Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Teacher Down Time and Christmas Break

At the start of every December, I start looking forward to Christmas break.

I make a list.

I check it more than twice.

Two whole weeks of freedom? I can do so much with that! I can reorganize my art supplies, file papers, change the seating arrangement, make new name tags because the others are grimy and gross. I can plan, organize my library, laminate, copy for the weeks ahead, get caught up on any correcting, change my classroom decorations. The list goes on and on.

The reality of the matter is that maybe one or two of those get done because Christmas break is a BREAK. A time to breathe, relax, and recover.

My first three years teaching, I would spend every Saturday in the classroom. I would spend days off in the classroom. I would spend Christmas break in the classroom. But the funny thing was, the more time I spent in the classroom, I still never felt like I had it all down pat and running smoothly.

Ironically enough, it was when I started spending less time in the classroom, and more time on "life" that I really felt that I was being most effective and efficient.  Don't get me wrong, there are still times in the year ( usually right before report cards) when I turn into a stress monster that wants to "Scarlet O'Hara" it all into tomorrow ( or oblivion), but I try to maintain a balance.

I always tell my students, you have two hours of homework, and I work after school for two hours. Same rule applies to breaks. Did I give you homework over Christmas break? No? So... Guess what

So on Saturday, the first official day of break, when I saw I had three emails from students asking why I haven't posted their summative assessments in PowerSchool yet. I lovingly wished them all a very Merry Christmas, and told them grades would be posted when we return...and then I turned off email notifications. And I don't feel [overly] guilty about it. During the school day we answer hundreds of demands on our time, patience, and thinking from students, parents, and coworkers. It's OKAY to use our break/vacation time to recharge. Mental well being is just as important as physical well being.

Here's wishing all teachers a marvelous winter/Christmas break and a healthy happy 2016!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Middle School Students and Anxiety

Teachers have a lot of demands placed on them in the United States today. Meeting benchmarks, planning, differentiation, parent concerns, dealing with administration, professional development, it goes on and on. 

What we sometimes forget however, is that our students are also under an increased demand to perform both in and out of school. This has caused an increase in both diagnosed and undiagnosed anxiety disorders, particularly for students in grades 5-8.  Anxiety is a huge category of specific disorders. Some examples include general anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, separation anxiety, post traumatic stress or selective mutism. 

At the beginning of the year, and periodically throughout, I sit with my homeroom and we do a check in to see what anxieties and pressures they are feeling. We generate an anchor chart of strategies to deal with anxiety at school and at home. This chart is displayed in the classroom throughout the year and added to as we go. Building a strong and supportive classroom community, where mistakes are okay, goes a long way in helping students who feel anxious. 

Anxiety often has a physical impact on a student. This can range from headaches or stomachaches, bloody noses, tingling, heavy breathing,  fainting, nausea, crying, or hives. If a student is experiencing any of these things, it's important not to dismiss them.

A copy of these teaching strategies as well as the free graphic organizer I use to help students NOTE their thinking can be found here: Teaching Strategies for Anxious Students

8 Teaching Strategies for Dealing with Anxious Students
Teach deep breathing techniques. This is particularly helpful before a test or presentation.

Teach students to NOTE their thoughts. Notice what they are thinking, Observe how they are feeling, Think about a solution, Enact a plan. I keep a stack of graphic organizers in the corner of my classroom. Students can grab one to help if they want to. I always let students who use the organizer give it to me to be shredded if they wish. 

Giving a prearranged signal when a child is about to be called on.  

Presenting oral reports in front of the teacher alone. Alternately, letting a student with selective mutism record their presentation at home for submission. 

Giving a signal before going over instructions. Students who are anxious about missing information will find this particularly helpful.   

Working with the student to determine a "safe person". This is an adult OR peer that can help the student refocus or put a situation into perspective. 

