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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!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The best ways to help morning meetings run smoothly this year

Have you ever tried class meetings in your classroom? Do you wonder how to make the most of them?
Morning meetings and closing circles have become a staple in our classroom. This is a time that my
students look forward to each morning and afternoon. It is also a time of day that I get to just sit back
and appreciate my students because they lead the class meetings. You are probably asking, “How does
she do that?” Well let me tell you, it does take some training at the beginning of the year, but you can do
it this year too! It can even be done with distance learning.  Sit back and relax, as I tell you all about
how I run our class meetings each day. 

   The first thing you are going to want to do is research what the different parts of the class meetings
are. At the bottom you’re going to be able to download my class meetings packet, so don’t worry, it will
all be there for you. After some research, you are going to want to let the parents of your class know
what you are planning to do. I have also included a letter to parents or guardians to help you out. The
letter should explain what the parts of the meeting are, and how you plan to run them in your classroom.
The letter will also give directions to the parents explaining how the students will participate in the

   For the first month or so of school, I lead the meetings. This allows me to teach the students how the
meetings are run. We always start the meeting with a greeting. This is a time for the students to say Hi
to their classmates. They love getting to go around the room and say Hi to their friends. After the
greeting, I ask a “getting to know you” question. The question lets us all learn a little more about each
other. When we are not in the middle of a pandemic, I have the students sit in a circle around the
carpet. But this next year we will stay seated at our desks, and our greetings will include social
distancing. I will have the students give air hugs, air high fives, and waves to each other. Then I will
let them walk to one or two friends, remembering social distancing, and give their greeting. Then, all
of the students will return to their seats. I will have the students answer our question for the day from
their seats. 

   If you will be starting with distance learning, class meetings can still be a part of your day. You can
have the students take turns giving their greetings and answering their questions while you are on your
meeting platform. The students will love being able to share, and also seeing their classmates. 

   Eventually, you can choose a student leader and decide if you will have the student lead each day,
or for the whole week. I have included two different planning sheets for you. Each of the sheets have
each part of the meeting. The students will use the provided greetings and questions to decide what they
would like to include for that day. Sometimes students like to come up with their own greeting or
question, and I am fine with that. I like to give the forms to the students a week or two before their
scheduled time to lead. This gives them plenty of time to decide what greeting and question they want
to use, and it also gives me time to review what they want to include. I am also able to check if the
greetings and questions they came up with are appropriate. 


   The last thing that I do to get ready for our daily meetings is use slides to give the agenda for the day.
I type in the questions that the students want to use for each day right into the slide. This lets all the
other students know what the question is and lets them start thinking about how they would like to
answer. Now I never force anyone to answer the question. They can always say pass and we move
on to the next person. I like to come back around and let the students that didn’t answer have another
opportunity, or for others to add on to their answer based on what other students had to say. I usually
have some type of object that acts as our talking stick. At the beginning of the year, we talk about using
the talking stick and how you must be holding it to speak. So we do a lot of practicing with the talking
stick and raising our hand to be handed the talking stick in order to respond to the question, or add
on to another student's answer. It takes a little bit of time for the students to get used to using the talking
stick, but once they get the hang of it, it works out great! 

   Class meetings are an excellent way to get to know your students and learn more about them. The
students love to learn about one another as well. Every year this quickly becomes one of our favorite
times of the day. I know things are going to look different this next year, but we can still use class
meetings to build community in our class. If you would like to give morning meetings a try, click below
to get your free sample to try it out! 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

10 of the Best Picture Books for the First Week of School

I love using picture books to introduce new concepts in my classroom. The beginning of the
year is one of my favorite times to use picture books. There are so many great books to help
students understand the classroom culture and procedures. Today I am going to share some
of my favorite picture books to read at the start of the school year. 

    This first book is one of my favorite books to read on the first day of school. I love seeing
all the different cultures in this book. I also love that this book allows us to discuss that
everyone is welcome in our classroom and everyone will be encouraged. I want my students
to know that I will not tolerate mean behavior towards others. This is a book that I bring out
often throughout the year when we need to revisit the lesson that we are all welcome in the

   The next book is a brand new book, but it is a great one! This will certainly be part of my
first day of school books. One of the things I talk to my students about on the first day of
school is that we are a family. We talk about how we don’t always agree with our moms and
dads and siblings, but we still love them and would do anything for them. This book will make
a perfect addition to your first day of school books to talk about being a family. 

   The next book that I always read on the first day of school is First Day Jitters. This is a great
one for the first day because students are always nervous on the first day, and this book helps
them to know it is ok to feel that way. This book helps to calm those nerves and lets them
know it is going to be a great year. 

   This next book is a great one for the first week as well. It really helps the students
understand that we are all unique and that is to be celebrated! I love the message that this
book shares. It is a great one to add to your library shelves. 

   This next book is a great one for helping students to understand growth mindset. We all know
that we make mistakes, and that is ok. This book helps students to realize that also. I know
that I have had a lot of perfectionist students in the past. I mean heck, I can even be a
perfectionist at times. So this book really helps students to understand that it is ok to make
mistakes and to keep trying until you get it right. This is a must to include in your library! 

   This is another great book for your library. I love to read this book at the start of school to
help my students understand what kind of teacher I am. This book helps me show my students
that I care for them and want the best for them. 

      This is another newer book that I just learned about. It is a great picture book for right now
with distance learning. This book talks about students who are learning at home. It also
explains different strategies that children can use to calm their emotions. That is definitely
something we need to be talking to our students about right now. Their emotions are all over
the place and we need to help them understand it is ok, and how they can help themselves
through it.  

   The next book on my list of favorites is Do Unto Otters. It uses animals to talk about
manners. This is a great book to discuss doing to others what you would want to do to you.
This is definitely a lesson that needs to be taught at the start of the year. Sometimes I feel
like students forget their manners when they have been home for a couple months and are
just starting back to school. And this year they have been home and away from their
classmates for a really long time. So we need to make sure we are covering this lesson when
we return. I love using this book to help students understand how we should be treating others.
The kids also love seeing all the different animals that are used also! 

   This is a new book that I just learned about. How many of you have students that love
to be the first one done, then you look at their work and none of the answers are correct?
This book will help them to understand that it is not always the best to be done first. It will help
teach them to slow down. I can’t wait to introduce this book to my students in the Fall and
help them care a little more about the work that they are turning in. 

   This last book on my list is probably one of my all time favorites. I bring this book out at
all different times of the year when we need to revisit being kind. I feel like this is a lesson that
needs to be taught often, so I use this book a lot to revisit the lesson. This is a great book that
talks about acts of kindness. I love introducing the idea of random acts of kindness to the
class using this book. This book certainly needs to be on your list for your library. Your students
will love this one!

   Picture books are my favorite way to introduce ideas and topics to my class. What are some
of your favorite back to school books? I can’t wait to hear all about them and add them to my
list too. Let me know in the comments what some of your favorite books are! 


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