Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Feels: Words of Encouragement...Week 3

Back again for another inspirational thought this Friday.  Have you missed the others?  No worries...just click on the label "Friday Feels" on the right side of my blog.  You can catch up on the previous ones there.

Encourage a classroom dynamic of collaboration and sharing. Synergy is essential in a twenty-first century classroom.  We must be willing to let go of the illusion that we are the keepers of all knowledge in our classrooms.  It's long overdue that we empower our future leaders with the skill sets they need to be successful and solve issues that have yet to even arise.  We must also model for them how to interact with others in such a way that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.  What are you doing to encourage collaboration in your classroom?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Feels: Words of Encouragement...Week 2

It's time for the second edition of Friday Feels...what's on my mind this week?  Classroom management and classroom culture! 

Whenever possible, even when disciplining, speak words of affirmation.  We hold the precious minds and hearts of our children in our hands.  Every one of us undoubtedly has a teacher who spoke words of affirmation and encouragement...we probably even remember those words to this day.  In fact, that teacher is probably the reason we became teachers.  But conversely, we all have that one teacher for whom nothing was good enough, who tore us down, who we dreaded seeing everyday.  Which teacher are you?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday Feels: Words of Encouragement...Week 1

Friday Feels...a good day to think about things that inspire and motivate us, or things that get us all up in our feels, as the title would suggest.  What am I thinking about this year to stay on track?  Let me tell you...

I plan to share one "Friday Feels" each week for 15 weeks, so take a peek at this week's reflection.

The pace, expectations, and routines you set at the beginning of the year go a long way in determining your students’ successes and your personal and professional success as a teacher as well. These things are not instantaneous, but rather things that grow through experiences and interactions in the classroom.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

#2getherwearebetter: Interactive Bulletin Boards

This month's #2getherwearebetter linky is all about bulletin boards.  Seems fitting since most of us are back to school or are heading there very soon.   I just wrote a post about my new welcome bulletin board a few days ago (read it here), so I decided to share my interactive bulletin board with you in this post. 

Last year, I wanted to do something to serve as a reminder of all the goals we were accomplishing throughout the year.  I wanted it to be something in which my students could take ownership and that their parents would enjoy seeing when they came to visit us.  I also wanted to address some language goals and incorporate technology, so I finally found a way to bring all those concepts together.

With our class timeline bulletin board, we can track the sequence of things we do all year long.  This helps my students with sequencing and with understanding how a timeline is constructed.  We also made audio QR codes to print on stickers to add to our photos on the board.  Students recorded their voices telling a summary of the activities we did that month.  The photographs I had printed helped them recall the details they wanted to share and served as a great visual while they recorded their ideas.  They had so much fun listening to themselves after we posted their narration. 

Admittedly, we weren't as consistent last year as I truly wanted to be.  I have better plans to continue it this year, and I already have the template on the board, ready to go!  I really like the idea of my students having autonomy over their own space in my/our classroom, so I plan to release more of that decorating/organizing responsibility to them this year.  I will try to remember to post updates so you can see how it comes along! 

Last year's partially completed board :(

Already have our new template ready to roll!
I would love to hear your ideas about how you get students to interact with your bulletin boards.  I'm always looking for new ideas. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Building Blocks of B2S: Week 2: Building Relationships

I'm joining up with Mrs. D's Corner this week for the Building Blocks of B2S (Back to School).  I was a little late to the party last week, but I'm jumping in on week 2 for "building relationships."

Teachers have major shoes to fill, so to speak.  Chris Lehmann said, "People send us their most precious resource; they send us their kids every day... Short of, like, a brain surgeon, I can't think of a profession where people are placing greater trust in the professionals than teaching...and it is our job to be worthy."  What great truth there is in that statement, and we must rise to the call of being worthy.

One profound indicator, in my opinion, of a person's worthiness is the way he or she treats other people.  Not just those who can do something for them, not just those from whom they will get something in the future.  What do you do when you think no one is watching?  Do you help others?  Do you belittle those who you perceive are "beneath" you?  Do you use your power and influence to hurt others or to build others up?  Do you stay away from, make fun of, or refuse to communicate with people who are different than you?

Perhaps I am uniquely blessed because the parents with whom I work everyday revere teachers.  They believe that educators are to be some of the most respected individuals in the entire world.  My students' parents consistently communicate that to me, whether it be verbally or nonverbally, through the respect they demonstrate when we meet.  Parents of English learners know the adversity that exists in the other parts of the world, and they are exceedingly grateful for the help, the care, and the time you put into your job.

Since we are taking some time to think about building relationships this week, I wanted to give you some helpful information about building relationships with your EL students and their families.  
I'm writing about five things below that I think you'll find useful if you have students learning English as a another language in your classroom this year.

