Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Standardized Testing Blues

Now that Christmas Break is almost over and the count down to the STAAR (or whatever test your state does) has begun... I'm beginning to feel the Standardized Testing Blues.

STAAR is new to our state this year (replacing TAKS) and so far it has been very disorganized from this Reading Teacher's point of view. There will be a STAAR reading test but throughout the year all focus has been on Science and Math. Both subjects have had a multitude of benchmarks so they can see what the test will look like and the kids can begin to become familiar to the new language and set up of the test but there has been nothing for reading.

Finally, the last week before Christmas Break they released a Reading test... awesome... the worst week possible for those kids to see a hard test for the very first time. Also, Math and Science were given all kinds of resources to teach from this year and Reading was given nothing. I have had to either use old TAKS materials which are no where near what STAAR will be now or make everything on my own. I'm a little miffed about it.

Now what I'm hating about STAAR....
Math and Science seem to be pretty straight forward in their questions and not completely confusing in their wording. Sounds right with straight forward subjects. Now reading is a gray area where you have to dissect and make connections and understand. So why are they making the actual understanding of the questions part of the test??? Students came to me with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade reading levels yet the questions sound like a junior high. They call it "upping the rigor" but all I see is where we are no longer even teaching a skill but they have to decipher the question before they can even begin. Now add the much much harder questions and then they put a 4 hour limit on the entire test?? Really? So my 3rd grade reading level students will have to read 4-5 passages with extremely difficult questions in 4 hours? What ever happened to having time to think about what you are reading and make connections? Not to mention those students who need to read it a few times to get it or read parts over again will not have the time. I was even told that someone at a STAAR training said not to teach the kids to write strategies throughout the test because they won't have the time. Are you kidding me? Maybe at high school I would expect them to be able to comprehend without writing a single note or taking time to think it through but we are talking about 10 year olds here. Shouldn't they have to learn how to make those mental connections and work through a passage before being expected to just fly through it in 4 hours no problems?

It's not that I don't want my students to be challenged, I challenge them every day in the classroom. But I think there is a difference between "Do you know this skill?" and "Can I write a way above you in language question and have you figure out all the confusing nonsense before your time runs out?" I get that we need "tests" to show the kids are learning but this test is not set up so that all students have a chance for success. It will work for those bright students who get everything quickly. I don't know what has happened in the recent years to make reading levels so much lower when they come to me each year but I don't see TAKS or STAAR improving this problem.

Here is an example of the difference:

How TAKS would test figurative language:
"Following her heart" in paragraph 15 means that Amanda will.....

How STAAR tests figuarative language:
The author's use of figurative language in paragraph 15 emphasizes that....

Now my low readers will have to look in paragraph 15 and decide if they need to look for a metaphor, a simile, an idiom, an adage, personification, or an onomatopoeia.

My question, we don't want to teach to the test but how can I get a student prepared for a question like that if I don't know they are going to throw in the word "emphasizes" or won't give an example anymore. I don't think it is right to keep students in the dark about how a question can be worded when that one word will mess everything up for those low readers.

We were told the key to STAAR is to try to think of how many different ways they could ask about one objective. I'm so busy trying to get my low readers to understand the concepts that it is becoming a major challenge to try to fathom what they might have come up with. Teachers have to become psychics now instead of teaching reading skills and helping students improve their reading abilities.

Sorry for the long rant... I'm just having a moment and wanted to vent :)

Good luck in your classroom in the months to come!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Poetry in the Classroom

This past week I had my 5th graders analyze the poem "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. First we went over vital vocabulary like "trodden" and "hence" and then read together and talked about metaphors and which metaphors we found in the poem. The next day I had them brainstorm as a group life choices like a person at varying life ages would come across, then made a class list of each group's top two. The next two days (I only get 45 minutes for reading :/) they created a poster. The group was split to one of two parts of the poster. Group A divided their poster part in half then on one side had to draw what the poem says and on the other draw what the poem means. Group B had to write the main metaphors of the poem and a "Look into Human Life Choices" and made a list of life choices from class. They also write the title and author. Once they were both done, we taped them together and hung them in the classroom. I had them put their name on the back of the poster part they had done. They turned out wonderful! I will take some pics (forgot my camera of course) and post them as soon as I can.

