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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Complete Sentences and Beyond!

Even though I teach fourth grade, I still find that, at the beginning of the year, I have many, many students who struggle with writing complete sentences.  It's usually a pretty quick fix to remind them what a complete sentence looks like, but then we have to go beyond that, too.  We have to teach them how to restate answers in complete sentences (I have a HUGE blog post about that HERE.)  Then, we have to move on to teaching them to expand on their sentences.

I have written before about how amazing our writing curriculum is, but I just have to say it again! We use Write Now Right Now and it is just wonderful.  The lessons featured here are based on lessons in the curriculum.  Seriously, if you need an amazing writing curriculum, go check it out!

We start out the year with a review of the five requirements of a sentence.  Here is the notebook entry that we use.

And here is the super fun chant we use to remember the requirements:

One thing that I added to my instruction last year was the Superb Sentences flip book.  It covers all of the requirements of a sentence (nouns, verb, capitalizations, etc.) in a step by step manner.  We used this flip book for several weeks while we were reviewing sentences, and it was perfect! 

This is also a great time to start pulling out my Using Pictures to Teach Parts of Speech lessons!  The nouns and verbs versions definitely come in handy here.

Once my students are comfortable with all of the elements of a sentence, we move on to our Team Complete lesson.  This one is always SO much fun!  I encourage you to really get into the act-- put on a jersey, maybe a baseball cap, and throw on a whistle.  The kids get such a huge kick out of it and remember it forever.

The idea of Team Complete (a clever idea from Write Now Right Now) is to really take your complete sentences up a notch.  I begin by telling the students that they are currently all on the pee-wee team, since they are writing wonderful complete sentences with all the requirements.  BUT! If they add more detail and more information, they can join me on the Junior Varsity team.  We talk about ways to write a JV answer and how it is different from a pee-wee answer.  Then, I ask them what the ultimate goal is in high school sports-- most of them know it is to join the Varsity team.  We chat about how they can make their answers a member of the Varsity team, and they all LOVE this challenge!

Here is the anchor chart I created with them while teaching the lesson.

After we complete the lesson, they each get miniature jerseys and glue them into their notebooks.  Then, they get to write their own sample sentences.  It is always fun to see what they come up with!

After this lesson it's amazing how excited they are to challenge themselves to write Varsity level answers.  It's rare that I see a pee-wee team complete answer after this point, and I leave the anchor chart up in my room for quite some time and we refer to it often!

If you'd like to teach this lesson, it's super quick-- maybe 15 minutes-- and you can grab the jerseys for free HERE.  I printed my big anchor chart jerseys on colored card stock.

Have fun!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Meet the Teacher Night Made Easy!

It's almost time for Meet the Teacher nights to commence around the country, and it has always been one of my very favorite nights of the year! I get so excited to meet all of my new students and their families.  This first impression is so important, and it can sometimes be a little bit overwhelming for everyone-- teachers, students, and parents!  I have written before about how important it is to instill confidence and build rapport with parents and students at this first meeting.  You can read about how I do that HERE.

I've never really addressed how I actually set up my Meet the Teacher Night, and it's always a little bit different from year to year. Last year, I tried my best to make Meet the Teacher night as simple and easy as possible. Here is how we set it up!

I met each family at the door so that I was able to interact with each family for a moment right when they walked into the room.  When nobody was walking in, I would roam the room and chat with whoever was already there.  When I met them at the door, I explained to my students that they would need to go to each of four stations and follow the directions there.  They did not have to go in order, but they needed to stop at each one. Here are my four stations:

First, they picked up the 7,000 papers that the school provides. :)

Then, they (really, their parents) head on over to the information table.  There were three forms to fill out-- a volunteer form, a student information form, and a "how are you getting home the first day" form.  Most parents sat at the desk you see and filled these papers out while their students went on to the next step...