Explain any changes in schedule or procedure. This will often require repetition

Make sure that students with anxiety are not seated next to the "chatty ones". Students who fear getting in trouble will be more focused on disassociating themselves from their neighbors than on class content. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Writing Menus in 6th

Some people hate it, others love it.  Over the years, I’ve found that the students who dislike writing do so because they don’t have enough options.
When I work on writing with my sixth graders, I like to give them as much choice as possible. Because of that, I use something called a writing menu. At the beginning of every other month I give the kids a menu with 12-16 writing choices. The assignments are designated as appetizers, entrees, and desserts.
Appetizers are quick writing assignments, things that can be fully answers in 1-3 paragraphs. Entrees are your standard 5 paragraph essay and are graded as summative assessments.  They are required to complete a pre-write, first draft, peer review sheet, and final draft for all entrees. They need to complete 3 of the 4 choices. Entrees are really the “meat and potatoes” (Ha!)  They are designed to be detailed and to make the kids think a little deeper. I always link it to whatever novel we are reading in literature.  The “dessert” assignments tend to be more fun. They are either super creative or involve technology in some way. ( We are a 1:1 iPad classroom)
In total, at the end of the month, the kids must complete 9 of the options with three of them being entrees.  We only use a writing menu every OTHER month because in the “off months”, after some feedback, we spend time making our writing stronger and working on revisions.   
I’m fortunate to be able to have the time to work in small literacy groups and conference with the kiddos each week, otherwise I think I would adjust the procedure a bit. We also spend a lot of time giving each other feedback on our writing.  At the end of the month, we have portfolios with 9 writing samples for each student.
We keep ALL writing that we do in binders for the year.  I have found that it’s important for the students to see how they have grown from August to June, especially the reluctant writers.
I love hearing the discussions the kids have about what they’re working on during literacy group time.  I love hearing them give each other feedback on traits such as organization and sentence fluency. 
Writing menus aren’t for the faint of heart now. Keeping track of 207 writing assignments and individual student growth ( which is why we keep all drafts)  takes some organization skills.  This is why it is very helpful to conference weekly with students because really, by the end of the month, I already have a very good idea of what they’ve written.

The writing menus I use are tailored to things we’re talking about in class, but you are welcome to see a copy of what we worked on in September here. September Writing Menu  as well as a copy of the writing rubric that I use most often Writing Rubric

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tis the night before School

It's the night before school 
and all through my mind
My brain is screaming,
I wish I had more time

What happened to summer?
And finding time to blog?
What happened to getting it done?
Has it all been a bog?

Okay so there was summer school
And moving to a new room.
I reorganized my library,
And fought the filing cabinet of doom.

I scheduled and sewed
And helped the school get prepared
I mentored and taught
Lots of things to be shared.

But now as I wait
For the coming of dawn
I wonder if my summer was spent in the wrong? 

Did I spend too much effort
To help others get ready?
Did I say yes too much, 
Which is why I feel unsteady?

Just a few questions to ponder
As I procrastinate
Because really I know
That tonight I will be up late.

But it occurs to me now
As I set and reflect
That if it was June again
I'd keep every project.

There's no use regretting
Or moaning from above
I'm sure that my students
Will feel unity,truth, and love 

Those are the core values
That our school strives to teach
And I showed them all this summer
Although, it would have been better to be at the beach.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Teacher Giveaway!

Hiyas! I don't know about you, but there is less than a month until school starts! Yikes!

I've teamed up with a great group of Middle School Bloggers and TpT Sellers to bring you this great mid-summer giveaway! We are giving away TWO prizes! A $60 Target Gift Card and a TpT Product Bundle! Please see the rafflecopter below for how to enter. The giveaway runs until  July 26th! Make sure to stop by and check out these other wonderful teacher bloggers!

Best of luck!


                         Lit With Lyns   //    Middle School Math Man   //   Teaching Teens in the 21st!        
                                          Koch's Odds 'N Ends    //     Junior High Core Values                                

Our TpT Bundle includes the following items:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, July 13, 2015

Projects and plans

I think I love summer most of all.

Not because of travel or rejuvenation, but because I can plan and work on projects that I never have time to work on during the year. 

This year, because I, switching classrooms and subjects, there has been a lot of planning. Social Studies has always been a favorite of mine! I have to admit to feeling some big time sadness and withdrawal however since I won't be teaching math this year. It was hard to pack up my teacher books, and even harder to pack up my math manipulatives. 

But on to the planning. 

The first project involved cleaning the room and getting rid of LOTS of extra furniture and reconfiguring the book shelves. Then there is this bad boy. Green table top monster. This is going to be the turn in table/student center. The drawers will hold paper. I plan on storing the ipads underneath...although I haven't decided how yet.

