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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sparking Student Motivation {Reading Goals}

Can you hear that?  It is the sound of reality settling in!!  This is my last weekend of summer before it is officially back to school time:(  Even with the disappointment of summer coming to an end, this is still my favorite time of the year overall!  I love fall weather, football, the "newness" of a new school year, and I love, LOVE schedules!  I function so much better on a schedule! After about three weeks on summer vacation, I am so ready to be back on a regular routine. :)

Today I am linking up with my dear friend, Joanne, at Head Over Heels for Teaching for her Sparking Student Motivation Saturdays!
Two weeks ago, I blogged about using Accelerated Reader (AR) to track students' points and individual goals to provide motivation for independent reading.  You can see that post here.  There was a lot of great dialogue and I had some amazing pointers from Alison at Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin' and Jennifer at Mrs. Laffin's Laughings especially! Thank you ladies for taking the time to share your thoughts and suggestions.  This is just another example of I love the blogging community!

With my owl theme, I asked readers to comment on some catchy phrases for an owl themed classroom display for AR point goals.  I had some awesome suggestions and have been working in my room this past week getting things ready (students start September 5th!).  I can basically devote my whole room to ELA this year since I am teaching three 80 minute blocks of 4th grade ELA, so I decided to use two areas of the classroom to display independent reading successes for motivation.  The first area is the "owl tree".  I bought this tree online because I just am not crafty enough to make my own tree!  

I cannot draw or create life like displays to save my life.  I do like how it looks in the space though and really adds to the cozy feel of my library.  I took a variation of Stephanie's (from Polka Dot Palace) suggestions for an owl themed title.  Thank you Stephanie!  Here is the tree displayed in my room. :)  The little blue slice at the bottom of the tree is the top of a "husband pillow".  The letters for these displays were cut on my Cricut.  I used the "Ashlyn" cartridge (Base Shadow setting at 3.5"). 
The tree has little owls placed in spaces going up the tree at 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% of goal met (each owl is larger than the previous one).  Here is a closeup of the 100% owl:

I am going to use the points goal set by AR for each individual student and place these little owls with student names on them as they reach each percentage of their goal (based on the STAR test) for the quarter.  These little owl tags are just a couple inches high and will be "flying" around the tree in the space for the % of goal met.  I plan to also let students set their own goal (suggested by a reader) because I think most students can exceed the AR goal set by STAR.

Our tech guy set up the individual quarters in AR per my request because last year only the full school year was set.  I am so excited to see how this motivational strategy works out!

I also set up this display as a number of books read "club".  
There is space for 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 books read to start.  If students start to exceed 60 (I will encourage them to do so!), then I will add more "clubs".  I am only allowing chapter books read (at the students' individual levels)  to count toward the totals and will add student names to the papers somehow as they move through the clubs.  Don't you love the title for this area?  This suggestion came from Joanne herself (your host of this linky)!!  I am thinking about using Fridays to update our clubs since they are pretty high up (close to the ceiling) and then have some kind of class celebration complete with "Hoot Hoots" for each new name added!!  Doesn't that sound fun?

I will be updating readers throughout the year about how these areas are working in my classes.  I am optimistic about these motivational displays!  My room isn't quite ready to share completely, but I will be posting more pictures in the next week. :)  Did you see a glimpse of my owl book bin labels?  They are on sale at 20% in my TPT store now through Labor Day for those of you still getting your classroom ready!  I have four other designs available on sale too including Bright Chevron, Bright Polka Dots, Zebra Print, and Superhero theme!  The Owl "CAFE" letters are a freebie in my store.

Check back at Head Over Heels for Teaching for some more motivational strategies!

Also, stop over and checkout the amazing giveaway (Day 1) by Fifth in the Middle and Where the Wild Things Learn!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tried It Tuesday {Workout Motivation}!!