Next, they had to put together their supplies!  Our school has started implementing a system where all of the students pay a fee and we buy all of their supplies for them.  Since they don't have desks, each student had a book box.  There was a paper next to the station that had their name and student number next to it, and they grabbed their book box.  We had pre-filled it with all of their folders and notebooks.  The only thing they needed to do was label them all so that we could avoid doing this as a whole class the first few days of school.  It worked out so well!

We set out a sample book bin (number 30 that you see here) so that they could see exactly what it should look like when they were done.  There were label sheets for every student and Sharpies so that they could write their name.  I made a little sample page on how to label their bins (which label went on which color folder).  

99% of my students did a fantastic job with this task.  There were a few who needed a bit more support, and it was a good experience for me to see how the students followed directions.  I'd do this again in a heartbeat to avoid the chaos of doing it as a whole class on the first day of school! 

Finally, they did this little prompt (I think I got this idea from someone on IG last year! If it was you, please please let me know so that I can give you credit!).  They each had to write one thing they were excited about.  I left it up the first few days of school so that they could all read each other's responses.

This Meet the Teacher Night set up was one of my favorites that I've ever done!  Kids and their parents had plenty to do while I greeted everyone, and they were there long enough that I had a chance to sit down and chat with all of the families.  It was very minimal set up on my part, too!  I'd highly recommend it.

Looking for more Back to School inspiration? Check out these Back to School posts!


Sunday, July 16, 2017

No Homework Policy: One Year Later

Last school year was a really big year in my classroom.  We started flexible seating (you can read more about that adventure HERE), we implemented a Bring Your Own Device program, and we did away with homework.  Like I said-- BIG year!

While each of those three changes contributed to a very different feel in my classroom than years prior, I was particularly nervous about doing away with homework.  I know that homework has its place, and I know there are concepts and skills (especially in 4th grade!) that require repetition to really grasp.  Yet, I still felt like the reasons to do away with homework were more important than the  benefits of homework itself.

Throughout the school year, I had many colleagues pop in and ask how our no-homework policy was going.  "It's going well!" I would respond, but I wouldn't give many details.  Now, after a full school year without it, I definitely have some reflections on how it went, what changes I would make, and if I would do it again!

First of all, here is the homework philosophy that we presented to parents and students at the beginning of the school year. (If you'd like to use it, I've added the full text at the end of the post so that you can copy, paste, and edit as you wish.)

You can see that we didn't COMPLETELY do away with homework, but we did do away with 99% of it.  We still STRONGLY encouraged students to be reading each night, and they were required to have a novel in progress at all times.  We also continued our weekly letter writing, where students had to respond to us in letter form by the end of the week.  You can read more about that idea HERE.  I'll never have a classroom where I don't do it!

We also had a disclaimer that if students did not complete their classwork in a reasonable period of time or were excessively off task during an assignment, they would need to bring it home to complete it.

Of course, when we first told students about this change, there was hooting and hollering and cheers galore! I let them have their moment and then gently pulled them back together.  I reassured them that it was totally possible that they wouldn't have homework, but that it would mean they had to give me their all every. single. minute of every. single. day.  Their eyes got big, they sat up taller, and an air of confidence washed over them. "We've got this, Mrs. M.!" I remember one kiddo saying.  In the beginning, it was as if they would do anything to keep this privilege.  We floated on clouds of no-homework bliss for a solid week...

And then here's what really happened when I did away with homework...

I expected more from my students than ever before. 

When I was planning my lessons this year, I packed in more than I ever had before.  While that might send like a negative effect of this little experiment, it was actually one of the best parts for me.

In math, in particular, this was a game changer for me.  I knew that my students needed to deeply and fully understand these concepts and be able to compute with automaticity.  I also knew they wouldn't be going home and doing 20 extra problems each night like they had in the past.  This meant that 1) I had to make sure they understood the concept like the back of their hand and 2) They could apply that understanding to a wide variety of problems.... Of course, these are two non-negotiables that any math classroom should have, but I was going to be doing it with less practice and repetition than before.  Therefore, when I was planning, I ended up with FAR more inquiry-based lessons and practice (so that they would really get the meat of the concept), and far less direct teacher instruction.  I jammed as much as I could into my whole group time (10-15 minutes a day) and then jammed even more into their workshop time.  Kids were collaborating, practicing, and learning more than ever... Simply because I had this sense of urgency that I was missing before.