In the United States, we have become a culture obsessed with technology, and we are quite literally connected to our social media at all times.  There's nothing inherently wrong with technology and social media; in fact, I use our class Facebook page as a major tool for communicating with my students' families.  However, if we allow it to separate us from the humanity of those students and families with whom we work, we should re-examine our core beliefs about relationships and about technology.

I have seen professionals in parent-teacher conferences checking their emails or replying to texts in the middle of the conference.  Few things can be so disrespectful to families from other cultures.  Perhaps we in the U.S. have been around it so long now that we don't give it much thought, but it does communicate a degree of disrespect and disinterest.  By attending to your phone rather than the person or people in front of you, you're communicating, "You're not as important as this email/text/Facebook feed."  Other cultures tend to be very relationship-centered and thus value the presence of those with whom they're meeting.  That text or message or phone call can wait for another 15 minutes.  Attend to those who are in front of you; give them your undivided attention for that span.  If it absolutely cannot wait, then excuse yourself from the meeting so as not to be insensitive.

Eye contact can be a big deal, when talking about students and their families.  Our U.S. culture tells us that looking someone directly in the eye is a sign of attention and intense interest.  We perceive that someone who does not look us in the eye is being deceptive or withholding information.  But other cultures don't assign the same values to eye contact that we do.

In other countries, it is sometimes disrespectful to look at someone in the eye.  Students from these cultures may not look at you because you are so very respected, not because they are disrespecting you.  This is important to remember when handling classroom management issues.  We generally expect students to look us in the eye when communicating (either when we or they are speaking), but they may feel uncomfortable doing so if their home culture tells them it is disrespectful to do so.  This can be an issue sometimes too when male students have female teachers.

We know that more communication happens non-verbally than verbally.  That can be a huge strategy to use to one's advantage when working with EL students and their families.  Some cultures shake hands, as in common in the United States, whereas some cultures tend to express salutations through a hug and kiss on the cheek.  Still other cultures bow or nod, and some cultures are highly spatially aware/sensitive, and prefer to maintain more space/distance between people.  My best suggestion is to watch carefully the interactions between children and their parents, as well as the parents toward you.  You can learn so much by observing with attention and then mimicking back to them the salutations they are comfortable expressing.  This is a learned habit, so go easy on yourself if you forget.  But challenge yourself to be aware and to create a comfortable environment for your ELs and their families by being a chameleon of sorts.

Back to school means mounds and mounds of paperwork.  Remember that this is a daunting task for a native English speaker, much less for someone who doesn't speak or read/write in English.  There are times when families bring their own translators, but we are obligated to provide for them as many communications in their own language as is possible.  (If you teach in Alabama, you already have access to a great service that provides paperwork already translated in many languages.  Go to Transact to set up a free account!  This is something our state provides for all Alabama teachers.)

The point is that it may take significantly more energy, and thus more time, to complete this paperwork.  Offer to help them complete it as best you can.  Cut out the "fluff" paperwork (you know, the cute get to know you papers that we all want to do), and narrow it down to the essentials.  Fill out the parts you know on behalf of your students' families; many of it is repetitive anyway.

If paperwork is sent home and it doesn't come back, don't assume it's because it isn't valued or respected.  It could be that they truly don't understand its importance, cannot read it to know what it is, do not know if it is supposed to come back, or they may be trying to make arrangements with someone who can translate it for them if it isn't in their home language.  All these factors can slow down the return process, so just relax, and try to find out what the obstacle is.  Maybe it's something your ESL teacher can even help with!

Many teachers are nervous about having students with whom they feel they can't communicate.  But students learn quickly, and families are appreciative.  Don't be intimidated.  Use it as an opportunity to grow.  Enjoy the journey together!

Don't forget to head back over to Mrs. D's Corner to check out all the other tips on building relationships too. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Monday Made It: My Diploma Frame & Focal Point

I love the idea of Monday Made It with 4th Grade Frolics, but I've never done one before.  I've been a busy little bee this summer though getting my office overhaul crossed off my "to do" list.  One of the finishing touches was FINALLY hanging up my diploma from, oh, four years ago when I graduated with my Master's.  

I knew I didn't want anything traditional per se.  Not that there's anything wrong with traditional; I just wanted to think outside the box.  I did know that I wanted something to hang my tassel to the right of my diploma.  A few weeks back I blogged about this really cool drawer shelf, and since then I've wanted something drawer-esque somewhere in my house.  That wasn't my plan for the diploma frame, but then I saw this drawer photo frame at Hobby Lobby and fell in love. And it was 50% off!  Even better. 