Then there's this project 

The pits underneath the lockers had to be hidden. So I sewed curtains. I'm actually still in the process of sewing curtains for the top. Don't worry, I have a plan to cover the locker doors too. Notice the Orange? I hung 14 feet of cork tile up on this wall and the opposite wall.....that was a looooot of command adhesive strips. 

I got rid of the horribly heavy chairs with the baskets on the bottom and rescued these from the dungeon...which is what we call our storage/utility room. Love the duct tape makeover. I have five chairs to go around the small group table. 

Currently working on sewing pillows for the reading corner. I actually don't have the room for a super cool reading corner, but I couldn't resist these fabric rectangles that I found at an estate sale so pillows they shall become. 

This is a picture of the front of the room, as decorated by the previous occupant. He was awesome and left me the ficus, who I have christened Henry Caesar. Actually I was just going to call him Henry, but my mom, who has been helping me, told me that Henry was a horrible name for a ficus. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Word Nerds Chapter 2 -Word Confident classrooms

I love words.

Then again, I love reading...a lot.

I'm reading the book Word Nerds because even though I think I do "okay" with teaching vocabulary, like many others, I struggle with getting the students to actively incorporate new vocabulary into their everyday lives. They are really good at making flashcards and memorizing....until a few weeks later, after the unit test, when they can't remember what a word means OR how to use it correctly.

I really like the idea of Tiered words. Chapter 2 gives some guidelines for choosing Tier 2 words based on importance, instruction, and conceptual understanding. One thing I'm working on this summer is choosing words for sixth grade that are across the content areas. 

I also like the framework for introducing the words. The vocabulary planner is much like the Frayer models we have been using. 

The book talks about giving a student friendly definition, which validates how I changed last year. I would have the kids look up the meaning of each word, but then we would discuss the definitions together ( because the definitions were so very different based on the dictionary used) and come up with a common class example. After I switched to this, I noticed at the kiddos had a much easier time understanding the words.  This chapter also talks about giving students an image to help remember the term and I'm not quite sure how I feel about that. Last year, I would have the kiddos draw their own image.....sometimes it related to the word, sometimes it didn't ( in an obvious way that made sense) I think that giving them the picture/image might take away from their ability to make their own connections to the word. I'm thinking that perhaps for the first few vocabulary cycles, I'll start off giving them the image and then transition to having them decide on their own. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

July Pinterest Party

It's July! My birthday is tomorrow! Okay, had to get the excitement out of the way!

I'm linking up with the July Pick 3 Pinterest Party hosted by Pawsitively Teaching and Inspired Owl's Corner

My first pin is kind of school related AND personal enrichment related. I love using music in the classroom and for personal and professional reasons I'm learning how to play the ukulele. 30 Easy Songs

My second favorite pin that I'm using for inspiration this month is this glorious case used to hold iPads. Last year I just kind of stacked the iPads on a shelf, but this year there will be 30 ipads to store in the classroom, and finding effective, sturdy, easy to use iPad storage is a priority in the next six weeks. This one looks great and doesn't seem like it would be too difficult to build. Plus, it would fit under my student center in the classroom. iPad Storage

One of my hobbies is beading. Despite my best intentions, during the school year, I don't have the time to sit and work with seed beads. So my third pin for July is a beaded bracelet, one of many that I'd like to work on.  Fortunately I know the technique, I'm just a little rusty! Beaded Bracelet

I'd also like to finish organizing all of my Pinterest boards. Apparently the maximum number of boards you can have is 500 so I had to delete a few (AGONY!)/ combine a few others to make room. Follow me on Pinterest!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A teacher's job is never done

My new appreciation for contact paper knows no bounds! Such a quick and easy way to do cabinet and shelf makeovers. Okay, I lie. Not really easy....can we say air bubbles? But easier than paint!  Behold the glorious before and after! 

I used gray chevron contact paper and repositionable wallpaper (expensive contact paper) 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Poverty Project

Ah summer!

A time to reflect, recuperate, relax, and reorganize!

This summer I will also be changing classrooms. Third time in 3 years. Is that a record? Probably not. Next school year I will be 6th grade homeroom again. I will be teaching Social Studies to 6-8, Religion, and Language Arts..a busy schedule to be sure. Its going to be weird to not teach a single math class. I'll have to get my math fix somehow!