A few people have asked about spelling and how this worked without homework and studying at home.  We use a word study philosophy, similar to Words Their Way, which means that students are studying patterns in words rather than the words themselves.  I incorporated this into my reading rotations and would occasionally devote some of our writing to it, and I would highly recommend it!

Another option to fit in what would have previously been homework is to rethink your morning routine.  I usually use my Think It Through critical thinking packet as morning work, and when I did away with homework this year and had to give them some more "intense" morning work, I started using the packet during Morning Meeting instead.  I used our morning work time this year to review and reteach grammar concepts some days and math skills other days.  It was the perfect balance!

This brought out the best in some kids

When I say it brought out the best in them, I mean it changed their study habits permanently.  They created habits that I hope will continue on with them for years and years to come.  They knew that in order to continue having no homework, they truly had to give me their all during the day.  It wasn't easy.  They had to not only complete their assignments, but complete them well. We had very, very little down time, and I expected more from this group of kids than ever before.  Some rose to the challenge and THRIVED under the challenge...

...and some kids didn't care. 

I did have a handful of students who were not at all motivated by a lack of homework.  These were the kids who repeatedly ended up taking work home because they weren't completing it in class (usually due to them being distracted and not on-task).  Some kids learned quickly that this isn't what they wanted, and a few kids never did quite learn.

Some parents loved it. Some parents hated it. 

On Back to School Night, when we handed out this homework policy, the general consensus was all the praise hands in the world! Parents thanked us for giving them FREEDOM in the evenings to take their kids to gymnastics without worrying about homework and some parents thanked us for eliminating the nightly homework battle they had fought for the past few years.

We also had a small number of parents who wanted their kids to have homework.  They worried that they would become accustomed to not having homework and have a difficult time next year when their teacher required it again.  They worried they wouldn't get enough skill practice.  These were valid concerns, and we reassured parents that, if they requested it, we would send home supplemental practice.  Not one of the parents who initially expressed concern over the policy ever ended up asking for homework.

...but some KIDS asked for homework!

I'll never forget the first time one of my kids ASKED for homework! It was about a month into the school year, and we were working on Error Analysis in small groups.  One of my students looked up and said, "I LOVE this.  Can you PLEASE give us some more to do at home!?"  How could I deny them that opportunity!? :)  The rest of the kids in the small group chimed in that they wanted to bring some home too.  During my lunch break, I printed a few more tasks out for those kids, and guess what? Every single student in that group brought it home and returned it the next day-- BY CHOICE!

This happened multiple times throughout the year, primarily with my math projects and error analysis tasks.  I never, ever denied them when they asked to bring something home for homework.

Some kids NEED homework. 

Usually, these aren't the kids who were requesting the extra homework, but I had another handful of students who needed homework.  They needed skill practice, they needed reading fluency practice, and they needed fact practice.  I talked to each of those students individually and contacted those parents privately.  They (both students and parents) understood why I needed to send supplemental work home.  Once a quarter, I put together packets based on those kids' needs.  I gave them free reign to complete it at any time throughout the quarter, and every single packet came back completed by the end of the quarter.

I would do it all over again. 

At the end of the year, I had parents come up to me and thank me for this policy, telling me how they had enjoyed a better relationship with their student this year without the nightly homework battle.  They had taken more walks, participated in more after school activities, and were generally so thankful for the reprieve.

As a teacher, I saw happy kids coming in every day and relaxed kids leaving every afternoon.  There were no battles over missing homework, and kids worked hard to keep the privilege.  I had no noticeable (anecdotally or with data) drop in achievement or growth over the course of the year.  I felt like a better teacher because I worked even harder during the school day to make sure they were getting exactly what they needed while they were with me.

