Thursday, October 30, 2014

Parent Communication

Minds in Bloom Presents Tasia Fields is an educator and blogger behind Great Minds Teach Alike with her favorite tools for keeping in touch with parents. Enjoy!    

 Lets face it, with all the responsibilities of being an educator, communicating with parents usually falls to the bottom of the bottomless list of things a teacher has to do. I've found that with the use of social networks, Class Dojo, and weekly newsletters. These quick and easy tools makes it easy for me to not only communicate with parents but maintain that communication regularly. That's right, my parents are informed and updated regularly on what we are learning, projects done in class, and what's happening with the school and behavior in our classroom! Here how!

Create a Class Social Network Page
Facebook, twitter, Pinterest etc. It's here to stay, even if they do fizzle out I'm sure it will be because they were replaced with a cooler, faster and more advanced social networking experience. More and more districts are unblocking these sites. Everyone is connected to a social networking site and if you are reading this and you're not on one, join immediately. LOL! Facebook, Twitter or Instagram is the one thing that most if not ALL of your parents will have access to. Why not use it as a tool for education?

Did you know you can create a class page on any of these sites and regularly post information for your parents to see? Twitter limits you to 140 characters and Instagram requires you to use a photo. The options are endless with social media. You can post videos, reminders, photo's of student work etc. all at the hands of your cell phone or handheld wireless device. I created class page on Facebook a year ago and I get nothing but positive responses from parents and students about the ease of being able to contact me. Check out my class page here.

Many teachers are worried about legalities of posting student photos or anything in school. I created a Facebook Photo Release Form and have parents sign it at the beginning of the year. Just remember to try not to post anything with personal info displayed. All of these sights can be used to can keep families informed about your day to day activities and provide a interactive forum for communicating. I'm an advocate for using social media as a classroom tool. It serves as a window to your classroom for the world to view. Embrace it and make it work for you, your parents will love it! Still not convinced? Read this article that gives you 100 Ways to Use Facebook in Your Classroom.

Use a Text Messaging App

Now you can easily send out a quick message in the form of a text message to one or all of your students without worrying about your personal phone number getting out. I use Class Dojo in my classroom along with their messenger app. This is ideal because Class Dojo allows parents to see their students behavior data earned throughout the day but it also allows them to contact you. The app is available for download on any network.

You can also try Remind it is another messenger tool for teachers to use to connect with parents easily via text messaging. I prefer the Class Dojo combo because parents are getting access to more information in one place. Think about how easy it will be to send out a good news text to all parents about something great your students are doing well. Did I mention you can even attach photos to your messages? Parents love to hear good news and teachers can be so busy that we it seems like we only have time to contact them for bad news. These text messaging tools are great and there are even more out there for you to try!

Regular Newsletter

A simple newsletter or teacher written note is personal and can still be the most practical way of maintaing parent communication. I also practice this in my classroom. I find that homework packets are easier so I attach a weekly newsletter with each packet every week. My newsletter includes a short message about what's going on in our class, reminders, spelling list and my contact info that includes the link to our class Facebook page. I use a newsletter template and it takes me no more than 15 minutes to do each week.

You can create your templates or find them on Teachers Pay Teachers. It's important to develop a schedule for how often you will send out your newsletter so that it becomes something parents will expect. Once a month, quarterly, weekly, whatever works best for you. If you teach in a high ESL area you may want to collaborate with someone so that your newsletter can be translated. Thank you so much for reading and your "teach away" is to remember that regular communication is key when establishing and maintaining a partnership with parents while bridging the gap between home and school!  
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Meet the Author
Tasia Fields is an educator and new blogger that resides and teaches outside of Chicago IL. She is single mother and a passionate teacher. She is the founder of Great Minds TEACH Alike. She has been teaching for 5 years and holds a Masters Degree in Education. Education is her passion and she truly enjoys collaborating and sharing her ideas and knowledge with teachers from across the world.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Teach Your Students to Set Their Own Learning Goals and Boost Learning