Since I began Tried It Tuesday last spring, I have always blogged about school or blogging related "Tried Its".  My vision for "Tried It Tuesday" is to share about ANYTHING you have tried and most people share educational related things, but I love reading the personal Tried Its too!  I thought I would share a personal Tried It this week, so you may want to skip this one if you are only looking for teacher stuff:)  

My Tried It:
Workout Motivation
So, you may know that I have two children (ages 3 and 6) and in terms of exercising, I have always had little motivation to do much on my own.  Being involved in dancing and cheerleading throughout middle school, high school, and college was basically my exercise.  I was pretty fortunate to not have weight issues growing up, although I was actually teased in middle school for being too thin.  The boys used to call me "toothpick" and I was super slow to develop.  So, yes, there is a downside to being "thin" growing up!  Anyway, two kids later and no more dancing and cheerleading, I have put on the pounds over the years.  I have scoliosis and it is very important to keep my core strong, otherwise I get severe back pain.  I would do workout videos sporadically and my physical therapy exercises because I didn't want to be in pain.  However, it really wasn't enough.  I can't stand running (won't even try it!) and my legs feel as if they will fall off when I ride a bike.

Two years ago, I decided to try a kickboxing class with some friends and we all loved it!
Here is an amazing quote (no, this is not me in the picture!).
Our instructor is amazing and having friends to go with is super motivating.  It is a great stress relief to hit and kick things and we are always learning something new so it is never boring.  I love the challenge too!  Last April I decided to try karate as well since it was the hour right before kickboxing and I was already there on those nights.  I go two nights a week from 7-9pm and sometimes on Saturday mornings.  I love the late times at night because the kids are sleeping during most of it.  Although, I am quite tired when I get home but having an exercise routine really does give you more energy overall!  My husband is so supportive and I am really grateful.

I am so proud that I just earned my yellow belt last week in karate!  There was a half hour test where I had an endurance test and had to perform all the kicks and strikes on command while being out of breath from the endurance test.  It was exhausting!
Here is a me proudly sporting my new belt:)

If you are thinking of trying something new for motivation in your personal life but are scared, keep this quote in mind:
Thanks for reading my personal story and I hope it will inspire you to give something new a try!

Monday, August 26, 2013

SLANT Box Reveal!!

This past month I participated in the S.L.A.N.T. (Sending Love Across the Nation is Teachers) hosted by Lessons With Coffee!  It was so fun and I am linking up to share the goodies I received. :)
Check out her blog to sign up for the September exchange!
The teacher that sent my box to me was the amazing Kim from Quinnessential Lessons: a 5th Grade Blog.  She is such a sweetie and her package was FILLED with so many of my favorite things!
Here is what I saw wrapped in tissue paper when I opened the box!
 Just look at this spread!  I was so spoiled!!
 I absolutely love Sharpies (the marker kind) but she sent this pack of Sharpie "no bleed" pens in all kinds of fun colors!  I haven't tried them yet (waiting for the first papers to grade) but they look amazing!
 The Welcome Back sign is laminated and ready to go in my classroom theme of owls!
The clipboard was personalized with duck tape:)
Thank you so much, Kim!!!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Social Studies Mentor Text and a Peek at My Week!

I am home after a week of camping fun and it is now the last hurrah of summer!  
The hubby was off for the week and it has been five days since I last blogged.  What?!?

We relaxed, enjoyed a day at an amusement park (that wore me out!), relaxed some more, (I read Defending Jacob and highly recommend it-keeps you guessing until the end!), the kids had a blast just riding their bikes, swimming, and just being kids playing in the dirt.  My 6 year old has mastered the two wheeler and my 3 year old scoots with his feet on a tricycle-will NOT pedal!  It was a nice surprise to have our camper "neighbors" there for most of the week.  They have two boys ages 7 and 9 and also had friends visiting with boys ages 7 and 4!  Don't worry, our 6 year old girl didn't let all those boys boss her around! :)  
It was quite the opposite. Haha!

So, it is back to reality and the to-do list is making me a little nervous!  I swear being a northern blogger has its disadvantages in terms of school year timing.  In May, my southern blogger friends are finishing up their school year and just starting summer vacation when I have well over a month left to still go.  Then, in August when southerners are heading back to school, you would think that I could enjoy knowing that I am on vacation while I am viewing your classrooms all ready?  No!  My vacation is coming to a close soon but I have so much left to do!  Seeing all your rooms ready gives me anxiety when I think about where my room is! Lol.  Anyone with me?

I had to link up with my girls at Collaboration Cuties with their amazing Mentor Text Linky!  
This week the topic is social studies.  
The social studies mentor text that I am linking up with Collaboration Cuties is Between Earth & Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places by Joseph Bruchac.  Since many teachers begin the year with Native Americans, I chose a book that can be used in any area of the United States since it covers legends from various geographic locations.  I used this book last year for the first time since it was one of the suggested texts for our NYS social studies nonfiction texts.  