As I am packing, and discarding, and filing, I came across some leftover student work ( shoved in the back of a desk! eek!) This year,  I started what I call a "poverty project" with my 8th graders. It's no secret that cost of living in the Bay Area is astronomical with the median home value in San Francisco being , as of this posting, over $1 million.  The poverty project really helped connect the kids with the hard facts.

We started off simply. Each child was given "$100 to create a food budget for the month for themselves. Easy breezy, lots of "value meal" stuff, they had fun putting it together ( they were given some nutritional guidelines). Then, surprise, the next day they were gifted with a family. They had to create a budget using the same $100, but this time for FOUR people... by the time they hit the second week, many of them were broke. There were many "this isn't possibles"

The next day when the kids entered, they randomly chose a monthly income from a hat. The incomes ranged from $2000-$10,000 for the month. Their assignment was to find a place to live....not so easy in our geographic region. The kids  were very happy to dig right in, until I told them that their home could not be more than 60% of their income. It was really interesting to see the choices they made. Many of them tried to budget for a private school education for their "children", however they realized that it wasn't possible at their income level.  This led to great conversations about the choices THEIR parents make in order to educate them, and make sure they have little luxuries like fancy headphones and newest shoes and iPads. 

We then expanded our thinking and research to talk about how people survive in other parts of the world. We watched the documentary Living on One Dollar. ( warning, there is one bad word!) and talked about how poverty is not just a local problem, but a global one. Key moment...after watching the documentary, it was time for lunch so we prayed and I told the kiddos to "enjoy their lunch" and they all  kind of flinched with chagrin. It's hard to throw away food when you see people struggling to FIND food in a day. The students brainstormed ways to address global poverty. Their conclusion was education...which led to a discussion about how education would be funded.  

This was an amazing week of learning for them. Usually the 8th graders get a little "senior-itis" at the end of the year as they prepare for high schol, but this project kep them focused and thinking. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Meet ups Make Me Happy!

Well, the whole, I'm going to post four times a week plan fell through! The good thing is, it's all right! Tomorrow is another day! I wanted to share a picture of our fantabulous May meet up. A small group, but a mighty group of dedicated teachers! 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Breakfast at breakneck speed!

I am NOT a breakfast lover. I don't like pancakes, abhor waffles, could do without donuts, etc etc. what I do love is carbs... A bagel, toast, pasta, a muffin, rice, happy, happy happy! 

However, I have been really conscious about eliminating a lot of carbs from my diet. The biggest challenge to that is upping the protein without turning strict carnivore. 

Then take into account that I dislike breakfast so much, and if it's not convenient I'd rather just whine pout ,do without ,and then get super ravenous and eat everything and anything later on. 

So these methods are really a godsend! Add to it that I can make 12 at a time and get three or four breakfast out of it, and it's a winner! 

Again, it's an easy and super quick recipe. I took nine eggs, a cup and a half of shredded cheese, and salsa verde. I have also used a tomato basil sauce and pepperoni in the past, or olives or mushrooms, basically anything you could stick in an omelette. Bake it in the 360° oven for 25 minutes. Ta da! Delicious! And most importantly I don't have to worry about breakfast or lunches for the week!

* well healthier anyway! 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

When a child doesn't qualify...

This past weekend was a huge milestone for the eighth graders in my community who attend a Catholic school. Acceptance letter weekend! This is when they find out if they have been accepted to the high school of their choice. 

Now for children who have no learning differences, this could be a pretty stressful weekend but as long as their grades are good it's probably a definite in. Acceptance is based on the HSPT (high school placement test), grades, and teacher recommendations. 

But what about the children who don't take standardized tests well? Unfortunately admittance is much more uncertain for those students. If the child has an IEP or documented learning difference, The school will definitely try to work with the family to make sure that the student will be able to be successful.

However, if a child does not qualify under district policy, and is not at grade level or a good test taker, the path is tricky.

The first thing to do would be to talk to the admissions personnel and find out exactly why they feel the child wouldn't be a good fit. There is nothing wrong with begging and pleading. Oftentimes, assuring the school that you are well aware of your student's academic limitations and promising to support with private tuorting will help. 

