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Monday, August 30, 2021

How You Can Differentiate in Your Classroom From the First Day of School

    Have you ever tried to differentiate in your classroom? So often I hear that it is hard and teachers don’t know how to differentiate. Today we are going to talk about all things differentiation. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite ways to differentiate in my classroom!

    In my classroom, I use these passports for our two major subjects each day, Math and ELA. In the corner of each page, I put a shape. The shapes let me know which group each student is in. On the passport, I write the work that is due for the week for each group of students. I try to keep the shape pretty small at the top of the page. Behind the passport, I staple all of the work that the students need to complete for the week. I create as many different levels of work as my students need. This can change throughout the school year. At the beginning of the year, you might only need two or three levels, but by the end of the year, you might have as many as five or six different levels. I move my students into different levels as they are mastering the skills on the level they are completing at the time. This is an easy way to differentiate the work for your students. 

    Here you can see the passports filled out and the types of assignments that you could include on your passports. All of my students do the same type of work but I provide several different versions of the assignment. For example, all of my students work on fluency during our ELA block, but I provide different leveled passages based on the reading levels of my students. This can be done for many different areas of your students' learning. You can see above that I have a word work, library, fluency, comprehension and writing section for each passport. At the very beginning of the year, I might start with 2 different levels of passports, and then as the year progresses and my students need different levels of work, I create more passports. I will create as many different levels as my students need. 

    My next favorite thing to use to differentiate is colored paper. I like to use blue, green, yellow and orange. I will put different activities and centers on the colored paper and my students know what color to work on. They just simply go and grab what they need and get started on their work. This is another super-easy way to differentiate and allow your students to take responsibility for their learning. 

    The final way that I love to differentiate is with colored dots. This is another super-easy way for your students to just grab what they need. I use the same colors as the colored paper and so my students know what color they need to grab. I like to put the colored dots on the top of the page, or on the top of leveled readers. 

    There are so many different ways to differentiate in your classroom. I like to make it easy and accessible for my students, so they know exactly what they need to do. Each of these different ways make it super easy for the teacher as well. 

    It is so important that we are differentiating for our students and meeting them at the level where they are. It takes a little bit of time to find all of the different levels of materials, but once you get started you will see how easy it is to keep going. Your students will be excited as well because they are completing work at their level. Your high students are not doing work that is too easy and your low students are not getting frustrated with work that is too hard. What is your favorite takeaway from today? What area of differentiation are you going to fry first? 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

My Top Classroom Systems to Teach from the First Day of School

Having classroom systems can help your classroom run smoothly from the first day of school. Students can learn these systems and allow you to continue teaching rather than stopping to put out little fires. Today we are going to talk about the top systems that I start teaching students right away. 

    Every day from the very beginning of the school year, the first thing that we do is our morning meeting. This is a time for students to greet each other, share something important happening, discuss our schedule for the day, and review our classroom rules and procedures. Every afternoon we finish our day with our closing circle. This is a great time for students to share highs and lows for the day, or as we call it in class, our clouds (lows) and rainbows (highs). We also talk about how we did as a class following our rules and procedures. If it was a rough day, we are able to chat about how we are going to make it better the next day. At our morning meeting the next day, we review what happened the day before and what we decided to do to fix it. After a couple weeks of me leading the class meetings, it starts to become my student's responsibility to lead the meetings. This is always one of their favorite jobs to have in the classroom. Having a consistent morning and afternoon with a morning meeting and closing circle can help your classroom run smoothly and help your students know exactly what is going to happen for the day. 

   The next system that is important to have in your classroom is a schedule listed somewhere for all your students to see. I like to have a daily schedule up in the front of the room on our white board. One of our favorite things to do throughout the day is mark off the tasks as we finish them. The students love to see that things are done and see how much longer they might have until something more exciting for them like recess or lunch happens. This is another area that my students are in charge of after a couple weeks of school. I always do it for the first couple weeks so they can see it modeled and know what is expected when they are marking things off. 

