Thursday, August 27, 2015

Friday Freebie and Teacher Spotlight-Annotating the Text-FREE direct instruction videos included

Having a child of my own has reiterated a couple of truths:

In years past, I've been guilty of teaching a concept and then simply moving on to my next standard or lesson without giving my students regular practice applying what they learned  This has been detrimental when it's time for state assessments.  I don't know how many times I've said, "We covered that earlier this year.  They should know it."  Yes, it's true that we covered it, but without time to continually practice and review, students will forget. 

This year, I decided that I will give my students adequate time to practice applying the skill of annotating as they analyze complex text. One way that I'm doing this is by providing them with Kelly Gallagher's article of the week and class time to analyze it. (Thanks to my friend and colleague Nick Trottier for reintroducing me to Gallagher's work.)

An example of student work
Earlier this month, I used direct instruction videos to teach my students how to annotate the text. 

They now spend class time  working with a partner to read and analyze the weekly article. They use think marks to hold their thinking and then write a one page reflection that demonstrates their understanding.  

This was a free download in Just a Primary Girl's TpT store.
Click the image to go to this product in her store. 
Regular practice with annotating the text will help students hone their skills so that they greatly improve upon their reading comprehension. 

This worked so well with my students, so I'd like to share my direct instruction videos, the article used to teach this skill, the writing frame, and a sample of student work with you.  You can download all of this here in Google Drive. *Don't forget to swing by Just a Primary Girl's store to grab the Think Marks document that I used with my students.  IT'S FREE!  Show her some love and leave a bit of feedback.

Teacher Spotlight

Liezel with her daughter

This week's Teacher Spotlight winner is Liezel Pienaar.  Liezel has been teaching biology, chemistry, and physics to upper middle and high school students for 13 years.  (In my eyes, this makes her a genius!)  She has a degree in Biochemistry, but decided to go into the classroom instead of working in a lab.  She is so glad she made that move. Here's more from Liezel. 

Why did you become a teacher? 
I love Science but I could not see myself working in a lab everyday. I needed a creative outlet as well. After completing my degree in Biochemistry I decided to get my teaching qualification. Best decision ever!!
I love everything about teaching Middle School and High School Sciences. The students are amazing, funny, creative, etc. The subjects are interesting and fun. I try to do as many practical sessions as possible.

What, as a teacher, is one thing you're proud of and would like to share with others?
I have ex-students who are now at University and they still IM me with questions! I love the fact that they are still thinking of me and that they think that I can help them. :)

You can find and follow Liezel on Facebook and Instagram..

YOU can enter to be featured on my blog as well!  If selected, you will win a $5 gift card to Teachers Pay Teachers.  Simply fill out this form. That's it! No gimmicks or tricks.  I believe very strongly in highlighting and honoring the achievements of others.  Winners will be notified via e-mail a few days before the weekly post.  

And in case you missed it, here are last week's freebies from several teacher-authors.  Have a great weekend! 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Incorporating Fluency Practice in Upper Elementary and Middle School

Our school year has gotten off to a fantastic start! Students are working hard and teachers are in good spirits.  It's going to be THE BEST YEAR EVER!

As a mom, I think about what I want my sweet Naomi to have in her classroom when she goes to school.  She's only 2 years old, but I want her teachers to do whatever they can to make sure that she experiences success. 

My sweet girl

I apply this same concept to my classroom.  Now that I have a child of my own, I see my students differently.  They are all someone's baby.  Parents want their children to be successful, and the children want to be successful as well, so it is my job to provide them with the right tools.

With that said, I was THRILLED when my friend and colleague Monique Nowak introduced me to MindPlay, a computerized reading program that assesses students and puts them right at their current level so that they can improve on their phonics, reading fluency, and comprehension.  However, that thrill turned to disappointment over the per licence price tag.  It just wasn't feasible to have this program.  I knew my middle school students needed work with fluency and comprehension, and they needed as much practice as possible reading on the computer since many of the tests they take are computerized.  After searching it out, I decided to create my own fluency program using PowerPoint.  

Click the image above to go to your FREE download!

Within this program, students select a speed and read a story before the words disappear off of the screen.  This research-based method for building fluency (and reading stamina!) trains the students' eyes to move from left to right and back  while also building automaticity, which is one of foundations of reading comprehension. 
My MS students working on the fluency program in my computer center

After completing the fluency work, my students respond to 14 multiple-choice questions and receive immediate feedback of correct and incorrect answers with explanations.  They can also click on the built-in hints if they are stuck on a question. My students LOVE this manner of reviewing our fiction standards and have commented on how they are able to read faster over time.