...Oh, and I had a lot less grading to do, too! :) :)

I would do it again a heartbeat!

Homework Policy

We strongly believe in the power of play and the importance of letting children be children. Further,  research does not indicate significant benefits of homework at the elementary level. We believe that when students give us all of their day, they deserve to have all of their night.  Therefore, we have eliminated the majority of our standing homework assignments. Eat dinner as a family and ask them how their day was, enjoy your child’s extracurricular activities without worrying about homework, and know that your child is working hard at school each day and has earned their evening playtime!

To foster community and self-reflection, your student will have a weekly letter from their teacher (more about that below!) to respond to, and we highly encourage you to read a book of choice with your child each evening. Please Note: If a student exhibits off-task behaviors during the school day and fails to complete an assignment, the assignment will be sent home for completion.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Teaching Students to Dissect Responding to Reading Prompts

I have a list a mile long of activities and concepts that I want and need to blog about, but I just HAD to take a few minutes today to share this one. It truly is a game-changer for those of you who are tasked with the daunting job of teaching kids to respond to texts-- especially multiple texts!

In the upper grades, students are expected to be able to read two or more texts on a similar topic, then write a short essay or paragraph responding to a specific prompt about those texts.  Sounds easy enough, right?! Wrong!  In my experience, this is one of the most difficult writing concepts for students to grasp.  After all, they have to combine their reading skills with their writing skills-- analyzing multiple texts, referencing text evidence, making sure they completely answer the prompt, following writing formats, etc.  There is so much that goes into this skill!

For the past 8 years, I've worked with an incredible team of teachers in a wide variety of grade levels. This school year and last, I have been so lucky to be teammates with one of the creators of our phenomenal writing program, Write Now Right Now.  The program has changed me as a writing teacher, and all of these ideas come right from the program.  You can learn more about it HERE!

I begin teaching this skill by creating an anchor chart with my students, which we title "The Three Ps of Written Response."

We always encourage our students to go straight to the prompt before they even begin reading.  After all, how much easier is it for students to read when they know what their purpose is for reading?  After they have read the prompt, it's time to dissect it.  They cloud the format, they box the topic, and they underline the big ideas.  Then, they make a plan.  This is always a little bit confusing for students because they can't quite grasp how they can make a plan without reading! BUT, they can, AND if they do, it's going to ensure that they fully respond to the prompt.

To show them how easy it is to dissect a prompt and make a plan without reading the text, I give them a bunch of prompts without the accompanying texts.  In fact, none of these texts actually exist!  These are just examples.  We dissect all of the prompts first, looking for the format, the topic, and the big ideas.  Then, we make a plan for each of the prompts.

 Above, you can see all of the different prompts we dissected.  Some of them are more tricky than others.  Below, you can see the plans we made together for each of the prompts. Remember, there were no actual passages, and the kids knew we had no intention of completing the plans, so it wasn't completely overwhelming for them.

After we had done a bunch of practice, we applied it to an actual prompt with actual passages.

We used the two poems The Land of Counterpane, and Sick, and the short story You Got Me Sick for this one.  Again, we read the prompt first and made our plan outline BEFORE we read the poems and story.  This was so critical because then the kids never forgot that they had to mention EACH of the stories, and they didn't forget about the extra prompt at the end.  As we read, we underlined our text evidence as well.

We will continue to practice with basic prompts (and no passages) as well as do a few here and there that do incorporate passages.  This really has empowered my students to be successful with such a difficult skill!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Going Digital with Student-Led Conferences

Happy spring!  I can't believe how quickly this year is flying by.  Before we know it, we'll be prepping for the end of the year.  It seems like just yesterday we were gearing up for the beginning of the year.  Isn't that always how it goes, though? :) 

In our school district, spring also means another round of parent-teacher conferences.  I've blogged about those before (HERE), but during spring, we are required to implement student-led conferences.  We've done this for years and years.  