I can't find the exact frame I bought on the website now, but it's in the same color scheme as this one.  In fact, in the store, it was right by this one where the custom framing stuff is in the back of the store.  This one is restricted to inserting three photos, but the one I bought is completely open for whatever size or combination of elements you want to frame.

The more I noticed the gold resin letters around the store, the more I wanted to add another element too.  I thought that gold three-dimensional letters to spell UAB on the shelf part would be really eye-catching (plus, green and gold are UAB colors).  I found these metal letters at Hobby Lobby the very next week, and they were half off too!  Not bad because that made them $1.50 each.  I paid another $1 or $2 for the gold paint, and I already had the brushes at home. 

It took about three coats of the metallic paint for me to get it dark enough to cover the metal.  I was still going for that distressed look, so I used paper towels to "distress" the letters as I painted.  This step is important to do when the paint is still wet so you get the desired effect.  The only problem with that is that the paint actually dried really fast!  I did all this in one ten-minute "sit down".  By the time I finished the "B", the "U" was already dry and I started over again.

I used these double-sided mounting circles to "hold" the letters in place on the drawer/shelf and to hold the drawer pull on the glass of the frame.  *Tip:  If you do this yourself, I would take the screw part out of the drawer pull to flatten it more before adhering it to the glass.  I would also wrap the tassel around the pull before adhering it too to keep from messing with it after you have it in the right place.

Here's another little goodie that I made too.  Because I'm working on achieving another goal (which I will eventually frame and hang on my office wall too), I wanted a reminder to keep working toward making that dream a reality.  So I designed this little JPG, printed it with Shutterfly's new 4x4 prints (which I LOVE!), and framed it in this new square frame above my diploma.

I love the final effect, and this was definitely the "finishing touch" my office space needed!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Reflect & Refresh - Looking Forward (and Backward)

Summer is gone, and teachers across the nation are gearing up for an awesome 2015-2016 school year.  My summer went by so quickly that there were several posts and linkies that I was unable to do for time's sake.  So I've made lemonade from lemons and decided to "double dip" on these two-part posts.  In this post, I'll join up with Mrs. D's Corner and several other teachers to share my goals and dreams for the year ahead (and what went right last year).  

Let me start with the part 1 of this post...looking back.  This was the part that I missed earlier this year, but you can't properly look forward until what's behind you is in perspective. 


My parent communication was stronger than ever this last year.  I opened a private class Facebook group/page for my students and their parents.  We share our classroom photos, ask questions, translate school announcements, and more on this page.  I believe it has been a remarkable tool for helping my students' families feel connected to our classroom and to their school experiences as a whole.  Even though not all my families have Facebook, I believe that it is growing and will continue to grow as technology expands.  And I believe I owe a lot of the enhancements in my parent communication this last year to Facebook for helping us connect via social media. 



This past year did not feel like it was my strongest in terms of organization.  However, classroom management was certainly an improvement for me.  I began the year with a procedures discussion with each of my classes, and I think this made a big difference.  Sometimes the pressure to "hit the ground running" in the fall is great, and it doesn't seem like we have any extra time to take to talk about things like this.  But I noticed that, midway through the year after I had gotten several new students, that we really could have used a refresher course for everybody.  I think procedures are now a part of my beginning of the year routine that I can't afford to miss, even though I have the same kids each year (more or less, anyway).  It does us all good to review from time to time. 



My students' strongest work this past year was certainly in our animal units, but one drawback was that everything took so long to complete.  I'm not sure if this was a lack of or improper/inefficient planning on my part or unanticipated interruptions, but I plan to be more aware as I venture into this year to look for potential inefficiencies and make them work in our favor.  


My Summer Project

I'll save this for the "looking forward" section below...


This year, I definitely want to expand upon what we created and shared on our class Facebook page this last year.  I think including useful videos and resources, especially those in Spanish or other home languages of my students, would be a great step up to help parents with learning English and with helping students at home.  I realize that so many of my EL parents want to help their students, but our educational system is very different from the one they might be used to in their home countries.  Sharing resources and other tips that I find could make even better use of our digitally shared class space. 



I've been so blessed to get several grants for books for my classroom, but with that has come the giant task of organizing them all for better use!  I want to look into getting some tubs for themed units this year, but most importantly, I want to get every book categorized correctly in our Booksource database and keep our books shelved and organized for student check-out. 



I've mentioned in some other posts how excited I am to be pursuing the language of mathematics this year in my class.  I was talking to one of my students' parents about these goals at orientation the other night, and I dare say, she seemed just as excited as I am!  I can't wait to see how our ELs' performance changes when we specifically address this vocabulary and syntax in class!  I need to get my head back into this book!

Can't wait to get my head back in this book! 

I already started practicing some new math things with some students this summer!

