The Science of May

Hello friends! How many of you are celebrating 5 more Mondays left in the school year?! 

 I know some teachers who are counting down the days! My boys though?!?! Notsomuch....and if I'm being honest, neither am I. I'm SO grateful they LOVE school as much as they do...and I can attribute that directly to their amazing teachers. They've instilled a love of learning in my boys and that's a debt I'll never be able to repay. But me?!?! Well...I'm not ready to say goodbye to those teachers. God has truly placed the boys exactly where they needed to be. He's given them teachers who not only teach them, but love them, nurture their abilities, challenge them, and hold them to high standards. Gah.

 Speaking of teachers, next week is Teacher Appreciation Week! Are y'all screaming a not-so-silent 'WOO HOOO!!!!!!"?!?!?! I always loved Teacher Appreciation Week because the kids were SO excited to bring in handwritten notes and their very best illustrations to show me how much they loved me. Those handwritten notes and illustrations were always a highlight of my year. Would you believe I still have notes and pictures saved from my first year teaching 13 years ago?!?!?! Now those babies are in college. DEAR.LORD!!!!! I'm sure their handwriting and drawing skills have changed considerably since then ;) In honor of our favorite teachers, I went ahead and ordered some of these PRECIOUS cookies!!!! Are these not darling?! I can't wait to get them!!! I ordered them from a teacher I found on IG who teaches by day and bakes by night. I love supporting teachers because, well, y'all are my people :)

 Moving right along with the end-of-the-year, Abby and I have completed The Science of May and it's available for purchase! 4 full weeks worth of detailed lesson plans that include book suggestions, visual examples, printables, experiments, craftivities, and MORE!!!! Eeeek!!!! I know I say it every month, but this month might be my favorite :) Hahaha. This month we're covering Dinosaurs, Ocean Life, Ocean Animals, and Kitchen Chemistry! Such fun themes to end the school year, no?!?! 

 Here's how it all breaks down. This pacing calendar details the target vocabulary, Science/Math/Literacy objectives, as well as the book suggestions. I like having a visual overview of my month so that I can start with the end in mind. Always helps me make sure I plan with intention.

 Here's a peek at the Table of Contents for each week. This gives you an idea of what to expect for each week of learning. 

We really do create these units with lots of blood, sweat, and tears.  We get so excited each month to share these with you and hear how so many teachers and kids are loving science now and actually looking forward to it each day.  I've seen it up close and personal in the classrooms I visit and it's so neat to see them being put to use!  Here's what people are saying about May so far!

Thank you, dear teachers, for sharing these little peeks into your classrooms.  We love seeing how you're implementing The Science Of... into your classrooms!  Here's a peek into some classrooms using The Science of April...

If you're interested in May's resource and having all your plans done for you for the next four weeks, you can check out The Science of May by clicking on the pic below....

Stay tuned throughout the next few weeks for lots of freebies and fun activities to compliment these themes!!!  Have a great day!

How To Handle Constructive Criticism as a Teacher

It's that time of the year again.

Time for walk-throughs, observations, evaluations, and appraisals.  Summative meetings with administration and the dreaded feeling of wondering whether you're deemed "proficient"or if you'll score the coveted label of "exceeds expectations".  We ALL want to exceed in teaching because, well, it's what we love.  

As teachers, we take our jobs VERY personally...and rightfully so!  We invest so much of ourselves, our time, and our finances into our classrooms and our students and we sacrifice so much in the process.  It's hard for us to admit that we aren't "perfect" teachers.  We hate to think that we aren't the best at what we feel like we were born to do.  

Some years it's even hard to feel like we'll score in the "needs work" category when we're blessed with an extra challenging class. You know the class I'm talking about.  The one that makes you question your career choice.  The one that whispers in your ear as you exit the school parking lot, "just pick up a bottle of wine and everything will be better tomorrow."  THAT class.

So how do you approach observation season?  Are you excited to show your administration what you do in and out every day?  Or do you fear the idea of being judged?  Do you worry that you'll have behavior issues?  Or that your friends will act like it's their very first day of school?  Are you concerned you won't seem competent enough to not only manage, but teach an entire classroom full of different needs?!  I think we'd all be lying to ourselves if we said those thoughts didn't creep in before appraisals.  I mean, Lord!  I feel like we're always second guessing ourselves as it is!!!

