something I haven’t done for quite some time.  I’ll start teaching at a new school, in a grade I’ve never before taught.  I’ll be teaching gifted fourth graders.  For the most part, I’m super excited!  But I’m also a little bit terrified.  Some of the content is unfamiliar, I don’t know anyone there (I’m super shy, especially when I’m in a group), nearly my entire classroom library is going to be way too easy and immature for them, and I’m pretty sure some of them will be taller than me (something I never worried about teaching 1st and 2nd grade).

However, this is an excellent opportunity to broaden my experiences.  One of the reasons for this move is that I’ve been in a charter school for a long while, and I eventually want to be an academic facilitator/instructional coach…but that isn’t a job that there’s usually funding for outside of your typical public school districts.  I also think that most school systems are going to be more likely to hire someone for that type of job from within the system; someone who has proven themselves in the district (one of the principals I interviewed with recently agreed on that point, by the way).  Keeping in mind the goal of being an instructional coach, it’s going to be helpful to have taught a range of grade levels and become familiar with what real kids are like at different grade/age levels.  

One of the things that makes me really excited about fourth grade is that the kids are old enough to be a lot more independent that I’ve grown accustomed to, and they’ll already have a lot of basic knowledge that we can work with.  For the past two years, I’ve done National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) with my first graders.  While it was amazingly rewarding and fun with them, I can’t wait to see how that pans out with older kids.  Last year I did Quadblogging with first graders. (Don’t know what Quadblogging is? Check out my post here!)  Again, a stellar experience that I’m interested to see in action with older students.  

I’m in the midst of researching interactive notebooks, which I had planned on attempting this year regardless of the grade level placement, but I think it’ll be more effective (not to mention easier) with fourth graders than it would be with firsties.  I also just heard about Genius Hour on Twitter, and want to learn more about ideas for structuring that.  

Needless to say, this year will be anything but boring!

If you use interactive notebooks or do Genius Hour with your class, I’d love to pick your brain or get links to sites you’ve found helpful!



PSA From A Left-Handed Primary Teacher

I’m left-handed.  Really, that shouldn’t be a big deal, but sometimes it is.  I’m one of those “all in” lefties who does everything left-handed.  Eating, brushing my teeth, cutting, using a knife (except at the dinner table), etc.  When I wear a baby in a carrier on my hip, I even prefer to put him on my right side so my left hand is free.

I remember when I was a kid, there was always only one or two pairs of left-handed scissors in every classroom or in the art room.  All of them were so dull (or the two sides were separated so much from overuse and age), that they rarely even cut paper.  By about 3rd grade, I just used the right-handed scissors and dealt with the fact that they were really uncomfortable.  Also around third grade, I vividly recall purposefully changing the way I held my pencil so that my hand hooked.  Why would I do such a thing?  Because I had to write my spelling words 3x each, and they had been printed on the left side of the page.  I couldn’t see the words on the paper because my hand was in the way.  So I changed the way I wrote.  This was also an issue in learning to write in cursive for the same reasons.  Writing in a spiral bound notebook is a a nightmare.  When I use a binder, I remover the paper from the binder, write what I need to, and replace it into the binder rings.  Every desk in my middle school, high school, and university was created for a right-handed person.  Regardless of the tool I use to write with, the entire side of my hand, from pinky joint to the base of my palm, is always smeared in graphite, ink, or marker.

I spent much of my time in PE classes asking how I should do something that had just been demonstrated right-handed.  The typical answer was, “Just do the opposite.”  Gee, thanks.  There were even times when we were doing a unit on baseball and there weren’t enough left-handed gloves for all the lefties in class.  Not cool.

To this day, my sense of right and left is not good.  I get them mixed up way more frequently than is probably normal for anyone over the age of 9.  I blame at least part of that on the fact that my teachers frequently ensured people know which hand was their right hand with the statement, “it’s the one you write with.”  Um…not everyone.  I even overhead a colleague (younger than me, so not an old-school teacher set in her ways) using that exact phrase last year to her class.  Now, granted, she may very well have have not had any lefties in her class, so I’ll assume that’s true.

It’s also a pain at a restaurant, or really any dinner table where I’m seated with right-handed people.  I’ve gotten really good at choosing the seat that puts my left hand against the wall or to the aisle, and failing that, eating with my elbow tucked in to avoid bumping against my right-handed companions.

The time it was most difficult was when I needed to teach students cursive.  Yup, I got to teach students to write in cursive for 6 years.  I learned to make the letter in the air, facing the class (so I had to make it backwards in order for them to see it properly), and I learned to guide even right-handed students having difficulty forming a letter by doing hand-over-hand with my right hand.