In the past, we have always done paper versions of student-led conferences.  The students end up with a reflection sheet for each subject, for their specials classes, and for their behavior.  We spent hours upon hours preparing these sheets.  They put them in a folder with a sweet little self-portrait on the front.  When their parents arrived on the evening of conferences, they would share their pages with them, then show them a few sample pages from their math journals, learning logs, or writing binders.  Students were always pretty proud of themselves, and it worked well!

This year, in 4th grade, we implemented BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) in our classrooms, and we also started using Google Drive as our portfolio systems.  We knew that we wanted to ditch the "old" paper way of conducting student-led conferences and use our devices to document our learning.  I spent an afternoon converting much of the information from our original paper documents to a fun Google Slide document.  It was met with such great success that I just had to share it!

We started our reflections by working in groups to brainstorm what we have learned, what our strengths are, and what our challenges have been.  We made a chart for each subject (math, writing, reading, science, social studies, and specials).  This really got our juices flowing and thinking about all we had done this year so far!

After we had a lot of different ideas on our charts, we were ready to begin working on our own individual reflections. 

I used Google Classroom to give each of my students an individual copy of their reflection document. There were several pages of the document, including a page for them to reflect on each subject.  In between each reflection page was a Work Sample page.  On this page, they could either take pictures of work samples they had created throughout the year (like math journal pages, anchor charts, etc.) or they could include links to items they had created in their Google Drive or on Google Classroom.  This is what most students chose to do!

**Note: You can access a copy of the document I used HERE, but please note that it is not editable, and we are an IB school, so all of our behavior reflections use IB Attitudes and the IB Learner Profile. I am sharing the document here so that you can get some ideas.  When prompted, click "Make a Copy" and a copy will show up in your Google Drive.  This document is copyright 2017 Teaching With a Mountain View,  Ltd. and you may not share or sell anything based on this document. Feel free to create your own similar version to use in your personal classroom! HERE is a link to the sticky note clip art I used!

When it was finally time for conferences, they were so proud of the work they had done and parents were so impressed with all of the skills their students were able to cover in such a short period of time.  These were definitely the most successful student-led conferences we have had!

During student-led conferences, we allow up to 3 families to be conferencing at once.  I usually opt to let my students lead the conference on their own, then sit down with them and chat for 5-10 minutes at the end.

If you've never tried student-led conferences, I can't encourage them enough!  They are such a great way for students to take responsibility for their learning and really SHINE!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Using Topple Blocks with Task Cards

Remember back in September when I bought several sets of Topple Blocks for my students?  THIS post might jog your memory!

Since then, we have used the Topple Blocks to increase engagement time and time again.  They never seem to get old!

Yesterday, we started adding and subtracting fractions with like denominators.  Today, I wanted something for my other students to work on while I worked individually with some small groups to reinforce the concept and with another small group to show them how to add and subtract with unlike denominators.  I didn't have time to create an entire topple blocks game dedicated to the skill (like I did for Elapsed Time, Long Division, and Factors & Multiples), but I did have a set of task cards to use!  I quickly copied them onto different colored papers to correspond to the colors of my topple blocks.  Then, I set them off to work their way through the set of task cards while playing the game.  SUPER simple set up for me, copious amounts of skill practice for them, and high engagement for all students.  Win, Win, Win!

While I do plan to create more of the games that follow the original format, this is such an easy adaptation that you can do with ANY task cards! Have fun!

You can purchase the Topple Blocks HERE. (Amazon Affiliate Link)

You can purchase the Fraction Task Cards HERE.

You can view ALL of my task cards HERE.

Happy teaching!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Additions to our Fraction Unit!

I'm popping in quickly to share a few additions I've made to our fractions unit this year that have really brought some added depth to student learning.  Before (or after) you browse here, make sure you stop by my original blog post about all of my fraction unit activities.  It's HUGE and has so much information!  Click the image below to read all about it!
The Ultimate Collection of Activities to Teach Fraction Skills
Now, moving on to a few new ideas!