What happens when you do get your evaluation back and it doesn't read the way you anticipated?   Maybe areas where you feel you're really strong were scored lower than you expected.  Or your overall score doesn't reflect what you think you deserve.  Has that ever happened to you?  And if it has, how have you handled it?  

Which statement best fits you?

In this kind of scenario, we have two choices...we can choose to welcome constructive criticism as an invitation to become a better teacher, or we can choose to let it define and destroy us.   

Let me tell y'all something.  When I left the classroom to consult/mentor and present, I found myself in a similar situation with evaluations and appraisals.  Only this time the evaluations and feedback aren't coming from my's coming from my peers.  Teachers who either like what I have to say, or hate it.  Teachers who either like me, or don't.  Plain and simple.  What I found was that there are three kinds of critique we get after a presentation.  Amazing, glowing reviews (love that, of course), constructive criticism (I actually really like this, too!), and downright not nice, and sometimes really tacky comments (not necessary, in my opinion).  

While I love the amazingly kind and complimentary feedback, I often take it with a grain of salt.  I'm pretty hard on myself and to be totally honest it's really hard for me to accept a compliment at face value.  The tackier comments, in my opinion, aren't necessary.  I mean, it's cool if you don't like me or don't like what I have to say, but how am I supposed to grow if you say things like, "she is irrelevant and boring"; or  "I didn't like the way she styled her hair" (<------hahaha, well, neither did I!  LOL!!!)

But let's talk about the constructive criticism for a minute. Sometimes it's hard to hear, but I LOVE it.  I love it because it helps me to improve!  It helps me to grow.  For example, "Great content, but talks really fast.  Hard to keep up."  <-----THANK YOU!!!!  I do talk fast and I try to be  conscious of this when I'm presenting, but sometimes my fast talking speech gets the best of me.  However, I can GROW from that kind of feedback.  It makes me so much more aware of what I'm doing!   It's hard to improve when you only hear the good and the bad.  I like to take what's in the middle and use that to get better.

I taught with a really wise teacher once who had been in the classroom for 30+ years.  In my eyes, she was the definition of teacher.  She was BORN for the classroom.  She was teacher of the century!  And amazingly, she was constantly seeking feedback.  Not for approval, but to figure out what she could do better or differently to make sure she was meeting the needs of all of her students.  That's something that has stuck with me for years.  She would always say, "If nobody can tell me I'm doing something wrong, I'll keep making the same mistakes!"  LOVE that!!!

So what should you do if you find yourself on the receiving end of unwanted or unexpected constructive criticism this appraisal season?!  Here are some things to keep in mind...

 Don't let any type of criticism...constructive or otherwise...define who you are as a teacher.  Use the constructive criticism to guide you to make changes or improvements where necessary.  As hard as it might be, use it to help you grow!
 I've always had amazing administrators who weren't afraid to say the hard things.  I've also been fortunate enough to teach in schools where my administrators really believed in the power of the constructive criticism sandwich...start with a strength/address the area for improvement/follow up with positive results and observations.  My lessons didn't always go as planned. There were always things I could have done better.   I really appreciated my administrators being able to address those things with me in a constructive way that genuinely made me excited to try something new and different!  I mean, we all know we have room to grow, so why do we take it so personally when it we hear it from someone else?!  Again, use it as a springboard for growth!

 Of course, you won't always agree with the evaluation you might get.  I know of many teachers whose less than stellar appraisals were unwarranted, yet they handled their summatives with grace and respect.  All that to be said, it's important to set aside the disrespect if you do disagree.  Not only is it unprofessional, but it gives off that "I'm right, you're wrong" vibe and makes it seem like you aren't open to any suggestions other than your own :)  When you're the only person you want to listen to, you're limited to your own perspective.  It's okay to disagree, just be sure you aren't being disrespectful when communicating your opposition.
Acknowledge what your administrator is communicating and accept what he/she says.  I honestly think that...for the most part...our administrators give us constructive criticism because they truly want us to be successful and not just for ourselves, but for our kids!  They want to make sure our kids are getting the best we have to give.  So why would I not want to take what I learn and use it to make me a better version of myself?!  After all, that's the goal, right?!  Not to do better than anyone else, but to be a better version of the teacher/presenter  I was the day before.  When you know better, you do better.