What poems do you do in your classroom and how do you have the students analyze and work through them??

Friday, November 25, 2011

HUGE TPT sale!

I try not to post a lot of "selling" type blogs but don't want you to miss on this one! TeachersPayTeachers has sales like this only a few times a year so make the most of that Black Friday Madness leftover energy and head over!

Many stores have their items on sale for 10%, 15% with a lot having 20% off!

If that's not enough to get your educational mouth watering....

Type in the code CMS28 at checkout and you get an additional 10% off!

Check out my store here for you Reading/LA/Social Studies-minded individuals or search for anything that you will be doing in the classroom. Now is the time!

Good luck! Two things I can guarantee: You will find an amazing deal and it will be safer than Black Friday Store Fronts!

Starting Monday November 28th!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Scoop.It - Cool online magazine

There are several sites now coming out that help you to create newspaper or magazine type sites for specific information. I had tried with little success but was recently introduced to It was actually easy to maneuver and figure out. I got it up and running very quickly and was impressed with the types of finds it pulled up for my chosen keywords. I will be updated (curating) this magazine often so please take a look and let me know what you think!

Click on the picture below!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Quick Shout Out to Thanksgiving Savings

Have you checked out the TPT item of the month on this blog and still want more?? (Who doesn't right?) Click the picture below to see a large growing list of amazing Thanksgiving products!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Awesome Biography I wanted to share!

I ran across a book that I wanted to share with you guys!

The Glo-Brothers by Chris Barton

It is a biography about the two brothers who invented fluorescent day-glo colors. The book has awesome and engaging pictures, short enough to read in class and leave time throughout the week for some really awesome activities.

I had them complete a biography analysis sheet as we read (Part of this packet here)
All this week they have been working on a large group poster project. they split their groups into 3 teams:

Team A did an awesome newspaper activity (click here to see the url) showing a summary and cool facts from the story. They also drew and labeled the diagram from a url given in the book (click here to see it) about how light, fluorescent light, and day-glo works.

Team B did a timeline, conflicts and solutions, and major turning-point events from the story. (The analysis sheet was a big help here)

Team C did a Venn-diagram between the two brothers and created a rhyming poem.

Extra small poster that told it was a biography and how we know (i.e. 3rd person, told about another person's life, etc...)

Two days ago I had them choose from a variety of really cool black and white pictures that I printed off the computer. Didn't tell them what we were using them for but said to choose the most visually appealing to them. Today, they will be adding fluorescent paint to their photographs in the style of Andy Warhol and others who took advantage of the fluorescent paint in their works. I have a short PPT that I will show them first displaying some of Andy Warhol's fluorescent works. It should be fun!

The following pictures are from my students work. These are displayed in my hallway outside my classroom. Enjoy!

Such a great book and I hope you give it a try in your classroom!

Please leave a comment if you have any other great ideas for classroom uses!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Chillers for the Halloween Season - Books for 5th graders

For the Halloween season that is now upon us, I wanted to share an author that has become a favorite of mine: Mary Downing Hahn. She writes wonderful thriller type books for youth readers. They are not full of blood and gore and do not contain bad language. They are thrillers and usually about ghosts and things of that sort. I wanted to introduce a few books that I have read to my kiddos in the classroom. Of course, I gave them the option of not listening and reading their own books if they were not into the scary books.

Here are some reviews of some of my favorite books from her:

Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story

This is the story of two girls who move with their family to a church house. They are step sisters and do not get along very well. The youngest starts talking to a ghost named Helen from the cemetery nearby. The oldest must solve the mystery and save her younger sister before it is too late.

** My kids loved this book. They thought it was creepy but not nightmare scary. They were eager to see what would happen next and were kept engaged the entire time.

All the Lovely Bad Ones

The new owner of a hotel with a scary history of being haunted begin having trouble when her young relatives come to stay for awhile. What started out as a prank becomes something much more serious and sinister.

*** Again, my kids thought this book was great and couldn't wait for reading time to continue the story.

The Old Willis Place

The new caretakers of an old estate have no clue the secrets the old house keeps or of some kiddos living on the land that has their own secrets to keep.

*** Another great book! Students couldn't get enough of this one. Lots of good predicting and inferences going on in this one.