       The next system that is important to implement in your classroom is a pacing guide. There are few ways you can do this. First, you could do this by subject. You can have a pacing guide for each subject that you teach for the week, and you can place the items that need to be completed for the week on the pacing guide. The next way that you could do this is have all the subjects placed on the pacing guide for the week. This allows your students to be independent learners and learn to manage their time to complete the tasks by the end of the week. In my classroom, I do this for math and ELA. My students enjoy having the freedom to complete the work they want for each day. At the end of the week, if the work is not finished, they spend some time catching up on their work and then when it is finished, they get to have some free time. I usually put a list on the board of things they can do when their work is finished. They love having this little bit of free time at the end of the week. 

   The final system that is important to have in your classroom is assignment slides. These are some of my favorite things to use in the classroom. Assignment slides can help your students to stay focused and know what is expected of them for each time slot of the day. I also love to include a voice level section for my students because it helps them to know how loudly they can talk. During most parts of the day, my students are allowed to talk to each other because it allows them to talk through their thinking. This is when we see the light bulbs going off and students having their ah-ha moments. 

   There are so many different systems that you can include as part of your classroom. These are just a few that you can try. What systems are you going to try first? Tell me about it in the comments!

Monday, June 28, 2021

My Top 5 Picture Books to Celebrate Summer

    Picture books are one of my favorite ways to celebrate a holiday or season. Summer is one of my favorite times of the year and today I am going to talk about my favorite books to help celebrate summer!

    The first book on my list is "A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee." This is such a fun book and always has my students laughing out loud. This is a super fun book to kick off summer, or to read during a camping day in your classroom. 

    Ice cream is a staple for summer. I love a good scoop of ice cream and summer is my favorite time of year to eat it. "Ice Cream" by Gail Gibbons is one of my favorite books by this great author. This book goes into great detail all about ice cream and how it is made. This would be a fun book to include as part of an ice cream day in your classroom. Use the book to have students write about ice cream and what they learned from the book. How fun would it be to end the day with your students making their own ice cream sundaes? 

    Another summer staple is star gazing and visiting our Nation's National Parks. The book "Our Great Big Backyard" by our former first lady Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna Bush Hager is another favorite book. This book shares all about National Parks and what wonderful places they are to visit. I love using this book during our end of the year camping week. After using this book, my students also loved researching different national parks and sharing what they learned with their classmates. 

    This is a great book that celebrates the season of summer. It shares all the things that you can do during this fun season. I love having my students create their own bucket list for their summer. This book is always a great way to introduce that activity. 

    The last book on my favorite summer books list is "S is for S’mores: A Camping Alphabet." This series of books is one of my favorites to read to my class. These books are available on all different topics. This particular book is all about summer and camping. This is another great book to have as part of your camping week theme in your classroom. One activity that I love to have my students do with this book is create their own summer alphabet books. They really enjoy coming up with their own themes that go along with summer and creating their own books. They also love to share their books with the rest of the class. 

    Summer is such a great time to share the love of reading with your students. What are some of your favorite books to share about summer? Do you have any favorite activities to do with your favorite books? I can’t wait to hear all about them!

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

My 5 Favorite Picture Books to Teach Growth Mindset


Picture books are my favorite things to use in the classroom. I love using picture books for all different topics throughout our day. Today we are going to talk about picture books for Growth Mindset. This is a topic that is so important to teach to our students. Kids often don’t know how to have a growth mindset. They don’t understand how to change their words from “I can’t” to “I can’t yet.” 

   The first book that we are going to talk about is "Your Fantastic Elastic Brain" by JoAnn Deak Ph.D.  (Author), Sarah Ackerley (Illustrator). This book is great because it lets kids know that our brains can be stretched and grow. It teaches kids that it is ok to make mistakes. It teaches all the different ways that we can exercise our brains, just like we exercise the rest of our bodies. This book also has beautiful illustrations. This is a must-have book for your home or classroom library. 