***Before I go, I do want to mention that I'm in Texas and my appraisal system here might be vastly different than the appraisal and evaluation system in your area.  I haven't taught in any schools where my performance was solely evaluated based on the performance of my students.  My evaluations were usually given after a series of three, 15 minute walk throughs and one 45 minute formal observation.  We're evaluated based 51 criteria within eight domains reflecting the Proficiencies for Learner-Centered Instruction (Texas teachers know this as PDAS).  Hope that helps you understand where I'm coming from! ***


Earth Day

Earth Day has always been one of my favorite events to celebrate with my school babies.  There's just something about it.  I love the sense of camaraderie we gain through our teamwork as we clean up trash around the school grounds, pay more attention to our recycling efforts, and love our Earth just a little more than we already do.  

As usual, this time of the year seems to speed by quickly and these events sort of pop up without giving us much time to plan or prep.  I mean, it's not like we have a MILLION other things going on, right?!  HA!!!  I thought this would be great time to remind us of some fun Earth Day activities for our primary babies and help you {maybe} try to plan ahead this year!!!  

I always like to stock my library with lots and lots of Earth Day friendly books around this time of the year.  I put them out a couple of weeks ahead of time so that the kids can do their own perusing.  When we start our thematic unit of study, I'll read several of them aloud.  I like that the kids are familiar with them prior to reading.  These are some of my favorite Earth Day books...

After we read a few of these books, we make our anchor charts.  Things that help the Earth and things that harm the Earth.  These stay up in the room as a visual for a few weeks after Earth Day.  The kids love using them as a reference for their writing.

Remember what I said about the camaraderie and cooperation earlier?!  This is one of those group projects we displayed in the hallway and absolutely LOVED putting together!!!!  We brainstormed lots of different ways we could help the Earth first and then I typed them out and we reviewed what we said as we splashed them on the display.  Then the kids painted their hands blue and green and added their handprints to the "Earth".  I loved this!

This is another litte writing craftivity I love to incorporate into our learning.  I think I've been doing this one since the first year I started teaching!  I'm shocked I'm not tired of it yet!  Really, I love anything with their sweet handprints!!!

Earth Day is a great time to reinforce and/or introduce the concept of cause & effect.  We reinforced this skill using this freebie.  It was a great way for me to assess not only my kid's understanding of cause and effect, but it also gave me a glimpse into their understanding about what we learned about Earth Day.

We love singing this song, too!  Each of my kids gets a copy of this song for their poetry folders and then I print it out on sentence strips for our poetry center as well.  My kids have access to this song/poem for a couple of weeks....manipulating the words, one-to-one correspondence, tracking print, rhyming, fluency, etc.  This is in my What a Wonderful World Earth Day packet, but you can grab it for free here.  Just click on the pic.

I mentioned my What a Wonderful World Earth Day packet and here are a few activities we do from using this resource.

My kids loved "tossing the trash" in their word work center!!  I just printed off the real/nonsense word cards and sorting labels and then crumpled them all up and placed them in a container.  THe kids have to uncrumple (is that even a word???) the word cards and determine which words are real and which are nonsense and then sort accordingly.  I let them toss the trash into the corresponding bins and they thought this was a hoot!  

I think my favorite addition to my classroom this time of the year is my little Compost Critter.  We talk about the idea of composting and learn all about what it is and how to do it and then we create this little critter who will show us how compost is made.  It's a pretty cool process.  It takes a while for the material to turn into compost, but the kids love being able to observe the changes.  Once it's all ready, we use the compost to plant our plants :)  The kids LOVE this!!!!

I found the book, I Can Save the Earth, a few years back and use that as a springboard for this writing craftivity.

We also have a "GREEN DAY" as a culminating activity to our learning.  We actually have our Green Day ON Earth Day and this is a perfect way to tie in all of our learning and have loads of fun at the same time.   I send home a parent note requesting different items and for the entire day my kids are engaged in fun, hands-on (academic!!!) Earth Day activities.  I can't imagine doing it a different way now!!  All the details are in my Earth Day packet....along with family homework, too!