The Doll in the Garden: A Ghost Story

Two young girls find a doll hidden in the garden of their home. The old woman who runs the place they are staying at has hidden secrets... as does the doll.

*** I didn't read this one to my kids as we moved on to other books but I did recommend it to them and several read it on their own for their independent reading. Wonderful book and I did not see the ending coming!

Deep and Dark and Dangerous

The water can be extremely dangerous, especially at this lake house. A new friend brings trouble and mysteries.

*** My kids loved this one and loved trying to figure out what was happening. They were so proud of themselves when they would predict correctly :)

There are several others that I have yet to read but am interested in doing so. If you have a group of students interested in some scary stories for the Halloween season, I highly recommend one of these! Try them! You will love them!

Friday, October 7, 2011

5th Grade Booklist

So I'm trying to read one genre at a time to my kiddos this year and so far we have read:

Frindle - Realistic Fiction
Sign of the Beaver - Historical Fiction (starting next week)
Next will be Fablehaven book one: Fantasy Fiction

Other books I've read or plan to read include:
Phantom Tollbooth (you can get a novel study to help your 5th graders through here)
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Summer of the Monkeys
Number the Stars

I'm curious about the book Skellig. Inkheart might make it this year, and I have read the Edge Chronicles myself and think the kids would love it.

My bilingual co-worker has also read Esperanza Rising to her kiddos and together we created a novel study guide for that book as well.

She is currently reading Pedro's Journal to them!

So B. It and Elijah Buxton are great books.

I'm thinking about reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimn and something about 100 Cupboards looks like an imagination starter.

What books are you reading to your grade level this year? Or at least think your grade level would enjoy?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Free Boxes Rock!

Did you know that you can get a large amount of free boxes delivered to you from the post office? You can get 300-500 boxes free plus free shipping! I ordered and had them delivered to my house a couple of years ago and we made them into family tree boxes. In the floor of the box they drew their family tree and titled it. Then on the four sides they placed the following info: "Grounded in Family Roots" (family traditions), "The Person I am Today" (Their current interests and personality), "The Person I Want to Become" (Goals for the future), "Things that Inspire Me" (Inspiring quotes, people, etc...)

These boxes could be used for a wide variety of dioramas and more!

Go to and click on "Get Free Boxes!" or scroll your mouse over the Ship a Package tab at the top and then click on get free boxes. You choose the size and amount. They are sent in packages of 10 or 25.

If you don't know... now ya know :)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Character Analysis At Your Service!

A skill that students are constantly struggling on is making the connections that are required to analyze character motives. I think one cause of this difficulty is that our students have less background experiences to draw off of and with the wave of do-it-for-us technology people in general have gotten a little... shall I say... lazy? (yep, I said it.)

If you have implemented Reading Workshops or a version of them, or if this is your first time running workshops and you want a little more structure then this may come in handy for you!

Using kid-friendly graphics, introduce your students to character analysis. This is meant to be a focus lesson that can be used at the beginning of your class before sending students off into independent reading land to try the skill out in their own personal books.

The power point gives them an explanation of what character analysis is, provides a list of character traits to use during their reading, provides a story that the students can practice some of the strategies on and gives you a chance to show them how you want them to answer. Then two student skill sheets that can be printed front and back. You can have students answer both sides of questions if you have the time allotted, you can have them do one side of the questions and then choose one to do for homework, you could have them answer in groups if they are reading the same book... plus any other combo that works with your class!

Click here to check it!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Modern Preamble

So today in class, I was talking to my kids about how we have lost the language of our ancestors as texting and facebook and twitter have become an integral part of our lives. In order to help with this, I created a page that broke up the Preamble and they were to use only thesaurus and dictionaries (it broke their heart that the computer was off limits) to change the Preamble into modern day laymen terms. Man were their little brains smoking once they got to the end of the assignment! lol

Tomorrow they are going to use what they did today to create a "kid language" Preamble and then will discuss how the Preamble affects their own lives.

Although this is activity that I'm sure many of us have done to a point, it still always amazes me how difficult it is for students to do this assignment. Technology is a wonderful thing but I think our students have lost some really important skills in research and thinking along the way. I'm one of the first to jump on any new technology bandwagon but it is equally important to teach your students the difference between a thesaurus and a dictionary, how to find information in both, and push our students out of their comfort zone in order to grow.