Minds in Bloom is happy to present Jen Bradshaw, the author of with her inspiring and informative post. We know you'll find it useful!
Teach your students to set their own goals.
Boost learning by teaching students to set their own goals.
For the past six years I have had the opportunity to be a Literacy Coach and RtI {Response to Intervention} Specialist on a Kinder through fifth grade elementary campus.  I was put into that position six years ago because the concept of RtI was new to our campus and school district.   We were on a HUGE learning curve with looking at data, planning interventions, and actually helping our students to grow as learners.  I learned a great deal about what to do and what NOT to do to help our kiddos make progress.
Teach your students to set their own goals.
There were assessments, documentation, paperwork, data meetings, trainings, the list goes on and on.  We were seeing some growth with the strategies we had in place, but something was missing.  I was responsible for all of these teachers and students and I was working really hard to make a change on my campus.  Still, something was still missing. After five years of new documentation paperwork {every year}, changing the way we organized the data meetings, and constant professional development, I wanted to try something new. Something that would be a game changer.   
Teach your students to set their own goals.
As teachers, we want our kiddos to think for themselves, be excited about their own learning, and celebrate their accomplishments.  I started thinking...  What works for me? How do I learn best?  What makes me a better Literacy Coach?   Just like when I was a classroom teacher, I provided the best instruction when I planned the lessons myself, not when muddling through someone else's lesson plans.    I started with just one student when I began this goal setting process.  The student and I met daily to practice reading and thinking strategies before the school day even started.  Due to my responsibilities on campus, before school was the only free time I had, fortunately it really set up the student for a successful day, so it was a win, win situation for the both of us.  We worked for months and while I was seeing some growth, it just wasn't enough.
Teach your students to set their own goals.
Students must take ownership of their own learning.
Through a great deal of reflection, I was beginning to realize that my student had to take ownership for his own learning, look at where he really was academically, set his own goals, make a reasonable plan for himself, document his own growth, and celebrate his successes! 
Teach your students to set their own goals.
Goal setting process
After more trial and error than I would like to admit, here is the basic process that worked best for us:
  • Look at the data with your student:  At first, this one was difficult for me because I didn't want my student to feel bad.  Together with the student, we studied the actual state-based assessment results and the latest classroom assessments.  Your student needs to see for themselves where they fall as a learner and where most students should be at that time during the school year.  My student was actually surprised that he had done so poorly in certain categories.  

  • Guide them to set their own goals:  It is very tempting, but try not to tell them what their goals should be, let them see what they need for themselves and verbalize it.  Now with that being said, you should have your own set of goals for each student.  Your goals and the student's goals will mesh, but may not be exactly the same.  Tip:  I encourage my students to set only one to three goals at a time.  Too many goals at once will be overwhelming.  You must also consider what kind of goals your student should set.  Should your student set very specific performance goals?  For example:  I will read 100 words per minute by the end of the six weeks.  Or, should your student set study habit goals?  For example:  I will read more challenging books for 45 minutes each night.  I have tried doing both kind of goals with my students.  What I discovered was that more progress was actually made when we set study habit goals, but I think it depends on the student, the needs, and possibly the student's grade level.

Set one to two goals with your students.
  • Teach them how to make a plan:  This is one step where they will need a great deal of guidance, your students will likely struggle with knowing how to make a plan.  After you go through this whole process with them several times, it will get easier.  Here are some questions you may want to ask your students to help guide them in the right direction:

      • Why did you choose that particular goal?
      • What can you do to achieve your goals?
      • Is there anything you can do during class to learn better?
      • Is there anything you can do at home?
      • Have you learned any strategies in class that could help?
      • What do you notice about other students that are doing well?
      • What skills are you already good at doing?
  • Provide your student with some type of personal tracking system: The data tracking can be done on paper or digitally, but make sure that the student is the one that is physically documenting the progress.  This will help them to make that connection between all the work they have been doing and the progress they are making.  Being able to see the progress in black and white is powerful!  If students don't see that there is a payoff for all their hard work, many struggling students tend to shut down.  If you click here, you can get a free copy of the paperwork I used with my students. 
Teach your students how to set goals for themselves.
Get your FREE SMILE Goal Kit here.
  • Celebrate the successes:  This is such an important step!  Your kiddos need to recognize how far they have come and celebrate their hard work.  What worked for my student was allowing him to call home and tell his family the great news.  I have found that "prizes" work far less than being able to tell another person they look up to that they are doing well and meeting their goals.  If your student doesn't have a strong support at home you could try prior teachers, school secretary, principal, custodian, librarian......  Our campus wasn't there yet, but if you have a mentor program at your school, I would definitely find a way to use it with this process.
Wanting to find a way to make this whole process easier on my student, I came up with the following SMILE acronym, SMILE folder, and the documentation forms as well. 
Teach your students to set their own goals.
After a great deal of hard work, my student moved up 6 reading levels and passed his state testing with flying colors!  :)  He was so proud of himself and I was even prouder.   
Here are a few final thoughts that I would like for you to consider before encouraging your students to set their own learning goals:
  • What assessments will you use to review with your student?
  • How often will you meet with your student to review the learning goals?
      • weekly
      • bi-weekly
      • end of six weeks
      • end of semester
      • end of year
  • How many goals will you suggest that your student set?
  • Will your student benefit more from setting performance or study goals?
  • What paperwork or documentation will you use with your student?  I have a free set that may work for you and your student, click here to get your copy.
  • What will you do if your student is not making an appropriate amount of progress?
  • Will you involve the parents?  If so, how?
  • How will your student celebrate their successes?  Will you have them call home, send special notes home, have them visit the principal, eat lunch with a special friend, etc.?
I hope this article helps you to create a plan of action for helping your students to create their own learning goals.  Please click {here} to get your FREE copy of the SMILE Goal Setting Kit.

Jen Bradshaw author of educational blog:
Jen Bradshaw is the author of has worked in education for the past 17 years.  She has had the honor of teaching first, second, third, and fourth grade.  For the past six years, Jen has been working as a Literacy Coach and RtI {Response to Intervention} Specialist on a Kinder - 5th grade elementary campus.  Jen is currently providing professional development and literacy coaching for various school districts in Texas, as well as creating and selling teaching products.  You can check out her TpT store, Teacher Karma {here}.
Clip art credits:
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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Introduction to CHAMPS

Minds in Bloom presents Literacy Without Worksheets with their post on classroom management. Enjoy!
Classroom management can be one of the most challenging aspects of teaching.  As teaching becomes more stressful with increased accountability standards and high-stakes testing, a well-managed classroom is key to maximizing student learning opportunities.  The more time teachers have to spend correcting behaviors and getting students’ attention, the less time students have to learn (and this leads to very stressed out teachers)!
To maintain my sanity, I am sold on CHAMPS for classroom management.  It is a positive and proactive approach.  Just like you plan lessons to teach a learning target, CHAMPS allows you to teach behavior expectations throughout the school day.  However, I must point out that CHAMPS is just ONE component that I use. 

I still have classroom rules.  For example, #1 is Keep the Dear Teacher Happy :)

I still have consequences if students do not follow the classroom rules. 
I still provide incentives (money for the school store, popcorn parties, extra recess, bring your favorite stuffed animal to school, Fun Friday, etc).

I also have an attention signal.  I use this when I want everyone to stop what they are doing, look at the teacher, and listen for direction.

What is CHAMPS?

CHAMPS is a system of expectations that works with any set of rules/rewards/consequences you are already implementing.  It can even be used if your school has a specific classroom management program in place. For example, my school has the 3 Bs: Be Safe, Be Responsible and Be Respectful.  Those are common terms all teachers use.  I still use those terms frequently, but I also use CHAMPS in my classroom.

CHAMPS is part of Randy Sprick's Safe and Civil Schools and is a research based program with over thirty years of classroom research.

The CHAMPS acronym stands for:
Conversation: Can students talk to each other during this activity?

Help: How do students get the teacher's attention and their questions answered?

Activity: What is the task/objective? What is the end product?