You can pick up the individual story here, or purchase my entire Fairy Tale Edition here

Of course I'm having a giveaway!  One teacher will win my entire Fairy Tale Edition, which sells for $45 in my Teachers Pay Teachers store! Enter up to SEVEN TIMES for your chance to win.  Good luck!

P.S.-Stop by on Fridays for WEEKLY FREEBIES from teachers of all grade levels.  Here are the Friday Freebies from last week. 

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Best Year EVER!

After a day of long meetings, many of us stayed late in order to put the finishing touches on our classrooms.  Others arrived at school earlier than usual to make sure that everything was ready to go.
This is me-Finally finished setting up my classroom at ~7:00 p.m.  There were other teachers still in the building when I left.  That's DEDICATION (or craziness---you decide!)

My Classroom-I started with Learning Centers on Day 1---more to come about that in a later post

The floors gleamed with pride, eagerly awaiting the footsteps of 1500+ students yearning for knowledge. 
First day of school-just seconds before the doors were opened to welcome students for the new year

The doors opened, and the students streamed in with smiles on their faces.  They were happy to see their friends and teachers from years past.  They were looking forward to a new school year, and deep down, they believed that this year would be different.

And here come the students!

 This would be the year that they didn’t get suspended for fighting or fail their classes due to incomplete assignments.  This would be the year they mastered the standards and passed the state exam(s).  This would be the year that they would either participate in extra-curricular activities or support those who were on teams. They came in determined to make this the...

And so, my colleagues and I are on a mission to make this THE BEST YEAR EVER as well!  We have plenty of team building activities and field trips planned for the year.  Our professional learning communities have come together to create a positive working and learning environment. 
The seventh grade teachers minus me---I'm in my favorite place-behind the camera

This week's freebie

One thing that I'm doing to make this the best year ever is running a Secret Student Program.
I discussed the ins and outs of the program in an earlier post.  I started it this school year, and once again, it's been a big hit!.  This program works well for students of ALL grade levels.  Consider giving this a try if you are looking to improve upon your classroom management and help your class run a bit smoother.

Click the image to go to the product

Teacher Spotlight

This week's teacher spotlight winner is Debbi Kapp. Debbi has been working with young people for over 30 years and feels passionately about being a positive role model for young people. Let's hear from Debbi in her own words.

Why did you become a teacher? 
My own teachers were great models for me. I always wanted to follow in their footsteps--but make it more engaging and successful for all kids. I was so excited by my Reading classes as an undergrad and felt they really taught me HOW to teach social studies and ELA I have taught on a reservation, in a big public district, and in a small charter. I am currently substituting and have the best of both worlds--teaching and being with kids without homework :)

What, as a teacher, is one thing you're proud of and would like to share with others?
I was most proud when parents TOLD, "You got __ to love to read!" It is so rewarding to connect kids with the amazing YA Lit that's out there.

You can find and follow Debbi on Teachers Pay Teachers and on Pinterest

YOU can enter to be featured on my blog as well!  If selected, you will win a $5 gift card to Teachers Pay Teachers.  Simply fill out this form. That's it! No gimmicks or tricks.  I believe very strongly in highlighting and honoring the achievements of others.  Winners will be notified via e-mail a few days before the weekly post.  

And in case you missed it, here are last week's freebies from several teacher-authors.  Have a great weekend! 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday Freebie and Teacher Spotlight

I hope that this has been a fantastic start to the school year for those who have started. It is my goal to bring you a Friday Freebie at the end of the week, just to make your day a little sweeter.  I'd also like to take a moment to highlight some of the achievements of fellow teachers.  This Proverb states that iron sharpens iron, so when we take time to appreciate and learn from others, we become better!

Image retrieved from

Friday Freebie

Our schedule is a bit confusing this year.  The order of our classes is a little different (periods 1, 2, 8, 7, 3--according to what's written on the schedules) so my community leader, Mindy Sarlea, wisely decided to call each class a Block (Blocks A, B, C, and D) instead of a period.  I already had my numbers posted, but I had to change them to letters.  Instead of digging out my bulletin board supplies and hunting for the correct letters, or worse yet, going to the store because I didn't have any more As, I opened up this file, printed as many copies of only the letters I needed, and put them up in my room. (I even had students cut them out for me!)   This was so convenient and a fantastic time saver, so that is why I am making my Letters, Numbers, and Symbols Pack this week's Friday Freebie!  Download, save to your teacher computer, and enjoy!