All day (I have 4 reading rotations), I heard "This is so hard! I'm having to think soo much!" My response... "Good, that means your brain is growing. Keep going."

Friday, September 2, 2011

Overlooked but Amazing Series for Kids - Fablehaven

A few years back while I was pregnant with my son, I ran across the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull. Omg... I love this series! I have purchased all 5 books since then and am constantly spreading the word to my kids about this overlooked series. At the time, our library didn't have it... now we do! (You're welcome!)

Fablehaven is a story about 2 children going to visit their grandparents at their large estate as their parents go on a cruise requested in the will by a newly deceased relative. At first they think it is just a normal huge estate with a surrounding woods... until Kendra finds all the secret keys and opens a book that is completely blank except for the words "Drink the Milk." She thinks of the old pie tin filled with milk that Dale (hired help) keeps feeding the butterflies and animals around them. Once her and her brother Seth have sampled the milk, the story goes in a whole new direction! Fablehaven is full of witches, fairies, and pretty much any fable or fairy tale creature that has come up over the past all living on this "reserve" for magical animals. Seth and Kendra end up having to save the Reserve from impending doom and man is there some crazy stuff that happens before they get there.

This has been the book that has turned my low uninterested readers into reader-hungry little kiddos. It is truly a magical book that I hope you will read and experience yourself!

Check out reviews or buy it on Amazon!

Oh, and I just noticed that one of the Scholastic book orders finally has Fablehaven on the order form I think for September but maybe it was October! After my kids last year lamented about them not being in there, I'll have to head over to 6th grade wing and let them know! :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Calling all thought provoking questions

For my blog activity this year (see previous blog about I am wanting to gather as many thought provoking questions as I can for my weekly questions. I teach 5th grade so am needing maybe 4-6 grade level questions. Please comment below with any awesome blog questions you can think of! Nothing too subject focused... more critical thinking opinion and judging type questions. The following below will hopefully give you an idea of the types of questions I am trying to collect.

What I have so far:
1. What will you need to change or continue doing in order to succeed this year?
2. Is it ever okay to lie?
3. Do you think boys or girls have an easier life?
4. What would you do if your best friend was of a different race and your parents no longer wanted you to hang out with him or her?
5. If you could ask anyone one question and they could not lie to you: who would it be and what would you ask?

Questions I'm looking for will be stop-and-think type questions. Ones that are hard to answer yes or no and makes them challenge their thinking and make choices and valuable opinions.

Thank you so much for helping to collaborate an amazing list of questions that will help our students grow!

Fairy Tale Revival - Shrek style!

So, I was in the middle of a lesson the other day when one of my kids had to get a question off of his mind, "Who is that one your wall?" (He was pointing to the 6 year old paper creation of Repunzel my bff and I had created the first year I started teaching. I have it placed on my wall and she has long yarn hanging down for her hair. I had used it for AR. As they made their points their prince would climb the hair to be the first to save the princess... cool huh?? Annnyyyways...) I tell him that it is Repunzel. He asks why it is on my wall and so I tell him the AR story. He turns to me and says, "But, Mrs. Richards, how could you have made that 6 years ago? Tangled just came out this year." Uh... what? These kids don't know fairy tales anymore... the Grimm brothers are rolling in their graves I'm sure! Thus began the discussion of how old the fairy tales were and how movies and tv and books today use pieces from those originals to create the new stuff we see today.

The conversation continued between the children, "So, what about Shrek?" No, he is new but the movie uses characters from all kinds of original fairy tales. "Is there a movie for the originals?" "I bet not because they would be in black and white." "Wait, you aren't that old are you Mrs. Richards??" Uh... no. It ended up being a pretty interesting teachable moment and swore to bring the original Repunzel the next day to read to them. That next day, I also relayed the story of Rumpelstiltskin (who most thought was a bad character created for the newest Shrek movie). They were shocked by the original story but then made connections to why they made his character the way they did and thought it was actually funnier now. Yay for connections!

Our youngest generations are losing those old stories that a lot of this society was built upon. Lack of reading to children, sharing stories, technology-distracted... Whatever the cause may be...

What can you do or what do you do in your classroom to remedy this worsening problem? blogging fun!

Have you tried out Safe and user friendly, you can post and have your students respond! I have just started using this free blogging service in my classroom and the kids are loving it!