From School Library Journal:

Grade 3-6:  Bruchac frames 11 legends of Native American sacred places with a conversation between Little Turtle and his uncle, Old Bear, who says, " 'There are sacred places all around us...They are found in the East and in the North, in the South and in the West, as well as Above, Below, and the place Within. Without those places we lose our balance.' " Bruchac writes in language that is dignified and almost poetic in its simplicity. The text is printed in stanzas, enhancing the image of prose poems. Each legend is related to one of the seven directions and is attributed to a specific people. There is a brief pronunciation guide and a map showing the general location of different Native American groups, but no other documentation is provided. Glossy, cream-yellow paper; clear, black type with the first letter on each page done in flowing, yet restrained, red calligraphy; and lush art make this a book that is pleasing to the eye. Locker's landscape paintings are done in the tradition of Constable's work, concentrating on conditions of sky, atmosphere, and light rather than physical details. His colors, veering toward the day-glow intensity of Maxfield Parrish's work, infuse the scenes with the intangible presence of the sacred. It is difficult to convey the beliefs of an entire people in one brief legend divorced from the rest of their tradition, yet these selections point to the richness possible in looking at the Earth in a spiritual way. Karen James, Louisville Free Public Library, KY

This is a two-page sequence graphic organizer that I made to accompany two of the legends (Seneca and Cheyenne) from the book.  You can download them here!  We completed the first one together and I assigned the back side for independent work.  
It works great for practicing sequencing using a format similar to "the test"!

I am linking this post to the amazing Fifth in the Middle's Native American linky! Go check out the other ideas linked up for teaching Native Americans!  
Diane has link ups for other social studies topics too.
I also am excited to link up with a brand new linky from the wonderful Jennifer at Mrs. Laffin's Laughings!  It's a linky where you share what you have planned for the week ahead.
I thought about making some cute little "days of the week" pictures like some other bloggers did, and then I started thinking about what I would write for each day of the week.  Hmmm...I don't really know!  I have so many things on my to-do list that I can't even imagine trying to put a day on each one.   I just don't want to think about it yet...

One big item on my agenda this week is teaching Vacation Bible School on Monday thru Thursday night 6-8:30 (I get to do games-fun!).  I plan on spending Monday and Tuesday taking the kids to the beach and park, getting laundry caught up and the house back in order.  
I am going into school all day on Wednesday and Thursday to plan with my team (we are departmentalizing this year and have lots to discuss) and I hope to have my room "ready" so that next week I can finish last minute first day plans (students start September 5th).  Then, this weekend we are going out on our friend's boat and a family picnic another day.  I might have to sneak back to work also if I don't get enough done on Wed. and Thurs.!

Okay, that is all I can think about right now because it is now crunch time where I have to really prioritize what "needs" to be done before next Thursday versus what I would have "liked to" get done!

Have a great week and I hope to see you back for Tried It Tuesday this week! :)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tried It Tuesday (QR Code Adventure)!!

Wow!!  What a wonderful sale event that was at TPT the past two days!  I would love to hear about some of the products you purchased during the sale.  I tried to limit myself but it was pretty tough to pass up on tons of amazing deals!  

For this week's Tried It Tuesday, I would like to post about a product that I have had for a few months  but never had a chance to use with students before the end of the school year.

My Tried It:
QR Code Adventure
Okay, so I haven't actually tried it with my students yet, but I finally tried this product at home and got it all laminated and ready for this coming school year.
The product is the QR Code Adventure by Digital: Divide & Conquer.
You know how you print things and have the best intentions to try them but never get around to it?  Yep.  Here it sat amongst my pile of products waiting to be cut and laminated from a post back in May!
In the end of the year craziness, I just ran out of time and since QR codes are fairly new to me, I didn't really know what to expect on this QR Code Adventure (and didn't take the time to sit down and try it!).  Well, now I have thoroughly checked out this product (with all my time off in the summer;) and it is AMAZING!  