My Summer Project

I announced a few weeks ago that I finished my office overhaul this summer!  I was elated!  I couldn't wait to share my new work space.  I do have one pile left to sort through, but the improvements were...let's just say "significant."  This will be a great creative work space for me this fall and winter...and I have another post coming tomorrow about the "finishing touch" I just added!  (Hint: it will be to the left of my "Choose Happiness" space!) 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Assess Me Linky: Weeks 1 and 2

What a cute get to know you linky series with The Tattooed Teacher!  I didn't get to link up in time for Week 1's assessment, so I'm including weeks 1 and 2 below.  I feel like some of these questions need further explanation, but I'm just going to roll with it!  :)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Bulletin Board Do-Over

Back to school usually means new bulletin boards, and I'm stoked that I got my new one finished this week.  I was really sweating it since I saved it until the end of summer to do!  (Yikes!)  Here's a look at the finished product!  

Let's review...this is what I had.  And it was good.  It served us well for a long time, and my students loved pointing out their names (and their siblings' names) on the owls' bellies.  Of course, I still love owls, but it was time for a change that reflected my style now

I started with some glossy fadeless black bulletin board paper, a set of tissue poms, and some totes adorbs new scalloped chalkboard border, all of which I scored on a shopping trip to the Parent-Teacher Store earlier this summer for about $20. 

I used this paper pack from Hobby Lobby to create my letters because I couldn't quite find what I had in mind.

I used my Cricut and my Jubilee cartridge, set on "runt" and "real dial size" to cut the 7 1/2" letters.  I cut two sets, one in the white pearl finish papers and another set for the shadow effect.  I just used some single sheets of lime green, hot pink, and turquoise to complement the color of my poms. 

Here's a close-up of the finished product.  I love the dimensional-ness of the letters when I used a hodge podge of designs in the white pearl.  Of course, that was really because there weren't enough sheets in any one design to cut all the letters, but I think it only adds to the effect

To focus on the word "leaders", I just swapped the accent colors and the made the pearl finish the shadow color.  

Tissue poms: cute, but they are my nemesis.  I feel like the only elementary school teacher in the world who lacks the proper skill set to adequately puff these poms.  They kept tearing and giving me grief, but I finally managed to puff out something that looked like tissue poms.  Then I stapled those bad boys to the board!   Obviously, you've probably already seen a pin similar to this, and, yes, I was inspired by this pin of the amazing work that Schoolgirl Style here for the original post on her blog.   Mine may not be exactly as cute, but I'm still proud that I came out victorious in the battle of the tissue poms.

To keep going with the dimensional effect, I decided that I would flip my border.  Another teacher mentioned putting the border on the metal part of the board, and I had never thought about doing that.  So I took that idea and ran with it.  I flipped the scalloped edges to "kick it up a notch."

I think the finished effect looks great in the hall.  It definitely ties in my door, which I worked on last summer, and carries the colors of my wreath on into the board. 

Verdict:  tired, accomplished, and ecstatic

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Winner Wednesday: BTS Edition

It's the first Wednesday of a new month, so that means it's Winner Wednesday over at A Dab of Glue Will Do.  This month we're all giving away back-to-school related products, so I have a copy of Ms. Bell's 5: Posters for My Classroom Rules up for grabs.  I also have a few freebies below, so keep reading to score all your BTS stuff! 

In my classroom, I focus on 5 simple rules, inspired by WBT, and then establish strong classroom procedures for all other things that happen on a regular basis in our room.  All behaviors boil down to these 5 basic rules, and that's why I selected them.  If a student breaks one of these rules, then he/she has consequences according to the broken rule.  For example, if a student breaks our rule about respecting classroom property by being irresponsible with one of our class iPads, then he/she loses his/her turn on the iPad.  But, if he/she doesn't follow a procedure, we (my students included) just remind that student of the proper procedure and keep going.  No harm, no foul.  Get a peek at how they look in my room and of one of the rules below. Read more about my rules vs. procedures ideas on this blog post from last year.

If you want to win a copy, enter the Rafflecopter below.  It's quick and easy to do!  Then keep scrolling to score some freebies for your class for the new year!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You may have missed the Forever Freebie I posted earlier this week.  It's a monthly calendar for the 2015-2016 school year in classy red & black with silver glitter accents!   It's a freebie in my TpT store; just click on the pictures below to download.

As an ESL teacher in a WIDA consortium state, our WIDA ELD standards are very important when planning language instruction for ELs. I made these posters a while back for myself and my coworkers to keep these standards visible, and therefore, in the forefront of our minds. Just click on the photos below to download these.

The winner to the contest for my rules posters will be announced on Thursday, so be sure to check back then. And don't forget to check out the other teachers in this linky to enter more contests!  I wish you a wonderful school year ahead!