Each week we have time to work on the computers so the students log on first to There they will find two posts: one that is a technology project using programs such as wordle, prezi, glogster, etc... and one that is a post for them to respond to.

For my first weekly post I created a poll using easypoll and had the kiddos answer the question on there for graphing later. Then they came back and had to answer what they plan to change or continue in order to be successful this year.

I had a co-worker write a response on there which she said she needed to be more organized and change how she reacts to change.

I read this response to the kiddos and we talked about how people can react to change, if it is negative or positive and how to give advice.

Each student then got on the computer and responded first with 3 complete sentences about their change or what they were continuing (quick language arts grade) and then provide the teacher advice about either reacting to change or organization.

I then could go in and respond to each of their posts and give them feedback and grades.

It was very interactive and the kids can't wait to see the response from the teacher I had write on there. Some of my lowest students are excited they ask me hourly if she has read and responded to theirs yet.

Once a month, I have a small group of students collaborate and create the weekly question based on a topic I provide them: could be about a novel we are reading, or a skill I want them to work on such as 'making friends', or 'How to stop a bully'.

Just thought I would share a fun technology project you might be interested in :)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Have you tried

This is a pretty cool website. It allows students to create a FAKE facebook page in order to show character analysis on a story read in class. It is not associated with facebook and is completely made up and controlled by the one user creating it. I think it would make a really fun novel review to show they got the gist of the story.

Here is an example one I made for The Three Little Pigs
Three Little Pigs Fake Facebook Profile -

I'm trying to figure out the most efficient way to give students access considering you need to be signed up to use it. I'm thinking I may have to sign in to my account and then they can have their own wall that they are working on... If you have any suggestions, please comment below!

Monday, August 15, 2011

What Book Genre Are You?

Here is a fun quiz that I created to help your students see which book genre fits them best. I'm in the middle of creating a prezi with a lot more to do with reading and this quiz with be a part of it... but hey why not try it now?

I used Quizilla which is pretty cool and user friendly!

Click here to try out the quiz!

Tell me what you think? Did you find an error or know of a way to improve it? Let me know before I include it in my prezi! I hope you enjoy!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Glogster - Yet another amazing invention since sliced bread

Okay... I ran across a forum where a teacher mentioned Glogster. Glogster? What is that and why haven't I known about this already?? I had to look into it and I must say... so cool!

Now I must be truthful and admit that I haven't created one yet (still working on my prezi presentation which is turning out pretty cool but darn is it a little time-consuming... it will be worth it though! I'll blog it on here once I'm finished) :) But, from the gallery of people-created glogs... o-m-g.

So what is Glogster? Basically, it is an interactive poster. It would be a very interesting and innovative way to have students present book reports and other class assignments. You could create an entire virtual library of awesome looking information. You can have hidden links that go to websites or YouTube videos etc...

Once I get my hands dirty and try it out, I will be sure to let you know what I think. But, with the school year around the corner, I wanted to bring it to your attention if you were looking for one more unique thing to try this year.

They do have an EDU section for teachers. There is a free version of the teacher account but you definitely miss out on some of the awesome features. There is a comparison chart here, if you would like to see what they offer. The paid version is like $99, so maybe try out the free one and if it seems like something you will use then you could always upgrade.

Here are some of the people-created education blogs that really caught my interest with this program.

This author is amazing:jhoertel
This poster shows some of what you can do with glogster click here
Here he has created a poster book report for The Lightning Thief click here

A poster from another teacher about red foxes. click here

Have you tried Glogster?

Monday, August 8, 2011

To Prezi or not to Prezi? Yes, Please!

Okay this Prezi thing is amazing! There are so many amazing possibilities of making an AMAZING presentation. The one I found below just blew me away. The way it moved around and would zoom into tiny details that mattered... woah. I was so intrigued. I want to make one like this sooo bad!

Teachers! Sign up for your FREE Prezi account and see what awesomeness you can create!!
Click here!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Setting the Rules On the First Day of School

Oh, do I remember that first year of teaching when I stood in front of my very first classroom of kiddos staring at me expectantly and I thought in my head, "What the heck do I do now?" lol

One of my weakness that I will admit to was discipline. I had a hard time setting my rules, and consistency. The problem was I wasn't sure what worked and so I kept changing it up on my poor kiddos. They were like my guinea pigs God bless them and they took it in stride. Thank goodness I had a good group of kiddos that probably felt sorry for me and tried to make it as painless as possible lol. (I should THEM a thank you card sometime :)

ANYWAYS... this post is about setting those rules on the first day and continuing through the school year.

