Thinking Teaching Creating

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

Plans for Blended Learning

I want to implement some blended learning in my classroom this year.  I thought about trying to flip the classroom for just one subject (math), but I’m nervous about the potential problems that will occur when a few kids don’t watch the videos for homework (whether it was because they were busy, they decided not to, or lack a reliable internet connection, the result is the same).  I also don’t know that I’ll have time to create a video for every lesson I teach, even in a single subject, so I’m hesitant to commit myself to a true flip.

What I do have in mind is more of an in class flip for differentiation, and I plan to test drive it in math.

Now, bear in mind that I teach a self-contained class of gifted kids, so very few students are working below grade level, while I might have 6 or more students who can ace all the unit tests on day one.  I have a 90 minute block for math, and I’m expected to have about half of that time as instruction, and the other half as a student workshop of sorts.

math unit mind map

The mind map linked above takes into account that my district (and honestly, good teaching practices) requires that students who earn below a C on assessments are given remediation and the opportunity to retest once, with the highest possible score on a retest of 80%.  It also essentially breaks the class into three groups; those ready to learn the grade level material at the usual pace, those who need the unit compacted, and those who need the next level.

I know you’re thinking, great, but where does the blended learning part come in?

Remember how I said I planned to use it to differentiate?  Well, my plan is to have the lessons for the second half of the unit in video format,  using Blendspace to create lessons that include a video, guided practice, some independent practice, and possible a video going over the answers to the independent practice (although I think the answer key video will be the beginning of the next day’s lesson, and won’t be available until after the independent practice should be complete…just to make it easier for them to stay honest about it).  I also plan to have the lessons for the advanced group, working on next year’s content on the same topic, set up on Blendspace, although they won’t be allowed to work on it until they have completed the unit project.

The unit projects will be real-world examples using the main skills that the unit teaches.  For example, our unit on area and perimeter has students determine the cost of redecorating a room based on their choices of wall covering and carpet.  They are tasks that would take just a few class periods to complete if they have an hour or so of work time.  The plan is to have them start these projects when they finish early as soon as they have the skills to do so, and give just a few days at the end of the unit before the test to complete the projects.  I plan to give tasks that are somewhat open-ended, but not so much that they’re ridiculously difficult to grade.

Here’s what I’m looking at for my typical daily schedule:

You see that my first order of business with each group is to check their most recent independent practice and answer questions on that lesson.  I figure that most questions will be addressed while explaining how to find the correct answers, but I’m also planning to have a place each group can post their questions each day, and I can answer any we don’t hit naturally.  I want all the questions to be visible to everyone in an effort to minimize repeats, but I’m on the fence about having chart paper and sticky notes in the room vs. having it on Google Classroom, Padlet, Today’s Meet, or any other digital tool.  In the classroom is accessible to everyone, especially if our classroom technology is being used for Blendspace lessons, but digital question boards will also be accessible at home if someone comes up with a question while completing an assignment for homework.  I obviously could do both, but would rather only have to check in one place.

And with this model, students are still getting 45-50  minutes of face-time with me, and yet they have 40-45 minutes to accomplish their work.  Because I’ll be working with groups the entire time, I won’t be able to answer questions without taking from someone’s group time.  We’re going to have to set up clear expectations about asking classmates for help, the difference between telling the answer and coaching someone to find the answer, and logistics about things like bathroom breaks.  I know that’s true anytime we use a workshop model, but it’s worth mentioning so I remember to include it in my beginning of year plans.

The hard part is going to be having so much ready up front.  I tend to procrastinate, and would rather stay up until 3am finishing something the night before it’s due than get it done a week early when I have some spare time.  The deadline motivates me, so I need to shift my thinking about when that deadline actually is.  To start each unit properly, I’ll need: a mid-unit quiz to use as a pretest, a unit test to act as a second pretest to separate those compacting the unit with those skipping the unit, at least the first few videos for the second half of the unit ready to use (for the compacting group), a unit project (to be completed by every group, but the advanced unit needs to complete it to move on to advanced content), and the first couple of smartboards ready for the on target group.  Ideally, the entire first unit will be ready to use on the day of the pretest, and I can create the second unit’s materials while students complete unit one.

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I Dislike ClassDojo – And What I Do Instead

I’ve gotten a lot of responses to my earlier post about how I Dislike ClassDojo.  Some have been explanation of how a teacher uses this tool in an effective way.  Others have wondered why I have singled out this tool and defended their use of it.  Still others have asked what I do instead.  Do I use reinforcement and consequences for behaviors?  How do I use them?

What I do is loosely based off of Love and Logic.  Here’s a poster of Love and Logic rules I found posted at


As far as reinforcements, I give positive verbal feedback all the time, but I don’t have a prize box or give special treats or parties or anything like that.  I’m of the opinion that there are certain things that are necessary and expected in polite and productive society, and you do them because it’s the right thing to do, not because you’re getting something special for it.  Think about it, as an adult, there aren’t many situations in which you get something extra just for doing what you were supposed to do, are there?

What about consequences?  Well, before I talk about consequences, I want to talk a moment about the intention behind the behaviors.  From what I’ve noticed, there are a few reasons why kids tend to do things that we’d rather they didn’t do:

  • They didn’t know it was a problem.
  • There was a misunderstanding.
  • Something else in their life has caused stress, anger, or sadness that makes dealing with difficult situations appropriately much harder then normal.
  • It was an impulsive response.
  • They’re testing their boundaries.
  • It was done maliciously.