For this week only, you can grab this resource on sale!
WAS $10
THIS WEEK ONLY (week of 4/11/16): $6

I've also collaborated with Abby from The Inspired Apple to bring you four weeks work of cross curricular lesson plans chock full of science experiments and math/ela extension activities. The Science of April includes a week-long Earth day study full of science notebook activities, experiments, vocabulary lessons, and math/ela extensions.  These two resources compliment each other beautifully and would be great for making learning about Earth Day fun and meaningful!

Here's a peek....

You can grab it here: 

These are two of my favorite Earth Day experiments.  They're perfect for our primary kids and really help to bring these concepts to life! 

My favorite thing about Earth Day is hearing what my own two boys have to say about it when they get home from school that day.  Last year they became SO very conscientious about recycling and conserving water.  My oldest came home and told me he was DONE with baths!!!  "Mom..baths use SO many gallons of water.  I'm a big boy...I can totally take showers instead from now on!"  

I about died.  

And let me tell you what.  That's all both boys take anymore....showers.  Every now and again I'll suggest a bubble bath...because, FUN....and they insist that's too much wasted water.  I really hope they're always this mindful of different things when they get older!!!  
Conserving energy however is totally different struggle ;)

Now let's take care of a little business.
If you own my Write the Room yearlong bundle, please make sure you download the April edition as it's been added to the pack.  May is coming soon, so be on the lookout!!!

And if you're right in the middle of teaching and reviewing r-controlled vowels like we are, then here's a little something for your files.  These  R-Conrolled Vowel Flip Strips are perfect for reviewing and reinforcing these spelling patterns!!!  

Focus on Fluency

Well…hello there!

Today's topic is all about fluency.
  Reading fluency to be exact.
 One of my favorite skills to watch my kids develop.  Not just the rate of reading, but the expression and voice in which they read!  I love watching my kids turn into little storytellers right before my eyes.
I’ve had a fluency center in my classroom for several years.  Each year I seem to add a little something new to my little back of tricks.  We start out the year with sight word rings….tons of poetry…and fun little games.

This is my favorite resource for poetry…

We’ve progressed into fluency phrases and short stories and my kids are obsessed.  Completely and totally OBSESSED.
It was really important to me to make sure my kids were practicing full on sight word phrases…and a lot of them.  I wanted them to have opportunities to be successful at reading…even independently…without my help.  I also wanted the phrases to be leveled so that I could differentiate independent learning.  We use the Dolch lists, so I created a Pre-Primer and Primer set of fluency phrases using the words off of those lists…plus several common nouns.  The kids have to work their way through 7 Pre-Primer sets of fluency phrases before they can move on to the Primer sets.  I divided both sets into different colored tubs so that the kids would know the difference between the two sets.  And they know exactly where to go and on which set of phrases they should be practicing.


Each time my kids fluently read their way through a set of phrases, they get a little certificate.  As Abby would say, “STOP.THE.WORLD.”  They about DIE!  They will do ANYTHING for a little paper piece of praise!!!


In addition to the fluency phrase rings, we also have a fluency folder.  This is a little bit different than our poetry folder, but it serves a very similar purpose…to increase sight word recognition automaticity and improve voice {expression, intonation, etc.}

The poetry pages are great for fluency practice, but I don’t time the kids with them when they read.  I wanted something separate for that.  So…I took all the words from the Pre-Primer and Primer Dolch Lists and made up fluency stories using those words.  I introduce a new story at the beginning of the week {sometimes 2-3 depending on the student} and time their first read and record errors, time, etc.  This is a SUPER quick activity and takes very little time given that the text is mostly sight words.  Right before our guided reading lesson, I have my kids read their fluency story to me and time them on it then record it in their fluency folder.  They love seeing how quickly they can read each day and how their fluency/time improves throughout the week.  This doesn’t take the place of their guided readers though.  They still get a guided reader every day.



When my kids practice their fluency independently, they’re not just reading their fluency phrases.  They’re reading their fluency stories, too.  I keep a few rings of these voice cards in the fluency tubs so that the kids can practice reading their stories {and phrases} in different voices.  They LOVE this.