There is a great blog going right now for FREE materials that can help you get organized and started in the right direction toward a chaos-free classroom.Click here to take advantage of this amazing resource!

Again, I am no guru so I'm here to only give my two cents and would LOVE some comments on your amazing and creative ways to instill the rules in your classroom! Please! I wanna hear them!! ;)

One fun way is through a foldable. Kids love messing with paper (well most, there is always one who insists he/she can't cut, or fold, or glue, or write, or raise their hand for help until their paper is a mashed up goo of rips...)Here is one free foldable activity Make sure you have a solid idea of what you want your rules, procedures and whatnot to be before standing in front of the kids. Don't wing it... just don't.

Be prepared to model and then model again... and then again. In the midst of their short term memory issues, kids forget procedures when recess is waiting. Be sure to be clear and straightforward about what you want of them, model the correct behavior, and be clear the consequences (and whatever you do... be consistent with them!)

Sometimes, it works to have the kids help you brainstorm which rules they think are important in a classroom and why. Then help them narrow and guide them toward an appropriate list of rules that belong in the classroom. If they help create them then they will be less willing to break them (at least that's how the saying goes right?)

Decide what kind of positive or negative reinforcements you will have in your classroom. There are intrinsic and extrinsic forms of motivation. The easiest (and most expensive) is extrinsic... or better known as bribing.... yeah I said it... deal with it :)
Intrinsic deals with being satisfied with oneself for the sake of doing good. Pride of accomplishment would fall in this category. Unfortunately, this one takes some suave on your part as kids today live very extrinsic lives. I'm to this day striving to find better ways to achieve this goal. If you know the secret, please let me know! Otherwise, I will be doing my best to lead them in the intrinsic direction as much as I can. Definitely reward them for hard work (I've been known for some popcorn parties) but make sure they have really earned it.

Spend the beginning few weeks continually going over the rules and procedures randomly through the day. Use those teachable moments. Take them time in the beginning to lay a strong foundation of expectation. Believe me, I know from experience, you will spend the entire year chasing after them if you don't. (darn first year of teaching!)

So, share below your secrets, tips, techniques, and strategies for setting the foundation of expectations! Can't wait to hear from you!

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Top 10 Things I learned During My First 5 years of Teaching

As I head into my 6th year of teaching, I found myself thinking back to the first 5... especially that very first year. I entered my school with rainbows and gumdrops dripping from my ideas and was ready to change the world... only to find myself in survival mode and almost defeat by Christmas. I still remember when my principal escorted me to my very own classroom. My eyes bugged when I walked in and saw my classroom was one of the few that were two rooms opened into one. It was huge! I was so excited! (Still there today and loving every minute of it!) Despite some trials (like a brown recluse spider bite the first weekend of school starting, walking pnuemonia, etc...) I learned some things along the way that I thought I would pass on to those who are just starting out. There are some amazing blogs out there covering this very thing. If you are a first time teachers, this blog would be an amazing resource of advice for you to check out! Click here!

So here goes:

My Top 10 Epiphanies During my First 5 Years of Teaching:

Number 10: Let's start off with an encouraging one... I had a student this past year. He was one of those who was always the "problem kid" and decided he had to be the trouble kid because that was his persona. At the end of the year, he came to me and asked if I would help him create a Power Point. He told me he wasn't good at typing but had something he wanted to share with the class: so I was to type and he would dictate. On this Power Point he thanked his classmates for believing in him, thanked everyone who helped him through and when he got to the slide he meant for me he broke down into tears. When I asked him what was wrong he said, "I'm going to miss you so much Mrs. Richards. You were the first teacher who believed in me and made me feel like I was worth it." I just recently ran into a student who was in my first year of teaching class. He ran up and gave me a hug and couldn't wait to brag about how well he was doing and he was going to invite me to his graduation when he gets there.

When you have your moments: thank you's, graduation invitations, thankful tears, letters of thanks, or whatever a child feels in their heart they want to share with you... you will know... it is all worth it and more.