Matt at Digital: Divide & Conquer truly focuses on students and their needs in today's technological society.  Sometimes it is difficult to understand the world in which our students are being raised now since it doesn't seem THAT long ago when I was growing up in the 80's-90's.  I never had technology at the tip of my fingers and I SURVIVED!  What's wrong with talking to people on the phone instead of texting or what about writing someone a letter to communicate?  Why do I need to "find" things to entertain my own children all the time?  When I was growing up, my mom sent us outside and there we went, playing all day without any cell phones, iPads, Nintendo DS, Leapfrog Explorers, etc.  When we went on road trips, there were no DVD players in the car!  However, IT IS a fact of life that today's learners ARE different based on the world surrounding them.  As teachers we need to appeal to their interests and grab their attention in any way we can.  Using technology as a tool in instruction is an excellent example of one way we can reach our students and make an impact.

So, what is the QR Code Adventure all about?  It is a series of over 40 different QR codes that take the students to short videos, photos, games, informational text, and educational games.  Here are a few pictures of the sites the QR Code Adventure brought me to on my iPad. 

Students then analyze what they are seeing, reading, or hearing.  
The product includes over 20 variations of graphic organizers to either allow the teacher or student to choose which one would be best to use for the particular adventure.  I know my students will absolutely love this QR Code Adventure and will be begging for more.  The clips, text, etc. are at a high interest level and not only would this be great for center activity or even whole class activity, it work well for early finishers as a reward "fun" activity or as a brain break for the class.
Disclaimer: My bloggy buddy, Matt, from Digital: Divide & Conquer did not pay me to write this post and he actually doesn't even know I am writing it.  I was just so impressed with this resource that I had to share!  Some of you might have seen it and wondered, like me, "What IS this adventure, anyway?"
AND...he has other QR Code Activities in his TPT store.  :)

I am going to be a little MIA this week since we are heading out for a week of camping and maybe an amusement park for a day.  We haven't gone anywhere this summer since we are really saving for Disney next year but I need this week to decompress.  Then, it will be back at school the last week in August to get everything ready for students starting September 5th.  I will be popping in to check emails but the iPhone just isn't the same as the laptop!  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mentor Text (Science)!

If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press the Mentor Text Linky by my friends at Collaboration Cuties!
I have been terrible about linking up lately but am so grateful the ladies offer this linky every Sunday!  I will be using Mentor Texts in conjunction with Mentor Sentences next year and this linky always gives me so many great ideas!
It might not be the greatest thing for my budget though:)

The Mentor Text I am linking up this week is The Wide Mouthed Frog by Keith Faulkner.  
It is a pop-up book with that uses colorful pictures, vivid descriptions, and engaging pop ups to feature different animals on each page with their meal of choice.  This is a fun way to spark discussion in science when introducing or reviewing the predator/prey relationship, herbivores/omnivores/carnivores, and then naturally leads into the discussion of the food chain.
In addition to the science skills that this book lends itself to, it also is a great example of using adjectives to create vivid images.  Here are some of the highlights from the text with adjectives in red. 

The Wide Mouthed Frog eats flies by sticking out his long sticky tongue. 
 "I eat wriggly worms and slugs," replied the bird, snapping his pointy beak.
Now the wide mouthed frog met a furry brown mouse.
"I eat crunchy seeds and juicy berries."
 "I eat delicious wide mouthed frogs," replied the alligator, showing his sharp white teeth.
You will have to get the book to see how this turns out!  Haha!  
Actually, it has a funny ending and the frog escapes (well, that might be open to interpretation!).

Teachers could make a chart of the predators vs. prey from the book, discuss which animals are carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores, and then use this information to begin investigation of food chains.

I found this amazing website where students can play a game with the food chain.  
 The food chains get progressively more difficult and they are all interactive.  After a food chain is complete, the animals come to life and eat their "meals"!  It is so fun that I sat and played the game for 10 minutes after finding it.  Here is a snapshot of a bird eating a caterpillar.
 There are also many links to information about topics that correlate with food chains.  
This website (Sheppard Software) has tons of other topics too!  Check it out!

Thanks for reading and have a great week ahead!! :)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Spark Motivation Saturdays (AR Tracking)!!

Happy Saturday everyone!  I am linking up with my beautiful friend, Joanne, at Head Over Heels for Teaching for her Spark Student Motivation Saturdays linky! 
 My post today is about a strategy I just learned about when using the Accelerated Reader program.  I read this post by the fabulous Jennifer at Mrs. Laffin's Laughings where she blogged about how she uses AR and the STAR assessment (my school also uses both of these) to give each student a point goal for each quarter based on their ability (determined by the STAR reading test).  She has a super cute race car chart where they move their car up as they earn more of a percentage of their goal.  This idea really started me thinking about my reading goals for next year.