    The next book on our list is "The Most Magnificent Thing" by Ashley Spires  (Author, Illustrator). This is a really fun book about an unnamed girl who has decided that she is going to make the most magnificent thing, but it turns out to be harder than she thought it would be. This book helps teach students that they are able to make anything they put their minds to, as long as they keep trying. I love this book for growth mindset, as well as teaching kids about STEM and maker space. 

    The next book on our list is "The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes* by  Mark Pett  (Author), and Gary Rubinstein  (Author). This is another really fun book about Beatrice Bottomwell who never made mistakes. Her town even starts to call her the girl who never made mistakes. But one day she ends up making a huge mistake in front of the whole town. By the end of the story, Beatrice and the reader realize that it is more fun to enjoy everything in life, even the mistakes. This story teaches kids that it is ok to make mistakes and that is how we learn and grow. 

    The next book on the list is "Giraffes Can’t Dance" by  Giles Andreae  (Author), and  Guy Parker-Rees  (Illustrator). This is a sweet story about Gerald the Giraffe, and he wants to learn to dance. But he has crooked knees and thin legs that make it hard for him to learn. By the end of the story, he stays persistent and keeps working towards learning to dance. I love that this story helps kids learn that they can keep working towards their goals and they can eventually reach them. This is another must-have for your classroom library. 

    The final book on my list is "Jabari Jumps" by Gaia Cornwall  (Author, Illustrator). This a great story about overcoming your fears. Jabari has been taking swimming lessons and he is finally ready to jump off the diving board. He watches as all the kids are taking their turns. His dad is close by and he squeezes Jabari’s hand to let him know he is there and cheering him on. This story captures this moment between the patient dad and the determined little boy. This is certainly a must-have for your classroom. 

  These are just a few of my favorite picture books for growth mindset.  Do you have any favorite picture books for growth mindset that you would like to share? I can’t wait to hear all about them! 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

My Top 3 Favorite Apps for Assessment in the Classroom


     Assessment is a part of teaching that just has to happen. But that does not mean that we can’t make it fun for our students. Today we are going to talk about assessment and using fun apps to help our students be excited when it’s time to take that test. I love when my students think we are just playing a game. But really, it is an assessment, and I am getting lots of data about how my students are doing. It also means less grading for me, which I love!

    The first app and website that we are going to talk about is Kahoot. Have you heard of this app before? My students love when I say we are going to play Kahoot. They think of this as a game instead of an assessment. The one thing that is a little challenging with this app is that the questions appear on the main screen at the front of the room from the teacher’s device and the students devices only have the answer choices. I usually read the questions to my students so it isn’t too much of a problem. With this app, have fun creating your own Kahoot with your own questions, or just play one that is already created from another teacher. You can use this app for any subject that you are teaching. 

    The next app is Quizizz. This is another favorite in my classroom. One thing that I love about this app is that you can assign it for independent work to your students. Each student can play the game on their own. It collects all the data on how your students did on the questions. This app can also be played as a whole class game. I love that the questions appear on the students devices as well as up on the main screen. This is a must try in your classroom!

    The final app that we are going to talk about is Quizlet. This app and website is my absolute favorite. I love that my students can practice vocabulary for any subject that we are working on. There are several different activities that students can work on to practice the content that they are learning. I have even used this app when I was studying to get a second credential.  This app also has a game version. The game for this app puts your students in groups and they work together to answer the questions. Each group gets the questions in a different order. Each student only has the answers to a few questions, rather than having all of the answers. This means that the students have to talk to each other to solve the questions so not one student can do all the work. This is a really fun app for practicing the content that is being learned so students are ready for their assessments. For this app to keep track of all your student’s data, you do have to get a premium account. But this app has so many other features that it’s ok not to have tons of data for this one. My students always beg to play this game over and over again. And I am always ok with that because it just means more and more practice for them. 

