Friday, July 31, 2015


This summer I participated in a FaceBook study group of Angela Watson's latest book Unshakeable. I have really followed Angela for her entire career almost, back when she was Miss Powell and had a tiny little website. While I was student teaching and then into my first years in the classroom and now as I prepare to enter my 10th year in the classroom, I've followed her and her work.

Two summers ago, I read Awakened and did a book study on that as well. One thing I appreciate the most about Angela is that she's real--she isn't afraid to say, "you know what, I used to be like this too!" You can't get much more real than that.

Unshakeable is a book that shows you ways to be more mindful of your own thinking to make teaching truly enjoyable all the time. I don't fancy myself pessimistic necessarily, but I do think that with the ever-changing tide in the educational realm, we need voices like Angela's to show us that we ARE professional, we ARE worth it and we do know what we are doing. It is way too easy to fall into a negative, complaining trap that steals away the real reason why most of us went into the profession.

We did a chapter per day (Monday-Friday) beginning July 5 and ending today. Many groups have spawned from the Unshakeable Book Club (ie I am now part of a third grade group and a group for teachers of ELLs that came from the original group). It's quite powerful to connect with people you've never met and realize that you do all have similar issues and concerns even if you are across the country (or the world!) from each other. 

It is not a secret that last year was a major disaster for me. I didn't write about it a lot here on the blog because a) I couldn't change the situation, b) I know there are people in my district who read my blog sometimes and c) it wasn't productive or helpful to complain about the situation I couldn't do anything about. The first month of the school year last year was brilliant--I had 16 students and we moved along like clockwork. It was absolutely beautiful. Alas, we lost a teacher and I gained 7 students who had not done a single academic anything in that first month of school (and several of whom were severe behavior challenges) and the rest of the year was very difficult. I had a revolving door (14 new students from October to December) and my "team" was not a team at all.

I can not tell you how many times I wanted to just walk out one day and not go back. I was tired of being the one that everyone looked at to solve all of the problems in our grade. Thank God for my resource team (resource teacher for my grade, our social worker and speech pathologist)...they saved my sanity, truly. If it hadn't been for them, I probably really would have just quit one day. 

Fast forward to now. I get moved to 3rd because I was adamant that I couldn't bear a repeat of this past year in 4th grade. I LOVE 4th grade, I do, but something needed to change. Then my 3rd grade partner quit. She is having her first baby so I certainly do not blame her for wanting to be at home with her new baby! But this means that there is uncertainty with my grade level partner again. We got three new teachers to our school last year and it was not always good. I fear that will happen again. I have had some serious anxiety this past week since it was let slip to me last weekend that these jobs had already been filled internally. This late in the game that is usually not a very good sign. 

Thus, yesterday I was at the lake with The Littles. And the information from Unshakeable kept running through my head. And I came to a conclusion. It really isn't my problem if my grade level parter is awesome....or isn't. Last year, they weren't. And these two people both had well more experience than I do (35 and 27 years respectively). I care about kids. It is as simple as that. My mouth has gotten me in trouble standing up for kids before and I'm good with that--I will challenge you if I think that you are doing something that does not benefit children. I won't apologize for it either. Many people don't like me for that reason. Quite honestly, it doesn't bother me a single bit. I figure if you don't like me, it has much more to do with you than it does to do with me.

That said, I AM going to be Unshakeable this year. Hopefully my grade level partner rocks and we get along amazingly well and she pulls her weight. Alas, in the event that doesn't happen, as was the case last year, it isn't my issue. I will take care of my students and do what is right for them. As much as I do care about the success of all of the children, I can't drive myself insane trying to carry an entire team again. It is something I absolutely refuse to ever do again. 

I have made many notes and highlights reading through this book study and many people have shared quotes and other memes they have found that truly highlight what the book is talking about. That's my goal this year--to take care of me. I have my own students, my own kids at home, and grad school that I need to be able to focus on. I can't do someone else's job for them. I'm more than happy to offer advice and whatnot if needed but it is not my job to teach someone with more years experience than I have how to be effective in their job. 

I know that mindset is going to stop on some toes this year. I'm prepared for that. I have to keep Raye happy....and frankly, last year I wasn't. I spent so much of my time worrying about what the other 4th graders were getting from their education. I can not control what other people do. Thus, I am choosing to let it go. I am going to focus upon my own students, my own goals and determine what we need to do in order to have the best year ever in 3rd grade. 