Number 9: Be consistent!!!! If you fail to be consistent in your rules or procedures, it will take them all of 30 seconds to figure out the loopholes. Either spend good time in the beginning making a solid commitment to the rules or spend the whole year nagging about them.

Number 8: This relates to number 9. Set the expectations in your classroom quickly. Make sure they understand you are not their friend but their teacher. Be confident, they sense fear. lol

Number 7: Your work will follow you home in the form of graded papers, lesson planning, or planning your next course of action for a struggling child. Make sure you set aside time for yourself and your family so you don't burn yourself out.

Number 6: Find a mentor teacher or group of supporting teachers in your school (and hopefully your grade level) that can help you through when you feel lost or overwhelmed. They are a wealth of knowledge and you might just teach them something new and fresh! Create a learning community around yourself!

Number 5: Document!!! Document anything to do with Modifications, Tutoring, Discipline, Parent Contacts. You never know when something could come back and bite you if you don't protect yourself with what you have done in the classroom.

Number 4: Your principals should be there to support you but also to guide you through the learning process. They will give you constructive criticism (take what they say and learn from it). They are there to make you the best teacher you can be.

Number 3: There is a crap load... yes I said it... crap load of paperwork and I'm not talking just grading papers. It's required... just be prepared.

Number 2: Be Flexible! You need a well developed plan to back you up but be prepared to have to modify, change, add, or delete within a moment's notice.

Number 1: Let what you learned in college motivate you but be prepared to throw the imaginary classroom you had built in your head out of the window as soon as you walk into a real world classroom! :)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How do you set up your classroom library?

It's that time of year again, when you take all that you have read and learned over the summer and you are ready to apply to a fresh new school year. Every year we teachers try to improve from the previous year... Perhaps its discipline, or math strategies, or you want more hands on activities to reach those kinesthetic kiddos. Today, we will be discussing the classroom library.

It's great to utilize your school library but sometimes you just don't have the time to send everyone (our older elementary don't get an assigned library period after the first four weeks of school unfortunately), they don't have the books the kids wanted or because they are rushed the students don't choose quality books. When rushed with a 5 minute window, there is little time to choose quality interesting books. They usually grab the first book in their level and rush to check it out.

Thus the importance of a classroom library. Whether you are a kinder teacher or teaching in high school, reading will always be a part of our jobs. There is a 100% chance you will recieve at least one student who fell through the cracks, was moved around too much, or just didn't get the help they needed in time and they are coming to you lacking something that will devastatingly affect them in the future. Unfortunately with state standards and having so much on our plate already, it is a hard road but one we have dedicated our lives to paving for those generations below us.

One tool that can be used to reach our students is the classroom library. The following are some hints, tips, suggestions, activities etc... that you could use for your library!

Have a clear label with the reading level (and AR points if your school participates in this program)

You can have your library organized by reading level, author, title... just make sure your students understand how it is organized so they can utilize it quickly without frustration.

If you have your students participating in book clubs or reading workshops, you can have students discuss books that they have finished in front of the class so that other students may be exposed to books they may not have chosen on their own.

You could have a spotlight area for each genre, where you choose one book from each genre that the students can read and earn. You could possibly set up a tic tac toe board or some other incentive they can fill up as they finish the different genres.

Have specific times when students will be visiting the library. This way they will know what to expect and be ready to make clear choices. They could also have a list of books they are interested in when heading to the library.

Use card stock cut into wide strips as book placement holders. Have kids decorate the books with their names and pictures that represent them. When they check out a book from the class library, they will place their holder where the book belongs. This way, you can quickly see who has a book and the student can quickly see where to return it when done reading it.

Having a class job of librarian can help keep your library organized and cared for.

Have a bulletin near the library prepped for response cards from books that have been read. This could be another way to expose students to unfamiliar books as well as help lower readers see examples of how to review a book.