    Which one of these awesome apps are you going to give a try? Tell me in the comments which one you're most excited about! I can’t wait to hear from you!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Best Ways to Have a Great Start to your School Year

 Summer is quickly coming to an end, and school will be starting soon. Are you feeling ready to start school again? I know I am not ready; I am going to miss the relaxing time of summer! But today I am going to share with you several different ways that you can have a great start to your school year. So let’s not waste any more time and get started with the meat of our topic today! 

    One of the most important things we have to think about at the start of the school year are the procedures of the classroom. Before school starts, I like to sit in my decorated classroom and think about all the different procedures that might come up, and I make a list of every single one I can think of. I have a student-led classroom, so on the first day of school, I have my students sit down in a circle on our carpet, I ask them to think of the different procedures that might come up in our classroom, and we all start to make a list together. But I am always thinking of the list I created, and will plant seeds to procedures that I want to make sure we cover at the start of the year. The students will think of how a procedure needs to look and be done, then we’ll do lots of practice with that procedure. We’ll talk about the correct way the procedure should look, and the wrong way the procedure might look. The most important thing to do with procedures is practice, practice, practice! Also, be sure to stop at any time throughout your year and create a new procedure if something new comes up. Then be sure to practice that new procedure until it becomes second nature to your students. 


    At the start of the school year, I love to do lots of team building and STEM activities. These help the students get to know each other, and also lets you learn a lot about your students. You will quickly learn who your leaders are, and which students are going to sit back and not help very much. I love using these types of activities throughout the year, not just at the start of the year!


    Saving Fred and Gumdrop Building are a couple of my favorite activities at the start of the year. They are simple to prepare, but the students always love them! I usually spread out the different activities throughout the first week of school so the students always have fun things to look forward to, and it also helps them to continue to get to know each other. 

    The first few days of school I also like to have my students do some different All About Me activities. These are great ways for myself and all of my students to get to know each other. After the students have had time to complete the All About Me activities, I usually have everyone share their projects with the class. I never force anyone to do it, but I do always encourage students to share because it really helps everyone to learn more about each other. 

    Another great activity to have your students do is a writing sample. I love to have my students write about the goals they have for the school year. It’s fun to include a whimsical craft to go with the writing that students are working on, and it also makes a great display for the classroom at the start of the school year. This is also a great activity that can be done through a word processing program. Just find a way to have your students write in the first few days of school. This is also a great assessment to see where your students are with their writing. This writing sample can then be used to see the growth of your students throughout the school year. 


    From the very first day of the school year, I like to start doing class meetings. This is a great time for my students to share about themselves, and also share how they are feeling at different times of the year. At the start of the year, I like to have my students do a lot of “get to know you” type activities in our meetings. The beginning of the year is the time that I teach all the procedures of the meeting. As the year goes on, we are able to use our class meetings as a time to discuss things that are happening in the classroom. We can discuss good things that are happening, and we are also able to use the time to discuss challenges that are happening in the classroom. 

    The final thing that I use to make our school year great is teaching my students about our assignment slides. I use these slides at different times in our day. We have a slide for every subject that we complete in our day. I like to include the directions, as well as the materials that the students will need for the assignment. Using assignment slides keeps you from having to give directions over and over again. You are able to just refer back to the slide with all the directions. This gives the ownership back to your students and puts the responsibility back on them. This has been a wonderful addition to our daily routines, and it really helps keep me sane because I no longer have to constantly stop what I am doing and give directions again! 

    Back to school is a time that we really need to focus on building our relationships with our students. It is also a time to teach our students about our classroom rules and procedures. The start of the school year is also a great time to focus on seeing where your students are in the different subjects we teach. Today we talked about several different ways to start our year off strong. What ideas are you going to try when you return to school?