Period. :)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Birthday Nefariousness

Yes I did just make up the word nefariousness. Today is my hunny's 44th birthday. Last week while driving around with the girls we passed his work and Middle Child said "oh there's dad's car" and I got the idea that for his birthday, we needed to do something silly. Like decorate his car with birthday stuff  (he works for AT&T and just parks at the garage and then is out in the field all day).

So today we blew up some balloons and headed over there. I'm astounded no one came out of the building and asked us what the heck we were doing ;) He told me when he got home that a coworker had text him around 2 pm and said "someone really likes you....or not" and he was wondering what my dastardly plan was.

Here's the inside of his car....full of balloons! We also put paper streamers on the windows. On the windshield is a huge banner that says "Happy Birthday" 

Fortunately he has a sense of humor and thought it was funny ;) 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The {New} Erin Condren Teacher Stuff!

Oh my goodness gracious.

So, in May during Teacher Appreciation, I took full advantage of the sale at to purchase my super fun and awesome teacher planner for next year.

 How can you not LOVE this Sea Horse? Seriously??

I also shared a few things I did to some of the inside pages such as this one where I created a "Pins" and "Projects" space on the extra notes pages for each month and also added a "Reflections" section at the bottom to help me stay positive and look toward the future.

And this fun hack where you mark the end of the lesson plan pages to help you keep track of the marking period (super useful if you have standards you need to make sure you get a couple more assessments in for before report cards -- plus who doesn't love those super fun purple washis??)

And my super hack for utilizing the Absentee Log that I knew I would never in a trazillion years ever use. (And I am just amazed that this little video has almost 600 views on it!)

So with all of this fabulousness that I have already done, you'd think that I couldn't handle anymore, right??

WRONG! :) 

I'm minding my own business one day and BAM! I get an email from telling me the NEW teacher planners are, awesome, yay. I already have one so no big deal, right??


Oh my gracious. Check this OUT.


I want it all! All of it. Now, yesterday, two weeks ago! Wow. Good stuff. 

Even though I totally have my planner already, I am SO getting some of the new stuff. It is just too fabulous for words.

What're you waiting for?? YOU can get 25% off through July 19 (that's Sunday!) using the code TEACH25 at checkout. But you can also save $10 on your first purchase by following this referral link. You will LOVE your purchase, I promise you. I was so skeptical the first year I bought one but I was wow'd, big time. I know you will be too :)

{Edited to add: Since I'm a self-professed geek....I did the math. If you only got the Teacher Planner, you'd save just under $15 on it with the coupon the $10 referral credit. So not including shipping, your planner goes from $59 at base price to just over $34. That's not bad at all!}

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

CRAFT for Cafe for Reading

That's not a very clear title, is it? :) 

Before I begin, let me just say how ASTOUNDED I am at people talking about actually going back to in like, they have to be back in two weeks (or less). What the what?? I'm currently enjoying my sixth week of summer vacation and (don't kill me), I have six more weeks before I have to show up on August 28. {I have trainings on Aug 3-4 and 18-19 but those are things I volunteered to do so if I wasn't doing them....August 28 would be the first day I had to report for school this fall.} It boggles my mind that people are already going back....of course, I'm also certain these people have been out since mid-May but still. It's SO weird to me.

Anyway, on with the point of this post :) As I mentioned previously, I am absolutely adamant that I will use the Daily 5 format with CAFE this coming year. I have put it off long enough and I'm just going to do it. I can kind of take advantage of the fact that I don't know who my partner is and there is a 99.9% chance this person will be a first year teacher....thus I can do whatever I want and just guide him/her to be the best they can be. I don't have to settle for someone else's idea of what we should do. 

That said, I decided I should begin to prepare for this so that I won't chicken out and make excuses to not do it. I REALLY am digging the idea of the schedule I mentioned in the previous post. It obviously won't occur the 2nd day of school or anything but I know that with hard work and building our stamina I can have kids in groups (and fall MAP testing done so I have some baseline info on my students) by the beginning of October and they should be ready for the full schedule by then. I'm excited about it and am very glad I mapped it out for myself -- even if it will inevitably change -- because it makes it seem like something I can tackle. It also helps that I have a student teacher this fall that I can bounce these ideas off of and get her perspective on tweaks as I make the plunge into it. (I'm fairly certain I will be kicking myself by November for not implementing this framework in years past.)