Parents can request an individual education evaluation from the district. This is like getting a second opinion from a doctor. What this will do is have the district pay for another private evaluation. 

Parents can pay for a private evaluation. If the parents disagree with the findings of the original IEP they are welcome to pay for private testing. This can be expensive, and is often not covered by insurance. There is also the risk that the same findings will be determined. 

Then of course there is researching the remedial program at the local public high school. Because the child is not eligible for special education services according to the district IEP, developing a good relationship with the counselors is imperative to success. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Lunch making Loathing

I hate making lunch.

I may even hate lunch in general, although that has slightly changed since second grade. You see, second grade is when my mom got fed up with my demands for lunch perfection and turned the kitchen over to me.

Now as teachers, I realize that we have all of this time for  a long leisurely lunch. But if I don't plan ahead, lunchtime equals scavenging time. Seven mints found in the bottom of my desk? Been there! Giving in to the breathed on, up for grabs goodies in the faculty room? Done that. Today's culinary masterpiece was none other than carrots and hummus... Which I didn't even take out of their containers first, just threw in my lunch bag. Womp womp. No creativity there. 

When I do cook, I love meals that I can get some mileage out of. I have no problem with eating the same thing for more than one meal as long as it is good.  This is an amazing thing because it means I don't have to aimlessly hunt for food in the morning.. As long as I prepare it the night before. 

Tonight's dinner, which makes it tomorrow's lunch, and possibly Thursday's lunch, is pizza bubble bread. A favorite which is so easy I don't hAve to think about it, just scrounge around and drop things on cut up biscuits. I've made it with many different toppings including chicken, artichoke, pineapple, olives, mushrooms, you name it.  Now because I haven't gone to the grocery store, tonight's bubble bread was a leeeetle simpler, but no less delicious!

Preheat oven to 350. In a 9 x 13 pan tear up two tubes of biscuits. I use the larger biscuits and tear each one into 4 to 5 pieces. And pizza sauce or tomato sauce if you're desperate, garlic, Italian seasoning, cheese of choice and pepperoni. I use turkey pepperoni as a semblance of healthiness.  Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes. Add about 30 minutes, I always do a check. This is because the middle biscuits don't cook at the same rate as the outer...so I cut the middle open a little for the cooking to take place. Once finished, be prepared to have some self control so that you don't eat the whole pan...or try to eat the whole pan....the whole pan might be a little much. After all, you gotta save some for lunch!


Saturday, March 7, 2015

More than Environmental Camp, ...life camp

Every year my school sends the sixth graders ( and the 8th graders) to a week at Caritas Creek, an environmental education camp located in Northern California.

Now I may be a teensy bit biased, since *I* attended Caritas as a 6th grader some years ago, but it is one of the best run programs around. Not only do the kids learn about the ecosystems at camp, they also learn life skills. The kids learn empathy, how to deal with stress and negative people, how to appreciate nature and look for the ways God is present around them. They learn that they have choices and that their choices have consequences.  They learn how to relate to others.

The first day is devoted to 'new discoveries', learning how to look at the things around them with different eyes. Then it's all about 'connections'. An acronym used is SONG ( connected to self, others, nature, and God). The latter half of the program is devoted to change, what can they do as 6th graders that can impact the world around them.

We had GORGEOUS weather this year.  It was hard to come back and I pray that we'll be able to keep our Caritas spirit going throughout the rest of the school year and the kiddos' lives.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Open House: unity and truth!

Some people call it a dog and pony show, and I suppose that's one way of looking at it, but despite the stress of that "last Sunday in January", I've always loved it!

Open House is a way to invite the parents and relatives in. For them to see the classroom atmosphere in action. Many of our parents are so busy ( most times necessarily) that they don't get a chance to be as active as they would want. One of the parents today exclaimed, "wow what a great place to learn!"  It builds a bond with parents when they are able to see where there children are spending their 'awake hours'

Middle of the Year clean up! I love Open house because it puts the pressure on to clean up. Organize the library! Hide...I mean... File those papers! 

Stressful? It can be. Dog and pony show? Eh. I think if you're not careful it can be. A demonstration of unity and truth? Absolutely! 

If only it didn't take up a precious weekend!