Now, how I do things isn’t perfect, but my first step is to talk with the student and try to get a sense of the motivation behind their behavior.

  • If they didn’t know it was a problem or there was a misunderstanding, we talk through it, and that’s typically the end of it.  Some misunderstandings require a little more problem solving.  (One time last year a student asked if he could lick another child’s candy, and the candy owner misheard him.  He thought the kid asked to look at his candy.  Now, I don’t know who would want to let someone lick their candy, but I’m not six years old either.  The candy licking student replaced the candy with something from his Halloween stash the next day, and he had to throw away the candy he licked lest he think that was an acceptable way to get someone else’s snack.)
  • If it was impulsive (sometimes exasperated by other life events), we talk about ways to take a moment and consider your actions before actually doing or saying something.  Depending upon what they did, some sort or retribution may be in order.
  • For boundary testing and maliciousness, I give logical consequences to set the tone that such behavior will not be tolerated.

I also keep lots of records.  I have a notebook tabbed with student names, and make a quick note whenever we have one of these little talks about their choices.  If there is a consequence of any kind, I also record that.  I keep careful documentation for several reasons.  One reason is that I don’t want a student trying to pull the wool over my eyes.  I’ve overhead kindergarteners talking about how they work their teacher’s behavior system (a clip chart) so that they always end the day on a good note; they just do something good at the end of the day and it reverses any bad choices from the morning.  The “I didn’t know that was a problem” reason only works ONCE for a behavior.  If we talked about it in January and you do it again in February, well, you actually DID know it was a problem.  While I know everyone forgets, I think it’s less likely for a child to forget when we’ve had a one-on-one conversation about why that particular behavior is not acceptable than if we talk about it as a class.

I also keep documentation to see if something seems to be a bad habit or recurring issue.  If a behavior is repeated after we have had logical consequences because it was seemingly to test boundaries or to be malicious, I’ll often pull out a book with a similar problem and that student and I will talk about how things played out in the book, and how their problem was similar.  Sometimes this slightly removed perspective can be helpful in seeing their problem the way others see it.  If it’s an impulse control issue that seems to be a bad habit, we work out a way to help the student to notice the warning signs, and reduce or stop the behavior over time.  The plan we come up with would be dependent upon the problem and the student.

There are non-negotiable behaviors at every school, typically the types of things that would be illegal if an adult did them, that can’t be handled in this manner, but I’ve had success with handling most situations in this manner.

As far as notifying parents goes, I don’t tell them about every single tiny thing.  My rule of thumb is if we didn’t need to do anything more than talk about it, we handled it in the classroom and it wasn’t a big enough deal to write home about.  Any issue that resulted in some sort of consequence is something parents should be informed of, and I typically include the number of times that type of problem has occurred when I write about it so parents can make informed decisions about how they talk with their child at home.  I tell parents this at the beginning of the year, and have yet to have a parent who wants to know about every time I speak to their child.

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Ready to Ditch the Reading Logs

I’ve been teaching for 10 years, and I’ve used reading logs at least to some extent every year.  I tend to slack off about it around February every year, and no one gets upset when it happens.  I’ve been told by parents that their child used to read for hours until they were asked to use a reading log.  Once they had to log their reading, they read much less often, and even began choosing their books by the length of the title.  If the title was long, it didn’t make the cut because they would have to write the title.  These comments from parents were a big red flag for me, but everyone I knew used reading logs in their classroom, so it must not be a bad practice, right?

Then there are the times that kids have written down titles saying that they read a book, and later that day that same child talked about how they didn’t have time to do anything that night because they went straight from school to afterschool activities, ate dinner in the car, and got home just in time to go to sleep.  I’m not stupid; I know that there are probably plenty of times over the last decade that kids lied about having read something on their reading log.  So, whether there is some sort of negative consequence or a mark off their homework participation, does a reading log just penalize the honest children, rather than actually holding them accountable for doing some reading outside of school?

This summer, I participated in my library’s summer reading program.  You log your reading (just the title[s]) and how long you read [in 20 minute intervals]).  I participated myself, and also had logins for my three boys.  They’re all 5 and under, so let’s be honest, I did all the reading AND all the logging.  The older two helped choose books to read, but Mr. 4 months old mostly drooled and pinched my arm.  It was obnoxious!  By mid-July I gave up logging our reading.  It took easily 3 books to fill 20 minutes with Mr. 2-year old pushing me to turn pages before I’d finished reading half the text, so if we only had the attention span for one book, I wasn’t sure whether to log it and pretend it took 20 minutes, or whether it didn’t count.  Then I had to log in onto the  other two kids’ accounts and put the same information so everyone got credit for the reading.

I’m done.  I’m ditching the reading logs this year.  I’ll find other ways to know whether my students are reading.  We’ll talk about books we’ve enjoyed (or abandoned), I’ll ask them to write book reviews when they love or hate a book (hello opinion writing!)  Maybe I’ll make an Edmodo group for my class for book reviews.  I’ll find something that can’t be faked, and isn’t a nightly chore so they can just love to read again.

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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.