Many years ago, Kristen at LadyBug's Teacher Files modified the CAFE system to spell CRAFT (you can read about it here). I know I got this file a million years ago because it doesn't even look the same anymore ;) Anywho, I found the file that I had downloaded oh-so-long ago and printed them out and used my circle cutter to cut them into perfect circles.

I thought I'd be slick and put them up on the spare wall at home in my office to check on how big of a space I'd need in my you can see, I totally don't have room on this wall :) I am not going to be able to use a bulletin board because mine aren't big enough to hold all of the cards that tell what each letter stands for!

Fortunately it is not a total disaster. My room this fall will be my old 2nd grade room and I plan to put my small group table in the same spot as in this picture below.
See where that black cabinet is? I will create a makeshift bulletin board there (with a black tablecloth and borders pinned up) and put the CRAFT board there. It actually will be super smart because I want the kids to really use the strategies while they are at the table with me (since ideally I will confer with kids the last few minutes of their group work each time we meet) but it will still be visible from the rest of the room. Plus right to the right of this space will be where our whole group gathering area is so this wall is the ideal place to put it. {And thank the Lord that last year I bought some wonderful fabric to cover those shelves because looking at this sort of thing drives me insane! This picture was setting up for the year which is why it is such a mess.}

I am excited. I have a plan. I WILL execute this plan this year.

But first....I am going to spend most of the next six weeks being on summer vacation. I don't want to do too much work until mid-August just in case anything crazy happens with the work situation. It has happened before and while I am confident that it won't change, I am being a bit cautious just in case.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Integrating Daily 5 with Reading Street: A Plan

Ever since I found out I was moving to 3rd grade for this fall, I have had ideas swirling in my head about how best to tackle literacy instruction. 3rd grade has, historically, struggled in our district to make the gains needed to get and keep kiddos on level for the next grade. It is utterly absurd to assume that means every 3rd grade teacher we have is incompetent because that isn't true. We have very hard working teachers in our district for the most part. But I know for me this means I have to do things a bit differently than I have done working with bigger kids.

For many years I have really wanted to give Daily 5 a whirl but I have always found a reason to resist it. I don't know why. Maybe I'm just deep-down-honest-to-goodness afraid of giving up that level of control. Alas, I think this is going to be the year I have to kick myself in the pants and just make it happen. We use Reading Street and for a long time I really felt tied to what the "5 day Plan" our district created told me to do. Partly because I knew this was going to be something my principal would look at when I was being observed but also because I didn't feel confident enough to really make the call to go outside of what I was told to do.

I'm not afraid to break the mold anymore. Not because I am just a big brat (although I kind of am), but because I feel confident enough in my own teaching ability to know what is right for my kids and for me. I want to move as much away from whole group teaching as I can. I really think if I can focus the vast majority of my teaching day on small group instruction, I am going to get better results and have happier, more engaged kids. 

I will still use several aspects of Reading Street that I really think help me see if my students are making progress on the skills I am teaching them but I want to try to integrate those things into the Daily 5 process. There are some skill based sheets in the Readers Writers Notebook that comes with the series that I like to use with my kids to really focus in on skill building which I can utilize in my small groups along with phonics work and other authentic reading strategy work. Plus, one thing I was thinking since I'm reading the 2nd edition (which is SO much better than the original book) is that I can utilize the whole group focus lesson times for a combination of shared reading, word work /grammar and CAFE lessons. I am actually keeping a list of ideas going in my home office as I think of them so I'm ready to really dig in once I start actual lesson planning for the year (which won't happen until I have a schedule of my specials, recess and lunch times). 

I think I will use a Daily 3 format with 3 rounds, one of which has to be Read to Self. Two days per week the kids will utilize Read to Someone to do focused reading in our leveled readers and two days per week they will do grammar/word work. My low groups would meet with the teacher four times and the high intermediate and high kids would meet with the teacher three times each week. This setup would ideally allow the kids to have 1-2 "extra" rounds each week to practice in an area they feel they need more work or to catch up on something if they were absent or were pulled out for something. The schedule itself will be worked out once I have kids and have been able to do some initial testing to place them in groups. (Writing is not included because it would be in a separate writing block entirely.) 

In the 2nd edition of the Daily Five, they emphasize not going over 10 minutes in the whole group focus lessons. I think this is a great reminder because sometimes *I* have trouble focusing longer than that if I haven't had some movement or a shift in thinking to keep me engaged. I want to utilize the videos that come with Reading Street for the introduction to the weekly skills and story and they are very short and would fit into this format. 