Movement: Can students move about during this activity?

Participation: How do students show they are fully participating? What does work behavior look/sound like?

Success: When students meet CHAMPS expectations, they will be successful!

According to Save and Civil Schools, CHAMPS strategies are easy to implement and will:
•Reduce classroom disruptions and office referrals
•Improve classroom climate
•Increase student on-task behavior
•Establish respectful and civil interactions

Teaching CHAMPS
In order for CHAMPS to be successful, students need NUMEROUS opportunities to practice what each expectation looks like and what does it sound like.  One easy way to do this is to have the students become actors and actresses.  They can model examples and non-examples to show their friends.  This provides them a fun way to learn expectations. 

Once students have been taught what CHAMPS looks like, then before each "activity," the CHAMPS expectations need to be explained.   This can be done before whole group, before students are doing independent work, transition between activities, and before guided reading/guided math, and work stations. 

In addition to CHAMPS, it is important to also positively praise and reward (class points) as much as possible when students are demonstrating the expectations.  By the same token, if students are not following the expectations, then teachers need to follow through with their classroom management system. 
What CHAMPS Look Like
If I am teaching to the whole group, my CHAMPS expectations would be the following:
Conversation:  Silent
Help:  Raise your Hand
Activity:  Do your own Work
Movement: Stay Seated
Participation:  Independently

If we are doing guided reading, and I’m working with a small group, but the students are at workstations, my CHAMPS expectations would be the following:
Conversation:  Partner Voice
Help:  Ask a Friend
Activity:  Do your own Work
Movement: Responsible Movement
Participation: Work with a Partner

In the above picture, I used green highlighter tape to highlight each expectation.  I can use it over and over, and is easy to move.  You could also use sticky note arrows or clothes pins.

The key to CHAMPS is that expectations are explained BEFORE the activity begins.  In addition, through modeling and practice, responsible school behaviors have been taught.  Many times I feel like I'm a broken record, however, the students clearly understand my expectations and we can spend more time learning!

You can download my CHAMPS poster here!

LiteracyWithout Worksheets loves to provide hands-on learning opportunities for her students.  Currently she works as a literacy coach and teaches reading intervention groups.  When she is not teaching, she loves reading, running, and traveling.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Importance of Shared Learning

Let's all give a warm welcome to Rebecca Valera. Thanks for sharing this valuable post Rebecca!

I am thrilled to talk to you today about something that I'm really passionate about, which is shared learning. Our current culture is all about sharing (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Blogging, etc.). When students share what they have learned it sticks, and completes the learning process for that specific event. It all comes back to Confucius, "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." 

In middle school I still remember Mrs. Marler. She was my 6th grade English teacher and was one of the nicest teachers I knew. English was not my favorite subject, but I specifically remember a project that she had each of us do. She assigned each of us a short lesson (probably a review lesson), told us to look over the instructions in the book, teach the lesson and assign practice for the class. She said to be as creative as we wanted to be with it. I'm not sure how "creative" I was, but I loved planning and teaching the lesson to my peers. I was so excited to be "in charge." I also remember that the lesson that I taught was over how to make contractions. Not only was the creativity, or engagement important, but she sharing as well. 

In high school I had a similar experience with my physics teacher Mr. Wiley. We were to team up with another student in the class and design a bridge that could hold the most weight. We could only use the supplies that he gave us in the classroom and each type of supply cost us a certain dollar amount. We then had to take out a loan from "his bank." The loan would then be part of how he calculated our grade. We drew top, front & side views of our proposed models to scale. He had to approve of the "blue prints" before we could even start constructing. Once we started constructing, we realized that our "blue prints" need to change. We edited what we need and continued on. I the midst of all of this, we were allowed to talk to our partners and our peers to make decision and see what other people had found in their research (although many of them didn't want to share for fear of their idea being stolen). The day of the competition I was a little upset (emotional) because my bridge didn't "win," but I did learn what improvements to make on the bridge after it snapped exactly in half. Not only did I have to learn how to work with someone (I remember it not being so easy at times), but we were constantly sharing with our peers and the teacher. 