If you’re a teacher, please, I beg you to do the following for your left-handers.

  • Have ambidextrous scissors, or make sure to have left-handed ones that cut effectively.
  • Print anything that needs to be copied (handwriting, etc) so the original word/sentence is on the right side of the paper for your lefties, or on a separate paper altogether if you want to avoid making two versions.
  • If a child asks how to do something left-handed, do not tell them to just do the opposite of what you showed them. Either try to figure it out for them, ask around your colleagues who are lefties how they do it, or find a YouTube video.
  • If you seat a lefty next to a righty at a table, put the lefty so that their left hand is not beside someone (or is beside another lefty) if you can.
  • Never, ever, utter the phrase, “On the right, that’s the hand you write with,” unless you are 110% certain that every person in that room writes with their right hand.
  • Check out additional resources at, and mamaot.
  • Check out the 18 worst things for left-handed people.
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Quadblogging is Awesome – You Should Sign Up

What is Quadblogging you ask?  Well, it’s awesome, that’s what it is!  Imagine a classroom where students are begging to write (whether it’s shared writing or independent writing), and simply a flutter with anticipation to see what comments were left about their writing.  Think about a time you took a moment to read something, and your class learned about something unexpected, yet important.  Quadblogging is simply chock full of those kinds of moments.

Are you intrigued yet?  Good.  The nitty gritty of it is that Quadblogging is a group of four classrooms who maintain blogs.  There are two rounds of it done per year; one in Sept.-Dec. and one in the spring that goes into July.  That one lasts far after my school year ends, so I’m not particularly sure what the dates are.  Sorry.  As I was saying, each class maintains a blog.  You take turns being the featured blog of the week.  When your class is the featured blog, you write your little hearts out.  During your featured week, your whole class feels like superstar writers because all three of the other classes come leave comments on your blog.  When you aren’t the featured class, you leave comments on the featured blog for that week.  You’re always welcome to write on your own blog or leave comments, but having a designated week for each blog ensures readers and comments at least one week in every rotation.

Last year, my quad included us from the USA, two classes from the U.K., and one class from Australia.  We had very natural discussions about time zones and seasons in different parts of the world because of where our blogging buddies were located.  We learned that kids in Australia finish their school year just before Christmas, and return sometime later in what is winter for us to begin a new grade.  (That was a major “duh moment” for me.  I knew their summer was during our winter, but it never occurred to me that their school year would end so they have their summer off as well.  I just never thought about it.)  We discussed how (and if) we celebrate Halloween.  We talked about the weather.  We shared our field trips with one another.  My class learned that no matter where you live, people are still people.  They also learned that if we, the class in the last time zone in the group, wrote a blog post on Friday afternoon at the end of our feature week, it may not get comments because our friends are all home in bed.

Do your class a favor and sign up.

Want an easy to use blogging format for your class? Try Kidblog!  You can have one username for yourself and write blog posts together, or you can give individual students their own blogs.  If the kids get their own blogs, there’s one central blog page, and you can see recent posts or click on usernames to read a certain post or a particular author.


Evolution of Management in My Classroom

I just finished my tenth year of teaching in June, and I’ve been reflecting on how much things have changed since I entered my first classroom all those years ago.  One way I’ve changed a lot is in terms of classroom management.  Early on, I used to have the pocket chart with all those colored papers and one-size-fits-all consequences.  When a more logical consequence stared me in the face, I used it, but I dabbled in giving more logical consequences, and those are the ones I’ve found to be the most effective when one is necessary.

A few years ago, I was still using the same consequences across the board, but ditched my behavior chart for a notebook.  My consequences were in increments of 5 minutes of walking laps (walking a portion or all of recess was pretty much the standard consequence at that school at the time), and each time a student broke a rule that day, it added 5 more minutes of walking laps.  If they got to a certain point in a single day, they went to the principal.  There were one or two kids who carefully walked that line where they took things as far as they could without going to the principal, yet I felt ridiculous saying a student needed to go to the principal for the types of things for which they earned consequences.  It was disruptive, attention-seeking behavior, but nothing heinous or harmful to others.

After the experience with students very clearly working the system, I changed from keeping track of the issues of the day to whether an issue was something that occurred over and over again.  I used the same 5 minutes per offense, but if a student was disruptive to the point of earning a consequence, it was 5 minutes of walking laps the first time.  If it happened again a week later, 10 minutes of walking during recess.  At the start of each quarter, I wiped the slate clean for behavior, just as we do in the gradebook.  This worked a little better for some students, but others ended up walking nearly all of every recess every day, especially if it was near the end of a quarter.  I needed something different.