So, I know many of you seasons veteran heroes or fresh out of college superstars have some great ideas as well! Please leave a comment below and share! You just might inspire someone! :)

Check out this amazing blog for some great pictures of classroom libraries from actual classroom! ClutterFree Classroom Blog

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Creating a Podcast of GarageBand Pt. 2

Okay, so you have an idea how to get around the program. I will now show you some ways to make a simple podcast. Later posts will have other tricks and tips along the way AND if you have any that you have discovered PLEASE share! We teachers always love a good learning experience! :)

For this post I am going to assume that you want to create a podcast where there is talking involved and background music with sound effects... sound good? :)

So, your program should look something like this (maybe minus the media browser)

If not, head back to part one and get caught up! :) (We'll wait for you)

Now, there are two easy ways to get your voice into this program. If your computer has a microphone installed within, if not, you will need to buy a USB microphone then you will be able to record straight from Garageband. You can also drag mp3 or wav files if you have recorded them elsewhere using another recording software or pulled music off of a CD or website.

Step 1: (If you are using a microphone) Click on the male or female voice depending on where you would like the recording to go. Whichever gray tab is clicked, that is where the recording will go so be aware of that so you have the correct one set before recording. Make sure the first button with a circle is selected and red (this enables recording).

Step 1: (if using a file) Click on the media button from the center panel. This will show your media browser. Click on Audio. Make sure your song has been downloaded into one of the available choices (ITunes works well). Find your song or file name.

Step 2: (Microphone) When you are ready, click on the record button from the center panel. It will begin recording immediately. Any sounds in the background will be picked up as well if they are too loud so be aware of this. Once you are done recording, hit the record button again. If the player continues to play (the red line keeps moving) just hit the play arrow to stop it. You will see a purple box with sound visuals. You may drag this box left and right to place where you want the sound to begin.

*Note: Wherever the red line is located is where the recording will begin. Grab the arrow attached to the red line at the top and move it left to right and place it where you would like the next recording to go!


Step 2: (File) Click on the file name and drag it where you want the sound to go. You can layer sounds with garageband. I will place my file name in the Male Voice to layer with the female.

* Note: If there is a recording or file running in a tab at the same place where you want to make a recording you must mute the other sound first or it will be playing while you are trying to record. The mute button is the megaphone icon next to the headphones. It will white out the music until you click mute again.


See how the background in the Male Voice is not purple but white? The megaphone is lit up blue showing it is in mute. Now I can continue to record on Female Voice without it being disturbed with the file above. Once I unmute the Male Voice and push play from the beginning, the two will play at the same time.

If you want background music that is not from ITunes: Click on the Eye icon in the center panel. Find a Jingle that suits you and then click and drag into the Jingles tab. If you want to add sound effects like glass breaking or people talking, click on stingers or sound effects and then click and drag.

Important to Remember! (to save you brain frustration!)
* Make sure you have clicked on the tab you plan to record in or you drag to the correct tab.
* Make sure the red line is placed exactly where you wish the recording to start!
* If you drag or record over a sound already there it will replace it. Moving it will not fix the problem. Edit - Undo will be your friend there.
* Mute layered tracks before recording so you don't record those in the background.

Now that you know how to get sounds on there... let's talk about how to edit them.

  • 1. If you have a sound you no longer need: click on just that section of sound. Go to Edit - Delete.
  • 2. If you only want a part of the sound removed (say you laughed by accident and want to delete only the laugh) place the red line at the beginning of where you want to delete. Make sure that selection has been clicked and is dark purple. Click Edit - Split. This will cause a split and make it two sections instead of one. Move the red line to the end of where you want to delete. Go to Edit - Split. Now you have the part you want to delete separate from the good recordings. Click off of them all so that they are all light purple. Then click on just the part you want to delete (should go dark purple) then Edit - Delete. If you do not click off the other sections it will just delete everything in dark purple.


You can see where I have split the section into three and now have the middle section ready to delete.

When you are done, your podcast will look like a layer of sounds. In the picture below I have a background song playing on my Male Voice. I have click the down arrow in the panel to make it not a main track. I have my voice recordings in Female Voice. I also have added some sound effects from the Eye Icon. I have a camera shutter and then later a Barn door opening and then closing.

Play around with these simple tools and you too can create a real podcast!!

Oh, one last thing before we go! You want to know how to save it right?? :)
Once you have it just as you want it: Click on the Share tab on the top toolbar.Then click on Export to Disk. It will bring up an mp3 decoder. Then click Export.Name and then choose the location and Save! You now have an mp3 you can play in any ipod or mp3 player! Pretty cool huh? :)