Teacher Spotlight

Image retrieved

This week's Teacher Spotlight winner is Chevin Stone.  Chevin is a science teacher at Gavit Middle School and also serves as the school's tech liaison.  Chevin has helped me in my journey towards becoming a better teacher by taking time out of her busy schedule to teach me about a Flipped Classroom.  She worked hard to launch The Gavit Educator and tirelessly provides the staff with professional development over Google Drive.  Let's hear from Chevin in her own words.

What is your name?
Chevin (rhymes with seven) Stone

What grade(s) and subject(s) do you teach?
8th Grade Science

Why did you become a teacher?
I come from a long line of teachers (4 generations at this point) and was told NOT to become a teacher. So I got a degree in Occupational Safety and Health and worked for many years in both the public and private sectors making lives safe for people. Part of that job involved adult education and training.

After getting laid off YET AGAIN, I was working as a parent volunteer in the school my children attended at the time and was hired to be an instructional assistant. It was then that I decided to go back to school.

For how many years have you been teaching?
12 years

What, as a teacher, is one thing that you're proud of and would like to share with others?
I'd like to think I"m proud of everything I've ever done. Teaching isn't a job, its a passion. Helping students, regardless of their age or station in life, to find meaning in the world around them isn't easy. When that light comes on and they "get it"... its something the teacher should be proud of; knowing they helped a student to embrace a concept, becoming comfortable with learning, and gaining a greater understanding of the world around them.

You can find and follow Chevin on social media.

Would you like to have an opportunity to be featured on my blog?  Click here to fill out the short form.  
If selected, you will win a $5 gift card to Teachers Pay Teachers!   

Have a FANTASTIC and RESTFUL weekend!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Are you Prepared?

As teachers, we try to be prepared for anything that comes our way.  We organize and plan, but sometimes the unexpected happens.

It is very difficult for me to "go with the flow".  My rigid, type A personality prevents me from easily switching gears.  Unexpected things like multiple phone calls to my classroom, an unexpected assembly, or an untimely fire drill have a tendency to cause anxiety.

My teacher friends have been so gracious about the difficulty I have with changing plans.  However, since I know this is a struggle, I have to have some coping mechanisms so that I don't become overwhelmed.  This is where I need your help.  Do you have any tips or tricks that work so that you don't become anxious when you aren't able to get through your lessons for the day?

One thing that makes me happy is a neatly organized classroom. When my environment is in order, my head seems to be more in order.  Enter my raffle (below) for a chance to win my Library Organization Mega-Pack (retail: $10.00 when bundled).  Here's what's included:
*Large Genre Labels for your book bins
*Smaller genre labels to go on the inside of your books
*Reading Level Labels to put on the inside of your books
*4 sets of letters, numbers, and symbols so that you never run out of the items you need when setting up your classroom displays
Download your free sample here.

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Sunday, August 9, 2015

BTS Blog Hop: Behavior Management in the Middle School Classroom: Secret Student Program (Free Download Included!)

Hello, friends! We are off and running with another school year.  It is always interesting to meet my new students.  Some come with bright eyes and are eager to begin the year.  Others are reluctant to leave the fun of summer and resign themselves to sitting in a classroom for the next several months.  The bottom line is that we are there to educate all of our students, regardless of their attitudes.
Image of crying girl retrieved from
 Speaking of attitudes, the disposition of middle school students can be quite challenging!  However, I have found something that works for me.  It’s called THE SECRET STUDENT PROGRAM. I read about it on Stephanie’s blog a few years ago.  She designed it for elementary school students, so I “borrowed” her idea and tweaked it for my middle schoolers.  

Here's how I run the secret student program:

At first, I thought my middle school students would think it was too elementary, but they LOVE it!  They make a conscious effort to meet me expectations, and I dare not forget to announce who the secret student is--they will certainly remind me! At the end of each school year, I ask them what I should keep and what I should change for the following year, and they always say keep the secret student program going.
I’d like to provide all of you with the coupons that I use for my secret student program. Click the picture to access this free resource. 