This past year I’ve used logical consequences paired with bibliotherapy.  I spent a lot of time at the beginning of the year (with reviews as needed) laying the groundwork for why rules are in place and how breaking them affects others.  When a problem arises, I had a private chat with that student about what they were doing, and why it can’t continue.  If that type of problem continued anyway, they earned a logical consequence and I notified their parents of that.  If it persisted, we moved on to bibliotherapy to help the student see how things played out for a character in a similar situation, and connected it to themselves.  The repetition of that type of problem could occur at any point over the course of a marking period.

There are still some changes I want to make for the coming year.  I want to do a better job documenting when the “friendly reminder” conversations occur, and whether it seemed that the student just didn’t realize what they were doing, didn’t know it was a problem, or knew, but chose to do it anyway.  I think that will be helpful in determining how to proceed.  Last year I had a lot of talks with students where I attempted to determine their motivation behind the behavior.  Unfortunately that is sometimes a difficult thing to figure out, but knowing whether a student did something because they didn’t realize it was a problem, because they were in a bad mood and that made it harder to control themselves, or they just didn’t care that it broke a rule often determined my response, but I didn’t always keep a record of it.  I also want to add a student-goal setting piece to this, but I’m not sure at what point to do it.  My initial thought is that if the problem occurs again after the bibliotherapy, that’s the time to recognize that this particular behavior is a habit.  I am also trying to decide whether resetting everything at the beginning of a new marking period is the best way to go.  On one hand, everything else resets at that point, and if a student struggles with a particular habit, making a goal and a plan to change that habit is going to be the best way to work with that student.  On the other hand, it isn’t exactly fair if a student has the same behavior issue 2 days in a row, but they happen to be the last day of the marking period and the first day of the new one, so they have a chat with me about it 2 days in a row when other students with less fortunate timing would have had a logical consequence on day two.  I think that if I’m going to reset everything, doing so after winter break is probably the best time to do it.  When we return to school in January, we always review rules and procedures because of the long break.  While it does not signify the end of a marking period for my school, I keep data, and can use the information from the correct dates before and after winter break to determine their behavior grade.

Overall, I’m hopeful that most issues can be resolved through discussion of rules and why are there, and private chats with students to help them see if something needs to change and why.  I like having a plan of action for how to handle it if a student repeatedly breaks a rule, but I’d rather not need to use them.

How do you manage your classroom?  How has that changed over the years?


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Lucy Calkins + 6 Trait Writing = Writing Teacher Heaven…Probably

Ok, so I know that neither Lucy Calkins’ Writer’s Workshop nor 6+1 Trait writing are particularly new, so I’m sure others have come to this conclusion long before I did. Several years ago I was trained in writer’s workshop, but I’ve felt for awhile now that something was missing. It’s an excellent concept: write every day, learn to stretch out small events to write about details, and everyone has stories to tell (and not every story needs to be a major event like a birthday or getting a new pet).  The thing is, I noticed that I was giving the same compliments and the same suggestions all the time, and wasn’t really sure what to do with the kids who were already pretty good writers…in first and second grade.  They had their story in sequence, details, capital letters and punctuation in the right places, strong words…I was at a loss for what to suggest.

At the very end of the school year, I read 6+1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide for the Primary Grades by Ruth Culham, and it clicked.  This is what I’ve been looking for to give me more ideas for what lessons my students needed to continue to improve, and to help me give clear and focused comments and instruction to support them.  I’d heard about 6+1 Trait here and there, and noticed books and materials in the local teacher store, but never looked at them closely.  I really wish I had.

The beauty of this match is that both are primarily philosophies about teaching writing, rather than ironclad units that must be followed page by page.  I love that you look at your students’ work to determine what to do next.  While that’s way more time consuming than, say, a quick quiz on a skill, it is so much more authentic and gives a clearer view of what a student actually does when s/he writes, rather than when they know you’re looking for a specific skill. For those teachers (like me) who sometimes feel like they’re not sure what a good next step would be for a student or the class as a whole, both of these will work together very well in terms of organizing what makes writing good, and how to break those qualities down into individual skills.  I can determine which skills my students need instruction in, and which skills are beyond the requirements for the grade, but I should keep them waiting in the wings for any students who are ready for them anyway.

I fully intend to marry these two writing philosophies together in my classroom this year.  Now I just need to find or create a rubric that combines Common Core, Lucy Calkins, and 6+1 Trait writing together.

If you have or know of a rubric that combines any of those three together, please share!  I’d love to see how others have put everything together.