My kids keep their fluency folders at school so that they have lots to choose from when they read, but they could easily be sent home for practice, too.
Here’s a little peek at what my fluency tubs look like.  They all contain a set of fluency phrases {a different level in each tub}, voice cards, sand timers, stopwatches, fluency/whisper phones, a microphone {for my little rock stars} and some glassless glasses {just for kicks}. 


The kids are responsible for keeping track of their fluency folders because we’re a bit limited on space.  So far, so good. 
We also LOVE playing games to help us improve our fluency.  This is one of our favorites!  Roll, Read, & Highlight! 


We play a few different whole group fluency games, too…but I really want to take pictures of those before I share because if you’re anything like me, you’re a visual learner and you’ll need some pictures to go along with the explanation!  Sometimes I just can’t articulate it like I can show it!  HA!

In honor of April being Poetry Month (another great way to build fluency!!!), I thought it would be fun to offer my fluency resources at a discount!!  
This offer is only good through Wednesday, April 6th. 

Pre-Primer - Primer set 
Original Price = $10
Sale Price = $6

First Grade Fluency
Original Price - $10
Sale Price = $6

Dolch Phrase Fluency - First Grade Set

Second Grade Fluency
Original Price = $10
Sale Price = $6

Dolch Phrase Fluency - Second Grade Set

Third Grade Fluency
Original Price = $10
Sale Price = $6

Original Price = $35
Sale Price = $20

So tell me, friends.  What wonderful activities do you do to help improve fluency?!  Reader’s Theater??  Poetry??  DO TELL!!!!  I’m always looking for more ideas!!!

Reading Comprehension

Today I wanted to touch on comprehension while I'm thinking about it.  Sometimes I feel like we're so concerned with moving our kids to the next level that we don't really pay close attention to the skills our kids need to become independent readers who can truly comprehend what they're reading.  I feel like this is the most important part of reading!  Understanding what we read.  How do you fit that into your instruction?  

First I think it's important to break down the skills and strategies our kids need to learn and practice.

This book was recommended to me this past summer by several readers and after purchasing it I realized it was a book I had already owned and read, LOL!  I guess I never paid attention to the cover or the author because I barrelled through the book like it was nobody's business.  Tanny McGregor is a genius when it comes to teaching kids how to apply comprehension strategies to their reading.  I implemented so many of her ideas into my instruction when I was in the classroom.  I HIGHLY recommend it!

So what exactly did some of these activities entail?!  Well...that's a whole other post, lol!!  But if you really want to know, just grab the book!!!  

As far as comprehension skills were concerned, it was really important for me to have easy access to resources and questioning prompts so that I would be able to target various skills any time we read a book...shared reading, guided reading, etc.  I needed to be able to have things right at my fingertips.
I finally had the chance to give those resources a makeover and now I can share them with you!

I liked to keep a set of mini comprehension posters with me at all times.  I actually printed out two different sets.  One to display on my focus wall (as new skills/strategies were introduced) and then I kept one on a binder ring and placed it on a command hook next to my easel so that I'd have quick access to it...and so would my kids.  They knew they could use that resource whenever they had questions, etc.

I also kept 3 sets of questioning cards/prompts readily available...questions to ask before/after/during reading.  These were probably my most used resource in the classroom.  I kept them in my guided reading toolkit and carried that toolkit to my carpet every time I did a read aloud with the kids.  I've since added a lot of new questions to all three rings, but these were great for getting kids to think about the text in a variety of different ways.  They also include a lot of higher order thinking questions.  That was something that was really important to me.  I wanted to be able to differentiate questioning on-the-fly and these provided me with a way to do that effectively and kept me from asking the same questions over and over again.

My little comprehension dice cards were also a favorite for both myself and my kids!  Any activity with dice is always a favorite, right?!  I created a lot of different comprehension cards to target different skills and strategies and depending on what we were targeting in our instruction would determine which cards we would use.  They were great to use with our guided readers, but we also used them with our shared reading books to change things up a bit from the questioning rings and prompts.  Gotta keep 'em guessing ;)  
ANY time is a good time to work on comprehension strategies and skills and it's definitely not a part of reading we want to neglect or ignore.  If you want to grab a set of these comprehension resources for your classroom, you can find them here:

How do you target comprehension in your classroom?