Show me some love and leave some feedback on my TpT page. 
Good luck, and have a great year!
Take a moment and hop on over to some of the blogs of other educators. You'll enjoy some tips and resources for the new year.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Classroom Organization PLUS Free Downloads and Shared Pinning Boards

I feel a little giddy when I get to organize things.  My latest project is my classroom.  Last school year, I had to switch classrooms with less than a week to go before school started and I never fully got moved in the way I wanted to.  This year is different.  I’m in the same room, so I started going into school  last week to start getting things organized. It’s not quite finished, but here are some of the highlights. 
My daughter keeping me company while I work-she wanted to wear the dress because she wanted to "be a princess". 

Classroom Library

I have an extensive classroom library, and I hate when the books get out of control, so I created these large genre labels to put on the outside of my book bins and drawers.  This way, students can easily find the genre of book they want.  The labels with the green border are fiction and the labels with the red border are nonfiction. 

Only a certain number of books are left out.  The rest are stored in these shipping boxes, labeled, and placed in the cabinet. (My students covered the boxes with construction paper for me.) Students know that if they can't find the book they want, they can pull out a box with the genre they are looking for and look through it to find a book that suits their interest.                





I took the organization to the next level  by creating these smaller genre labels to go on the inside of the books.  Once students grab a book, they need only to look at the inside front cover to see where it is to be returned. 



I also wanted students to know the level of the book they selected, so I created these reading level labels to add to the inside of each cover.  This way, students can easily grab a book that is at their independent reading level. 
I keep extra labels in a bin right by the classroom library so that as I get new books, I can quickly label them and put them in the proper place. These colorful bins were a fantastic find at  The Dollar Tree

Teacher Work Station

For my peace of mind,  I need an organized, clutter free work area where I can easily find what I need.  Is there anything worse than losing something and having to spend several precious minutes searching for it?  

 A printer is a necessity, but it is big and bulky, and takes up too much space.  This year, I used a shelf given to me by my friend Allison several years ago and put both of my printers under the desk.  They are out of sight, so now I have plenty of work space on my desk. 
*The black printer was a gift to myself last school year.  It is a color printer with a scanner.  LOVE IT!

When I was pregnant a few years ago, the doctor had me under some serious restrictions--one of which was to stay off of my feet as much as possible.  My solution was to order this stool.  I've kept it ever since.  It has replaced my teacher chair and allows me to move around my work station with ease.  I even use it when working with my students in small groups.  I get to be up close and personal with every student just by rolling over to them. 
I wanted some additional shelves, but I am probably the most unhandy woman on earth.  So my pick was these five-tiered storage shelves from Walmart that require no tools to assemble.  SCORE!  (After setting up my classroom, I found these similar shelves on Amazon with wheels.  This would have been even better!)  The fabric baskets hold teaching essentials, but everything looks nice and neat. (These were from my mother-in-law a few years ago.)  I don't have a filing cabinet in my classroom, so I chose to grab a crate with side bars to store my files. 

I need a place to put student work so that it doesn't pile up on my desk.  I created a pack of numbers, letters, and symbols to use so that I always have exactly what I need.  I use the same letters from the pack when setting up my classroom displays.

The idea to use a stack-on drawer unit to create a teacher toolbox came from Erin Cobb at Lovin' Lit.  She even included the labels as a free download with multiple options to choose from.  Check it out! 


Secret Student Rewards

I run a secret student rewards program and need a place to store the names of each student (by class period).  I created a shelf out of some shipping boxes that house class sets of books and covered it with a decorative curtain from Goodwill.  The bins were also a gift from my friend Allison several years ago.  I will add labels to show which period they are for once I have my schedule for the year.  The background is made up of some posters my students created for a reading fair last year.  I couldn't let these go to waste! 

That's it for now! I'm off to a good start.  Everything is nice, neat and organized.  Now, to make sure it stays that way after 115 teenagers make their way through the room!

Free Downloads From This Post

Classroom Library Sample Pack

(Includes large genre labels, small genre labels, reading level labels, and the letters/numbers/symbols pack)

Erin Cobb's Labels for the Teacher Toolbox

(The download to these are within the post on her blog)

Managing Behavior in the Middle School Classroom

(Includes an overview of how I run my program and the coupons I use for student rewards

Let's Share Some Ideas

I created a joint pinning board for secondary teachers so that we can share some ideas.  
Elementary teachers, your board is here. Send me your name and e-mail address and I'll add you to the board so that you can share your pictures as well. Be sure to specify if you want to be added to the secondary board or the elementary board. 

Happy Teaching!