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Best Ways to give your students the power in their learning

It is looking more and more like we will be using distance learning this next year in California. What
is your state or district leaning towards? Are you nervous about going back into the classroom? Today
I am going to talk to you about giving your students the power to guide their learning this year. I have
used this system for a few years in my classroom, but it also seamlessly went into distance learning.
I am going to share with you exactly how you can implement this idea into your physical or virtual

   Twice a week my students have a designated time called POP time. This stands for Proof of
Proficiency. My students use their data to drive what standards they need to continue to work on.
While students are working on their POP’s, I am also working with small groups that need to focus
on specific skills. I did this whole process in the classroom, but it can also be done during distance
learning. The students can work on this independently. This can even be used instead of the math
curriculum during distance learning. Ok, so let's jump right into the meat of the topic! 

   The first thing to think about is how are you going to have your students look at their data. I use
a data folder. It includes every standard for the subject in that grade level. When the students get an
assignment back for each standard that is an 80% or higher, they put a checkmark on the standard.
When the student gets two POP’s, they bring their folder to me and I check off that they have mastered
the standard. At the start of POP time each day, the students open their data folder and choose a
standard that does not have two checks yet. This is all done with student choice. The thing I love about
student choice is that it creates buy-in with the students. They love getting to choose and having a
say in what they are going to work on. 

   Now that the students have chosen the standard that they are going to work on, they go to the class
POP chart in their Google Classroom. This is a document with links that I share with the class. I embed
the links right into the picture of the video or the activity.  The document has three to four columns. The
first column is just the standard written out. The next column has a video re-teaching the standard for
the students. Sometimes I use a video that is already created, like Khan Academy, or if I am not able
to find what I want, I will create a video of the content myself using a screencast program. The students
are able to watch the video as many times as they need. I love that they can go back and refresh their
minds when they get stuck. The third column has an activity for the students to practice, and if I use
a fourth column, I embed a Google Forms quiz for the students to take. I don’t always use the last
column because sometimes it is best if I assign the quiz when they are ready. It also lets me monitor
how long they were practicing the skill, as well as how they were doing on the practice. 

    After the students have watched the video and feel like they are understanding the standard they are working on, they start to practice the standard. I do this in a few different ways. Sometimes I find a game that does a great job of explaining the content, sometimes I use practice that is already created, like from Khan Academy or Zearn, and sometimes I create the content myself. There are even times that a standard is challenging for the students and I will include two or three different activities to make sure the students have had plenty of practice with the standard. There are many times that the students will stop what they are doing and rewatch a video to make sure they are doing the standard correctly.

   The final section of the POP chart is the quiz. The students can choose when they want to take the
quiz for the standard they are working on. When they feel they have practiced and know how to do the
standard, they can click on the quiz on their own or the teacher can assign it to them in Google
Classroom. I love that Google Classroom lets you assign things to small groups of students. I have
three different versions of the quiz based on the level of the students. Level A is for my high students,
level B is for the average students, and level C is for the low students. I can always assign different
quizzes based on if students need to take the quiz a second or third time. The order of the questions
in forms can also be changed around so the students are not just memorizing the questions. If I see
that a student is starting to really understand the standard they are working on, I can move them up
to different quizzes. 

       Now that the students have taken the quiz, they can immediately see their score. This is one thing
that I love about Google Forms. The creator can include the answers so the students can get instant
feedback on how they did. Once they click on “View Score,” they can see what their score was. Also
if the teacher is using a Google Gradebook, the score feeds right into the grade book. There is no
having to input grades after the assignments have been completed. So this saves tons of time for the
teacher also! 

   If the students got any of the questions wrong, they can immediately see what they got wrong. They
can also use that information to check their work and see if it was a simple mistake, or if it was
something they didn’t understand. If they got a three or four on the quiz, they have passed the standard
and can move onto a new standard. If they did not pass, they can go back and do more practice and
then take the quiz again. This is where giving a different quiz comes into play. 

   Using POP charts is a great way for students to practice and master their standards. I love seeing
the students take ownership of their learning. Is this something that you are going to try in your
classroom? Is there anything that you are not sure how to do to implement into your classroom? How
can I continue to help you? Thank you for stopping in, and have a great day!


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