This year, I was looking at adding in more inquiry-based activities.  One of my big focuses this year is allowing students to draw conclusions themselves so that they are more meaningful in the long run.  Fractions are so conceptual, and sometimes I feel like student understanding is left so surface level.  This year, I wanted to make sure there was no chance of that happening.  I decided to invest in a great unit from Meg at The Teacher Studio.  She has a great constructivist approach to teaching fractions, with a lot of hands-on activities that really get kids thinking!  You can see the unit HERE, and I highly recommend it!  Many of the activities I talk about today are straight from her unit.  It's SO worth it!

Since I teach fourth grade, most students already have a basic understanding of fractions.  I started by asking each student to find something circular, square, or rectangular to trace.  Then, they traced and cut out their shapes 3 or 4 times (they all had to be identical, of course).  I put these small posters up all over the room with different fractional amounts of them (halves, thirds, fifths, eights, etc.).  They had to FOLD their shapes into each of these amounts, then they traced the fold lines and glued it on the page.  It yielded SUCH a rich discussion, especially about forming fractions and what is/is not a properly formed fraction-- check out some of those totally inaccurate thirds!

The next day, I gave each student this prompt (also from Meg's unit).  They discussed their answers with a partner and each pair wrote a written response justifying their response.  We recorded their votes, and then had another huge discussion about it.  It was so eye-opening!

It's no secret that I'm a HUGE fan of Stephanie from Teaching in Room 6.  Her ideas are always so meaningful, and they have very little "fluff," which I always appreciate.  She posted on Instagram about creating a concept chart for specific units, adding to it each day as they reveal new learning.  I absolutely LOVED this idea and got started on ours right away.  We can even record misconceptions to be figured out later.  It's amazing how full this chart got over the course of the unit!

I always love to incorporate some Skittles fun into our lessons!  When we were working on equivalent fractions, I used my Skittles Math activities in combination with Meg's Skittles activities from her unit, and we had a blast!  It's always so hard for them to wait to eat the Skittles, but when they have successfully completed their activity, it's such a sweet treat and feeling of accomplishment!


 Last year, I created these free fraction concept exit tickets (you can download them from THIS post).  Most of the time last year, I used them just as they were intended-- as exit tickets.  This year, though, I decided to use them for some reflection time.  Instead of just having them turn in the exit tickets, we shared several different ways of constructing answers.  All of these students are solving the same exact problem, but look at how different their explanations were!  I have done this with three different exit tickets, and I just LOVE hearing them explain their reasoning and seeing how excited their peers get, too.

 These next two activities are also from Meg's unit and provided such great practice!  The top one they are working on comparing and ordering numbers.  They had to make a "train" as big as possible.  They LOVED this and begged to do it again.  Success!

This was another activity that was very telling.  I could see very quickly which students were successful in reasoning about a fraction's relative size and which were still struggling.  They loved this activity as well!

So, this activity LOOKS so lame, I know!  BUT, it is the activity that my students have loved the most so far this entire unit!  Isn't it funny what kids end up loving?  I dreamed it up about 13 minutes before my plan time was over (right before math), I typed it up quickly, and off they went.  The room was completely silent as they worked on drawing their bakeries, writing the fraction of each goodie that they had drawn, and then ordering the fractions.  I spruced it up a little bit when I got home, and you can download the differentiated activity for free HERE.  The first page is significantly more difficult than the second, so take a look and see which students can handle the first page!

This was a great stepping stone to starting our HUGE fractions bakery project, which is coming up soon in our unit.  I can't wait to kick that one off with some chef's hats and goodies!

As we had finished practicing all of these skills (ordering fractions, comparing fractions, modeling fractions, equivalent fractions, etc.) I wanted to be sure to review them all together.  So often we teach these skills in isolation and once we move on, kids just seem to forget all that we had done!  We decided to have a slumber party day, and I put together a sleepover fraction challenge to review all of these concepts.  It was so much fun!

That's it for now!  We are only about half way through our unit, so I'm sure I'll be updating more soon. :)