As a teacher, some of my favorite classroom experiences are from students given the ability to share their learning. Before I start, I want to give you a little background about myself first. My mom has a degree in special education and my aunt (my mom's sister, Martha) has down syndrome. I love my aunt Martha beyond words! She is still alive and lives with my grandparents (who are in their 90s), but has the temperament and innocence of a sweet child. So, because of my background, I feel very close to any child who is in special education or anyone who works with them. Having such a short planning period, I would often get inspired and grab some of my students from their specials teacher.  We would then present science experiments for the students who were in the special education department. Before I even brought them in to the special education classroom I told them about how these students were different and very child-like. I told them to be sure and teach them respectfully. Not only did the students who were teaching the experiments learn through their sharing, but the students in the special education class did too! 

There have been many other times where I have taken my entire class of students to the kindergarten classroom to share what we were learning about in math, a science or show them a project we had put together. The idea of shared learning is not anything new. Yes, it takes a little of strategic planning and coordinating, but it is well worth it. It's so important, shared learning is one of the "Fundamental Five."

Possible types of shared learning:
-Think Pair Share (purposeful talk)
-Sharing/teaching in front of the class
-Sharing and paring with students from another grade level
-Having groups share/teach their peers or students from another grade level
-Sharing with students who have special needs
-Sharing with a parent or another adult (teacher)
-Sharing with a specialist (geologist, pilot, engineer, etc.)
-Sharing with the community (special event)

Possible outcomes of shared learning:
-Memorable experiences students will take with them
-Lessons that make it into a students long term memory
-Students learning hospitality (manners) and appropriate social skills
-Learning how to work with others
-Solving community-related problems
-More engaged, students behavior
-Meaningful lessons
-Allows students to be proud of and value their work
-Possible mentors with other grade levels
-Creates role models
-Makes students feel special or important
-Fosters future career decisions

Speaking of SHARING... I would love to share one of my FREE RESOURCES with YOU! Here are some great ideas on how to have your students share what they know or have learned about food chains and webs! Click on the photo below to download this great resource!

If you have any additional comments or ideas/experiences that you have had with shared learning, please feel free to comment below. Thank you for reading! I hope that this post inspires you incorporate different ways that kids can share their learning. You can find my Science Girl Lessons TpT Store here.

My name is Rebecca Valera and I have been teaching for about 8 years know and am currently taking a break to raise my three beautiful children. My main specialization (and what I have mainly taught) is math and science for grades 3-8. I have taught in both public and parochial (Catholic) schools in Texas. I play a variety of instruments (guitar, flute, percussion), love my growing family and am very passionate about my Catholic faith. With three kids 3 and under, I enjoy blogging & developing curriculum in my "free time." My family and I currently reside in Garland, TX.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Books that Make Kids WANT to Write

Minds in Bloom is excited to present Heather Earley with her inspiring guest post on making kids WANT to write. She's got lots of great book suggestions. You're bound to find a new favorite!

My addiction to books has been a long and expensive habit!  However, I was never much of a writer in school and dreaded “creative” writing assignments.  I was missing the connection between the tons of reading I was doing and my own ability to use these texts to inspire my own writing.  Not until I started teaching did I realize the power books had to inspire great writing, and I so badly wanted writing to be a pleasant and fun way for my students to develop this connection for themselves.  This is a small selection (in no particular order) of some of the inspirational books I have used with my students- some well known and a few a little more obscure, but each with a special place on my shelf for each year’s new group of writers.

new group of writers.

1      1.     MagpieMagic by April Wilson
Yes, it’s a picture book!  I love using picture books with my fourth and fifth graders because they learn to dig deeper and tell the story themselves.  Analyzing the pictures and making connections between the pages becomes that much more of a challenge and your students will LOVE this one!  A mischievous magpie discovers a set of colored pencils that bring to life anything they draw.  The bird causes a bit of trouble, and the pencils fight back!  The illustrations are as wonderful as the conversations that will emerge!