For the past two years, our 4th grade team had switched groups for ELA and we grouped them by ability.  There were three groups (high/average, average/below average, and well below average).  We really liked how this worked for the lowest and highest groups especially.  We kept the low group numbers as small as possible (10-13 in a class) with a reading specialist who pushed in for additional support and the top group was really challenged to move at a faster pace.  We never had a reading specialist push in during the 4th grade ELA block when we didn't switch groups and the admin told us that we could have support if the struggling students were in one class.  So, we changed that (I don't know if they thought we would do it!).  When you have a class of 20 and there are at least four students reading at a 1st grade level with no extra reading specialist support (or teacher assistant...anything!), those students suffer, or on the flip side, you focus much of your energies on the low and the top don't get the attention they deserve.  You know the story...all teachers can relate to that cycle!

So, I taught the top group for two years and my reading requirement for these students was to read four books a month.  I had 23 students in my class last year (some were truly "high" but most were closer to "average") and in September about half the class is always really overwhelmed by this FOUR book requirement! You want us to do what??  After reading the Book Whisperer last summer, it verified that this was not too lofty of a goal, especially for the top readers. 
 I always start the year letting them choose just about any chapter books they want to read even though they are all technically reading at the 4th grade level.  If they WANT to read Junie B. Jones, Magic Tree House, Nate the Great, etc., I don't care!  As long as they are reading, it can be a chapter book of their choice.  Once December rolls around (we start school in September), the students have to read AT LEAST 3.5 AR level books for their 4 books a month and in March it is bumped up to at least a 4.0 level to count.  I conference throughout the year with students and encourage some to challenge themselves if they are "stuck" on a certain level and are more capable.  They get a printed AR report each month with their top four scores circled for the month.  It is important to provide some type of tracking system to keep students motivated.  Most of them love getting these reports to take home and show their parents!  Within a few months, the students are always amazed that most of them are reading MORE than four books a month!  Also, for those students who read larger chapter books, I always counted books that were more than about 250 pages as "TWO" books for the month but they never counted for more than two, no matter how long they were.  

With that being said, now we are changing our 4th grade schedule and moving to departmentalization.   I will be teaching ALL the ELA and keep wondering if the four book a month goal is too much to ask for all my struggling readers?  Then, I saw how Jennifer uses AR to customize their goal by points and thought, "Bingo!".  She sent me a link to this 148 page document with a TON of useful information about using AR in the classroom.  Um, why haven't I ever seen this before?  We have used AR at my school as long as I have been teaching there (14 years this fall!).  Even if you don't use AR, you should check out this document because it has many useful tips for any classroom!

Since I had never used AR to set a "goal" for points for the year, I was curious if my top readers met what would have been their goal last year.  Indulge me for a minute while I brag about my wonderful class last year! :)  Here are two screenshots (they wouldn't all fit on one screen) of their points and percentage of goal reached for the year:

As you can see, everyone except one student (94.3%) surpassed the goal AR set for them based on the STAR test.  The one student who didn't meet their goal also didn't pass the state exam.  It just goes to show you how important independent reading is!  I think it is the most important part of my program.

I also didn't know that students can check their progress toward their goal at anytime when they login.  It helps them take responsibility for their progress and is a great reinforcer of accomplishments!

Since I am seriously thinking about switching my student goal of four books a month to an AR points goal based on their STAR assessment, I would like to create an owl themed display to show their progress by percentage of the goal reached.  Jennifer used a race car theme and this is the picture of one that is suggested in the AR manual:
Do you have any thoughts on using a number of books per month goal (at student's reading level) versus an AR points goal per quarter (also based on student's level).  Also, I would like to use these cute owl mini cutouts (3" x 3") that I found on Amazon for $2.99 on a tracking display in the classroom for student motivation.  
I will write their names on the books.  
Also, do you have any suggestions for a cute "owl" themed title for the AR points display?
Thanks, friends!!

Be sure to check out the other link ups at Head Over Heels for Teaching today!  
Joanne has some super cute Welcome Back to School Coupons that she posted about!

Also, don't forget about the Back to School Sale at TPT starting tomorrow!  Yay!!  
You can check out ideas for wish listed items at this link up here or link up if you are a blogger!!