Tenatively (very tentatively) I am thinking of something like this:

R1: Concept Talk & Envision it background videos (6-8 minutes total)
R2: Grammar Jammar video & vocabulary activity
R3: Fresh Read mini-lesson on the weekly reading strategy

R1: Spelling pattern activity
R2: Grammar activity (on chart paper whole group)
R3: Skill lesson activity (on chart paper or overhead)

R1: Grammar activity
R2: Cafe lesson
R3: Cafe lesson

R1: Spelling pattern activity
R2: cafe lesson
R3: cafe lesson

R1: Grammar activity
R2: Cafe lesson
R3: Cafe lesson

It is a huge work in progress but I like this format because a) I can utilize areas of Reading Street that I think do really help me focus my instruction on what kids are expected to know (and will be tested on at the end of the week) and b) there is a nice balance between the lesson areas from RS and the CAFE lessons that just support kids as readers. Sometimes I have felt in the past that I didn't have enough time to really help my kids focus in on the grammar skills that are sooooo important. If I can make this sort of schedule work, it will allow me to reinforce those grammar concepts in our writing block later and the kids are really getting double dipped on it without realizing that's what we are doing. 

I am also thinking of how I would best utilize my small group time. I do not want to use the leveled readers in my small groups because I have another strategy I have used with those before that I'd like to use again (that's a post for another day!). Instead, what I really want to do is take the main story selection into my small group time and then focus on the skill and strategy concepts within the group. I am not a huge worksheet kind of teacher BUT I do really like the skill and strategy pages that Reading Street has for two reasons 1) the texts are short so my low kids don't get overwhelmed and my high kids can really focus on a set skill without worry of overanalyzing and 2) the texts usually go along with the main story but with different characters which helps boost comprehension as it is almost like paired reading selections. 

In my perfect teaching life, I will have 4 groups: 1 low, 1 low-medium, 1 medium-high and 1 high. Of course I realize it won't split super evenly like that but it would be ideal. It wouldn't surprise me to start with 2 "low" groups either with summer slide and all of that. What I'm thinking right now is that my low and low-medium groups would see me four times per week as those are the students who are going to need to have more face-to-face time. My medium-high and high kids are going to see me 3 times per week. 

The medium-high and high kids would read the story with me in small group one day and then the other two days would utilize the skill/strategy worksheets and/or grammar/spelling focus sheets to provide focused teaching where I can quickly assess their understanding but also correct misconceptions. The low and low-medium kiddos would have the same types of set up but we would spend 2 days on the actual story reading to help scaffold their reading and provide the front load those friends are more likely to need.

I'm quite honestly terrified and thrilled to be considering this format. I think it will be much more engaging for the kids as they will have focused things they can choose to work on in their Daily 3 and I am not going to be spending my time trying to reign in kids who have lost their focus. I've got some more brainstorming to do on this for sure, but once I get into my school and have my hands on my materials (not to mention know who my teaching partner is and can plan with him/her!) I am looking forward to really refining what this will look like and tweaking it from what it looks like in my brain to how it will really work with children to make them into amazingly awesome readers. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Currently {July 2015}

How is it JULY?? Where did June go? Seriously. My mom told me once when I was younger that the days/years would just fly by the older that I got. I thought she was crazy....but it's so true! Of course, if you really consider how our entire lives are just a blink in the universe, it also puts things into perspective. 

Listening: The youngest is bashing monsters (or creepers or whatever they are called) in Minecraft and I keep hearing them screech as they die. (Nice, right? lol)

Loving: I AM loving being on summer break. No worries, no cares, just being. It's amazing.

Thinking: You's now July. That means I'd like some summer weather (you listening Mother Nature?). We've had a few hot days here in June but not much. Almost every weekend this summer so far as been cold and/or rainy. We want to go to the beach already! So warm up, would ya? :)

Wanting: My teaching partner in 3rd grade quit last week. She is due with her first baby in October and I long suspected that she would not come back. Due to the awful transition I had this past year, I really want my district to hire my former student teacher into that job....her and I would kick 3rd grade's butt together. I need someone I can teach with who isn't going to leave me hanging.

Needing: My new grad class started this week and I've got some homework I need to finish up if I want to be able to enjoy my holiday weekend! 

All Star: People always come to me with their problems or issues, usually just to vent, not because they want me to fix it. I just listen and let them get it out because we all need to do that sometimes. If they want my advice, I give it but usually I just listen and affirm their feelings. It's amazing how far that takes you in life.