We used this book later in the school year as an opportunity to practice using all of the figurative language techniques we had discovered in other stories through a retelling.  Using multiple copies of the book, students worked in small groups with sticky notes to tag the illustrations with figurative phrases.  In pairs, students practiced retelling their stories as they worked through a story plan.  And finally, they completed the writing process combining the descriptive language they had brainstormed with their own plans.  The results were fantastic! 

2.      Grown-Ups Get to Do All the Driving by William Steig
If you take yourself seriously, “Grown-Ups Get to Do All the Driving” is not for you!  Short phrases from a child’s perspective that describe grown-ups brings back a few memories.  Some are positive (grown-ups like children to be happy) and some not so much (grown-ups are mean), but they have all rung true in your head at some point in childhood.

I find this to be a perfect book for brainstorming all of the things kids wish they could do and wish their parents wouldn’t do.  We also picked specific pages to brainstorm when building our writer’s notebooks idea sections, like “Grown-Ups make you go to the dentist.”  From this small statement, we found dozens of ideas for things we didn’t want to do but have to do, all of which offer potential personal narratives.  A great idea builder!

3  3.     The Book of Bad Ideas by Laura Huliska-Beith

Another great brainstorming book!  There isn’t a story- just a ton of really funny illustrations with short phrases uttering perfectly bad ideas with disastrous effects entertainingly illustrated.  Kids can really dig into their silly with this one!  My favorite…Asking your best friend to give you a quick haircut on class picture day. Ha!

We used this in two ways.  First, kids love to tell about the things they have done that were just bad ideas for personal narratives.  Second, using the bad ideas presented in the book, students had a whole set of potential fictional narrative ideas.   As I displayed the pages and shared the captions, students had to collect a minimum of 5 new ideas that they could write about that they had never experienced.  We kept this book in our writing center all year as a potential reference for ideas when writer’s block occurred.

    4.   Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups by David Wisniewski
     These books are as good as it gets in my opinion.  This is my number one go to book for the beginning of each school year now.  Wisniewski masterfully takes ordinary expectations like “eat your vegetables” and creates wild and exaggerated “truths” he has secured from various locations in clever disguises.  (Vegetables are eaten to keep them under control as they have devolved from giant man-eating creatures.)  Each book contains 8 or so stories which are filled with high-level vocabulary, strong voice, text features (the Newbery award winner by the way), and humor. 
We used both of these stories to introduce plot analysis, one-sentence summaries, and vocabulary in context.  During the first few weeks of school, I also introduce the writing process through a daily think aloud modeling my own truth behind a rule.  By the end of the third week, students have completed each step in the writing process and created their own twisted rule which we publish for parents- a perfect parent night project to share!  The freebie includes the plan, rubric, and suggestions for completing the writing process.

    5.   Fly WithPoetry and Leap Into Poetry by Avis Harley
    These books made poetry fun for me.  I love figurative language but always taught it within the context of traditional text and avoided poetry as much as possible.  These books actually made me (and the kids) LOVE playing with poetry!   Both books contain 26 different types of poems, one for each letter of the alphabet.  My favorites were abecedarian (a poem that contains 26 lines starting with each letter of the alphabet) and list poems.  All of Harley’s poems relate to insects.

Over the years, my classes have published five or six different editions of poetry books, but my favorite was two years ago.  I introduced one letter a week with its poem, and the students decided to focus on topics specific to our classroom like field trips, recess, funny moments, etc. We did it as a “Fun Friday” activity- it was a nice break from the monotony, and it was a great opportunity to challenge the kids in a comfortable way.  I usually struggled through writing my own example as well.  For each letter, I selected two student poems and made sure to include everyone at last once in the book.  They typed their poems, if applicable, and illustrated during a special author’s lunch each week.  I made copies, bound the books, and celebrated at our fifth grade graduation by giving each student a copy.  They signed each other’s books, shared with their parents, and just loved them.  This was really one of those “golden moments” for me!

If you like these books, find five more books that will inspire your kids to write with suggestions at  Happy reading and writing! 

Heather Earley

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